The ‘Emily in Paris’ Emmy Nomination Broke My Brain: 13 More Highs and Lows
Yay for double-nominee Jean Smart, history-making Mj Rodriguez, and the entire damn cast of “Ted Lasso.” But here we are again reeling over Best Comedy nominee “Emily in Paris.”
In the sweet spring of hope and this early summer of freedom and rebirth, it’s our instinct to repress the traumatic events of this past year, such as the Emily in Paris discourse. The series’ surprise, arguably ridiculous Golden Globe nominations this past winter helped set into motion investigations into corruption and a lack of inclusivity that just about destroyed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Yet here we are talking about the show in an awards context again.
In what might be the most baffling of Tuesday morning’s 2021 Emmy Award nominations, the polarizing Netflix series appeared among the Best Comedy Series nominees. Emmy voters didn’t even get a free trip to Paris in return. They just have questionable taste.
That may be the biggest takeaway from this year’s nominations, which come after an undeniably strange year in television—and a game-changing one when it comes to how we consume it.
While we certainly watched more TV than ever, there were actually fewer series produced, owing to a global pandemic (heard of it?). And for all the breadth of options out there, we seemed to hurl all our attention onto a select few series, watercooler-style. Perhaps out of a desire for community, we watched in a way we had previously seemed to move away from as more and more new streaming services splintered popularity.
You’ll see that reflected in the roughly six billion nominations showered on hits like Ted Lasso, The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Hamilton which, as stellar as they are, overtook their respective acting categories in a cringe-inducing way. (Four best supporting actor nominations for Ted Lasso?!?)
And you see that, too, with Netflix’s Emily in Paris and Cobra Kai, two undeniably popular series that made it into the expanded eight-nominee race over smaller contenders like Peacock’s Girls5eva, HBO Max’s Made for Love, or NBC’s Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. (In other words, my personal Hail Mary nominee, Peacock’s Saved By the Bell reboot, hadn’t a prayer.)
How much of this is a pandemic-year quirk and what are the fundamental issues with how these things are determined? I’m not sure I can say beyond that the trend of entire casts of a frontrunner, “Emmy-friendly” show, whatever that may mean, being nominated in supporting categories has been happening for years. These categories were expanded to reward more TV and smaller contenders. It’s kind of silly if, instead, one show takes half of the eight slots.
This year’s nominees were not a travesty. (Yay!) They were, however, pretty predictable. (Meh.) Of course, what we would consider some of the best series and performances of the year were missing entirely, largely owing to this rubber stamping issue. (Boo.)
Here’s our rundown of the highs and lows.
LOW: The category takeovers.
Not to harp on it—but like, to completely harp on it—the acting categories, particularly supporting, are a mess. There are eight nominees in each comedy and drama race, and six in the limited series race.
Ted Lasso has four of the eight supporting actor in a comedy nominees. The Handmaid’s Tale has three supporting actor and four supporting actress slots. Three of those other slots went to The Crown, which means there’s only one other show represented, with Aunjanue Ellis from Lovecraft Country. Cast members from Saturday Night Live occupy five supporting slots.
And while no one would ever argue that the acting in the Hamilton recording isn’t jaw-dropping—this is Hamilton, there’s no overselling it—in what might be the tightest limited series/movie races ever, it’s hard to justify that even this production is owed seven acting nominations.
LOW: The Supporting Actor Snubs
I tend to only think of something as a “snub” and not just a “personal disappointment” when you can point to a contender you would remove from the race and replace them. When there is such single-show dominance in these supporting categories, that’s easy to do.
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy should have made room for Ray Romano from Made for Love and Alex Newell from Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, especially. Personally, I would have nominated Justice Smith from Genera+ion and John Early from Search Party over the Ted Lasso plethora.
Considering how well Pose did otherwise, I’m surprised Indya Moore couldn’t make it in over one of the Handmaid’s Tale supporting actresses or the surprise Emerald Fennell inclusion for playing Camilla Parker Bowles on The Crown. I’m also shocked that neither Cynthia Nixon nor Judy Davis broke through for their work on Ratched.
And while Emmy favorite Bradley Whitford was always going to get in for Handmaid’s Tale, I’d easily have swapped in In Treatment’s devastating, dynamic duo of Anthony Ramos and John Benjamin Hickey for his castmates.
High: Mj Rodriguez and the Triumph of Pose
Mj Rodriguez makes history, deservedly so, by becoming the first trans woman to be nominated in a lead acting category. The series’ final season also got the flowers it deserved with nine nominations, the most it’s ever received. That includes a directing mention for Steven Canals, who co-created the show and never backed down from a dogged effort to bring it to air, and the first writing nominations for trailblazers Janet Mock and Our Lady J.
(I am still bummed, however, that trans star Josie Totah couldn’t find momentum for her genius work on Saved By the Bell—I am serious—that Nicco Annan was ignored for a fascinating performance as a gender-fluid strip-club den mother, and that gender-nonconforming musical powerhouse Alex Newell was once again overlooked for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.)
While his Conan Without Borders has been a staple of the Emmys’ interactive categories, Conan O’Brien scored his first Variety Talk Series nomination for Conan in a decade—a fitting homage to the late-night renegade’s goodbye to the genre.
Low: Seth Meyers Misses Out Again
While the slot that Conan took likely belonged to his TBS colleague Samantha Bee—a sore omission from this stacked category—it’s getting increasingly frustrating that Late Night With Seth Meyers has been unable to crack the big race. It has long been the best of the broadcast White Guys in Suits Behind a Desk talk shows, and his pandemic pivot was phenomenal. The show has managed a handful of writing nods over the years, and this year a directing one, but it’s time for a promotion.
High: Double Nominees Jean Smart, Aidy Bryant, and Kenan Thompson!
The Year of the Jean Smartiassance arrives at its natural conclusion with the actress winning the double nominations she was expected to receive—and rightly deserved—for her work on HBO Max’s Hacks and HBO’s The Mare of Easttown. A pleasant surprise was Aidy Bryant joining her in the distinction, with a Best Actress nomination for Shrill accompanying the predicted Saturday Night Live mention in Best Supporting Actress.
Kenan Thompson is also a double nominee, with his performance in the NBC self-titled comedy Kenan making it into Best Actor in addition to his SNL work. That this is how many people will find out that Kenan is, in fact, a show that speaks more to the paucity of contenders in that category, which is easily the least exciting race this year.
Low: Where Is P-Valley? Or For All Mankind? And What About It’s a Sin?
If I were to make a ranking of this year’s Emmy contenders, Starz’s P-Valley, Apple TV+’s For All Mankind, and HBO Max’s It’s a Sin would rank near the top of the list, the latter one unequivocally. And yet there is not a nomination between these stellar series. Not a Best Actor mention for the astonishing Nicco Annan on P-Valley. Nothing for, at the very least, that transcendent season two finale of For All Mankind. And nothing for the writing on It’s a Sin, or, my God, that breathtaking performance from Keeley Hawes? I’m very upset.
High/Low: The Best Limited Series Bloodbath
I rack my brain wondering how you choose between the performances from Michaela Coel (I May Destroy You), Cynthia Erivo (Genius: Aretha), Elizabeth Olsen (WandaVision), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit), and Kate Winslet (Mare of Easttown). And then you realize the agonizing decision comes after the unbelievable acting of The Underground Railroad’s Thuso Mbedu or It’s a Sin’s Lydia West didn’t even make the cut. (Not to mention Nicole Kidman failing to ride movie-star cachet and a fabulous green coat to a nod for The Undoing as well.)
The Limited or Anthology Series category itself may also be the strongest of anything on this year’s list. I May Destroy You, Mare of Easttown, The Queen’s Gambit, The Underground Railroad, and WandaVision are such Teflon choices that I’ll almost stop screaming into a pillow that It’s a Sin isn’t on here, too.
High: Pen15 Breaks Into Comedy Series
It’s always heartening when a little show that could, does.
Low: But So Does Emily in Paris
What is there even to say about this?
High: Below Deck and Selling Sunset Are Emmy Nominees
As someone who watches quite a bit of reality TV, it’s always been a little disheartening how boring the Unstructured Reality Program category can be. (A lot of Intervention and The Deadliest Catch.) So it’s fun this year to see escapist delights Below Deck and Selling Sunset finally crack the race. I’m still waiting for the day one iteration of The Real Housewives franchise gets its due here—granted, clearly not for anything airing now—but this is blue-sky progress.
Low: Girls5Eva Underperforms, Despite the Tina Fey of It All
While a TV series about a former girl group reuniting in their forties that airs on an NBC spin-off streaming service called Peacock sounds like it would be a joke in Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, it is surprising that the smart, funny series didn’t make more of a dent in the comedy races, given Fey’s stature in the industry. (She exec produced and also guest starred as a fever-dream Dolly Parton.)
Only Meredith Scardino’s pilot script was nominated, when the series, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Paula Pell all seemed to have real shots at making it in. In a twist, both actresses are nominees—Goldsberry for Hamilton and Pell for her Quibi series The Mapleworth Murders—but the fizzling out of this campaign is a head scratcher. I guess Paris trumps Peacock, every time.
High/Low: What Even Is TV?
Let it be known that the first TV network or streaming service name-checked during Tuesday’s announcement was Quibi, may it rest in peace. But that travesty is not the point of this entry.
The seemingly confused receptions for Hamilton and Small Axe echo what critics have been griping about all awards season: No one seems to have a general handle on what constitutes TV. Hamilton was a filmed version of the live theatrical production, a repurposing of content that some argued more closely resembles a documentary than a new television production. Yet Emmy voters went gaga for it, handing out 12 nominations.
On the flip side, there is Small Axe, Steve McQueen’s suite of films submitted to the Emmys as a Limited or Anthology Series. Many argued they should have been considered either separate TV movies—or not TV movies at all, but movie movies. After all that discussion, it managed just one nomination.
Maybe the lesson here is not about whether television can be fused with the art of cinema, or if filmed theater can be television, too. It is that television, the art form, is at its purest when it is a thin American post-grad in an ostentatious beret, posting photos to an Instagram account in Paris.