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The Winners and Losers of the 2021 Emmy Nominations

The year of Jean Smart continues while chaos reigns and Lin-Manuel Miranda somehow makes it 2016 again

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While the 2020 Emmy Awards were certainly affected by the pandemic, this year’s ceremony will be largely defined by the shows that helped us get through the dark days of quarantine. (Thanks again for all the free therapy, Ted Lasso.) In turn, pandemic-induced production delays mean that some Emmy favorites have been sidelined from this year’s eligibility window, leaving an interesting vacuum for newcomers in certain categories (except for Limited Series, which is as ruthlessly competitive as ever). Below, we dive into the biggest winners and losers from Tuesday’s nominees. You can also check out the full list of Emmy nominees here.

Winner: Pure Chaos

The Golden Globes’ future remains uncertain in the wake of the organization’s latest controversies. In its absence, it seemed unlikely that any award show would match the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s brand of chaotic energy. But then this year’s Emmy nominations came along. While shows like The Crown and Ted Lasso predictably dominated, they were joined by a healthy number of WTF inclusions like the critically derided Emily in Paris, Netflix’s supposedly enduring The Kominsky Method, an already canceled HBO series, and (presumably) the embalmed corpse of William H. Macy slowly decomposing over the final season of Shameless. (They also threw a nomination at Don Cheadle for his barely there guest appearance in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the sort of celebrity-chasing the Globes perfected years ago.) This year’s Emmy nominees are undeniably compelling, but perhaps not in the way that the Television Academy intended. Like, I’m pretty sure some of these voters haven’t actually watched TV.

Winner: Ted Lasso

It was a foregone conclusion that the feel-good show of 2020, Ted Lasso, would get some love from the Television Academy. (It’s probably not a coincidence that GQ just so happened to publish a glowing Jason Sudeikis profile the same morning as the nominations.) But the extent to which Ted Lasso dominated the comedy categories was greater than even its biggest supporters might’ve dreamed of: All told, the show earned 20 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Comedy Series and a whopping six (!) nods in the supporting actor categories alone. The Lasso Effect is real, and with the soon-to-be-released second season already earning a similar wave of critical plaudits, don’t be surprised if Ted Lasso—and Jason Sudeikis’s tasteful hoodie collection—dominates the Emmys for years to come.

Loser: Small Axe

Small Axe is hard to categorize: It’s an anthology that amounts to five thematically connected movies from Steve McQueen that just so happened to stream on Amazon, which submitted it for the Emmys. We don’t need to start another exhausting “is it TV or film?” debate here, but the fact that Small Axe was Emmys-eligible and didn’t garner a single nomination is one of the year’s glaring omissions. However you want to categorize it, Small Axe and McQueen deserved their due.

Winner: Superheroes

When the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally dipped its toes into the world of television this year, Emmy accolades probably weren’t the first thing on Kevin Feige’s mind. (No shade, but I’m pretty sure everyone at Marvel cares mostly about Disney+ subscriber growth.) But it’s a testament to the MCU’s early success in moving to the small screen that its first Disney+ series, WandaVision, ended up garnering the third-most Emmy nominations with 23, highlighted by a nod for Outstanding Limited Series. Meanwhile, Amazon’s The Boys was a rather unexpected inclusion in the Outstanding Drama Series category—if only because this is the kind of show in which a guy named Love Sausage nearly strangles someone to death with his [clears throat] love sausage. Let’s hear it for The Boys, WandaVision, and superheroes continuing to make a splash at the Emmys after Watchmen’s domination last year.

Loser: The Drama Category

As the inclusion of Lovecraft Country and The Boys underlines, the drama category noticeably lacked strong, perennial contenders. Because of COVID-related production delays, the latest seasons of Stranger Things, Better Call Saul, Ozark, Killing Eve, and reigning Outstanding Drama Series winner Succession have yet to premiere. It wouldn’t have been surprising if all five of those shows would’ve made the cut had their new seasons aired in time. Instead, the Emmys might as well roll out the red carpet for The Crown, which aired a terrific(ally eligible) fourth season, is tied with The Mandalorian for the most nominations with 24, and already has 10 Emmys to its name. It feels like a foregone conclusion that The Crown will net Outstanding Drama Series, and aside from being a worthy winner, that’d also be a huge relief for Netflix.

Despite its original programs being Emmys mainstays ever since the early days of House of Cards, the streamer has yet to win an Emmy for Outstanding Drama, Comedy, or Limited Series. There’s never been a better time for Netflix to nab a victory in a main category. Even if it comes at the expense of any semblance of competition for The Crown, I highly doubt Ted Sarandos and Co. will complain about it.

Loser: Everyone Who Missed Out in Limited Series or Movie to a Filmed 2016 Broadway Stage Performance

I don’t have anything against the folks who love Hamilton, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s production has no business being up for 12 Emmys this year. Technically, yes, Hamilton was eligible in certain categories: It counts as a prerecorded variety special, and because it’s longer than 75 minutes, its actors could compete in the Limited Series or TV Movie acting categories. But Hamilton’s Emmys mean that other worthy Limited Series or Movie performances were edged out by seven Broadway actors who are being acknowledged for work they did in 2016. (A few notable casualties: Thuso Mbedu for The Underground Railroad, Ethan Hawke for The Good Lord Bird, and John Boyega for Small Axe.) Hamilton has already won Tonys, a Grammy, and even a Pulitzer—adding Emmys to its list of accolades is totally unnecessary and outdated. But since they’re part of this year’s ceremony, I’m not throwing away my shot to dunk on them.

A Winning Loser: Lovecraft Country

So, about that canceled HBO show: The network might be done with Lovecraft Country, but the Emmys still had plenty of love to dole out for it. The horror series is up for 18 Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series, which feels like it has less to do with Lovecraft Country itself than it does with the dearth of quality shows eligible this year. (I’m sorry, but the series was a mess, and even the network seems to agree.) But hey, everyone’s a winner here: HBO gets to luxuriate in some Emmy nominations for another one of its series, while Lovecraft Country showrunner Misha Green has already moved on to sign a multiyear deal with AppleTV+.

Loser: Desus & Mero (and Thus, the Television Academy)

The Outstanding Variety Talk Series category has grown increasingly stale, with the same late-night shows getting recognized year in and year out. (You don’t need me to tell you that Last Week Tonight With John Oliver got another nom.) And while it’s nice to see Conan up for an Emmy in its final year on TBS, the continued absence of Showtime’s Desus & Mero is an absolute travesty. Quite simply, there’s no one funnier in the late-night television landscape than Desus Nice and the Kid Mero—honestly, it’s not even close. The brand is strong, even if the Emmys are blind to it.

Winner: Jean Smart

If there’s a single actor who has defined the first half of television in 2021, it’s Jean Smart. Pulling double duty between Mare of Easttown and Hacks, Smart has excelled equally in moments of fruit-chopping levity and excruciating, fish-chopping dramatic tension. It’s only right, then, that the Emmys rewarded Smart with nominations for both performances. Smart does have fierce competition in both acting categories: She’s up for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie alongside Mare costar Julianne Nicholson; the going won’t be much easier in the Best Actress in a Comedy category, where she’ll be up against Kaley Cuoco’s endearingly chaotic work in The Flight Attendant. But that’s a discussion for another day. As far as the Emmy nominations are concerned, it’s Jean Smart’s world, and we’re just living in it.