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Emmys 2021: From Underdog to Top Dog, Can Anything Topple ‘Ted Lasso’?

The only thing to fear is fear itself — or the surprise return of a beloved comedy series.

Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso"

Jason Sudeikis in “Ted Lasso”

Apple TV+

If you’ve paid any attention to the past few months of awards ceremonies, you know that Apple TV+ has found a winner in “Ted Lasso,” a comedy series featuring Jason Sudeikis as a clueless American recruited to coach soccer in England.

With its blend of skillfully deployed humor and general niceness, the series has proven itself as a perfect antidote to pandemic-induced malaise and has seen plaudits roll in accordingly.

In fact, “Ted Lasso” and Sudeikis have won so many plaudits, including big wins at the Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and Writers Guild Awards, that it not only seems like the series is the frontrunner as we head into Emmy season, but it might well be unbeatable in comedy series.

Now, it’s not quite as clear cut an argument to make as with Netflix’s “The Crown” in drama series, which has thus far won just about every award known to man for its fourth season,  but there’s every reason to believe that “Ted Lasso” might be in nearly as strong a position as the veteran drama.

As you comb through the handful of awards that the comedy hasn’t won over the past few months, you’ll find that it was routinely bested by only one show: Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek.” If you recall, “Schitt’s Creek” made Emmy history in September for its final season, sweeping all seven of the top comedy categories, a feat never before accomplished by a comedy series.

But the awards that “Schitt’s Creek” is racking up now are all for that same season of television. It is, for all intents and purposes, on its farewell tour, stopping by all the respective guild ceremonies and scooping up awards from organizations that didn’t even realize the show existed until 2019.

What that means for “Ted Lasso” is that its main awards competition… isn’t. “Schitt’s Creek” is out of eligibility. And without it standing in the way of the Apple TV+ breakout, is there anything that could derail the Ted train?

Honestly, maybe not.

The reason that “Lasso” is so well positioned when it comes to the upcoming Emmy season is because of a shocking lack of competition in the comedy categories. Think back to the Emmy Awards of two years ago and recall how the comedy series was a complete dogfight. At the top of the pyramid were Amazon’s dueling darlings “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” edging out any true conversation about HBO’s “Barry” and Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” either of which would have easily won the category in a less competitive year. Rounding out the category were a previous winner in HBO’s “Veep,” a born cult classic in NBC’s “The Good Place,” and future record-holder “Schitt’s Creek.”

"Schitt's Creek"

Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara in “Schitt’s Creek”

Pop TV

Last year was wobblier, with “Veep” and “Fleabag” ended and “Barry” and “Russian Doll” not producing new material. But that meant room for smaller comedies that could use more attention, including FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” and HBO’s sterling Issa Rae series “Insecure.”

But this year is a wasteland. That’s not necessarily a commentary on the quality of programming (it’s also not not a commentary on the quality of the programming) but more a reflection of the insidious ways the pandemic has surreptitiously disrupted the TV release schedule.

To talk about other comedy contenders is more to talk about what might get nominated, rather than win. Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method” will likely earn another nod for its third and final season, set to release in May. ABC’s “Black-ish,” a previous nominee, will likely return to the fold and it wouldn’t be wholly surprising to see the Apple TV+ and Hailee Steinfeld vehicle “Dickinson” nab a spot.

Garnering a nomination is one thing. Being a contender is another. HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant,” starring Kaley Cuoco as fans of “The Big Bang Theory” had never before seen her, was roundly praised upon release and has garnered similar top line nominations, but has been even more stymied by “Schitt’s Creek” (and its female lead Catherine O’Hara) when it comes to scoring the top prizes.

But if “Ted Lasso” is at the precipice, then “The Flight Attendant” is just a step or two behind, well-positioned to take a run at the top.

Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine in "Pen15"

Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine in “Pen15”

Lara Solanki / Hulu

Then there’s the show that should be in constant conversation with regards to any comedy series accolades, one of the best series on TV: Hulu’s “Pen15.” After a great first season, the first half of the show’s second season took it to new heights, leaving fans dumbstruck with the delicate balance of pathos and pubescent hilarity the show strikes in every scene.

Part of what makes the show so brilliant, however, with co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle starring as adolescent versions of themselves surrounded by actual teens, might be part of why it can’t breakthrough on a larger stage. That inventiveness and inherent strangeness that so aptly captures the teenage experience might just be too weird for the TV Academy to process. But if it did get on board, “Pen15,” easily one of the best shows on TV, would be a real and lasting threat.

There is, though, one other threat when it comes to upending “Ted Lasso” and its march to the Emmys.

The unknown.

If that sounds inscrutable, it’s meant to. There have been rumblings within the industry about the surprise return of one critically-acclaimed comedy series in particular in time for Emmy eligibility. While it’s possible that this is just your typical off-season gossip-mongering, it reminds us that nothing is a sure thing. Maybe HBO will drop a surprise season of “Game of Thrones” tomorrow or NBC will surprise fans with a “Cheers” reboot that serves as a grim examination of life, death, and alcoholism (with jokes) that the Emmys won’t be able to deny.

But barring any of the above, the smart money remains on the indomitable spirit of “Ted Lasso.”

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