Something is happening in this year’s Emmy race for Outstanding Comedy Series that may not signal business as usual for this marquee Emmy category. No, it’s not a high vacancy rate — only two of last year’s eight nominees, both between seasons, won’t be returning –. Still, it’s the unconventional approach to comedy taken by several contenders that sets them apart from the usual run of freshman hopefuls.
First, let’s handicap the field, starting with the eight nominees that competed last year…
- Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
- Abbott Elementary (ABC)
- Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
- Barry (HBO)
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Prime Video)
- What We Do in the Shadows (FX/Hulu)
- Hacks (HBO Max) [INELIGIBLE]
- Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) [INELIGIBLE]
Among the six eligible returnees, it’s widely thought that “Ted Lasso,” “Abbott Elementary,” “Only Murders in the Building,” and “Barry” are sure to be back. The 2018 Outstanding Comedy Series champ, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” now in its fifth season, is also likely to return. However, its nomination trajectory has tipped dramatically downward, dropping from 20 nominations in Season 3 to just 12 last year. Still, the series should continue to have support in the acting and crafts branches, and while it will likely pull through, it’s not the slam dunk it used to be.
On the other hand, “What We Do in the Shadows,” which garnered Series nominations for its last two seasons, might be on thinner ice to get another nod. While its strength has primarily been centered in the writing and craft branches, “What We Do in the Shadows” has tellingly received no support from the Actors Branch, with zero nominations for its regulars or guest actors throughout its four seasons. With several freshman series on the horizon that offer potentially more significant appeal to that large voting branch, the lid on its coffin may be closing for good.
So, under this scenario, we have openings for first-time contenders that may number as few as two or as many as four. Where do you begin to start the search for those lucky new series? Every viewer has their favorites, but based on reviews and buzz on social media, a consensus is beginning to grow around five comedy series with the best chance to snare one of those coveted spots. Let’s handicap their chances one at a time:
SHRINKING (Apple TV+)Apple TV+’s “Shrinking” focuses on a Pasadena psychotherapist (Jason Segel), still grieving the death of his wife, who must juggle chaos both at work and, especially, at home. The presence of movie stars Segel and Harrison Ford has raised the series’ profile considerably, but what may appeal most to Emmy voters is that “Shrinking” is produced by the “Ted Lasso” team of Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein and shares a similar comic sensibility that has proven appeal.
PRO – Smart adult comedy has always been catnip for Emmy voters, and they’ll likely eat happily here. Add to that possible nominations in both writing and directing, as well as three potential acting nominations, and you’ve got a solid case to make for “Shrinking” to pull through in Outstanding Comedy Series.
CON – The central characters can sometimes be more-than-a-bit self-absorbed, and the show lacks the sunny disposition that makes its “Ted Lasso” stablemate so appealing.
SERIES NOMINATION CHANCES – Likely, thanks to potential acting nods and the “Ted Lasso” pedigree.
WEDNESDAY (Netflix)With recent Outstanding Comedy Series nominations for “What We Do in the Shadows,” it’s clear that Emmy voters are not afraid of macabre comedies, and “Wednesday” has the added appeal of having had quite the buzz on social media, thanks to the series’ “Wednesday dance” going viral. With the pedigree of executive producer/director Tim Burton to lend cache, this “Addams Family” reboot has definite awards potential, but whether it will realize it this year is an open question.
PRO – The growing stardom of Jenna Ortega, the distinctive sensibility of Tim Burton, and a potential bevy of craft nominations could build momentum toward that first Outstanding Comedy Series nod.
CON – Still, the series may take a second season to find its awards footing, though nominations for Lead Actress and Directing are certainly in the mix.
SERIES NOMINATION CHANCES – There’s a chance, but not a big one.
While both “Shrinking” and “Wednesday” at times tackle unusual and, at the time, uncomfortable subjects amid their laughs, they do so in a way that respect and follows the tropes of familiar sitcoms and are thus totally in Emmy voters’ wheelhouse. However, the remaining three top contenders are less interested in following TV comedy norms and more set on shaking them up, whether in redefining category placement or even questioning what a sitcom can do. Emmy voters will likely respect their boundary-busting efforts, but will they also reward them? Let’s take a moment to assess the awards chances of this trio of tree-shakers.
THE BEAR (FX/Hulu)For the past ten months, this FX/Hulu comedy has surprised viewers with its story of world-class chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), who is forced to return home after his brother’s suicide to take over the family’s Italian beef sandwich shop in Chicago. Filmed mainly in single long takes within the confines of the shop’s cramped kitchen, the series, with a unique mixture of dark humor and sheer anxiety, looks different than any other comedy on television, and its buzz has only grown since its first season premiered last June.
PRO – With Outstanding Comedy Series nominations already from Critics Choice and Golden Globes (plus wins from the Writers Guild and Indie Spirits), the question as to whether “The Bear” is actually a comedy has been resoundingly answered. The fact that Season 2 (which will be eligible next year) will begin streaming during the voting period can only help its cause.
CON – Emmy voters have repeatedly proven that they can resist change, and the nerve-rattling stress of much of “The Bear” may be too far from the funny-ha-ha that many voters are looking for in their comedies.
SERIES NOMINATION CHANCES – Virtually assured. The question is not whether “The Bear” will get a Comedy Series nomination but whether it will contend for the win.
BEEF (Netflix)A different kind of beef than that served in Carmy’s sandwich shop is on the menu in this Netflix series, in which a road rage incident, usually a subject reserved for direct-to-video thrillers, is used instead here for dark comedy in a manner that explores the depths of modern rage. Where the dark comedy comes in is in the absurd lengths that two otherwise intelligent people (Steven Yeun and Ali Wong) go to satisfy their sense of aggrievement and their need for revenge, an unfortunate comment on the state of society today. Despite humor woven throughout, “Beef,” in its themes, challenges the idea of what a sitcom can be.
PRO – If the heat of the show’s early buzz can be sustained throughout the spring into the July voting period, “Beef” may have an Outstanding Comedy Series shot. Writing and directing nominations are certainly in the mix, as are acting nominations for Yeun and Wong.
CON – April is a late start to building a grassroots campaign for a new series, even with strong buzz and great reviews. As a series whose premise doesn’t exactly suggest “comedy” to potential viewers, “Beef” may offer less appeal to those Emmy voters who judge a comedy solely by its laughs.
SERIES NOMINATION CHANCES – Don’t count out this late-arriving entry just yet — there’s significant passion behind it, and that may just be enough to get it into the final eight. It has three months to turn internet buzz into Emmy votes.
POKER FACE (Peacock)The most unusual thing about this Outstanding Comedy Series contender is its lineage — its most direct antecedent was a series the Television Academy nominated half a century ago in the Outstanding Drama Series category: NBC’s detective classic “Columbo.” Producers Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne have updated the show’s formula to the 21st century, gender-swapped the show’s central character (casting Lyonne as the lead), and brought on board a collection of A-list guest stars that makes a very appealing package in this first major Emmy contender from Peacock.
PRO – The awards pedigree for the series will likely gather voters’ attention — Lyonne was Emmy-nominated for her previous comedy series (“Russian Doll”), while Johnson, coming off two consecutive Oscar nominations for writing the “Knives Out” murder mysteries, has written two episodes this season, as well as directing three. Another plus is its impressive list of Oscar-nominated guest stars alone in Season 1 which will likely have enormous appeal for Emmy voters across the board.
CON – The biggest drawback for the series may be the perception that, despite being laugh-out-loud funny at times, is “Poker Face” really a light drama rather than a comedy?
SERIES NOMINATION CHANCES – Its weekly murder mystery structure sets “Poker Face” apart from its comedy series rivals. It’s still a toss-up, though, whether that distinction will be a plus or a minus.
MY BEST COMEDY SERIES PREDICTIONS (April)
As of this moment, here are my April predictions in order of likelihood:
1. Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
2. Abbott Elementary (ABC)
3. The Bear (FX/Hulu)
4. Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
5. Barry (HBO)
6. Shrinking (Apple TV+)
7. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Prime Video)
8. Poker Face (Peacock)
Alt. “Beef” (Netflix)
What series do you think will be Emmy nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series? Please check out the NBP team’s current predictions at our brand new Emmy Predictions Center and let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our Twitter account.