How Will The Emmys Handle 2021?
My Series of Predictions for This Year’s Emmys, Part 1
Yes, it’s that time of year again.
Those of you who have been following my column for awhile pretty much know how this feature goes. I make my best efforts to try and figure out who the academy will end up nominating each year. Almost by preference, I tend to ignore some of the biggest players — Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Mandalorian — and try to push for some little known series. Almost inevitably, not only does the Academy press for series that even the viewers don’t particularly like any more but double down on them. It’s gotten really frustrating.
Now I’d like to believe that considering that almost every one of last year’s winners and several of the major nominees from the previous year have either completed their run or didn’t air any new episodes that I have something of a chance of getting more of my choices being acknowledged. But honestly by this point, it wouldn’t stun me if the Emmys decided to nominate The Good Wife for Best Drama even though it’s been off the air for five seasons. Sound crazy? I still don’t get how The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 got nominated for Best Drama both in 2019 and 2020.
That being said, it really does seem like some new faces — as well as some old ones — will get nominated this year, if only because of the laziness of the Emmys habits. And considering how much we’ve needed TV over the past year and a half, I really think the Academy might want to work a little harder when they go back to a live event this September.
The process is the same as it ever was. I’m going to deal with every category in Dramas, Comedies and Limited Series. I’m going to list the nominees I think will get there and those who I think should get there. For each category, I will also put through a special choice that I think is most likely to be overlooked by the Emmys. (Then again, considering how badly they treated Better Call Saul last year, they need all the help they can get.)
As always, I’ll start with the Dramas.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
Disclaimer: Of the eight series that got nominated last year, the only ones I really thought should’ve been nominated were The Crown, Better Call Saul, Stranger Things, and Succession. There’s a very good argument for Ozark and Killing Eve and I would’ve made it had I kept up with either. I’ve never been able to buy into The Handmaid’s Tale and having seen The Mandalorian, all I can say is this: if you watched it and you still believe it was superior to This is Us, Pose and Big Little Lies, you really don’t have any idea what quality television is.
This year, the only quality series of the group of the previous year still eligible is The Crown. I have no doubt that The Mandalorian and The Handmaid’s Tale will be nominated, if only by default. And there are some inferior hit shows I will not mention that are likely to be considered. Still, that leaves at least four vacant spots. Considering the genuine possibility for new blood and return of the old, here are the series I’d consider.
Big Sky (ABC)
The best new series on network television was one of the most unconventional even though it came from a man known for subverting conventions for decades. David E. Kelley’s exceptional Montana set detective drama started with Ryan Philippe being shot and went even darker. Dealing with one of the most fascinating psychotic characters I’ve seen on broadcast TV — or anywhere, for that matter — the show involved two very complicated female private investigators spending half a season trying to resolve the kidnapping of three women and then investigating a brilliant story about a corrupt family of ranchers. Some of the most brilliant performances this year — from John Carroll Lynch, Valerie Mahaffey, Ted Levine and Britt Robertson — gave way between what ultimately came down to what was arguably the most twisted love story in TV history. I’m overjoyed the series was renewed and has a chance for mass consumption. It would be nice if it got some Emmy love.
City on a Hill (Showtime)
There’s been a lot of abuse for the procedural this past year — most of it justified. This incredible Showtime series shows just where it can go. Set in 1990s Boston, this series shows the lives and careers of Boston FBI Agent Jackie Rohr and DA Decourcy Ward. (Every time Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge are onscreen together, you can feel the electricity) Starting out as bitter enemies, Jackie and Decourcy are thrown back together in a case that starts with a stray bullet killing a little girl and spirals out into a community organizer and her sons who are drug dealers right under her nose. Watching Jackie and Decourcy spar would be fascinating enough, but watching this incredible cast (Jill Hennessy as Jackie’s oft-abused wife is remarkable) has led to some of the best moments so far in 2021. This year, City put itself as a clear successor to Homicide and The Wire — not surprising since some of the same minds behind both shows are involved. Then again, neither series got a lot of loves from the Emmys. I’m hoping it isn’t the case this year.
The Crown (Netflix)
Having already swept the Golden Globes, The SAG Awards and the Critics Choice Awards, it’s looking like it will take an atom bomb to stop the series from winning. And in many ways the fourth season is by far the most remarkable yet. This year, Peter Morgan and his colleagues did something you would never have thought possible: he took all the sympathy that we’ve felt for the Elizabeth and her entire generation the past three years and basically gutted all of it. The institution has swallowed Elizabeth whole and she doesn’t even seem to have noticed. The sympathy has fallen entirely on Diana, who now truly seems like the only human being in this entire family, and is utterly punished for it. The acting is a master class — from Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter to the exceptional Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin as the utterly unsuited Charles and Diana to the always incredible Gillian Anderson in a portrayal of Maggie Thatcher that completely puts Meryl Streep’s performance to shame. The more you learn about the monarchy — and we’ve learned far too much the last few months alone — the more you really wish that Netflix won’t end the series after Season 6. Just think what they could do with Harry and Meghan.
In Treatment (HBO)
Two of the best contenders of the past years were reboots. The first was one of a critically acclaimed HBO series from the previous decade, less a drama series that a group of one-act plays involving a therapy session. This May HBO debuted ‘Season 4’ of In Treatment. The incredible Uzo Aduba plays Dr. Brooke Taylor, an LA therapist trying to deal with patients in a pandemic world. Each of her patients sounds a different chord: Eladio, a Latino caregiver who can’t sleep and believe his bipolar diagnosis has made his life horrible. Leila, an African American teenager who is brought to Brooke to be ‘treated’ for being a lesbian, and reveals just how hard it is to be black in America. My personal favorite is Colin, a tech billionaire just out of prison, seeing Brooke as a condition of his probation that starts out genial and gets to the point where nothing he says can be trusted. All of these pile on to a woman, dealing with sobriety, the death of her father and so many internal struggles that we wonder how we never noticed she was floundering. I don’t know whether HBO did this new season out of desperation or as a mea culpa for not properly marketing one of his best series. What I know is that this version and this cast deserve a lot of recognition.
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
I thought horror on television was genuinely dead — until we learned the scariest thing in the world is to be an African American in the 1950s…or at all. From the earliest moments of this incredible show, the most frightening moments were not the ghosts or ghouls, but all the everyday threats that a black person had to deal with. Is it any wonder that one of the critical characters sold her soul for her chance to live as a white woman, however briefly? Every single racial horror story in the first half of the twentieth century from Tulsa to Emmett Till was hit upon, along with some of the most incredible performances in the entire year, from Josee Smollett to Courtney B. Vance to Michael K. Williams. (If he doesn’t finally get an Emmy this year…) We still don’t know for sure that Lovecraft Country is even coming back for a second season — its been nearly a year since it ended and it could just have told a single story. But this is a series with more creative energy and rage than so many of the other shows that the Academy says are at that level — it shows just how utterly phony the love The Mandalorian gets is; this is a story that actually resonates cause we know this world. I want a second season for this show. Failing that, I want all the Emmy nods it can get.
Perry Mason (HBO)
You wouldn’t have thought one of the most clichéd series in history would turn into one of the most brilliant series in HBO’s lineup. But by turning the heroic lawyer who never lost a case, taking him back to the story’s origin — the 1930s — and making him an utterly cynical, ruthless and angry man, HBO has created one of its best new series. Led by the incomparable Matthew Rhys, this version takes everything we found stale about the 1950s classic and gives it an angle that we never knew we needed. Della Street and Paul Drake are given dimensions the series never allowed them. And the show had an incredible supporting cast from Tatiana Maslany to Shea Whigham to John Lithgow all added to their impressive resumes in ways you hadn’t expected even if you’ve been watching them for years. The only thing against it is that it debuted last June — a long time ago in Emmy voters’ memories. If I can wait eight episodes for that iconic theme music, I think they can stay around to remember it.
I was ruined internally when I learned that Season 3 would be the exceptional look at the New York City’s African American LGBTQ community’s last. But just like Pray Tell, it went out on its own terms. And Murphy made sure that so many of the characters we’ve grown to love over such a short time got a fitting and happy ending — except in the series most gutting moment, the one we really thought would pull through. Billy Porter more than deserves a second Emmy for his incredible arc as Pray this season, utterly broken at the beginning, going back home to say his goodbyes, facing death, rebirth, and then…well, I can’t say it even now. But the entire cast from India Moore to Dominique Jackson was equally good as they completed remarkable journeys on their own and all received happiness — and a rising up from the utter despair that marked so much of the series. Was it unrealistic? A little. Did the characters deserve it? After everything we’ve seen them go through, absolutely. For a series that was a powerhouse all throughout its short but incredible life, the only thing left to say is… the category is: Emmy Glory!
This is Us (NBC)
I just couldn’t fathom why this show was denied a fourth consecutive Best Drama nomination after doing some of its best work. But it is utterly inconceivable that it can be ignored this year. Watching the Pearsons deal with the pandemic and all the racial struggles in addition to their normal struggles — which involved Kevin and Randall being at utter loggerheads for most of the season — led to some great drama. Add to that all the other incredible moments — Randall finally learning the story of his birth mother, Kevin trying to deal with impending fatherhood, the incredible play when Kevin and Randall finally worked out all of the issues they had, not just during their fight but in their entire lives — and you had another example as to why this one of the greatest shows of the past ten years. Will the revelations of the finale hurt it with the voters and is affects the fan base? I don’t know. But as this is the next to last chance to honor this great series, the Emmys really need to pay respect to The Big Three.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Cruel Summer (Freeform)
The most twisted and brilliant crime drama in 2021 isn’t on pay cable or streaming, but on a network that normally looks at things with a bright look. This magnificent show takes a radical at two teenage girls over three summers: one the victim of a horrendous crime, the other accused of knowing of it and doing nothing. But there’s so much more to it than that. The longer you watch this incredible show, the more you realize that nothing is black and white; only shades of gray, and that friendship and family can be broken as easily as a misremembered gesture. This year, the biggest crime show of the spring was Mare of Easttown. The lucky ones saw this one, too and it’s far more disturbing. I thought this would be a limited series when it began; now I can see how it could work as a drama. Either way, it deserves to be honored with awards.