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Emmy nominations featured some hits, and plenty of misses

Ethan Hawke (left) as John Brown and Joshua Caleb Johnson in Showtime's "The Good Lord Bird," which was left out of all the major Emmy categories.
Ethan Hawke (left) as John Brown and Joshua Caleb Johnson in Showtime's "The Good Lord Bird," which was left out of all the major Emmy categories.William Gray/Showtime

We knew the Emmy nominations might look different this year. So many familiar shows were not eligible because of pandemic-based production delays, from the past-their-prime shows that automatically get nods like “Stranger Things” and “Killing Eve” to the deserving likes of last year’s winner, “Succession.”

And they do look different, in a few positive ways. There was plenty of room for new faces in comedy, particularly without last year’s comedy sweeper, “Schitt’s Creek,” in the mix. I am delighted to see Aidy Bryant on the list for leading the third and final season of her excellent body-image comedy, “Shrill,” which she carries with easy grace, as well as for her supporting work on “Saturday Night Live.” Likewise, I’m pleased to see O-T Fagbenle win a supporting nomination for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” as the season’s story line presented him with lots of powerfully complicated material.


Strong newcomers “Hacks” and “Ted Lasso” were also able to get lots of acknowledgment, as comedies and for their actors. You go Jean Smart, who got nods for both “Hacks” and “Mare of Easttown.” It’s particularly heartening to see so many supporting players from “Ted Lasso” on the list, not least of all Jeremy Swift, the kind of comic actor who is often overlooked. I still smile when I think of his work as Spratt in “Downton Abbey.”

Also, the voters finally found “PEN15.” They were savvy enough to recognize, in the increasingly important limited-series categories, “I May Destroy You,” its creator and star Michaela Coel, and “The Underground Railroad.” And they recognized the brilliance of the genre-twisted (and, alas, canceled) “Lovecraft Country” and its stars Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors. All those nominations should have been expected, but you never know when it comes to Emmy love. It can be a wild, untamed, and damn stupid thing.


Mj Rodriguez as Blanca in a scene from "Pose."
Mj Rodriguez as Blanca in a scene from "Pose." Eric Liebowitz/FX via AP

Oh, and here’s a short, extremely felt paragraph for Mj Rodriguez, who got a best actress nomination for the third and final season of “Pose” (which was also named in the best drama category). She has been the backbone of “Pose” all along, and it was strange, to put it mildly, that while the series won nods for Billy Porter and best drama, she was never acknowledged. Now, she is the first trans actress in history to be nominated in a leading acting category.

But yeah, there are plenty of snubs and odd choices. Of course there are! That’s part of the pleasure of these races — complaining. Here, then, is a selection of my disappointments.

Where is “The Good Lord Bird” and Ethan Hawke? The Showtime miniseries is a powerful and amusing romp, all revolving around Hawke’s big performances as abolitionist John Brown. Based on the novel by James McBride, and featuring Daveed Diggs in a great turn as Frederick Douglass, the show was flat-out snubbed.

No love for “Mythic Quest”: The Apple TV+ comedy is good, if uneven, but the cast is consistently stellar. We know Emmy voters are afraid of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and that may be playing a role here, since “MQ” is from some of the “It’s Always Sunny” people. But still, F. Murray Abraham deserves better.

Marielle Heller (left) and Anya Taylor-Joy in "The Queen's Gambit."
Marielle Heller (left) and Anya Taylor-Joy in "The Queen's Gambit."Phil Bray/Netflix

Queen of hearts Marielle Heller: “The Queen’s Gambit,” so meticulously shot, ran the risk of feeling chilly at times. But Heller’s work as chess champ Beth’s adoptive mother brought enough heart to warm the whole thing up. She really should be here.


Love “Hamilton,” but: Those limited-series supporting-actress nominees from “Hamilton,” while excellent, don’t belong in the Emmys. Indeed, none of the “Hamilton” nominations seems right to me. It’s a filmed stage musical, TV Academy.

Judy, Judy, Judy Davis: I am relieved that voters were wise enough to resist throwing nominations at “Ratched,” a pretty but silly look into the backstory of the nurse from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” But Davis, as usual, was a tart treat, as a jealous co-worker.

Come on, let’s “Dickinson”: So the Television Academy sees fit to nominate “Emily in Paris,” but not this audacious Apple TV+ period piece about the life of poet Emily Dickinson? I guess the popularity of “Emily” blinded them. The show and star Hailee Steinfeld should both be here.

Go all the way with “PEN15”: Voters now apparently see the adolescent glory of the show, but they still can’t see that it is all because of the balancing-act performances by stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle playing 13-year-olds? OK then.

“Girls5eva” deserves betta: I know, the Peacock comedy is on the silly side — intentionally so. But the performances are expert, especially Renée Elise Goldsberry, who just about walks away with the show as the narcissistic Wickie.

Thuso Mbedu as Cora in "The Underground Railroad."
Thuso Mbedu as Cora in "The Underground Railroad."Kyle Kaplan/Amazon Studios

Three performances ignored: Voters apparently watched “The Underground Railroad,” but they missed the intensity of its central performance, by Thuso Mbedu. Kathleen Turner kept “The Kominsky Method” from bottoming out after Alan Arkin left. And Ray Romano was remarkably tragi-comic in HBO Max’s “Made for Love,” as a grieving father in love with a life-size sex doll.


“P-Valley” goes missing: The Starz drama is a stunning look at the lives of strippers working at a Mississippi Delta club — an edgy premise that might have gotten in the way of an Emmy embrace. It’s Southern Gothic excellence, though, with a number of strong performances, most notably by Brandee Evans as a pole-dancing veteran and by Nicco Annan as the gender-nonconforming boss. “The Boys” instead of “P-Valley”? Yup.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.