For as up in the air as so many elements of the 2020 Emmy Awards have been, the comedy competition remains pretty straightforward, with conventional wisdom predicting that most of the races will come down to a two-horse race between Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek.”
What’s less clear is how close the competition really is between the two series. “Maisel,” which garnered 14 Emmy nominations in its first season, has only seen its popularity with the TV Academy grow with time, snagging 20 nominations for its second season and repeating the tally again this year with its third. In contrast, “Creek” earned its first Emmy nominations — for Best Comedy Series, Actress, Actor, and Costumes — just last year, for its fifth season, before landing 15 nods for its sixth and final season this year.
And yet, in a year that seemed determined to stamp out any form of Emmy hype or buzz whatsoever, “Creek” appears to persist, with many in the awards prognostication game predicting a big upset come Sept. 20. Are they right? As one of those (vacillating) prognosticators, I can definitively say: I don’t know.
In truth, the issue has been plaguing me for months. I labored for the better part of the year under the misconception that, somehow, once Emmy nominations had been announced, the true feelings of the industry would be more apparent. What a fool I was.
It has become, then, something of a personal crusade to try and ascertain the accuracy of the hype surrounding the Pop TV darling, not because of my investment in whether it or “Maisel” prevails but because I’m wholly indifferent and, frankly, a little depressed over the state of the comedy field as compared to last year.
In talking with colleagues, fans, and other experts in the wider TV world, I’ve heard a lot of theories attempting to explain what on the surface appears to be just a gut feeling that “Creek” will reign supreme on Emmy night. Here are a few of them, thought through to a verdict.
“But it got so many nominations!”
The series did, in fact, get a lot of nominations when they were announced in July. In fact, the 15 nods nabbed by “Creek” made it the second-most nominated comedy series, behind only, you guessed it, “Maisel.” It would be easy to assume that the reason “Creek” saw such a big jump in recognition is due to the quality of its final season or people finding the series on Netflix and playing catch-up. And while both of those are factors to be taken into consideration, so is the reality that based purely on numbers, the competition in comedy was considerably less stiff than the year prior.
Consider this: Last year, “Barry,” “Fleabag,” “Russian Doll,” and “Veep” amassed a collective 50 Emmy nominations. All four were nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series and none of them were eligible to compete at this year’s Emmys. That’s 50 slots the TV Academy has to fill with other shows, a huge boon for newbies like “What We Do in the Shadows,” but also established competitors, including”Creek” and “Insecure” which saw their nomination numbers soar this year.
And yet, it can’t all be about convenience. At least some of it has to be about general regard. While some previous comedy series nominees benefitted this year, shows including “The Good Place” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” saw their nomination totals stay flat for the most part, earning six and four noms respectively.
“But everyone is over ‘Maisel.'”
This argument is particularly flummoxing based on how there’s really no evidence to support it, save for one, wholly-illogical point that will be addressed in due time (and at length).
It’s difficult to pin down where this line of thought comes from and I’ve never gotten beyond vague, “Some people are saying”-type answers whenever I push further with people espousing this point of view. This is likely because there’s no actual facts to support the claim.
In its first, least-nominated season, “Maisel” not only had 14 nominations, it won eight, including Series, Actress, Supporting Actress, Writing, and Directing, and as mentioned previously the next two seasons got 20 nominations a piece. What’s fascinating about the show’s categorical nominations in its second and third seasons is that they’re nearly identical. The show had one less Editing nom this year, but earned its first-ever nomination in Music and Lyrics. It lacked a nomination this go-round in guest actor, but picked up a second supporting actor nomination in its stead. That suggests consistency.
Perhaps more interesting (read: nerdy) is what the series has achieved with its 16 wins. It turns out that of last year’s “Maisel” winners, the only repeat victors came in Supporting Actress and Music Supervision. That means that the show’s 16 Emmys have come in 14 separate categories spread over two years. That suggests a broad base of support.
So, it appears reports that the “Maisel” machine might be slowing down have been greatly exaggerated.
There is a certain type of person who will suggest that “Maisel” is weak because it didn’t win Best Comedy Series last year. This type of person is objectively (subjectively) wrong.
As beloved as “Creek” is, it in no way compares to the cultural juggernaut that was the second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag.” “Creek” is nice and it’s comforting to a lot of people. “Fleabag” was a lot of things, but nice, it was not. When “Fleabag” won Comedy Series, it was not because “Maisel” — or “Barry” or “Veep,” for that matter — were weak, it was because “Fleabag” was preternaturally strong.
In the midst of last year’s Emmy race, “Fleabag” winning Comedy Series was seen as a bit of a pipe dream, given the amount of competition in the category, with the additional challenge of having to overcome reigning champion and Prime Video cohort “Maisel.” It was invigorating to imagine the TV Academy embracing the underdog series, a choice a little darker, a lot sexier, and significantly more British than its usual fare.
“Creek” has a lot going for it, thematically and otherwise, but it’s not particularly innovative. It’s not revolutionary to an awards body that crowned “Modern Family” four years in a row and the fact that it makes people feel safe and warm and happy is wonderful, but its energy is working in a very similar sandbox as its chief competition.
“Creek” is no “Fleabag,” and it doesn’t have to be. It’s nice all on its own. But that doesn’t mean it has the momentum to take down the champ (one year removed).
Verdict: How dare.
Conclusion: “Schitt’s Creek” hype might not be real.
Spoiler: It doesn’t matter.
The thing about hype is that often it doesn’t matter if it’s true. If there is a perception that all the cool kids are doing something, there’s an inborn pressure to act in accordance with the crowd, in hopes that it leads to being on the winning team.
If all anyone’s talking about is “Schitt’s Creek,” then all anyone’s hearing about is “Schitt’s Creek.” It doesn’t matter if the arguments or theories make sense. It doesn’t matter if facts are true. All that matters is what feels right in a voter’s gut when they’re marking their ballot.
Check in on this week’s episode of IndieWire TV podcast “Millions of Screens” to hear hosts Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers, TV Awards Editor Libby Hill, and Creative Producer Leo Garcia try and puzzle out who has the upper-hand in many of the Emmy comedy races, making their predictions for who’ll be victorious come September 20. In keeping with ongoing social distancing mandates, this week’s episode was again recorded from the comfort of everyone’s respective Los Angeles-area apartments, and we’re again offering viewers a video version of the podcast, as embedded above.
Plus, stay tuned as Hill tries to puzzle out the continuing “WhyP” saga that is the life and legacy of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” as both Peacock and HBO Max stake their claims to the property. Meanwhile, Travers talks (spoiler-free) about the second season of Prime TV’s “The Boys” and the pair bicker about the best way to roll out a streaming series.
“Millions of Screens” is available on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. You can subscribe here or via RSS. Share your feedback with the crew on Twitter or sound off in the comments. Review the show on iTunes and be sure to let us know if you’d like to hear the gang address specific issues in upcoming editions of “Millions of Screens.” Check out the rest of IndieWire’s podcasts on iTunes right here.
This episode of “Millions of Screens” was produced by Leonardo Adrian Garcia.