For the past two years, comedy series celebrating their final seasons have cleaned up at the Primetime Emmy Awards. In 2019 it was Amazon Prime Video’s “Fleabag,” which, after being overlooked for its inaugural season, nabbed 11 noms (six wins, including lead comedy actress for creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as well as the coveted comedy series statue). Just last year the Television Academy went even harder for Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” nominating it 15 times and awarding it six, including in comedy series and all of the major comedy acting races.
This year, for the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards, there was an even bigger showing for HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” which picked up 18 nominations overall, including in the drama series category and all four major acting categories, guest drama actor and drama writing. “Lovecraft” is a bit of a special case, in that it is a one-season wonder: it submitted in drama because it was originally expected to return, but the network announced that it would not just days after nominations-round voting closed. Still, it is far from the only final season scoring love on the final-round ballot, proving Academy members are still somewhat sentimental when it comes to casting their votes.
Several series, such as FX’s “Pose” and Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method,” had been previously nominated but received more accolades for their final runs, while Hulu’s “Shrill” scored its first-ever nom.
“Pose” scored nine noms for the series proper this year, including returning to the drama series ballot, plus one for its short-form spin-off, while “The Kominsky Method” nabbed six, including comedy series, which is double from its penultimate season last year. “Shrill’s” nom is for lead comedy actress Aidy Bryant.
“I suspect the pandemic triggered a reflective, loyal voting Academy member. We’re dealing with a past year that had way too many sad goodbyes, and it just seemed like Emmy opened a happy highway for many of these favorite departing shows,” says Richard Licata of awards agency Licata & Co.
There is no perfect science to Emmy voting, and all genres are not always treated equally when it comes to celebrating the end of runs, though. Just last year, the aforementioned light fare of “Schitt’s Creek” cleaned up. The Showtime’s dramatic “Homeland,” which had once been an Emmy darling — earning four drama series noms and scoring Claire Danes back-to-back lead drama actress statues during its eight seasons — only nabbed one nom in its final season: drama directing for Lesli Linka Glatter.
That “Homeland,” a show about terrorism, did not clean up in 2020 perhaps was not surprising, given the state of the world. Political turmoil abounded and the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to ravage the U.S. when the season began airing; the latter then pushed the Emmy calendar further into the year, shifting dates for ballot submissions in both rounds of voting. Now, more than a year into that pandemic, voters leaned heavier on celebrating the end of comedies over dramas, with such series as Fox’s “Last Man Standing”; CBS’ “Mom”; Showtime’s “Shameless”; and CBS’ “Man With a Plan,” which only squeaked by due to the hanging episodes rule, picking up nominations in addition to the aforementioned “Shrill.”
“It almost feels like [the show came] back from the dead, in the nicest way possible. It’s breathing new life into it for me that feels really nice, and it does feel like a final tribute to it,” Bryant says of the nomination.
Bryant, who served as co-creator, writer, executive producer and star of “Shrill,” considers the show a “low-key” product that those who knew, really knew. Although she can’t pinpoint anything done differently when it comes to Emmy campaigning this year, the idea that the Academy took notice feels like “a really nice thing on top of something I already felt great about,” she says.
Some of the work she is most proud of from the final season, for example, is a storyline that looks at “self-hatred and how it reflects on other people” when her character “Annie goes on a date with a fat man at the beginning of the season and she’s flustered and pissed by being paired with him, but she addresses her own fat-phobia and apologizes to him and really faces that part of herself.” Being able to offer deep thinking about issues while also being funny has been important to her, and she’s glad to see it resonate with a wider audience.
Another new entry to the Emmy race for a final season is “Pose’s” Mj Rodriguez, who was nominated in the lead drama actress category. And while series co-creator and showrunner Steven Canals has been on the ballot before, when the 1990s ballroom culture period piece picked up a freshman drama series nom in 2019, he now has drama writing and drama directing noms on his résumé, too — for the series finale.
“The first season, I was so grateful and really ecstatic when we made it into the drama series race because that year was really competitive,” Canals says. “And I was still coming off of having spent many years being told the show doesn’t have any value, so that we made it in was a big deal. But [then] we didn’t get writing, we didn’t get directing, none of the actresses made it in, so it was a little confusing because it felt a little like, ‘Well, we like these parts of the show, but we don’t like those parts.’ At least, that’s how I processed it at the time. And it forced me to feel like we had to up our game. And so, this year, receiving the love that we’ve received feels so special.”
“Pose” may have gotten an extra boost of visibility with voters during FYC season thanks to a drive-in screening and panel with special guests Elton John and David Furnish. But what Canals really thinks made the difference was “that critics and journalists have all been super kind to us throughout our run. That groundswell of support that happened last year when Mj wasn’t nominated carried over into this season.”
“Pose’s” Billy Porter has kept his lead drama actor ballot spot for the third consecutive year (he won in 2019). Similarly, “The Kominsky Method” has kept its own three-time consecutive lead comedy actor and supporting comedy actor spots, but while Michael Douglas has been celebrated consistently in the former, the supporting spot went to Paul Reiser for the first time.
After only being nominated in one category last year (choreography, which it won), “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” received five noms this year, three of which were in new races, including guest comedy actress for Bernadette Peters and original music and lyrics. The NBC musical comedy was canceled while FYC season was underway, making this the last time the Academy can honor the show.
“In the past with the TV Academy, usually a canceled show — especially if it’s announced before the end of the balloting period — it would be over for it,” Licata recalls. “But I think the mentality of the voting body has gotten much younger and much more relaxed, which I think is a good thing. Also, there was a lot of PR that accompanied it [and maybe] people went, ‘OK let me watch this show.’ Maybe it was a last-ditch effort to send a message to the network.”
Some former Academy favorites are seeing renewed interest now that voters are not sure when they will be able to celebrate them again.
Returning to the series ballot for the first time since its freshman year, TBS’ “Conan” cracked into the competitive variety talk race, bumping multi-year staple (and network-mate) “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” in the process. The series came to a high-profile end in June after more than a decade on-air. Meanwhile, both “Mom” and “Shameless’s” spring sign-offs sent lead performers back to the top of voters’ minds: “Mom’s” Allison Janney was pushed back onto the lead comedy actress ballot and “Shameless’s” William H. Macy returned to the lead comedy actor ballot. Both were last seen there in 2018.
Despite these last-ditch showings of love on the final-round ballots, though, the majority of these series and performers have an uphill battle if they want to pull out major wins. In the past few years, the final seasons that did take home the trophies on ceremony night (the aforementioned “Schitt’s Creek” in 2020, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” in 2019, the second half of the final season of “Breaking Bad” in 2014, for example) all had spectacle on their side. This year, while crafts accolades are expected for series such as “Lovecraft Country,” Licata notes, the noise around other, ongoing series that have new assets to share, let alone fresh episodes and news to drop, will likely be too loud to ignore.