Earlier this month, the WGA and SAG award nominees were announced, marking the beginning of what is sure to be one of the strangest Emmy seasons in recent history. The SAG and WGA awards are two of the most influential precursors when it comes to the Emmys, and a nomination by one of the guilds is an undeniable sign of strength within the industry while nominations from both groups nearly guarantees a show will go on to become an Emmy favorite.
This year, they solidified what we’ve all been expecting: the fourth season of The Crown will be the show to beat at the Emmys, especially with other industry favorites like Ozark and Better Call Saul out of the picture.
The actors and writers are also notoriously two of the most anglophile groups within the industry and this year that showed with nominations for Bridgerton, The Great, and the breakout comedy of the year Ted Lasso.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the entertainment industry in a way we have never seen before and because of that the 2021 Emmys will look very different. The biggest shows of recent years – from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to Succession to Barry to Atlanta – won’t be returning in time for consideration so voters will have to step out of their comfort zone. WGA and SAG voters have already gone in unexpected, passionate, and exciting directions hinting that old Emmy rules might go out the window. WGA voters have already brought into the conversation with The Boys while both groups turned The Flight Attendant into a force to be reckoned with.
Surprising absolutely no one, the fourth season of The Crown has continued to barrel through awards season. As we have all been predicting for months The Crown is continuing to lead throughout the winter awards season. The fourth season earned five SAG nominations and a WGA nomination solidifying it as the early Emmy frontrunner.
At the SAG awards the three nominated women (Gillian Anderson, Olivia Colman, and Emma Corrin) pulled off something very few ensembles have by taking up three slots in a given category. In fact its only happened four times before; the women of The Sopranos in 1999, both the male and female actors of Angels in America in 2003, and the women of Temple Grandin in 2010. In each of those cases one of the three always won and the Oscar nominee (if there was one) was always the one that pulled ahead.
Emmy favorites from the first half of 2020 continued to collect accolades across the board. Ozark continues to be an industry favorite with four SAG nominations and two WGA nominations for the season as a whole and the standout penultimate episode “Fire Pink.” Better Call Saul also had an amazing week earning a whopping five WGA nominations and two SAG nominations. Both beloved dramas are gearing up for their final seasons and if their guild support is any indicator the upcoming seasons will be major players whenever they come out.
A pattern has emerged among voting groups of nominating Lovecraft Country as one of the best dramas of the year while somehow completely ignoring the actors that carry the show. Both HFPA and SAG voters ignored star-making turns from Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors giving the first major clue that, while audiences couldn’t get enough of the supernatural thriller over the fall, with time the show has proven to be more polarizing than anyone initially thought. On top of that WGA voters left the show out of their drama series lineup, instead going in a completely different direction with The Boys.
With COVID affecting shooting and release schedules for the foreseeable future, we’re probably getting ready for a very unusual Emmy season and the guild awards might be more telling than ever before. This year they brought two of the biggest streaming successes into the conversation. Amazon’s The Boys earned a WGA nomination for drama series and a SAG stunt nomination making the superhero drama one of the few of the genre to break through into the awards conversation. Then, in the final days of the year, Netflix’s Bridgerton became the most successful streaming show in the history of the network and weeks later earned two SAG nominations for its ensemble and lead actor Regé-Jean Page – proving that Shondaland should never be counted out.
In a year without many of the usual contenders from Succession to Stranger Things to The Handmaid’s Tale surprise hits on streaming networks have been proving that they can ride their popularity into awards contention. The next step will be seeing if they can hold on to that momentum for the next sixth months.
What a difference a year can make. Just one year ago Schitt’s Creek barely made a blip in any awards conversation. It had barely broken into the Emmy and SAG conversation while the Golden Globes had never nominated it. Now a year later the little Canadian import has become THE comedy juggernaut sweeping the Emmys and then going on to earn five Golden Globe and five SAG nominations.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see the Rose family sweep through the rest of awards season like they did at the Emmys but the underdog family is exceeding expectations like no show in recent years. All four actors have earned individual nominations at every major group from the Emmys to the Golden Globes to the SAG awards to the Critics’ Choice.
The SAG and WGA awards also came to a surprising consensus pushing forward multiple frontrunners for the upcoming Emmy race. Ted Lasso was the big winner of the week while voters also clearly loved The Great, The Flight Attendant, and to an extent Pen15.
Ted Lasso has become a major contender for Apple TV+ earning two SAG nominations and three WGA nominations. It’s easy to see why Ted Lasso has become one of the breakout hits of 2020; it’s an underdog story worth rooting for, it’s a humane comedy that sees the good in people (similar to Schitt’s Creek), and it stars Jason Sudeikis, someone who voters are very familiar with and are just waiting for the perfect opportunity to reward.
The biggest surprise of the comedy categories is the full embrace of HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant. The edge-of-your-seat dramedy has quickly become the breakout hit for the fledgling streaming service picking up recognition from SAG, WGA, and the Golden Globes. Voters are clearly looking for something unexpected and fun and The Flight Attendant filled that void with its playful twist on Hitchcock’s style. The all around support for the show boosts Kaley Cuoco’s chances of finally being invited to the Emmys after decades of underrated work on TV.
Hulu’s The Great has also made an awards comeback after mostly being ignored by the Television Academy. We all expected it to be the perfect Golden Globes contender but it also became a favorite of SAG and WGA voters earning two nominations each. The second season has been in production for months and, as of now, is positioned perfectly for a breakout second season.
WGA voters also singled out What We Do In The Shadows and Pen15; two shows they’ve loved in the past but have always had a hard time breaking into the acting categories. It’s hard to tell why What We Do In The Shadows seems to be recognized everywhere except for its acting, maybe the ensemble is too large to narrow down or maybe it doesn’t have big enough names.
With every major comedy of the past five years not in contention the 2021 race for Outstanding Comedy Series is wide open but a consensus is already forming around a handful of industry favorites that couldn’t be more different in Ted Lasso and The Flight Attendant. If the highly anticipated season of The Great premieres in time its clear that it will land squarely in the race as well.
Guild awards are harder to sort through when it comes to the limited series race. SAG doesn’t have an ensemble category for limited series and TV movies and while the WGA has two categories to honor limited series (original and adapted) their eligibility rules are so specific that many contenders are often deemed ineligible. For example, Unorthodox, one of the most acclaimed series of 2020, wasn’t eligible at either while Normal People wasn’t eligible at WGA.
After the Hollywood Foreign Press grossly skipped over Michaela Coel’s groundbreaking I May Destroy You SAG voters made up for it by nominating the actress/creator/writer. She was able to stand out over plenty of SAG friendly names from Octavia Spencer to Reese Witherspoon proving that audiences are passionately responding to her exploration of sexual trauma and PTSD. Coel’s writing was most likely deemed ineligible by the WGA but in sixth months she will likely be on her way to multiple Emmy nominations.
The Queen’s Gambit continued its reign as the early Emmy frontrunner with a WGA nomination and two SAG nominations. Bill Camp surprised everyone by beating out multiple A-list names for one of the five SAG slots proving that audiences can’t get enough of the chess drama. As of now it’s the only limited series checking off all of the right boxes for voters and easily becoming the early Emmys frontrunner.
Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird has quietly racked up multiple nominations as well including a SAG nomination for Ethan Hawke as well as a WGA nomination. The abolitionist western premiered when audiences were distracted by real world events but over the past couple of months they’ve clearly caught up with the limited series and Hawke himself has become the early frontrunner for lead actor.
On paper The Undoing was the obvious awards contender and at first audiences and voters were completely won over by the A-list ensemble of Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, and Donald Sutherland and Kidman and Grant have deservingly been nominated for their performances. Ultimately though, the thriller never fully explored the mystery it set up and voters caught on to that with the limited series being shut out of the WGA awards.
In fact WGA voters didn’t care for the ending so much that they instead nominated a faith based film on Disney+ that the average person has never even heard of.
No show has fallen out of favor quite like Fargo. The once admired anthology series has so far been shut out of every major awards group. Not even Chris Rock could sneak into a wide-open lead actor lineup a category that has notoriously always favored the men of the show. The first three seasons have earned an astounding 52 nominations but without any guild support there’s a good chance that it will be completely ignored.
Overall guild voters have proven that the limited series race is still wide open. The Queen’s Gambit is the popular choice while I May Destroy You remains the passionate choice and there is still a lot of time for something to surprise.