Much like every other uncertainty in our lives right now, we knew that this year’s Emmys were going to be unpredictable. The pandemic halted productions around the world giving voters a limited pool of options, there were zero opportunities for FYC events to introduce voters to new shows, and politics and the news stressed everyone out in a way that completely altered their viewing habits.
That all came across in this year’s nominations in both obvious and surprising ways. Voters were clearly desperate for something fun and escapist and no other network provided that better than Disney+ with both The Mandalorian and WandaVision. Voters were also clearly desperate to go back in time and escape the madhouse we’ve been living in with nostalgic picks like Cobra Kai and even the fourth season of The Crown – nostalgia for Princess Di will NEVER go out of fashion.
It also became a year that voters leaned heavily into the familiar.
Past favorites like Saturday Night Live and The Handmaid’s Tale had huge showings, especially for their massive ensembles. Shows like Black-ish, Pose, and This Is Us returned to their respective series categories after being forgotten the year prior. Even performances like Allison Janney (Mom) and William H. Macy (Shameless) were brought back one final time. Even the seven headscratching acting nominations for the cast of Hamilton perfectly fits into this conversation as an established beloved musical that feels very familiar and comfortable to the average viewer.
The shows that suffered were smaller and more challenging shows that needed that extra boost from Q&As and events. Small Axe was completely shut out of all major categories. In all likelihood, it got lost in the shuffle of Oscar season and voters needed a reminder to go back and watch. Then there is The Underground Railroad, a show many people thought was the frontrunner, but was ultimately left out of many categories probably because people weren’t mentally ready for the subject matter. Would this have been a different lineup if an auteur like Barry Jenkins was hosting events around town discussing his craft?
This is also a peculiar year with 6 shows earning 20+ nominations: The Crown (24), The Mandalorian (24), WandaVision (23), The Handmaid’s Tale (21), Saturday Night Live (21), and Ted Lasso (20). This many shows never end up with 20+ nominations and although this is certainly a quirk of the pandemic it shows how popular these shows are. When a show enters the night with 20+ nominations they almost always win something.
This is also a record-breaking year in terms of recognizing actors of color and queer actors. This year’s nominees featured a strong number of Black, Latino, and Asian nominees with the television landscape finally beginning to look like the world around us. Mj Rodriguez also became the first trans woman nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and there’s a good chance she will even win.
What will make the rest of this Emmy season even more interesting is the fact that Los Angeles is beginning to open back up. Now that a majority of the industry is vaccinated, we are going to see more FYC events pop up around town, and that has the power to completely change the conversation.
This year, Emmy voters went all out for their favorite dramas. The Crown earned a whopping 24 nominations after the first three seasons each were only able to pull of 13 in a given year. The sophomore season of The Mandalorian also earned 24 nominations after only earning 15 the year before. Even the fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale had its most successful year to date with 21 nominations.
Among the eight drama nominees, there were four clear favorites that were recognized for writing, directing, and at least two acting nominations: The Crown, The Mandalorian, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Pose. These are the clear favorites of the Television Academy, and they are all shows that have won major awards in the past. It’s safe to say that they’ll all probably pick up a win or two when winners are announced in September.
By far the most exciting element of the drama categories was the amount of love for the final season of Pose, a show that has always faced an uphill battle at the Emmys even though it has proven to be one of the best reviewed dramas on TV. On top of being invited back into the drama series race, Mj Rodriguez was finally nominated for her first Emmy, and Steve Canals was recognized for directing and co-writing the finale.
So where will Emmy voters go from here? This is still clearly the year of The Crown and Netflix will rightfully finally claim the big award of the night. But how successful of a night will it be for the royal drama? Can the fourth season pull off what was once the impossible and sweep the night? Gillian Anderson and Emma Corrin are in strong positions, and the show will surely win a writing prize.
Surprisingly for a year where The Crown has this in the bag, the acting races don’t have a lot of undeniable frontrunners. Yes, Gillian Anderson is set to return to the Emmy stage nearly 25 years later, but beyond that, we could be in for plenty of surprises. Especially in the supporting actor race with a lineup that we’ll be arguing over for the next two months.
There weren’t a lot of surprises in the comedy categories. We all anticipated Ted Lasso to be the favorite of the year, and with 20 nominations, there is no denying that the underdog comedy is the clear frontrunner. Hacks and The Flight Attendant also did incredibly well in what has turned out to be a very successful year for HBO Max.
It’s very rare for a comedy to receive 20 nominations at the Emmys. Unless they have huge craft and technical achievements, they usually cap off in the teens. That’s why it’s even more surprising that a small show about soccer was able to pull off 20 nominations like Ted Lasso did. It speaks to the quality of Ted Lasso and how now is the perfect time for a genuinely sincere show that makes everyone feel good. It came out last summer and audiences still can’t get enough of it. The lack of competition certainly helped the show get to 20 nominations, but in all likelihood it would be the biggest comedy of the night even in a more crowded year.
Because of the pandemic, there was a clear shortage of comedies this year, and no one really knew how to predict all eight nominees. We knew that there would be some surprises and even one or two nominees without any nominations in any of the other major categories. Some of us correctly predicted the nostalgia for Cobra Kai would push it into the race. However, NO ONE was anticipating a surprise nomination for Emily in Paris, a guilty pleasure that was ruthlessly mocked for months online.
When the nominations were announced this morning, there was a lot of frustration that a small number of comedies represented the vast majority of acting nominations leaving little room for other performers to be celebrated. In fact, the top four comedies of the year (Ted Lasso, Hacks, The Flight Attendant, and Saturday Night Live) represented two thirds of all comedy acting nominations. But this is what Emmy voters have always done, especially in the comedy categories.
It’s also worth pointing out that out of all of this year’s nominations the biggest surprise (in a good way) was the left field nomination for Aidy Bryant for the final season of Shrill after the underrated show had been repeatedly shut out.
As expected, the limited series categories have proven to be the most competitive this year with Mare of Easttown, The Queen’s Gambit, I May Destroy You, and WandaVision dominating the top categories.
All of the top contenders this year exceeded expectations, but no one was prepared for WandaVision to lead the pack with 23 nominations. For comparison that’s more nominations than Chernobyl, Big Little Lies, Olive Kitteridge, and both installments of American Crime Story. It helps prove that the stylistic departure for Marvel paid off, and it will be interesting to see if the superhero behemoth continues to take creative risks, especially if they pull off the win.
While the comedy and drama categories have clear frontrunners, the limited series race could go any of four ways, and these will be the categories that make or break your Emmy pool. Mare of Easttown could easily sweep the acting races on the way to winning the top prize. The Queen’s Gambit can’t be ignored after having the strongest guild sweep in recent memory. Even a year later, there is no show that has garnered as much respect as I May Destroy You, and at the bare minimum Coel will go home with a writing win. And then there’s the chance that it was WandaVision all along.
Some of the most interesting acting surprises came from The Queen’s Gambit, a show that has dominated all of the guild awards. Just about everyone had Bill Camp and Marielle Heller at the top of their predictions. Instead, both actors were shockingly left out of the race and instead replaced by two of their younger, less known costars: Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Moses Ingram.
The acting races were also infested with seven actors from the original production of Hamilton that was filmed all the way back in 2016. No matter how you feel about the musical, the fact that the ensemble represents a third of all limited series acting nominations doesn’t sit right and unfairly stole nominations from original performances from Ethan Hawke, Marielle Heller, Bill Camp, Weruche Opia, Jon Boyega, and the cast of The Underground Railroad.
The limited series nominations also came with plenty of controversy after both The Underground Railroad and Small Axe severely underperformed. Both shows were two of the best reviewed shows of the past year, and after they were left out of most major categories many people were rightfully frustrated with the Emmys continued blind spots when it comes to race.
More so, these two major snubs show how challenging it was to convince audiences to engage with challenging, material throughout the pandemic and recent election. Amazon really dropped the ball with these two shows, and in all likelihood they probably expected the gravitas of their directors to carry them further. They should have never dropped all of The Underground Railroad all at once and instead should have opted for a weekly release that allowed audience to digest and engage with what they were watching.