The 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards take place this Sunday night, airing live on CBS and streaming on Paramount+. The ceremony caps an unprecedented year in television — an unprecedented year in everything, really. But despite pandemic delays and new safety protocols on set, the flood of TV and streaming content never really seemed to slow down significantly. Between drama and comedy series, anthologies, limited series, specials and reality shows, the number of Emmy nominees is dizzying as always.
Unlike a lot of awards show watchers, I’m not really in the prediction business — to borrow a phrase from the political podcasting class. Obviously, there are favorites to win, and those don’t always square with the series and performances that resonated most with me. But taking one last look at the nominees before the big night, I’ve got some thoughts — and some recommendations.
I can’t imagine anyone so inclined needs to be convinced to check out The Crown, which is nominated for and will likely win Best Drama Series, but the Netflix series’ fourth season really was a stand-out for an already acclaimed show. The mix of prestige drama and tabloid gossip reached its apex with the introduction of Emma Corrin’s Princess Diana in a star-making performance that should earn her the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series.
The rest of the nominees for Drama Series are a truly odd assortment of genre shows and melodramas. The Boys and Bridgerton cater to very specific tastes (superheroes, romance), while I feel like The Handmaid’s Tale and This Is Us are just here out of habit. But I do think Lovecraft Country deserves a shout-out. Creator Misha Green’s audacious single-season reimagining of sci-fi, horror and other pulp genre stories through the lens of the Black American experience wasn’t perfect, but it’s full of provocative delights, both visceral and thoughtful. The performances are fantastic too; Jurnee Smollett, Jonathan Majors, Aunjanue Ellis and the late Michael K. Williams all received nods.
Actually, a word about The Handmaid’s Tale: The series is all over the Drama categories, and maybe this is a reflection of this year’s comparatively slim pickings. Or maybe it has more to do with the laziness and myopia of Emmys voters, who tend to pick a favorite and stick with it year after year (Julia Louis Dreyfus, Modern Family). But although the most recent season finally started to move the story of June (Elisabeth Moss) and her fellow handmaids forward in long-overdue ways, after four seasons it continues to tread the same exhausting, brutal ground. If you’re looking at these nominations and wondering whether to dive back in, just know that you’re in for a lot of the same until the back half of the season.
My sense is that Emma Corrin is a fave to win Best Actress in a Drama, and as much as I would love to see Mj Rodriguez become the first transgender performer to win in this category, I can’t argue against Corrin here. Her performance is electric and — I’ve said it before — star-making. But among the other nominees, Uzo Aduba stands out. If you haven’t checked out HBO’s revival of In Treatment, get on that. Aduba anchors this riveting series with a performance that showcases her warmth and empathy. It also doesn’t hurt that she gets to go toe-to-toe with performers like Anthony Ramos, John Benjamin Hickey and Joel Kinnaman at the top of their games.
Ok, enough drama. Obviously, Apple TV+’s surprise hit Ted Lasso dominates this year’s Comedy categories. But for my money, Hacks is the real MVP here. The HBO Max series follows an aging, Joan Rivers-esque Vegas comedienne (Jean Smart) as she makes a play for renewed relevance by hiring an ornery millennial writer (Hannah Einbinder) to modernize her act. Smart is a treasure as always, at her brassiest here, and Einbinder is a fresh talent to watch. It’s no wonder they each received nominations for Best Actress (Smart) and Best Supporting Actress (Einbinder). And if you’re not already convinced, ask your best gay boyfriend to tell you about Meg Stalter. Hacks is so good, even the minor characters have become stars!
Smart seems like the obvious pick to win Best Actress in a Comedy, but I feel like honorable mention should go to Aidy Bryant in Shrill. The Hulu series, based on Lindy West’s essay collection, ended with its third season this year, and if you have a weekend to spend binging all three seasons, I highly recommend it. Shrill somehow manages to be hilarious, empowering, insightful and comforting all at the same time.
Oh, and this is definitely a longshot, but I’m rooting for Bowen Yang to win Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He’s unquestionably one of the best things about SNL right now.
Now, Limited or Anthology Series is the real category to watch. Mare of Easttown, The Queen’s Gambit, WandaVision, The Underground Railroad, I May Destroy You — they’re all fantastic, can’t recommend them enough, and you probably don’t need much convincing to check any of them out. But I May Destroy You deserves to win.
Scattered among the Limited/Anthology/Movie categories, alongside all the Mare and Hamilton nominees are a couple of hidden gems worth checking out. Ewan McGregor is nominated for his starring role in Netflix’s Halston. Yes, it’s a Ryan Murphy production, with all the pros and cons that entails. It’s a soapy, sensationalist take on the iconic American designer’s life. But it’s pretty and glossy and sexy, and honestly sometimes that’s all you want from TV, right?
Meanwhile, Jennifer Hudson may have been Aretha Frankin’s choice to play her in Respect, but Cynthia Erivo is up for an Emmy for her performance as the Queen of Soul in Genius: Aretha. Full disclosure: I’ve never seen any of the previous seasons of Genius, nor have I gotten around the Aretha. But Erivo is one of those actors for whom I will always make time.