Skip to main content
opinion

Julia Garner in a scene from Inventing Anna.Nicole Rivelli/Netflix via AP

To forecast the inclinations of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is to engage in a fool’s errand. Annually, when the Academy release the list of nominations for the Emmy Awards, the list is more puzzle than it is a pleasure to read. Sometimes the reaction amounts to, “Television is better than that, what were you thinking?”

There are factors to consider. Those who vote tend to be older members with predictable taste. Those members might see a lot of Netflix and HBO but not necessarily be familiar with what is on other streaming services. They also tend to be the only voting members who read the trade press that features a lot of “For Your Consideration” advertising. And then there’s the short-term memory factor. With so much TV on so many platforms, will voters even remember a stellar series that aired or streamed almost a year ago? Would you?

And yet, in my notes from watching Wednesday morning’s announcement, there are only a few question marks, a couple of “what!” exclamations and several notations of “good!”

Catch up on the best streaming TV of 2021 with our holiday guide

The announcement came via actors JB Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Melissa Fumero (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) in a blessedly short ceremony live from Los Angeles. Viewers were informed that both actors will star in Netflix’s upcoming show, Blockbuster. Did that hint at pro-Netflix bias? No, not at all. Actually, the nominations are a reminder to catch up on great TV you may have missed, but the Academy didn’t, with a few peculiar lapses.

Elle Fanning in a scene from The Great.Gareth Gatrell/Hulu via AP

Jean Smart in a scene from Hacks.Karen Ballard/HBO Max via AP

Oh, there were some oddities: Barack Obama is up for Outstanding Narrator for Our Great National Parks (Netflix), a good pick but a reminder that some former U.S. presidents don’t fade away into seclusion or ignite scandal.

Over all, the list is a fair reflection of a good, not especially scintillating, year of TV. One of the first categories announced was Outstanding Variety Talk Series and it was good to see Late Night with Seth Meyers included, as Meyers has handled the strange events of the past few months with a good blend of outrage and angry comedy. It was also heartening to see young Elle Fanning nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, for The Great, a neglected sizzler on Amazon Prime Video. It’s likely that Jean Smart will win for Hacks (streams Crave), even though that series had a disappointing second season.

In Best Comedy Series, it’s good to see Abbott Elementary (ABC) get notice but it would anyway, since this clever show has essentially saved the entire network half-hour comedy genre. Also in that category, great to see What We Do in the Shadows (FX), a piece of drollery – mainly made in Toronto – that is often overlooked.

Zendaya in a scene from Euphoria.HBO via AP

Melanie Lynskey as Shauna in Yellowjackets.Paul Sarkis/Showtime / Crave

Netflix’s Inventing Anna has multiple nominations, which is a mild surprise, as it got middling reviews and an amount of attacks for being a bloated, creaky series. Still, it was a crowd-pleaser and Julia Garner’s idiosyncratic interpretation of the lead character earned her a nomination for Best Actress in a Limited Series, Movie or Anthology.

The list for the key category of Best Drama Series is this: Better Call Saul (AMC), Euphoria (HBO), Ozark (Netflix), Severance (Apple TV+), Squid Game (Netflix), Stranger Things (Netflix), Succession (HBO) and Yellowjackets (Showtime, streams Crave in Canada). It’s a very good list but not one of these series is the equal of The White Lotus (HBO/Crave), which is the likely winner in the Best Limited or Anthology Series.

Still, it’s a list notable for the inclusion of Euphoria, a series that is aimed at a young audience and is followed with a remarkable intensity, as it stands as a kind of cultural touchstone. Its star, Zendaya, is justifiably nominated for Best Actress in a Drama series. So much for the perception that Emmy voters are older and out of touch. Further, it’s a relief to see the magnificent Yellowjackets get multiple nominations. It’s a female-centric, strange and mordant mixture of thriller, dark comedy and meditation on evil. The show actually has more writing nominations than HBO’s Succession.

Colin Firth in a scene from the series The Staircase.HBO Max via AP

Where the voters might be a bit clueless is acknowledging outstanding material from outside the mainstream culture. There is barely any acknowledgement for the excellence in Reservation Dogs (streams Disney+ in Canada), Better Things (FX) and Pachinko (Apple TV+). It’s particularly disgraceful that Reservation Dogs, a rare showcase for Indigenous culture and actors, made no impression on voters. Pachinko could be justifiably called a masterpiece, an epic of storytelling told with stunning visual grace, but perhaps it had too much Korean and Japanese language spoken in it. Unlike Squid Game, with multiple nominations, it didn’t become a show that everybody talks about constantly.

And there will be much to talk about when the winners are announced and the awards distributed on Monday, Sept. 12.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.