All year long we had an idea that this unprecedented year would lead to an unusual set of nominees, we just didn’t know how. With everyone stuck at home for months there was the chance that voters had the opportunity to watch more television than ever before. There was also the chance that they’d be so distracted and stressed out about the state of the world that they wouldn’t care about television at all.
Then, right as voting began, the country erupted in protest and we finally began to have very long overdue conversations about racism and anti-Blackness in America. We’re at such a pivotal point in our own history that it is bound to affect the way we interact with popular culture.
Now that the nominations are finally here it’s clear that the everything did have an influence on the Emmys this year, just not in the way that we anticipated. Even with all the free time in the world it doesn’t seem like voters watched that much more than they usually do. Yes, there were a couple of well-deserved surprised like Unorthodox and even Normal People popping up places, but it also seems like there was a lot of name recognition. Actors like Octavia Spencer (Self Made), Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale), The Kominsky Method, and even Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) made it back into the conversation. Is this the result of a weird Emmy season or the fact that the new rules led to more nominees in certain categories?
In a year that risked a nearly all-white lineup voters went out of their way to diversify this year’s nominees. Using the superhero genre to explore race and the police force Watchmen became the most nominated show of the year. After years of being snubbed by the Television Academy voters finally recognized Insecure in a major way with eight nominations. In a major surprise Zendaya was nominated for her performance in Euphoria standing out over huge names and perennial nominees. These three shows were some of the best that the past year had to offer, aren’t the type of genres that the television academy usually nominates, and maybe it’s a sign that the demographics of the voters are changing for the better.
We also now know the effect of not having a traditional campaign/Emmy season. We like to shake our heads at these huge events and criticize them for influencing the race but now it’s clear that they help shows and performances stand out, especially ones that premiered so long ago that voters might have otherwise forgot. This year, without the help from these events and campaigns, many of the biggest omisions and surprises came from the shows that premiered last summer. Nicole Kidman and Big Litlte Lies were left out of their respective categories while both Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever were grossly ignored for Unbelievable. Even perennial nominees like Elisabeth Moss and David Harbour (both who had the full support of SAG) were left out for the first time.
The Major Frontrunners
As the nominations always do they gave us a real sense as to what shows are heading into Emmy night as the main frontrunners.
In the limited series race all but one of the major contenders underperformed in one way or another. Watchmen on the other hand picked up a shocking 26 nominations – way more than any other limited series in the modern era. That’s seven more than Chernobyl got last year and four more than The People v. OJ Simpson. Every single branch loves Watchmen from the actors to directors to editors. At this point, it doesn’t seem like anything can beat it and for good reason.
In the race for Outstanding Comedy Series we all knew that Schitt’s Creek was a major contender but somehow the little comedy that could over-performed with fifteen nominations. Last year, when it was nominated for the first time, it only managed five nominations. This year, on top of the entire Rose family being nominated, it was singled out for writing, directing, casting, sound mixing, editing, makeup, costumes, and hairstyling. It did even better than Fleabag did last year and it’s the only comedy series nominee to also have both writing and directing nominations.
While those races seem like forgone conclusions, the race for Outstanding Drama Series is as tight as ever. We knew heading into nominations that Succession and Ozark were the two frontrunners and now they are tied with 18 nominations each. They both have that crucial casting+ picture editing combo and they both have strong support from the actors branch (although Succession did much better). This is Netflix’s biggest shot at their first major series win and it will be interesting to see how the race continues in the month to come.
The Biggest Surprises of the Year
This year’s nominations came with plenty of major surprises that very few saw coming from small shows like Unorthodox rising to the top and the ensemble behind The Morning Show becoming one of the most nominated casts of the year.
Heading into the Emmys we all knew that Jennifer Aniston was a major contender but what we didn’t anticipate was the fact that she would be joined by four of her costars including Steve Carell, Mark Duplass, Billy Crudup, and even Martin Short. This is huge for the freshman show that over overall earned eight nominations. Even though it barely missed out on a drama series nomination its strong showing is proof that voters are paying attention to Apple TV+ and it will definitely continue to be a major contender down the road. Could we even be underestimating it for a couple of wins?
With such a crowded field of contenders for Outstanding Limited Series a show like Netflix’s Unorthodox with no major names always had an uphill battle to climb at the Emmys. It had a quiet release back in March but since then it slowly built buzz both as a show and for Shira Haas’s incredible leading performance. That word of mouth led to eight nominations including series, actress, writing, and directing beating out some major high-profile contenders.
Outstanding Drama Series was the most crowded it has been in years with so many past contenders fighting to come back, many of which only had so so seasons. Because of that we all completely underestimated The Mandalorian and the cultural impact it had when it premiered last winter. It was one of the few new dramas this year that excited audiences and had everyone talking week after week. Clearly, that was in the show’s favor leading to its spot in the drama series race, surprise guest actor recognition, and 15 overall nominations.
The second season of What We Do In The Shadows seemingly came out of nowhere and after surprise nominations from TCA and GALECA it became one of the most unlikely sophomore contenders of the year. In the span of a year it was able to transform two craft nominations into a contender for Outstanding Comedy Series with eight overall nominations. It even earned THREE writing nominations while former favorites like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel were completely blanked by the writers branch.
The Biggest Snubs and Omissions
It wouldn’t be the Emmys without a long list of glaring snubs. With so much content to sort through there was no chance that every deserving contender gets in, especially with the new rules capping the number of nominees.
Hands down, the most shocking performance snub of the year was Tom Pelphrey for his one-season role on Ozark. He had the material to win, he had the tape to win, his character battled mental illness, he shared his scenes with Emmy favorites like Laura Linney and Julia Garner. It seemed like a no-brainer. In the end he lost out to bigger name; some deserving, some not so much.
Overall Unbelievable did well with four nominations including writing, supporting actress, and series but voters, quite cruelly, snubbed both leading actresses; Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever. Both actresses delivered what is arguably the best work of their career and much stronger than what they’ve been honored for in the past. Was it a matter of the show premiering so long ago or were voters nervous about the subject matter?
No matter the year HBO always has a stronghold on the limited series race. Their programs always do well but this year both The Plot Against America and I Know This Much Is True completely underperformed with voters each only earning one nomination. It’s hard to tell what happened. Our current political environment might have scared people away in search of something more light-hearted. Or maybe they just didn’t like them. Either way, it’s a disappointing result for the network.
A handful of past nominees were also thrown to the curb by Emmy voters, many of whom were considered pretty safe contenders. Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks were left out for the first time for what many consider to be the best season yet of Better Call Saul. Emmy winners Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd weren’t included this year even though three of their other Emmy winning costars from The Handmaid’s Tale were. Some of the other past nominees surprisingly left out included Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies), Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), David Harbour (Stranger Things), Jane Lynch (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), and Viola Davis for the final season of How to Get Away With Murder.
The casting team behind RuPaul’s Drag Race was nominated the year they cast a sexual predator and the editing team was nominated for editing him out.
Father and daughter Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us) and Jasmine Cephas Jones (Quibi’s #FreeRayshawn) were nominated for awards this year.
Quibi was nominated for 10 awards in the short form categories in its first year of eligibility
Maya Rudolph was nominated twice for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series as well as for her voice-over performance on Big Mouth.
Fred Willard was honored with a posthumous nomination for his guest performance in the final season of Modern Family.
Ramy Youssef was nominated twice this year both for starring in and directing the second season of Ramy.
Large groups of hosts did well in the Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program with both the Queer Eye and Shark Tank were nominated for the first time.
Pose may have been dropped from the top drama race but it was finally honored for its crafts including casting, costumes, hair, and makeup.