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I am always raving to anyone and everyone who will listen about the brilliance of the Ted Lasso acting ensemble. After avoiding the juggernaut Apple TV+ series for nearly a year after it debuted, I finally shed my sneering contrarianism and irrational aversion to Jason Sudeikis to plunge headfirst into this sweet comedy about a mustachioed Midwestern coach who’s brought to the U.K. to rejuvenate a skeptical soccer team. (Or so he thinks.)
Although lead actor frontrunner Sudeikis attracts most of the show’s glory, it’s actually the wider supporting cast that makes something this inherently gooey worth watching: Hannah Waddingham’s vulnerable virago team owner Rebecca; Jeremy Swift’s rebellious toady Higgins; Brett Goldstein’s grouchy footballer-with-a-heart-of-gold Roy; Juno Temple’s ebullient flirt Keeley; Nick Mohammed’s panicky equipment manager Nate; Brendan Hunt’s quippy Coach Beard. These are all fantastically funny and resonant performances, each deserving the kind of awards attention Ted Lasso‘s star receives. So, on the day this year’s Emmy nominations were announced, why did I feel a twinge of disappointment seeing each and every one of these names listed in their respective performance categories?
Perhaps it is because single-show dominance ultimately belittles the spirit of Peak TV, which has elevated various tastes, viewpoints and artistic styles to both mainstream and cult audiences in the past decade. This post-millennium golden age of television celebrates experimentalism in storytelling, which has led to new genres like “the sadcom” and the rise of fresh-faced auteurs giving voice to communities that have been historically excluded from the television screen. Despite now including a relatively high number of honoree slots, the 73rd Primetime Emmy acting nominations still pointedly favor only a limited number of TV series. And these mostly benign series, while dripping in quality and prestige, still represent the sensitivities of mild palates.
Of course, voter tunnel vision is nothing new — think of the interminable supporting nominations over the past decade for Modern Family — but the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has indeed recently taken concrete steps to address the cornucopia of entertainment options now available across broadcast, cable and streaming. Namely, to broaden the number of potential nominees in certain high-visibility categories to compensate for the roughly 500 scripted series that have aired annually in the past five years. But this backfired. Shows like Saturday Night Live (11 acting nominations), The Handmaid’s Tale (10 acting nominations), The Crown (nine acting nominations) and Ted Lasso (seven acting nominations) ended up hegemonizing the acting categories anyway, undoing the Academy’s goodwill effort to introduce new blood among their honorees.
This is not to say that the casts of The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale or Ted Lasso don’t merit such recognition. (I won’t say the same for the cast of Saturday Night Live, as I’ve written extensively on why the unique skills of sketch performers should be honored in a separate category outside the supporting comedy actor races.) I do lament, however, that just four series took up 37 slots that could have been shared by other superlative TV performers, such as Rutherford Falls‘ snarky comedy duo Michael Greyeyes and Jana Schmieding, Girls5eva‘s deteriorating diva Renée Elise Goldsberry, It’s a Sin‘s doe-eyed naif Callum Scott Howells or P-Valley‘s Shakespearean leads Brandee Evans and Nicco Annan. Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that Emmy voters ignored multiple series that center on the complex lives of Native, Black and queer people.
These bloated casts also crowded out performers from series like The Boys, Cobra Kai, Emily in Paris, PEN15 and The Underground Railroad — despite all earning a series nom in their respective categories. It’s a feat that previous winners Uzo Aduba, William H. Macy and Allison Janney were able to squeeze in.
Four years ago, the TV Academy began a new initiative encouraging members to focus on flexibility and worthiness when completing their ballots, not a specific number. This meant voters could select as many contenders as they desired on their nomination ballots as long as those choices made sense to them. This has resulted in showcasing voter favoritism, not content diversity. It also underscored what I suspect is a widespread case of decision fatigue and voter apathy following a year of TV premieres impacted by production delays and shutdowns. Much has been written about viewers returning to old favorites during the long months of pandemic dysphoria — comfort television, as it were — and the same emotional mechanism behind retreating to the familiar may be at play when looking at this year’s concentrated nominee bloat.
After having served on awards-nominating committees and participating in critics awards voting, I understand what it’s like to glance at a never-ending ballot while facing down a fast-approaching submission deadline at the same time: It’s second nature to want to cling to titles and performers who feel like a safe choice. The categories start blurring together; at some point, you just want to be done with this task. You start to feel guilty that there are only 24 hours in a day and you weren’t able to delve into every single acclaimed show just waiting for you to pluck it from obscurity. Still, “buzz” shouldn’t be the only guiding light.
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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