Every Emmy season is unique unto itself, and this year is no exception. What once seemed like it might be an opportunity to triumph over the pandemic that has plagued the planet for more than a year and a half has instead landed closer to a continuance. It’s not TV’s fault. The 2020-2021 season was rough on everyone, with production suspensions and altered release schedules resulting in an Emmy season that feels a bit like the industry is still in a holding pattern, waiting for its regularly scheduled programming to return in full-force.
Which is what makes today — the final day of Phase 2 voting for this year’s Emmys — the perfect time to start looking ahead to next year, where Emmy races across the board promise plenty of intrigue. Decks will likely be stacked with a whole host of returning favorites, in addition to whatever new programs rise to the top.
But before we get to that, another disclaimer for this Emmy season: It’s through no fault of the programs competing that this year’s races seem a bit lackluster. Rather, it’s a combination of several elements outside those series’ control. There’s the idea that both the Drama and Comedy Series prizes have been locked for, conservatively, six months. Between Netflix’s “The Crown” and Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso,” there’s room for conversation in those races, but it’s mostly theoretical. Plus, it’s just difficult to shake the overall “1980 Summer Olympics” feeling of it all, in which there’s plenty of talent to compete but you can’t help but wonder about all the talent not competing, as well.
Next year, however, is a completely different story. Take comedy, for example. While this year saw tons of new blood introduced in the Comedy Series category, only part of that was because of the conclusion of other long-running series in 2019-2020, which means that there are several humor heavy-hitters just waiting in the wings to return next year. HBO’s “Barry,” which last aired an episode on May 19, 2019, is finally in production on Season 3 (and 4!) and will thankfully be back to fight another day. Same goes for Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” as well as FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows,” a show that seems primed to break into the race in a big way, with its third season premiering September 2.
Plus, of course, there’s the second season of “Ted Lasso,” likely the second season of HBO Max’s “Hacks,” ideally the back half of the second season of Hulu’s “Pen15,” to say nothing of the long-awaited return of FX’s “Atlanta,” due in early 2022. (In the interest of equal-opportunity shaming, “Atlanta” aired its most recent episode on May 10, 2018. Gosh.)
Drama Series will have its own set of returning contenders, including current reigning champion, “Succession” (HBO), a twofer in Netflix’s “Ozark” and “Stranger Things,” AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” as well as programs already nominated this year, including “The Mandalorian,” “This Is Us” (which will be running its final season) and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” And, of course, that’s in addition to whatever beguiling new series break through in the coming months.
Looking ahead to next year’s Emmy Awards is escapism in its basest form. We sit on the cusp of this year’s Emmys and they feel a bit disappointing because this year has been disappointing. The ongoing threat of Covid variants and embittered battles over vaccinations is disappointing. The uncertainty surrounding the ceremony — be it the nominees who can’t attend because of space limitations or the ones who can’t attend because of travel fears — is disappointing. After months spent looking ahead to the 2021 Emmy Awards and hoping they would be a return to some level of normality, anything and everything is a little bit disappointing.
And yet, the industry soldiers on. Maybe next year, we say, and look forward to the day when our lives again feel like our own and are not suffused with fears of infection and hospitalization. It’s a fantasy, a hope, and it keeps us going.
But for now, the 2021 Emmy Awards are upon us and I’m confident that once statuettes are being distributed, the inherent magic of the (Emmy) season will return in full force. And if not, there’s always next year.