A version of this story first appeared in the Comedy & Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Emmy nomination voting has begun, and what should we make of this year’s Emmy races for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series? After all, a year after the satisfying wins for the second season of “Succession” and the final season of “Schitt’s Creek,” the pandemic has wreaked havoc with the field of contenders.
“Schitt’s Creek” won’t be back because it was rewarded for its final season, and so was 2020 nominee “The Good Place.” And “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Dead to Me,” “Insecure,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “What We Do in the Shadows” are all out of the running, too, because they didn’t air new seasons during the June 1, 2020-May 31, 2021 eligibility period — partly because nobody could make new TV during much of 2020.
In fact, only one of last year’s eight nominated comedies, “The Kominsky Method,” has qualified for the category this year.
On the drama side, meanwhile, three of the eight 2020 nominees — “The Crown,” “The Mandalorian” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” — did air new seasons and have a chance to go back to back. But “Succession” didn’t, and neither did its fellow nominees “Better Call Saul,” “Killing Eve,” “Ozark” and “Stranger Things.”
Together, that means that 75% of last year’s series nominees are out of the running. But that doesn’t mean that the competition has been diluted by all the shows that are missing in action, because there’s nothing skimpy about this year’s field.
It reminds me of a line from Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jeff Goldblum’s character from “Jurassic Park.” As a group of skeptical scientists look on, Malcolm explains how a group of genetically engineered dinosaurs can begin to breed even if they’re all female: “Life, uh, finds a way.”
Except in this case it’s TV finds a way, or Streaming finds a way, or Content finds a way. (Goldblum aficionados like me will add the appropriate uhs to those phrases.) Even without a dozen of last year’s nominees, this year’s categories are chock-full of contenders, many that may be energized or emboldened by the fact that they don’t have to crash a lineup of familiar faces.
So who are the contenders? You can start with a quartet of shows that were nominated for comedy or drama series in the past but missed out last year: “black-ish” and “Master of None” in comedy, “This Is Us” and the final season of “Pose” in drama. All four of those shows could well land nominations this year, though “black-ish” probably has the stronger chance in comedy and “Pose” might have a small edge over “This Is Us” in drama after wrapping up its three-season run so effectively.
(It probably didn’t hurt that GLAAD and a number of associated LGBTQ groups released an open letter to Television Academy on Thursday, the day voting began, lobbying for the voters to recognize the importance of “Pose.”)
Then there are the shows that have been around for a season, or a few seasons, without cracking the top category. Shows that could be poised to make that leap include “The Boys,” “Yellowstone” and the rebooted “In Treatment” in drama and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” “Pen15,” “Mythic Quest,” “Cobra Kai” and “Dickinson” in comedy. Of all those shows, “Zoey’s” may have the best shot of breaking through, though NBC didn’t do any favors by announcing its cancellation on the eve of voting. And you shouldn’t underestimate the cool kids’ embrace of “Pen15.”
But the real strength of this year could be in the first-year shows, at least a half dozen of which will likely land nominations. In comedy, freshman series are three of the strongest contenders, with presumptive favorite “Ted Lasso,” “The Flight Attendant” and the late-breaking “Hacks” all in great shape. (But don’t count out “Girls5eva,” “Rutherford Falls,” “Made for Love” or “Mr. Mayor.”)
In drama, new shows “Lovecraft Country” and “Bridgerton” are likely nominees, with “Perry Mason,” “We Are Who We Are,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “The Mosquito Coast” all in the running to land a spot as well.
There are more series in both categories that could end up surprising people with their Emmy strength. (I mean, I’m certainly not going to be the one to tell Dwayne Johnson that “Young Rock” doesn’t have a shot.)
And that’s the bottom line in the series races in 2021: Even after a year that knocked many potential nominees out of the running, there’s so much content jockeying for votes that before the season is over we may not even miss Mrs. Maisel or Saul Goodman.
Emmy voters can be unpredictable, but here’s how the races for comedy and drama series feel as voting begins:
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
“Ted Lasso” (Apple TV+)
“The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max)
“Hacks” (HBO Max)
“The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)
Battling for the last slots:
“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” (NBC)
“Mythic Quest” (Apple TV+)
“Master of None” (Netflix)
“Cobra Kai” (Netflix)
“Dickinson” (Apple TV+)
“Made for Love” (HBO Max)
“Rutherford Falls” (Peacock)
“Mr. Mayor” (NBC)
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
“The Crown” (Netflix)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
“The Mandalorian” (Disney+)
“Lovecraft Country” (HBO)
“This Is Us” (NBC)
Battling for the last slots:
“In Treatment” (HBO)
“Perry Mason” (HBO)
“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” (Disney+)
“The Boys” (Amazon Prime Video)
“We Are Who We Are” (HBO)
“The Mosquito Coast” (AppleTV+)
“Yellowstone” (Paramount Network)
“Godfather of Harlem” (Epix)
Read more from the Comedy & Drama Series issue here.