The nominations for the 73rd Emmy Awards were announced today at a much more reasonable hour than usual, a change that may or may not have been a result of our ever-shifting grasp of time in a pandemic. Even West Coasters could comfortably watch as This Is Us’ Ron Cephas Jones and Blindspotting’s Jasmine Cephas Jones shared the names and titles of some of this year’s nominees. The actors, who made history in 2020 with their “father-daughter” Emmy wins (for Quibi’s #FreeRayshawn and This Is Us), divvied up the announcements from opposite ends of the country, another reflection of “these times,” but come September 19, the Emmy Awards will once again be an in-person event.
The livestream was on the shorter side, a decision that may have been made to keep the event free of the glitches that made 2020’s reveals such an interesting affair. But there were still plenty of surprises to be had this year, including a strong showing for the recently canceled Lovecraft Country. Misha Green’s adaptation of Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel was one of the buzziest shows of last summer, but it can still be easy for shows to get lost in the din of ever-peaking TV. And yet, the horror-drama hybrid scored 18 nominations total, and will compete in the Outstanding Drama category.
As in most years, there were thrilling surprises and equally confounding snubs. For every delight—Jean Smart earned nominations for Hacks and Mare Of Easstown—there was some big letdown, like The Underground Railroad’s single nomination. Here, The A.V. Club’s TV editor Danette Chavez and staff writer Saloni Gajjar dig into some of the Emmy voters’ best calls and biggest oversights.
Snub: For All Mankind, Outstanding Drama Series
When WandaVision premiered in January, many viewers (and critics) hailed the return of the weekly TV experience. But Apple TV+’s For All Mankind reignited interest in purposeful, slow-building stories all the way back in 2019. The space-race drama, from co-creators Ronald D. Moore, Ben Nedivi, and Matt Wolpert, is inventively made, readily inspiring awe with each new shuttle launch. It also boasts some of the most expansive storylines, leaping through decades without ever losing sight of its characters. Season two offered one of the best episodes of the year in its finale, which had more heart and spectacle than just about anything else on TV. [Danette Chavez]
Thanks to Disney+, the MCU gets to bring its superheroes to TV. But Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys sneaking in an Outstanding Drama nomination over a contender like The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is a pleasant surprise. Eric Kripke’s dark satire of the genre is both a riveting thriller and a black comedy. Its slew of evil superpowered beings are the opposite of The Avengers, a concept that allows The Boys to poke fun of and genuinely ponder society’s obsession with the hero complex, all while delivering exploding heads, talking gills, and a terrific villainous performance by Antony Starr. [Saloni Gajjar]
The debate over whether Steve McQueen’s Small Axe should be classified as film or TV is so last year—and, as we argued at the time, beside the point—so there’s no excuse for the anthology’s omission in this category. Mangrove, Red, White And Blue, Lovers Rock, Alex Wheatle, and Education were some of the most powerful stories to unfold on the small screen, marked by bravura performances from John Boyega, Letitia Wright, and Shaun Parkes. We can’t even really console ourselves with Boyega’s nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series/TV Movie, because his turn in Red, White And Blue was one of the best lead performances of the last year. [Danette Chavez]
To be clear, we’re not surprised to see MJ Rodriguez in the running for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. As Blanca, she’s been the heart and soul of FX’s Pose throughout its three-season run, maintaining a beautifully bruised optimism in the face of some of the darkest chapters in LGBTQ+ history. But we were still somewhat prepared to be disappointed by the TV Academy yet again this year—after all, the voting group looked past her shining portrayal of the House Of Evangelista for the last two years. Rodriguez has made history as the first trans woman to be nominated in a major acting category, and she’s deserved this recognition for quite some time. [Danette Chavez]
Reneé Elise Goldsberry scored an Emmy nomination for Hamilton, but her Girls5eva performance is a dazzling display of physical comedy and biting dialogue delivery. Her heightened diva persona, Wickie Roy, fills the Peacock series with endless one-liners, memorable gags, and surprising emotional twists, all of which Goldsberry brings to life without missing a beat. The actress and singer is a comedic discovery as she balances Wickie’s fortitude and vulnerability with an air of superiority. It’s a shame the Television Academy overlooked her talent in this category (and the show itself). [Saloni Gajjar]
Surprise: Emily In Paris strikes again
No offense to the lighthearted, buzzy dramedy Emily In Paris, but what were Emmy voters thinking? The Netflix series was a viral phenomenon when it launched—not because of its marvelous storytelling or nuanced writing, but because it’s pure fluff. Emily In Paris’ Outstanding Comedy nomination robs far more deserving TV comedies of the last year (Superstore, Mythic Quest, Search Party, Girls5eva, and Dickinson). It wasn’t just escapist; it was devoid of substance. [Saloni Gajjar]
Snub: The Underground Railroad’s Thuso Mbedu, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or TV Movie
The limited series categories continue to be the tightest races at the Emmys, as A-list talent keep on flocking to these productions from top-tier producers. But that’s precisely why we’re flabbergasted by the TV Academy leaving The Underground Railroad’s Thuso Mbedu off of the list of nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited/Anthology Series or TV Movie. You don’t get much more top-notch than an Oscar winner like Barry Jenkins; there was nothing “limited” about his TV epic other than its number of seasons. The Underground Railroad was rightly nominated for Outstanding Limited or Anthology series, but Mbedu’s simmering portrayal of Cora is one of its greatest strengths. She could have easily taken Cynthia Erivo’s spot, even if the latter did play the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. [Danette Chavez]
At the Emmys last year, Black actors received a record number of nominations. This year’s Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama contenders sets a new record, as Black performers lead the category. Sterling K. Brown and Billy Porter both snagged nominations once more for This Is Us and Pose, respectively. Jonathan Majors scored one of the 18 nominations for Lovecraft Country, while Regé-Jean Page is nominated for Bridgerton. The Crown’s Josh O’Connor and Perry Mason’s Matthew Rhys complete the list. [Saloni Gajjar]
Snub: Superstore, Outstanding Comedy Series
The Emmys are known to favor television shows in their final season, so they could’ve rectified Superstore’s egregious omission for its six-season run. The NBC series retained its fast-paced and timely humor, maneuvering it to provide insights into the struggles of essential employees and the working class during a pandemic. The loss of series star America Ferrera gave the ensemble space to shine, including Ben Feldman and Lauren Ash. Perhaps being a broadcast show hampered its chances, but Superstore’s final season was a creative and comedic success worthy of an Emmy nod. [Saloni Gajjar]
Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) finally gets a win. Well, almost. He’ll now have to defeat Ted Lasso for the actual trophy. But seriously, Cobra Kai’s recognition as Outstanding Comedy is an unexpected surprise. The YouTube-turned-Netflix series hasn’t just reignited The Karate Kid fandom, it’s slotted in new followers into the franchise with exponential ratings (if Netflix’s numbers are to be believed without question, that is). The comedy’s third season was well-written and performed, jam-packed with drama and intense fight scenes, but it probably made the cut because the storyline finally brings Johnny and his frenemy Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) on the same side. Cobra Kai never dies, indeed. [Saloni Gajjar]
WTF: Hamilton’s 12 nominations
We fully recognize that Hamilton is one of the biggest pop-culture phenomena of the last decade, permeating the mainstream with its irrepressible soundtrack and rising stars turned high-profile performers. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical was a vehicle for stars like Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Jasmine Cephas Jones. But to score 12 Emmy nominations five years after the taping of the two performances that made up the Disney+ Hamilton special is, well, ridiculous. The TV Academy’s often flummoxing guidelines can lead to situations like only two shows being nominated in the Variety Sketch Series category (but hooray for A Black Lady Sketch Show!). Their preoccupation with this taped performance have skewed the Limited Series/Anthology/TV Movie acting categories—how is John Boyega competing in Supporting Actor, while Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. vie for Lead Actor? What makes this even more baffling is the fact that there’s already a place to recognize the Hamilton special: the Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) category. This is easily the most bewildering, post-pandemic voting development. [Danette Chavez]