In looking at the acting winners of Sunday’s Emmy awards, it was startling and even frustrating to realize just how thoroughly three shows dominated in the three genres of comedy, drama, and limited series. Ten of 12 acting categories went to performers from “Ted Lasso,” “The Crown,” and “Mare of Easttown.” Whereas last year’s “Schitt’s Creek” sweep felt like a startling aberration at the time, the 2021 Emmys indicated that, perhaps, a frontrunner dominating its genre might well become the norm.
Every one of the winners from “Ted Lasso,” “The Crown” and “Mare of Easttown” — from breakout stars like Hannah Waddingham, Josh O’Connor and Brett Goldstein to established favorites like Kate Winslet, Olivia Colman and Gillian Anderson — turned in excellent work that absolutely merited their nominations. But every time their respective theme songs swelled to signal another victory was a reminder that the Academy’s voting body had overwhelmingly defaulted to the same three shows despite nominating an impressive breadth of talent. In fact, the only categories any of these shows lost were the only categories in which none of them were nominated (outstanding comedy actress, which went to Jean Smart for “Hacks,” and outstanding actor in a limited series or movie, which went to Ewan McGregor for “Halston”). So while counting the Emmys’ “snubs and surprises” is an annual tradition, this year may represent an interesting flashpoint in how the awards function as a reflection of what TV has to offer.
What’s more, the acting categories may have yielded a record-breaking number of nominations for people of color, but not a single one of them walked away a winner. Not Mj Rodriguez, the first trans woman to get nominated for a major acting Emmy, nor Uzo Aduba with her first leading actress nod. Not Bowen Yang for his stellar season of “Saturday Night Live,” nor his costar Kenan Thompson for what would have been his first win after almost 20 years on the show. Michaela Coel, whose transcendent work for “I May Destroy You” earned her a well-deserved win for writing, lost to Winslet’s turn in “Mare,” the more recent HBO series to get the spotlight. The late Michael K. Williams was briefly honored by presenter Kerry Washington before she announced that Tobias Menzies of “The Crown” couldn’t be there to accept his win. When Debbie Allen accepted her Governor’s Award nearly two hours in, she was the first Black person to give a speech. It’s not that “Ted Lasso,” “The Crown” and “Mare of Easttown” didn’t deserve to win any acting nods; it’s that they won everything they could have as if it was a reflex.
As you may have heard: there are an awful lot of shows on television these days. No one, not even the people who make a living creating and covering TV, can possibly watch it all. So, yes, of course people might get overwhelmed when asked to evaluate all of television in order to reward the best of it, and sure, that might mean doubling down on a few favorites. But it is interesting, at the very least, to look at how the past couple years have gone and wonder if might be how this is how it’s going to be from now on, as people get so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choice that they stick with what they know. It would be a shame to watch the Emmys default to overwhelmingly awarding its few frontrunners when there are so many deserving people with vastly differing perspectives who deserve a second look.