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Emmys Snub ‘Small Axe,’ Ethan Hawke, Thuso Mbedu — Honor ‘The Boys,’ ‘Cobra Kai’

The entire cast of "The Underground Railroad" was ignored by the Emmys, while Steve McQueen's anthology series lost out in the major categories.

Small Axe John Boyega Amazon Prime Video

John Boyega in “Small Axe”

S Goodwin / Amazon Prime Video

Another year, another wild batch of Emmy nominees. The 2021 nominations saw their fair share of expected favorites fulfilling their destinies, including strong showings from “The Crown” and “Ted Lasso,” but snubs and surprises were everywhere.

Many predicted as much. After last year’s production shutdown threw release dates to the wind, the 2020-2021 class of Emmy contenders was upended. Perennial nominees from “Succession,” “Stranger Things,” “Ozark,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and more were unable to produce new episodes in their typical scheduling windows and had to bow out of this year’s race, accordingly.

(Also, since the TV Academy’s cough-outdated-cough calendar can prove confusing for casual TV fans wondering why their favorite recent shows aren’t included on the nominations list, it’s worth noting that “Loki,” “Dave,” “Tuca & Bertie,” “The White Lotus,” “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson,” and more shows that premiered after May 31 are ineligible for this year’s Emmys, so they cannot be snubbed. Not yet, anyway.)

Who and what shows did make the cut can be found right here, with our full list of the 2021 Emmy nominations, and a few of this year’s pleasant surprises are discussed in more detail below. But before we get to the so-called snubs, one final reminder: Anything labeled a “snub” on Emmy nominations morning doesn’t adhere to the term’s typical implications; while it’s possible some among the TV Academy’s 22,400 members left certain names off their ballot with malicious intent, most are just human beings with limited time and subjective taste. Some “snubs” may not have garnered the same level of exposure as their peers; others were designed to be niche, which makes it hard for them to succeed in what amounts to a (widely respected) popularity contest.

A “snub” is just an unlucky series or artist whose name wasn’t called Tuesday morning, and they’re only being labeled as such because a) someone thought they would be called, which speaks to their merits, or b) someone thought they should be called, which does the same. The value in lists like these lies in drawing attention to worthy contenders that just couldn’t make the cut, as well as explaining why they didn’t stack up with this year’s competition; they’re not written to take away from any other show or performer’s accomplishment.

With that in mind, let’s dig in. It was, after all, a wild morning.

The Snubs

Thuso Mbedu and the Cast of “The Underground Railroad

The beating heart of Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece, newcomer Thuso Mbedu found herself in tough, tight competition among the Limited Series and TV Movie contenders. In the end, big names won out, as did series with longer release windows and more time to be seen. “The Underground Railroad” scored major nominations for Best Limited Series, Best Director (Barry Jenkins), and five more nods, but none of its extremely deserving cast — including William Jackson Harper, Joel Edgerton, and more — were nominated. It would be easy to write off these snubs as lack of name recognition, but it could just as well be Amazon Prime Video’s all-at-once, late-in-the-running release strategy.

Small Axe

Did TV Academy voters think of Steve McQueen’s anthology series as films? Did they forget about it in favor of more recent limited series? Did they simply prefer the many excellent other contenders in the category? It’s impossible to say exactly what went wrong for the one-time favorite, but no fault can be placed on McQueen for the quality, Amazon Prime Video for the continued push, or the TV Academy officers who made sure the category was called “Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series.” That’s what this was, after all.

Ethan Hawke and “The Good Lord Bird”

There was a time last fall when “The Good Lord Bird” could’ve been seen as a contender to win Best Limited Series; in the end, it wasn’t even nominated. Perhaps even more surprising: Ethan Hawke, after being nominated for a SAG Award and a WGA Award, was shut out of both categories on nominations morning. Be it the competition, an early debut, or some combination of both, Mark Richards and Albert Hughes’ limited series deserved far better than one nomination (for Main Title Design).

Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, “Pen15”

Heading into the nominations, it was hard to tell just how well the Hulu comedy would perform. Its first season pulled in a Writing nomination, which — combined with strong reviews — had some expecting a “What We Do in the Shadows”-sized jump in nominations for its second round at the Emmys. (The FX comedy, which was ineligible this year, landed two Creative Arts nods for its first season before jumping up to eight nods in Season 2). And there was an improvement! “Pen15” snagged three nods this year, for Best Comedy Series, Best Writing, and Best Casting (well-deserved Melissa DeLizia!), but the two stars were shut out of the acting race, and it wasn’t quite the boom year many were hoping for. Blame the fall release date, pandemic-shortened season length, and particular sense of humor may have contributed to the Hulu series’ under-performance.

“Master of None”

Heading into Tuesday’s nominations, Aziz Ansari’s Netflix comedy had a strong track record at the Emmys: In 2016 and 2017, the series racked up three wins, two nominations for Best Comedy Series, and plenty more nominations overall. But a lot can change in four years, as evidenced by both the shift in focus for Season 3 and the lack of recognition from the TV Academy. Perhaps they missed seeing Ansari in every episode. Or maybe they just thought the five-episode “Moments in Love” wasn’t long enough or funny enough to constitute nominations for Comedy Series. Even so, the shut out was surprising.

“Girls5eva”

With the certified-gold backing of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, many expected Peacock’s music-fueled comedy to strike the TV Academy’s chord. And it did, to the tune of one nomination for Best Writing (Meredith Scardino). But with higher expectations, the nascent streamer’s limited campaigning and all-at-once release may have doomed the well-received comedy; it has the pipes, but not the legs to compete in the peak TV era.

“P-Valley”

Starz can’t catch a break at the Emmys. Despite producing one of 2020’s most widely hailed series featuring arresting turns from Nicco Annan and Brandee Evans, the Bayou-based drama series was shut out on Tuesday. The network was completely snubbed, as well, despite offering more eligible, well-received programs like “The Girlfriend Experience” and “Run the World.” (“Blindspotting” also earned great reviews, but we’ll have to wait until next year to see if its debut season can help Starz get back in the Emmy mix.)

“Mythic Quest”

After Apple TV+ proved Academy members were paying attention last year (to the tune of eight nominations for “The Morning Show”), some thought the streamer was poised for big things in 2021, even without its marquee original. After all, “Ted Lasso” wasn’t its only hailed comedy. Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz’s half-hour gem about a group of video game developers was perfectly timed to Emmy voting, earned high marks from critics, and leaned on a weekly release to sustain buzz. But the bias that’s kept “It’s Always Sunny from Philadelphia” out of Emmys’ good graces seems to be casting a pall over “Mythic Quest,” as well. It did manage two nominations — for Best Narrator (Anthony Hopkins) and Sound Editing — and Apple TV+ earned 34 total nominations, but “Mythic Quest” deserved more.

“Superstore”

NBC’s affable, intelligent workplace comedy comes to an end without a single Emmy nomination, let alone a much-deserved nod for Outstanding Comedy Series. Perhaps it was foolish to hope voters would suddenly come around for the final season. But it’s certainly more senseless that they didn’t.

Martin Freeman, “Breeders”

While the FX comedy was a long-shot as a series (too much competition), its lead, Freeman, is a three-time Emmy nominee and one-time winner (for “Sherlock” in 2014) competing in a category without dominant frontrunners after Jason Sudeikis. Thankfully, John Landgraf’s network has already renewed the series for a third season, so the Academy will get another chance to recognize Freeman’s work (if not the series overall).

“Perry Mason”

A decade ago, it would’ve been inconceivable to think an HBO drama with this cast that looks this good would come up short of a Best Drama Series nomination — and back then, there were only five slots! But whether it was the dour subject matter or a release date set way back in summer 2020 (aka, a lifetime ago), this sterling production couldn’t revive the days where men in fedoras dominated awards discussion. At least Matthew Rhys and John Lithgow snagged nods, along with recognition for Production Design and Cinematography.

"We Are Who We Are" Episode 8 finale HBO cast

Jordan Kristine Seamón and Jack Dylan Grazer in “We Are Who We Are”

Yannis Drakoulidis / HBO

“We Are Who We Are”

A long shot to be sure, Luca Guadagnino’s magnificent first season deserved to be up for Drama Series, just as its impressive young cast merited a slot or two in the acting races. This one could’ve been too close to arthouse TV for widespread Academy acceptance, but anyone eager for an unforgettable Italian summer should check this out ASAP.

“The Undoing”

Nicole Kidman’s HBO limited series made some polite noise during the winter awards cycle, but take away those four Golden Globe nominations (please, everyone, let’s permanently forget about the Globes) and you’re left with four guild nods: one DGA, one PGA, and two SAG nominations (for Kidman and Hugh Grant). That could indicate enough support from an array of TV Academy branches to get a Best Limited Series slot, but time did this show no favors — and neither did its ending. New series dropped in 2021 that earned stronger praise, providing untested competition for the Emmys, and voters had to weigh a universally disappointing final episode against all these new, excellent shows. And that’s how “The Undoing” was undone.

“It’s a Sin”

A dark horse pick with a bevy of passionate fans, Russell T. Davies’ HBO Max original series couldn’t quite muster the same recognition as his 2018 Amazon Prime Video hit, “A Very British Scandal.” The simplest explanation is a lack of A-list stars out front — a young, unproven cast, no matter how great, aren’t the same draw as the stars of “Paddington 2” — but this may just be another case of timing and competition. There are only five slots available in Best Limited Series, and at least three of them were locked up for months. Snagging those last two takes a lot of firepower, and “It’s a Sin” didn’t catch enough.

Ted Danson, “Mr. Mayor”

Despite earning a nomination in Best Actor in a Comedy Series for the past three years (all for “The Good Place”), America’s National Treasure was shut out in favor of… William H. Macy, presumably. Few expected the “Shameless” star to mount a comeback for Showtime series’ final season, but the show’s five-time nominee added another to his tally anyway. Obviously, this show was special to the TV Academy.

“Exterminate All the Brutes”

Raoul Peck’s four-part hybrid docuseries examining the “exploitative and genocidal aspects of European colonialism” may have been too experimental (and too grim) for widespread acceptance, but the Oscar-nominated director behind “I Am Not Your Negro” had HBO’s backing and an unparalleled program. Please, try to make the time.

Bill Camp, “The Queen’s Gambit”

Once considered a frontrunner in the category after snagging a SAG nomination in the winter, the former nominee from “The Night Of” couldn’t get back into the race; instead, his co-star Thomas Brodie-Sangster took his place.

“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”

After four straight years of Best Variety Talk Series nominations, Samantha Bee’s hilarious and insightful TBS series was shut out of the category in 2021. (Her outgoing network cohort, “Conan,” snagged the fifth slot.) While it’s hard to be upset over who made the cut — “Conan!” “The Daily Show!” “Last Week Tonight!” so many great shows! — the snubbed could form an equally excellent group all their own: “Full Frontal”! “Desus & Mero!” “Late Night with Seth Meyers!”

The Boys Season 2 Antony Starr

Antony Starr in “The Boys

Panagiotis Pantazidis/Amazon Studios

The Surprises

Superheroes Welcome: “The Boys” and “WandaVision”

Amazon Prime Video put its all behind Eric Kripke’s superhero satire, and it paid off big-time. In addition to its nomination for Best Drama Series, the series snagged five more nominations, including a Best Writing slot. While it’s still a ways behind category leaders “The Crown” and “The Mandalorian,” breaking in was key this year for the bloody critic’s favorite. Hopefully, it can only fly higher from here.

Meanwhile, Disney+ scored 71 nominations in total, thanks to two huge shows: “The Mandalorian” with 24 nominations (which, after last year’s success, everyone expected to perform well again), and “WandaVision,” which was more of a question mark. While the craft work was undeniable catnip for TV fans — all those meticulously staged sitcoms! — whether or not the wider Academy would accept a Marvel superhero series as one of TV’s elite was the morning’s big question: Well, 23 nominations later, you have your answer. Not only did “WandaVision” beat out stiff competition for Best Limited Series, but Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Kathryn Hahn all received nominations for their performances (plus three writing nominations and a directing nod).

“Emily in Paris”

Considering the pushback to the Golden Globe nominations (including a critical essay from one of the show’s own writers), many had written off Netflix’s fluffy Parisian comedy in the Emmy race — and really, it would’ve gone quietly into the night, except for its shocking nomination for Best Comedy Series. Darren Starr’s series only netted one other nomination (for Production Design), making it the least-recognized Series nominee. I guess voters just couldn’t resist the title’s rhyming scheme?

“Cobra Kai”

Some predicted it, but few believed it could happen: After starting out as an original YouTube series before being picked up by Netflix for subsequent seasons, “Cobra Kai” rode huge ratings (per the streamer’s unconfirmed reports) to four nominations, including Best Comedy Series. Not even its hourlong runtime, action scenes, or dramatic hooks could keep voters from supporting this one.

Aidy Bryant, “Shrill”

Continuing the trend of final comedy seasons earning last-second recognition (see also: “Shameless,” “Pose,” and “The Kominsky Method”) co-creator and star Aidy Bryant snagged a surprise nomination for the final season of “Shrill.” It’s the three-season series’ only nod ever, but it marks Bryant’s fourth nomination overall, and she’s a dual nominee this year, as she’s also up for “SNL.” A fitting send-off for a strong lead performance.

“Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal”

After winning three juried awards at last year’s Emmys, the Adult Swim series from acclaimed animation master Genndy Tartakovsky found its way into the Best Animated Series race, despite stiff competition. Clearly, this is an Academy favorite, though the show was certainly bolstered by strong reviews and continued support from its network. (Adult Swim even held an official FYC event for the series, which isn’t standard for animated programs.) Now, the question becomes: Can it win?

“Hamilton” Over-Performs

The Disney+ musical wasn’t eligible as a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or TV Movie (thank goodness), but that didn’t stop voters from nominating the recorded Broadway production in every category they could. “Hamilton” snagged 12 nominations, seven of which were for its actors. Now, I’m not saying these performers weren’t fantastic — they were — but actors in a live musical vs. actors in traditionally shot TV shows isn’t exactly a level playing field; there’s always going to be a bias favoring live work, live dancing, live singing, live everything, and these iconic performances came into the Emmy race with a head of steam after winning every other award out there. Is it really fair to pit Daveed Diggs against John Boyega in “Small Axe” or William Jackson Harper in “The Underground Railroad”? Are those really comparable performances?

“Conan”

While a consistent contender at the Creative Arts Emmys, it had been 10 years since Conan O’Brien’s late-night show was recognized among the top Variety Talk Series — and back then, the category was titled Outstanding Variety, Musical or Comedy Series. Voters clearly responded to his final season and heartfelt “goodbye,” recognizing the outgoing TBS series with the big nod.

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