Why Is 'Transparent' A Comedy At The Emmys Instead Of A Drama?

It's an exciting time to be a television fan, mainly because TV shows are no longer forced to exist solely in the confines of the small screen. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have given us great original content for years — and now Amazon's original programming is getting the attention it deserves. Amazon is receiving accolades for its original series Transparent, which is currently nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy — and a whopping nine additional Emmys. If you haven't checked out the series yet, I implore you to do so: the story of a transgender woman revealing her true gender identity while her three children transition into the next stage of their own lives is both beautiful and heartbreaking. "Heartbreaking" is not exactly how most people would describe a comedy, so why was Transparent nominated as a comedy at the Emmys? Surprisingly, it might have little to do with the content of the show.

Transparent tackles some serious (and extremely timely) issues, and often these issues play out in ways that are decidedly not funny. The family drama is packed with tension, and the tone of some episodes are downright depressing: it is, after all, a story about a transgender woman struggling to reveal her true gender identity much later in life than she ever wanted to. Of course, with a cast that includes Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffman, and Jay Duplass, it would be impossible to keep a grave, hyper-serious tone throughout the entirety of the show, though: For every somber moment, there is one of complete absurdity. This is what makes Transparent a "dramedy" in its truest form.

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So what ultimately decides the category when a show doesn't quite fit the standard bill for a comedy or a drama? At the end of the day, it's pretty simple: it's all about timing. According to the official Emmys rules:

Any series where the average episode length is approximately thirty (30) minutes is eligible to enter in the Outstanding Comedy Series category; and, any series where the average episode length is approximately sixty (60) minutes is eligible to enter in the Outstanding Drama Series category.

Each episode of Transparent clocks in at roughly 30 minutes, which is the approximate length of every other comedy on the list. (Series that are broadcast on television are typically in the 23 to 25 minute range due to commercials.) Conversely, shows listed in the Drama category are significantly longer: each one is roughly 43 minutes to an hour in length, depending on if they air on television, cable, or if they stream online.

Transparent isn't the only series that doesn't fit the traditional mold for the genre. Netflix series Orange Is The New Black was also nominated for an Emmy this year, and its category may surprise you: Though Orange Is The New Black brings major laughs, the prison dramedy was placed in the Outstanding Drama Series category against not-at-all laughable TV shows like House Of Cards and Game Of Thrones due to its hour-long run time.

Perhaps the Emmys will one day change their stance on run times deciding which category television shows are best suited for — but for now this standard means that not every comedy will make you laugh out loud at every punchline. Some, like Transparent, may even make you cry.

Images: Amazon Studios; Giphy