In July, the comedian and Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” anchor Michael Che took to Instagram Stories with some opinions. First of all, Che explained, he hadn’t watched Nanette, Hannah Gadsby’s searing Netflix special about (among other things) the limitations of comedy as a vehicle for exploring trauma. Second, despite having not seen Nanette, Che firmly believed that it and similar shows should not, in fact, be classified as comedy. This was all of a piece with Che’s Instagram complaint the same day about “anti-comedy comedy,” or a kind of art he creatively labeled “standup tragedy.” “I dont [sic] wanna have to ‘survive’ a comedy special,” Che wrote. “I wanna laugh. lets not make this what its [sic] not.”
All of which urges a question: Has Che watched television recently? Putting aside live performance for a moment, does he consider Random Acts of Flyness to be comedy? Atlanta? Insecure? The End of the F***ing World? Succession? Or Barry, starring his former Saturday Night Live co-star, the comedian Bill Hader? Looking ahead to the 2018 Emmy Awards this Monday—which are presented by Che and his “Update” co-host Colin Jost—the one quality that seems to define the best new shows on TV is an encroaching genrelessness. It’s an approach to television that prioritizes creative vision and voice over formulaic convention. If the “sadcom” trend that flourished with Transparent and Louie and Girls saw half-hour shows fuse comedy and drama, hour-long shows are increasingly doing the same thing. The bleak satire of Succession and the tonal zaniness of Killing Eve, two recent longer shows that often feel impossible to categorize, prove how rich the results can be.