And so we’ve come to the end (of the beginning). Emmy Award nomination voting is about to close — or, if you’re reading this anytime after Monday, it’s already closed — bringing an end to Phase 1 of the 2020-2021 Emmy season and starting the clock on that nerve-racking two weeks until the honest-to-God Emmy nominations are announced Tuesday, July 13. As of tonight, it’s all be over but the vote-counting.
Yet, there are a scant few hours left before ballots are due, and if the pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s that people will procrastinate on just about anything, no matter how wide open their schedule. With that in mind, we’re taking one last opportunity to whisper our burning Emmy desires into the ears of those holdout tastemakers.
Libby Hill, TV Awards Editor: Ben, I gotta tell you. I love the final day of Emmy voting. There’s so much nervous energy, like Election Day after a presidential race, with a healthy dose of blind panic, like a lazy student halfway through their ACT exam, and, let’s be honest, a soupçon of schadenfreude for the absolute chaos to come.
But in all honesty, I’m really nervous about the results of this year’s Phase 1. Sifting through the sheer amount of TV presented in a typical year is one thing, but the 2020-2021 Emmy eligibility period was awash with big disappointments and incredible achievements in almost equal measure. Am I wrong to doubt the TV Academy’s ability to distinguish the signal from the noise? I don’t think so.
I guess that’s why I invited you here today. You and I have no choice but to make one final Hail Mary plea to procrastinating voters to do the right thing and endorse (arguably) the most deserving contenders. Is there anyone or anything that could miss out on nomination morning that would absolutely make your heart sink?
Ben Travers, TV Critic: Libby, first off, thank you for the invitation, for I also love the final day of Emmy voting. I like to pretend that voters are waiting until the last minute to cast their ballots, waiting to be swayed — either by their never-ending screener queue (which, let’s be honest, no working TV Academy could possibly complete) or by a passionate argument popping up in their email inbox, Twitter feed, or Google search.
Let us be that nagging pop-up, Libby.
Chicago Story Film, LLC
In terms of must-happen nominations, I’ll start on the doc side: “City So Real” is my favorite docuseries in recent memory, and I can only hope voters feel the same way. After all, there have been a number of high-caliber offerings since Steve James’ exquisite examination of Chicago politics, culture, and industry landed in October 2020. I certainly won’t be mad if “Philly D.A.” or “Exterminate All the Brutes” end up with nominations — the PBS and HBO docuseries, respectively, are probably 1b and 1c in my doc rankings — but 1a is still a critical inclusion. More people should be reminded to reflect on how our cities shape our nation, and how both can be improved by the people walking between the skyscrapers, not just those sitting at the top. The Emmys can be that reminder, as well as a well-deserved honor for one of our most thoughtful, hardest-working documentarians.
What about you, Libby? Where does your hope reside with mere hours left?
Libby: Well, I feel it comes as no surprise to our readers that I’m desperate to see Showtime’s “Couples Therapy” break into the Unstructured Reality Program category, as well as all other eligible categories in reality programming. The series is a landmark amongst reality TV in its dedication to actually representing, well, reality. No series, fictional or otherwise, has ever been able to accurately depict the process of therapy, until now. The fact that Season 2 had to deal with psychoanalysis within both a pandemic and overwhelming political and cultural uprisings is mind-boggling. That the series was able to find a coherent and insightful narrative path through a 2020 that left so many of us bewildered is an unprecedented accomplishment and more than deserving of recognition.
Also, I guess there were fiction shows this year? I have a couple favorites there, too, but I cede the floor to you.
Courtesy of Apple TV+
Ben: There were a few! My head has been in the Comedy race for most of Phase One; with so many outgoing former nominees, there’s a chance for massive turnover, which also means just about anything could make the cut, which also means some presumed favorites might be on shaky ground. (In case it’s not clear, I’m a worrier.) Top of mind is “Pen15,” a magnificent comedy from Hulu and one that should end up with a boatload of nominations but may have to settle for a mere kayak’s worth. Co-created by and starring Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, the ’90s teen story blossomed in Season 2, as its two lead characters delved into complicated, embarrassing, and highly entertaining high school shenanigans, while the adult lead actors committed even harder to bringing their teen alter egos to life. I’m regularly awed by the Erskine and Konkle’s performances — where they summon the energy is beyond my perpetually exhausted understanding — but just about every facet of the show deserves golden kudos. What concerns me is simply that comedy is subjective, and whether or not the TV Academy’s more set-in-their-ways voters embrace the series keeps me up at night. That, and the undying hope Charlotte Nicdao can break through for “Mythic Quest.”
What about you, Libby? Any comedy contenders you’d like to give one last nudge?
Libby: Oh boy, you’re not wrong. Comedy races have me torn up and I couldn’t agree with your favorites more. “Pen15” is one of the best series on TV for me, drama or comedy and what Konkle and Erskine are able to accomplish with the series should be, not unlike my earlier fave “Couples Therapy,” completely impossible. Two women in their 30ss play-acting as 13-year-old versions of themselves and creating a series that is uproariously funny and gut-wrenchingly emotional? In what universe? This one, apparently. I can’t help but hope that the TV Academy gets aboard this train now, lest they regret missing out down the road.
Also, big same from me regarding Nicdao’s performance on “Mythic Quest.” Her character, Poppy, is a weird, neurotic, ambitious, dorky, clueless, genius and Nicdao manages to include each one of those facets into her performance, a gem amongst a diamond mine, actually. “Mythic Quest” is another show I’m afraid voters might sleep on and feel compelled to play catch-up on in the future. But why play catch-up when you have the option of making the correct decision now?
Sorry. Maybe that’s a little over-dramatic. Though, speaking of drama, Ben…
Yannis Drakoulidis / HBO
Ben: Is that my cue to talk about Drama contenders? Sorry, I’ve never been great with segues. Two shows stand out when it comes to Outstanding Drama Series, but I won’t step on your support for “P-Valley”; instead, I’ll back “We Are Who We Are,” Luca Guadagnino’s moving, spirited, and altogether unprecedented story of teens living on an Italian army base, trying to find glimmers of hope within each other. Driven by strong performances from a bevy of young actors (seeing Jack Dylan Grazer on HBO before hearing him voice an Italian boy in “Luca” certainly made me appreciate the latter movie more), the first season was meant to be just that; the first of multiple chapters in an ongoing series, but I fear with Guadagnino’s busy schedule and the lack of sustaining buzz around the well-reviewed debut, Season 2 may not happen — still, a few Emmy nominations could nudge it along, so here’s hoping they’re on the way. Oh, and it goes without saying, but can we please get Justin Theroux an Emmy nod already?
OK, Libby, Take it away.
Libby: I suppose it’s time for the big finish. Again, because we’re but two halves of the same criticism coin, I can’t say enough about Starz’s stunning “P-Valley,” Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall’s labor of love. Hall coined the phrase “Delta noir” to describe her series centered around the lives of individuals working at a strip club — The Pynk — deep in the Mississippi Delta, but never has noir been quite so vibrant. When I think of the series, which displays jaw-dropping displays of both athleticism and artistic expression, I think of color. “P-Valley” is a window into a very specific world, which the rest of the world is too-often blinkered to, so full of color and life, in addition to hardship and despair. It’s a beautiful show, which I fear will end up overlooked.
The long and short of any of this, I suppose, is the fact that despite how we throw around the words deserving or snubbed, awards are awards and they are dependent upon the voters. Plus, there’s no accounting for taste. That said, consider our considerations merely enthusiastic endorsements of things we love and are willing to proselytize for, rather than suggestions that, say, everything else on TV is bad. (Which we might imply, but would never, ever say, probably.)
The television landscape is more verdant than it’s ever been — give or take a pandemic — here’s hoping TV Academy voters remember to cast a wide net, the better to ensure that none of the smaller fishies at the edge of the water get overlooked.