The Television Academy announced its nominations for the 73rd Emmy Awards on Tuesday, and much of it resembled a giant bowl of mac and cheese.
Figuratively, of course.
In a year where reality provided more drama, tragedy, ire and absurdist comedy than all of scripted television combined, the academy leaned heavily on comfort food over challenging fare in its picks for the 2021 prime-time Emmy contenders.
The top nominated shows overall were two dramas, Netflix’s “The Crown” and the Disney+ “Star Wars” story “The Mandalorian,” which scored 24 nods each. The former’s fourth season revisits the tabloid saga of fussy royals Charles and Diana, while the latter’s second continues its tale of a bounty hunter and his young charge — affectionately known as Baby Yoda — through space.
Next in the running was “WandaVision,” the wonderfully creative Disney+ limited series spun off from Marvel Cinematic Universe; the Scarlet Witch and her robot spouse received 23 total nominations.
And in the comedy series race, voters embraced Apple TV+’s nice-guy breakout “Ted Lasso,” starring Jason Sudeikis as a helpful soccer coach who’s always handing out cookies, with 20 nominations.
And whether you’re buzzing over Tuesday’s big winners or not, it’s clear the TV Academy — like many viewers — leaned toward the soothing presence of familiar franchises and gentle storylines. We’ll see if the titles with the most chances at a statuette go on to rack them up when the awards are announced Sept. 19, during a televised ceremony from Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater hosted by Cedric the Entertainer.
Even this year’s less acclaimed nominees indicated that voters wanted programming that provided a break from the constant pummel of bad news: Consider Netflix’s longshot “Emily in Paris,” a fluffy American-abroad comedy that score two nominations despite stirring up controversy when it was nominated for the Golden Globes, and the streamer’s whimsical, bodice-ripping period drama “Bridgerton,” which nabbed 12.
All eyes heading into the day were on the highly competitive limited series category, where the best shows of the year were competing for just five slots. And, no surprise, it’s now home to the academy’s most notable snubs.
Steve McQueen’s stunningly beautiful limited series “Small Axe” (Amazon), about life in London’s immigrant West Indian community, received no major nominations, while none of the performers from Barry Jenkins’ “The Underground Railroad” (Amazon) — namely the magnetic Thuso Mbedu — were included in the acting categories. Voters also passed on “The Good Lord Bird,” Showtime’s limited series starring Ethan Hawke as abolitionist John Brown.
In the midst of a racial reckoning that began last summer and continues into the present moment, these were notable omissions. Still, the TV Academy did reward several shows that center the experience of Black people and other people of color: HBO’s British limited drama “I May Destroy You,” in which creator and star Michaela Coel — nominated for acting, writing and directing — explores the definition of consent and the aftermath of sexual assault, and the final season of FX’s “Pose,” a tale of LGBTQ life at the height of the AIDS crisis starring nominees Billy Porter and Mj Rodriguez, notched nine nominations apiece.
If you’re looking for a repeat of “Watchmen,” which led the conversation when it won 11 Emmys last year, the closest analogue may be another HBO genre-bender, “Lovecraft Country,” which received 18 nominations in all. As with “Watchmen,” which hit a nerve by incorporating real-life events like the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre into a complex sci-fi tale, “Lovecraft” filtered America’s Jim Crow past through the lens of ghosts, monsters and secret Indiana Jones-like caverns. But it’s hard to celebrate “Lovecraft’s” Emmy success too fervently: HBO canceled the show just last week.
On the whole, though, the 2021 Emmys will reflect the central TV-watching habit of the last year: the turn to comforting shows, often while consuming comfort foods — Cocoa Puffs straight from the box, anyone? — when times got tough. We were in survival mode: George Floyd’s murder, a pandemic, the Big Lie, the Capitol insurrection. Netflix’s highly stylized period tale about the rise of a female chess champion, “The Queen’s Gambit,” arrived just in time to usher us into someone else’s story of misery and hardship, not our own — and ended up with 18 nominations on Tuesday. HBO’s addictive limited series “Mare of Easttown,” starring Kate Winslet as a small-town Pennsylvania detective, served the same purpose for viewers who watched her hunt down a murderer. Its nominations totaled 16.
Announced via livestream Tuesday morning by Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”) and Jasmine Cephas Jones (“Blindspotting”), who pulled off an unprecedented father-daughter Emmy double in 2020, the nominations also included Amazon’s irreverent anti-superhero series “The Boys,” an unexpected entry in the drama series category alongside the likes of “The Crown” — and a welcome one, given its willingness to lampoon celebrity culture corporate greed, corrupt politics, government-leveraged conspiracy-theory culture and just about everything else that’s deeply hypocritical and wrong about this post-everything age. But it was among the scant handful of nominees to address itself directly to the tense climate of current American culture, along with Hulu’s dystopian drama series nominee “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
In comedy, the best respite of all, “Ted Lasso’s” dominance and the “Emily in Paris” surprise set the tone, joined by the likes of Netflix’s ‘80s throwback “Cobra Kai” and the Michael Douglas vehicle “The Kominsky Method,” as well as ABC’s family sitcom “black-ish.” Focused on strong female perspectives, HBO Max’s newcomers “Hacks” and “The Flight Attendant” will compete against each other, as will the show’s respective stars, Jean Smart and Kaley Cuoco, and Hulu’s back-to-middle school series “PEN15,” from Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, was also nominated. What could be more painful than reliving the hellish torment of puberty?
The past year, apparently.