DANIEL FIENBERG The producers of the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards have a choice: Either structure the show in the traditional way, and accept that you build two hours of completely predictable victories in the drama and comedy categories, or avoid anticlimax and put the limited series categories at the end, go benefit from their uncertainty and greater stellar power as well as quality.
That’s how we play things. Left The subway/Queen’s Gambit/I can destroy you/Mare from Easttown showdowns in the end, and let’s start things on the comedy side with possibly two of the most forgotten of forgone conclusions in Emmy history: Jason Sudeikis is guaranteed to win the lead role for Ted Lasso and Jean Smart borders on comparable inevitability for Hacks.
I want to apologize for Sudeiki̵
There is at least little tension in comedy-supporting fields?
ANGIE HAN More excitement, yes, but not necessarily much variety. Ted Lasso takes six of the 15 places across both categories, and Saturday Night Live takes another five – leaving only four tracks to represent all the other comedy series currently airing. It’s hard to bet against AFC Richmond at this point, so my money’s on Brett Goldstein (as the deliciously sour Roy Kent) and Hannah Waddingham (as the complicated Rebecca Welton) to join Sudeikis in the winning circle for their important work in keep both Ted Lasso and Ted Lasso from tipping from sweet to saccharin.
And yet … what true Ted Lasso fan does not love an underdog? I know that the show’s victory in the best comedy series is a forgotten conclusion, and I understand that – I love Ted Lassoalso. But The flight attendant was one of the most exciting high-wire acts I had the pleasure of enjoying last year, balancing a progressive mystery with serious character work and deft comic beats. If I allow myself to fantasize about a world where a serious uprising may be possible, that’s where my thoughts go.
FIENBERG No, definitely not much variety, which sounds like an invitation to my last rant about the need to put everything SNL actors in a separate actor category. Supporting actor in a comedy is another where I’m OK with bowing to inevitability, as long as it’s inevitable that Brett Goldstein is such a cruel, obscene thriller Ted Lasso and helped by the timing of his possibly even better work in the second season.
With support, I have at least quarrels because, in my mind, both Hannahs – especially Einbinder, who only gets better as Hacks‘The season goes on’ are female leads (or co-leads) in their respective shows. Move Waddingham to the lead role, and Juno Temple (like Keeley Jones) would get my vote to steal every moment of Ted Lasso and turn every stereotype of a WAG (wives and girlfriends of professional athletes) on the ear. Plus, how perfect would Roy and Keeley win together be? (If I had an actual voice, given the categories, I would give it to Einbinder, whose submission episode, which involves the character’s father’s funeral, is at its peak.) In the comedy series, Ted Lasso going to win, but Hulu’s PEN15 deserves (and can use) the recognition more for a shortened second season that became richer, more relatable and somehow scarier than the first.
All characters point to Kronen to be just as sure on the side of the drama series, unless the voters feel that the fourth season was so long ago that it already had its coronation. Second half of the final Bag the season was emotional and joyful, while the height of the bumpy first and only season off Lovecraft Country were scary, allegorically rich and fully engaged in insanity, but both may have been too uneven.
What drama earns your crown, and what is your order to act like royalty?
HE I’m happy to kneel before Kronen, to be honest. The fourth season felt like the strongest yet, and gave the sharpest criticism we have seen so far of the institution it depicts. It is not that previous seasons painted royal life as an adventurous fantasy; to the contrary, Kronen has always made a point of the limitations and sacrifices that come with the role. But the introduction of two important outsiders – Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher – allowed the series to throw the institution into a harsh new light without losing sight of the people within the people.
As for the cast, I was particularly interested in Josh O’Connor’s portrayal of Prince Charles as a man whose (understandable!) Misfortune hardens into resentment. I was less fond of front-runner Gillian Anderson’s Thatcher, which felt more like a good impression than a great performance. But as you say, Kronen is a big favorite and there is little chance that it will be underestimated. So I would be thrilled to see some of the love spread to actors like Lovecraft Country‘s Jonathan Majors, who continues to be one of the most interesting breakout stars in recent years, or Bag‘s Mj Rodriguez, whose victory would be historic.
The races I am most excited about, however, are in the limited series category. Not only do I not know who will win, but I’m not even sure who I want to win. For now, I’re pulling I can destroy you, who resisted the usual troops of sexual assault to achieve something tougher, more complicated and more humane. But it really is a three-way tie for me among that series, Mare from Easttown and The underground railway. I liked The Queen’s gambit and WandaVision a lot too.
Do you think it’s easier than me to choose the winners here?
FIENBERG Before I go into the limited categories, I would like to defend a number of non-Crown working winners, although I know that for the most part it will be Windsors who will give speeches on 19 September. I could not bring myself to push Bag or Lovecraft above Kronen for series, but Billy Porter and Mj Rodriguez were both passionate and sometimes happy, even when Bag stumbled, while Lovecraft Supporters Aunjanue Ellis and especially Michael K. Williams are long overdue for the Emmys. There are ways to keep the drama fields interesting.
Fortunately, the limited series categories will be fascinating regardless of who the winner ends up being. Mare from Easttown, The Queen’s gambit and WandaVision everyone had moments as cultural phenomena, while I can destroy you and The underground railway offered groundbreaking approaches to tone and format. There are no bad choices here.
My own preference would be I can destroy you, Michaela Coel’s HBO half-hour that captured rage, dark humor and emotional exposure for 2020 without having to name current events, but Barry Jenkins’ surprisingly ambitious The subway adaptation is at a completely separate level in terms of cinematography, score and technical range.
From there I would spread the wealth. There are too many good things for a limited series to dominate Guards did last year. Give the lead role to Paul Bettany, who was a romantic powerhouse, a sitcom expert and a superhero on WandaVision. Acknowledge how central Anya Taylor-Joy and her intense, curious and vulnerable eyes were The Queen’s gambit. Blame Julianne Nicholson for carrying off the final episodes Mare from Easttown. And let’s honor Paapa Essiedu for making I can destroy you more than just the Michaela Coel show.
How do things shake for you?
HE I am with you in principle, if not necessarily in detail: I would like everyone to bring a little. (Well, all except Hamilton – nothing against that program, but the TV purist in me just can not care if they bring a bunch of Emmys to put by the pile of Tony.) Coels and Essiedus layered performances helped to create I can destroy you impossible to ignore, although the topic may be difficult to see. Bettany remained a consistent delight as WandaVision intertwined through epochs, tones and genres from episode to episode. His co-star Kathryn Hahn, on the other hand, brought the element of surprise and tore into her role with all the evil joy she could muster.
But even as I think about it, I feel a hint of disappointment that we can not also reward Kate Winslet for carrying Mare from Easttown on her tired shoulders. Or Nicholson for the intensity she brought to a shocking turn. Or Taylor-Joy to rule The Queen’s gambit with a tender blow to the wrist. … You see it. Heck, now I want to go back and put The underground railway as my best choice for limited series, just because it has somehow been overlooked in the actor categories. I guess the silver lining here is that no matter if things shake out, I’ll probably feel pretty good about it.
FIENBERG See? You have a part of the show where everyone could win and deserves to win, and two parts there only Ted Lasso and Kronen going to win. I just hope the Emmy producers do not make me sit through a full telecast to find out if Jason Sudeikis is going to win.
This story first appeared in the August 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.