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As pundits have been saying for months, this year’s Emmy nomination field was always going to be chaotic. Every major series and acting winner from the 2020 ceremony wasn’t eligible, meaning there was the opportunity for a slate of nominees that could either open the door for fresh talent or for utter embarrassment.
Fortunately and predictably, the nominations announced on Tuesday morning had plenty of pleasant surprises, but also bizarre absences and, in more than a few cases, exposed an outmoded categorizing system in desperate need of an overhaul.
In the big picture, the nominees set up what most reasonable people expect will be Emmy night domination for The Crown and Ted Lasso. The Crown received 24 nominations, including nods in nearly every available writing/directing/acting category (plus a few surprises like Emerald Fennell and that weird guest nomination for Claire Foy), and Ted Lasso received 20 nominations (including basically any supporting player who uttered a line of dialogue other than Phil Dunster, but that was probably about teaching Jamie Tartt a valuable lesson in humility). No drama or comedy received more, though The Mandalorian also picked up 24 and proved powerful enough for semi-random nominations like Carl Weathers as a guest acting nominee, while Hacks had the second most nominations for any comedy with 15.
I’d still predict wins for The Crown and Ted Lasso, so the excitement will be on the limited series side, where WandaVision received 24 nominations and The Queen’s Gambit and Mare of Easttown both earned 15+. For the millionth time, allow me to urge the Emmy producers to save those categories for the end of the show.
Because I’m a positive person at heart, I’ll begin by celebrating some of the messes the TV Academy avoided making.
Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You got shut out at the Golden Globes, and it seemed possible the TV Academy could make a similar mistake when it comes to my favorite TV show of 2021. Fortunately, I May Destroy You received an acceptable nine nominations, including limited series, a pair of directing nominations, Paapa Essiedu for supporting actor and Coel for acting and writing. Were there missed opportunities? Heavens yes, starting with Weruche Opia for supporting actress, but all things considered, this felt like an avoided disaster.
The same is true with Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of The Underground Railroad, which picked up seven nominations. The ambitious and cinematic drama didn’t receive a single acting nomination, but the recognition for casting, James Laxton’s cinematography, Jenkins’ direction and Nicholas Britell’s score all were very deserved.
I’m thrilled for the comedy series nomination for Hulu’s Pen15 and Maya Erskine’s writing nomination, even if I remain incredulous that Erskine and Anna Konkle couldn’t get acting nominations. I love the Pose acting nomination for Mj Rodriguez, the predictable double nominations for Jean Smart and I’m relieved that Emmy voters noted that without Hannah Einbinder, Hacks wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.
Let’s get to the ridiculousness.
When the Hollywood Foreign Press gave Emily in Paris several major nominations, we passed it off as, “Meh, the studio flew a group of ethically challenged pseudo-journalists to the City of Lights, of course it was nominated.” But how do you justify Emily in Paris getting a comedy series nomination here, especially since the Netflix comedy only had enough support for one other nomination? Emily in Paris is barely a comedy and barely a TV show and “Best Parisian Travelogue” isn’t even an Emmy category.
At least Emmy voters didn’t give Ratched a drama series nomination, avoiding the HFPA’s other major blunder. As much as I disliked the completely unnecessary, tonally confused One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next prequel, I don’t begrudge the show its handful of technical nominations or the guest acting nomination for Sophie Okonedo, who consumed her body weight in scenery and deserved some sort of honor for that.
There are so-called “snubs” aplenty and I already mentioned the Underground Railroad cast and Pen15 actresses near the top of that list, but the undisputed pinnacle of head-scratching absences is Ethan Hawke for The Good Lord Bird. It’s an inspired, galvanic performance of operatic excess and unexpected emotional gravity and it deserved to win. Instead it was left out entirely, in large part because of Emmy confusion over how to handle Disney+’s filmed production of Hamilton.
So many of the missing shows that I’d be prone to lament are under-the-radar gems. I’m going to be disappointed for Netflix’s Immigration Nation and HBO’s How To with John Wilson (and happy about NatGeo’s City So Real). Apple TV+’s For All Mankind not even getting technical nominations is stupid, but not surprising. Starz received no nominations at all, so the lack of nominations for P-Valley — writing and Nicco Annan should have been no-brainers — follows from that. Rutherford Falls was shut out entirely and Girls5Eva was perhaps under-represented, but that just points to Peacock not really getting into the Emmy game. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist at least picked up a few nominations, even if Jane Levy was left out. So I get those snubs. But how do you miss what frequent Oscar nominee and general Hollywood icon Ethan Hawke was doing in a very high-profile Showtime limited series? I’m incredulous there.
But really, we need to just jump to all the different categories that Emmy voters made a mess of entirely.
I, for one, am rather amused that HBO’s ploy to treat Lovecraft Country as a drama series until literally the week after votes were tabulated before canceling it and turning it into a close-ended limited series paid off. With 18 nominations, following a winter in which the Golden Globes and various guilds largely ignored it, Lovecraft Country proved to be an Emmy favorite and I’m especially excited for Jurnee Smollett. So that’s one limited series nominated for drama and we’ll just have to wait to see how many of those nominated limited series eventually return for second installments. I’m looking at you, Mare of Easttown and WandaVision.
There’s so much category silliness that I’m not even going to get into conversations about whether or not The Flight Attendant and Cobra Kai are actually “comedies” in any recognizable way (I’ve already expressed my feeling that Emily in Paris isn’t really even a TV show).
It’s desperately time to move the Saturday Night Live cast regulars out of the “supporting” categories for comedy and hosts out of the guest acting categories. There need to be categories for variety/comedy performance — that way all of the great performers from Saturday Night Live and A Black Lady Sketch Show have a place where they actually belong. Of course then, Emmy voters would have to actually start paying attention in those guest acting categories, where you have a bunch of knee-jerk SNL host noms and, on the drama side, absurdities like Foy and Don Cheadle getting recognized for basically one-scene appearances doing very little on The Crown and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
And the lack of clarity on how Emmy voters were supposed to treat Hamilton led to a bunch of Broadway favorites crowding into the limited/TV movie acting fields in a year, which is how you end up with the likes of Hawke, Joel Edgerton (The Underground Railroad), Olly Alexander (It’s a Sin), Bill Camp (The Queen’s Gambit), Opia, Letitia Wright (Small Axe), Marielle Heller (The Queen’s Gambit) and more getting left out. It’s funny/frustrating that Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos and Renee Elise Goldsberry got Hamilton nominations instead of the nominations they deserved for The Good Lord Bird, In Treatment and Girls5Eva, respectively.
There are so many Emmy categories that are so purely chaotic at this point that I almost appreciate how easy Bo Burnham made it for voters. “Just write in Bo Burnham for everything.” The embodiment of COVID quarantine comic angst earned, among other things, nominations for directing, editing, music direction and songwriting on his Netflix special Bo Burnham: Inside. Now imagine how many nominations he would get if he just went to Paris!
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