The 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards are just around the corner. Now that the nominations for this year have been released, let’s take a closer look at what productions stood out in television over the past year.
As expected, streaming services are now leading the way in quality television content. HBO and HBO Max received a combined 130 total Emmy nominations, the most of any network, closely followed by Netflix who received 129 nominations. Not far behind are Hulu and Disney Plus, the latter earning 71 nominations in only its second year of eligibility as a network after launching in just 2019. Of the shows nominated for best Drama Series, more than half were produced by streaming platforms over a traditional network. This is true for many categories this year.
“The Crown” and “The Mandalorian,” available respectively on Netflix and Disney Plus, have received 24 nominations each in a plethora of categories, making them the best received shows of the year in the eyes of the Television Academy. In total nominations and in many of the same categories, Marvel’s “WandaVision” was close behind with 23 total nominations, marking the first Emmy nominations for Marvel Studios. Science fiction, and super hero stories specifically, are more and more becoming a serious genre in television, this year’s Emmy nominations giving many nods to a usually disregarded genre.
Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys” is nominated for best Drama Series, as is Disney’s “The Mandalorian,” both shows standing out among their fellow nominees as shows that typically aren’t considered by the Television Academy. The genre of superhero films and television shows has grown both more popular and nuanced over the past several years, giving us complex stories rooted in character instead of action such as “The Umbrella Academy,” “The Boys,” and of course, “WandaVision.”
“WandaVision” is nominated for 23 total Emmys, including best Limited Series and nominations for lead actors Elizabeth Olson, Paul Bettany and Kathryn Hahn, all of whom gave performances that have been critically praised. As the first show from Marvel Studios to be recognized by the Academy, “WandaVision” is setting standards of excellence in storytelling in a genre that has generally not been considered a serious contender among drama or even comedy productions. The show not only subverted and played with the superhero and science fiction genres, but examined the institution of television through the lens of grief. It’s complex and beautifully executed, setting the stage for future Marvel content, and for television writing in general.
In the nonfiction category, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” has been nominated for Outstanding Variety Talk Series every year since 2016, with this year being no different. The show has had 52 nominations in total since it began in 2014, taking home 20 Emmys and 1 Honor. It is likely the show will take home another couple of Emmys this year, Outstanding Variety Talk Series being the most notable. “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” stands out among the competition as a shift in the late night television genre. Not just a late-night comedy show, Oliver spends an hour each week taking a deep dive into systemic issues facing the country and the world. Oliver and his writing staff go to great lengths to get their stories right, often taking on topics that are too complicated to be covered in late-night television. This season for instance, Oliver has been praised for his nuanced piece on the rising conflict between Israel and Palestine, taking his time to pull apart the layers of an extremely socio-political conflict as opposed to diminishing the divide to a punchline. He is perhaps the most outspoken man in the genre as well, in the same episode equating Stand Your Ground laws to a “Rosetta Stone for justified homicides.”
Journalism has long since blended with late-night, however, no comedy show on television currently compares to the thorough investigations of John Oliver and his writing staff. The show takes heavy influences from “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” where Oliver cut his teeth as an Emmy award winning writer. It would be unsurprising if they won the category for the sixth year in a row. A win in September would tie “Last Week Tonight” with “The Late Show With David Letterman,” at six wins and put them on their way to catching up to the “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” which currently holds the record for the category at 11 wins.
The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards will air September 19 on CBS and Paramount Plus.
By Emily Frantz