Dear Emmy Voter-Type Folks, Whoever and Wherever You Are:
The eligibility period for the 2021 Emmy Awards ended on May 31, which means you will soon need to come up with your long list of nominations. It will be hard work combing carefully through an entire year of TV in order to pick the finest — but you will definitely do that work, and consider every show and actor thoroughly, and not just automatically nominate whatever you already happen to be familiar with, and not nominate famous people only so they’ll attend and make the telecast more starry, I just know it.
In case you need assistance, I am here for you, to point you toward some of the lesser-known series and performances that have helped to make this year from hell, during which so many turned to TV for distraction, into something almost bearable. I’ve been watching very closely, as you can imagine.
Most likely you will want to re-up past nominees, which is your wont — and which isn’t always a bad thing, when we’re talking about Sterling K. Brown in NBC’s “This Is Us,” or Olivia Colman in Netflix’s “The Crown,” or Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method.” Many of them have continued to be deserving, particularly “The Crown,” which had its most engaging season so far in November, lifted up by new cast members Gillian Anderson, Josh O’Connor, and Emma Corrin.
But this year, a lot of your automatic go-tos will not be eligible, because of pandemic-based delays in production. You won’t be able to fall back lazily on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Killing Eve,” “Stranger Things,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to fill out the categories; none of them ran during the eligibility period. Last year’s big drama winner, the dryly humorous “Succession” and its excellent cast, won’t be there for you, either. And last year’s big comedy winner, “Schitt’s Creek,” also won’t be in the mix, but not because of the pandemic; it has ended for good, or at least until someone starts throwing big money at the cast to make a revival.
That’s going to leave room for plenty of fresh names and faces. I suspect you will give “Ted Lasso” a lot of love; the Apple TV+ series was instantly popular when it premiered last August, and justifiably so. It’s a warm comedy, and Jason Sudeikis leads it with just the right amounts of silliness and wisdom. At this early stage, I’m betting it will win. But hey, what about recognizing a different Apple TV+ comedy as well? You ignored season one of “Dickinson,” the audacious period piece about the life of poet Emily Dickinson, but now you can rectify that by giving it a few nods, for best comedy and to Hailee Steinfeld for best actress.
While we’re on the subject of comedy, I’d like to call your attention to Hulu’s “PEN15,” a bittersweet coming-of-age series in which thirtysomething actors Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play 13-year-olds. It may sound like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, but it’s much better and more sustainable than that. At moments, as the girls go through all the heartbreaks and social traumas of their age, “PEN15” is as poignant as any TV portrait of adolescence I’ve seen. You nominated the first season for a writing Emmy, but it’s time to honor it for its standout second season and its two remarkable stars.
I have no doubt that you will recognize HBO Max’s “Hacks,” not only as a best comedy nominee but for its extraordinary lead performance by Jean Smart (who’ll probably also get a nod for her supporting work in the limited series “Mare of Easttown”). The show has the feel of an Emmy favorite, and it’s good, too. Apple TV+’s “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” and HBO Max’s “Made for Love” don’t have the feel of Emmy favorites, but I recommend you check out F. Murray Abraham in the former and Ray Romano in the latter. They ought to be prime contenders in the comedy supporting actor category — especially Romano, who plays a grieving father in love with a life-size sex doll and makes it work brilliantly.
Also belonging in the supporting comedy categories: Paul Reiser and Kathleen Turner, the two highlights of the third and final season of Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method,” and Renée Elise Goldsberry, who walks away with Peacock’s “Girls5eva” as the narcissistic Wickie.
When it comes to drama, I suspect you are going to go with Netflix’s “Bridgerton” and Regé-Jean Page, largely because they were both sensations. Whatever, I guess. I gobbled down “Bridgerton,” like everyone else, but I don’t see it as an awards-level show. Most likely you’ll also go for HBO’s “Perry Mason” and lead Matthew Rhys, both enjoyable but flawed. Same with Apple TV+’s “The Mosquito Coast” and Justin Theroux. But promise me, Emmy-voter-type person, that you will also consider Starz’s “P-Valley,” a stunning look at the lives of a bunch of strippers working at a Mississippi Delta club. It’s a Southern Gothic featuring a number of strong performances, most notably by Brandee Evans as a pole-dancing veteran and by Nicco Annan as the gender-nonconforming boss named Uncle Clifford who is tough-loving and shrewd.
Promise me, too, that you will take a look at Jonathan Majors, the lead in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” He’s a revelation as Korean War veteran Atticus Freeman. And at Uzo Aduba as the therapist in “In Treatment.” And John Benjamin Hickey as her explosive client. And Judy Davis as the only good thing in Netflix’s “Ratched.”
The limited series categories have been among the most exciting in recent years, as the format has become increasingly popular. Every year brings a new batch of contenders, and this year’s group is particularly strong, with Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit,” and HBO’s “I May Destroy You” and “Mare of Easttown.” I suspect you will nominate those titles, but I hope you won’t overlook Showtime’s “The Good Lord Bird,” along with Ethan Hawke’s turn as John Brown. That excellent miniseries is an under-recognized treat. Also, make sure you watch Amazon’s “The Underground Railroad”; it’s masterful, and lead actress Thuso Mbedu is magical.
So there we are, Emmy-voter-type folks. I’m assuming you will take all of my advice.