×

Plenty of newbies will be breaking into the comedy category this Emmys season, but two leading rivals for the title will be actual competitors for the first time: “Atlanta” and “Ted Lasso.”

As wildly different series that fall into the same genre in the awards competition, their performances in this race will likely lead to a discussion about the industry’s relationship with feel-good TV.

Read moreVariety’s Awards Circuit Emmys Predictions Hub

“Those shows are going to have interesting moments, both with Donald Glover having been out of the spotlight for a minute, intentionally, taking a detour with a music career that was more successful than I think a lot of people expected,” a Hollywood industry insider told Variety, “while there’s been probably more publicity than I think Apple would like on the fact that the upcoming third season is likely the last season of ‘Ted Lasso.’

The Jason Sudeikis-led Apple TV+ comedy is the reigning champ and has never aired in an “Atlanta”-less world, while Donald Glover’s show is a twice-nominated FX series that has lost twice, first to HBO’s “Veep” in Season 1 and then to Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” in Season 2.

And just as “Ted Lasso” has been a topic of joyful conversation continuously for almost two years, the very idea of when “Atlanta’s” Europe-set Season 3 would finally premiere — following a four-year wait since Season 2 — has also been a much-discussed event.

“I’d anticipate that if ‘Atlanta’ was gone for so long and came back as the exact same thing, it probably would have less of a chance,” another industry insider says. “I think this season is coming back with something fresh, brand-new scenery, a brand-new situation for that cast and those characters. If … the execution is as great as it was in previous seasons, they probably set themselves up for more awards, as opposed to fewer this year.”

“Ted Lasso” Season 2 and “Atlanta” Season 3 are neck and neck in critical approval, with both holding a 97% Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

Gold Derby rankings as of May 23 had “Ted Lasso” at No. 1 on its list of predicted winners for comedy series at the 2022 Emmy Awards, with HBO Max’s “Hacks” in second, HBO’s “Barry” in third, Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” in fourth, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” in fifth, ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” in sixth and “Atlanta” all the way at No. 7.

With the exception of “Ted Lasso” and “Only Murders,” which had the comedy field largely to themselves in summer and fall 2021, these shows have all returned or debuted either at midseason or in this spring.

“Ted Lasso” Season 2 had the benefit of an avid, eager audience looking for laughs and a Season 1 Emmy campaign to help bring it even wider attention, while the other shows have been competing for viewers with less time on their hands as the world opens back up. There’s also more content to choose from when viewers do have a half hour to spare. And in that time, do they want a lot of hearty chuckles, or are they looking for the kind of genre-bending humor that “Atlanta” provides?

The debut season of “Ted Lasso” was widely considered the perfect show at the perfect time, an uplifting tale full of good-natured characters that hit right when the spread of COVID-19 was at its peak in fall 2020. It was a bright spot that brought together people who were physically spread apart, and gave audiences hope and something to believe in —for a little while — on each viewing. “Atlanta” is certainly not that kind of show, but at this stage in the pandemic, do we need such a series?

“We are in an era where we are ready for more depth as a society. I think there is an appetite for different content. I think part of the ‘feel good’ of ‘Ted Lasso’ was just that, in fact,” says one TV industry source. “Not only was there just a lot of heavy going on, but there just hadn’t been a really clever, feel-good comedy in a while. The feel-good-comedy era was a lot of the multi-cam-laugh-track-CBS of it all. But there hadn’t been a lot out there at that time. So that fresh approach was really interesting, too.

“But at that time, everyone was in their bubbles and there was little variety to what our days looked like, so there was little variety to what we were ready to digest on any given night as we sat on the couch and put something on. I think some of the return to normalcy — and certainly the return to a variety of the types of experiences and the types of relationships and even the ability to get some new in our lives, as opposed to what was feeling pretty monotonous — has caused people to be open to new stories and different stories and even heavy stories and subject matter because there is some sense of balance in just day-to-day life.”

According to multiple Television Academy members who spoke with Variety, while they love “Ted Lasso” and the contagious feel-good fuzzies it gives them, they don’t think that depth of feeling is necessary in order to laugh anymore. In fact, several of them pointed to how the second season of “Ted Lasso” was significantly less filled-with-smiles than the first, exploring topics including mental health and ending with a full-blown face-heel turn for one of its key characters.

“Ted Lasso” felt less good than before, and it was still widely adored for its underlying message and community-building aspect. “Part of what made ‘Ted Lasso’ pop was that it fit in perfectly with formats like TikTok/Reels and meme culture,” says Darnell Brisco, executive vice president and head of growth at entertainment marketing agency Bond. “Comedies [and thrillers in a similar way] that are great on their own benefit from a multiplier effect when they facilitate a shared experience. At a time when we were all in our proverbial bubbles, ‘Ted Lasso’s’ memorable feel-good persona ultimately cut through because the show allowed audiences to feel something together.”

2022 Primetime Emmy Awards Predictions