All The 2021 Emmy Nomination Snubs And Surprises

Mj Rodriguez is an Emmy nominee! Plus, I May Destroy You is back... but so is Emily in Paris.

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Though I was alone in my room when father-daughter duo Ron Cephas Jones and Jasmine Cephas Jones popped up to announce this year’s Emmy nominations around 11:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, I could still feel the pained silence of a room full of people when they announced Netflix’s highly controversial comedy Emily in Paris as one of eight nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series. Just several months ago, the entertainment world went into a collective tailspin after the series netted two Golden Globes nominations — but at the time, many were content to count it as just one of many egregious choices made by the shamelessly celebrity-hungry Hollywood Foreign Press Association. No one expected the series to reappear for the much more establishment-prone Emmys, and yet, here we are.

That being said, this morning’s nominations weren’t all bad. Among the expected nominations for discourse-leading series like Ted Lasso, The Crown, and Mare of Easttown, there were also many pleasant surprises, like Pen15’s official entry into the big leagues, Bowen Yang’s well-deserved recognition for carrying Saturday Night Live on his back, and the long-awaited admission that Mj Rodriguez has always been the glue that holds Pose together. On the other side, there were a few snubs — some expected, like those for close-but-no-cigar series like Starz’s P-Valley, and some quite shocking, like those for Steve McQueen’s buzzed-about anthology series Small Axe. (After igniting an entire months-long debate about “what qualifies as TV,” somehow the Television Academy managed to leave his spellbinding series off the ballot.)

Like any awards show, the Emmys can’t be expected to acknowledge everything worthy even if they tried. (There’s simply too much TV.) But that doesn’t stop us from praising them where it’s due and expressing our gripes when they don’t acknowledge those programs we personally deem deserving of acknowledgment. So without further ado, we present our biggest snubs and surprises — as well as one “thank God” moment and another “we’re over it” — for this year’s crop of nominees. Stay tuned for the ceremony itself when it airs Sept. 19 on CBS and Paramount+.

(A Well-Deserved) Surprise: Mj Rodriguez Makes History

I recently profiled Mj Rodriguez, where, amongst other things, the Pose star opened up about her feelings about the way her show has been undervalued by the Television Academy. Though she and her trans co-stars had been snubbed throughout the show’s run, the gracious actress kept her hopes up for this year, saying, “A lot of change is happening” before adding, “Who knows, [a nomination] could possibly happen this year.” Thankfully, her optimism paid off and she did indeed break into the highly competitive Outstanding Lead Actress field, making history in the process as the first trans actor to receive a lead acting nomination.

Overall, it was a great morning for Pose, which also netted nominations for Outstanding Drama, Writing, and Directing, in addition to another acting nomination for previous winner Billy Porter. But nothing felt more important than the long overdue acknowledgment of Rodriguez’s heartfelt work, which has only gotten better with each passing season. To see her actually win in September would feel like a full-circle moment in the best way possible.

…And A Truly Horrific Surprise: Emily In Paris, Period

After all the pushback the HFPA received for bestowing two Golden Globe nominations on Emily in Paris, how is it even humanly possible that the Television Academy would fix its pens to nominate this same show for Outstanding Comedy Series? Sure, we may all be anxiously awaiting the soon-to-come second season of Netflix’s Darren Star hit, but that’s not because we think it’s a particularly good show — let alone one that can be described as “Emmy-worthy.” (I anxiously awaited new episodes of The Bold Type for years, but I would have never wanted to see that pulpy melodrama represented on television’s biggest stage.) All I can say is, well, I guess I was wrong — maybe the industry’s love for this show goes deeper than free press trips to Paris.

Thank God: I May Destroy You Gets A Redemption Arc

Speaking of Golden Globes, I’m still not over the HFPA’s audacity in completely snubbing Michaela Coel’s brilliant I May Destroy You, the indisputable title holder for Best Show of 2020. Thankfully, the Television Academy got things right, not only nominating the deliberately complicated drama for Outstanding Limited Series (where it will hopefully win), but also for star Coel and supporting actor Paapa Essiedu. The series also netted nominations for its compelling writing, adventurous directing, and spot-on casting. Now we only have to pray that, after being largely overshadowed by The Queen’s Gambit at other awards shows, this once-in-a-lifetime series finally has its moment come September. My fingers are certainly crossed.

Snub: Nicco Annan And The P-Valley Gang

There was a moment there where I thought that maybe — just maybe — Starz’s breakout strip club drama P-Valley (a standout from 2020) would receive its proper due and slip through the cracks to secure some nominations this morning. The entire show deserved a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series (especially over tired fare like This Is Us and The Handmaid’s Tale), but so did many of its actors, who all brought an inspired level of sensitivity and authenticity to their performances as people living on the margins in the Mississippi Delta. “At the very least, acknowledge Nicco Annan’s groundbreaking performance as the unapologetic, nonbinary club owner and den mother Uncle Clifford,” I would find myself praying at night. But apparently, it was all for naught; the series came up 0-for-0. It was a long shot, but it really shouldn’t have been.

Surprise: Pen15 Finally Breaks Through

It was clear that Pen15 was already on the Television Academy’s radar thanks to the Outstanding Writing nomination it received two years ago for its first season. However, despite the series getting even better in its second season — somehow funnier and more poignant — I remained skeptical about whether the terrific Hulu program would stand out amongst heavy-hitters from HBO (The Flight Attendant, Hacks) and establishment nominees (The Kominsky Method, Black-ish).

Well, I’ve never been more excited to be proven wrong. Not only did Pen15 get another Outstanding Writing nomination, but it also got an overall nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series. Though I personally would have also liked to see some acting love for 34-year-old leads Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle — whose performances as awkward pubescent middle schoolers are both technically and physically impressive — the show’s third and final nomination for Outstanding Casting seems like a nice compromise in the meantime.

Surprise: Double Nominations For Aidy Bryant

Though last year’s Emmy ceremony is perhaps best remembered for its record-breaking embrace of comfort TV staple Schitt’s Creek, far too many people forget that its nine wins stood out even more as the first to ever be awarded to the show — in its sixth and final season. The Television Academy was notoriously late in recognizing Schitt’s Creek’s brilliance, and the same can be said this year for Hulu’s Shrill, which recently premiered its third and final season. What has always been a great show about journalism, body image, friendship, and self-love has never seemed to resonated with the Television Academy until now, and that’s a shame.

Nevertheless, it was nice to see lead Aidy Bryant finally recognized for her thoughtfully nuanced portrayal of Annie Easton, which grants space for the character to be flawed without ever crossing over into unlikability. And though Bryant’s Outstanding Supporting Actress for Saturday Night Live seems far less surprising (she’s been nominated in this category before), it was also nice to see the talented comedian earn dual nominations for her acting prowess.

Snub: But None For Lolly Adefope

That being said, the Television Academy’s failure to nominate Lolly Adefope for her equally grounded performance as Annie’s best friend, Fran, is quite upsetting. Though she’s arguably the show’s co-lead, one can safely assume that Adefope would have been nominated in the Outstanding Supporting Actress field, where she could have easily taken a spot away from any of the three nominated Saturday Night Live cast players. (Yes, including her Shrill co-star, Aidy Bryant.)

Surprise: Bowen Yang Is Emmy-Nominated

While I usually find myself begrudging the overrepresentation of Saturday Night Live players in the supporting acting categories (their acting is fundamentally different than the acting done in a scripted comedy, after all), I couldn’t help but celebrate the nomination for relative newcomer Bowen Yang, one of the funniest people on Earth and a truly welcome (needed) addition to the cast. Not only was his casting history-making from the beginning (the show’s first Chinese-American and its third openly gay man), but what he brought to the sometimes outdated sketch series was often the best part of any given episode.

Whether he was giving voice to the iceberg that sank the Titanic or completely lampooning the whole idea of Pride Month (“I don’t want to be funny, I want to be hot!”), Yang’s willingness to go for broke immediately made him a cast standout. And with a coterie of Ted Lasso stars nominated against him (who could cancel each other out in the voting), it’s not entirely crazy to think that this first-time nominee could actually have a real shot at winning it all.

Surprise: HBO Successfully Hacks The System

More than halfway through the year, I can still honestly say that Hacks is the best new comedy I’ve seen since January — and judging by the show’s completely unexpected fifteen nominations, it’s clear the Television Academy agrees with me. Sure, Jean Smart’s nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress has seemed written in the stars for a while — also, congrats on her second nomination for Mare of Easttown — and co-lead Hannah Einbinder had been on the bubble for Outstanding Supporting Actress for almost as much time as Smart had been firmly locked inside hers. But acting nominations for Carl Clemons-Hopkins (Outstanding Supporting Actor) and Jane Adams (Outstanding Guest Actress) registered as true surprises this morning. Nominations for Directing and Writing are more than earned, as is the overall nomination for Outstanding Comedy. But that being said…

Snub: Where Is Megan Stalter?

Aside from Jean Smart, who made a more memorable impression than internet comedian-cum-bona-fide scene-stealer Megan Stalter in Hacks? As Kayla, the hopelessly clueless (and careless) assistant for Paul W. Downs’ Jimmy, Stalter was impossible to look away from any time she was on screen. Imbuing the off-kilter humor that made her a hit on Instagram into a character whose only self-awareness seems to be in the fact that she knows she only has this highly sought-after job because her father owns the agency, Stalter was perfect. The series’ casting agents deserve a special shoutout for placing Stalter in this career-making role — maybe their own Emmy nomination will materialize in a win and make up for Stalter’s snub.

We’re Over It: Hamilton Is Dead. Please Let Him Rest.

With In the Heights in theaters and Tick, Tick...Boom set to premiere on Netflix soon, isn’t it fair to say that Lin-Manuel Miranda is already exposed enough? By which I mean: Why do we still have to deal with Hamilton, a literal recording of a musical that has been playing on Broadway for years? The Disney+-premiered production took up tons of would-be open slots in the limited series acting categories (seven total) — and though it can be argued that some of those performances are truly noteworthy (shoutout to Renée Elise Goldsberry and Leslie Odom Jr.), I can’t help but be slightly annoyed that we’re still: one, treating this pre-recorded Broadway production like a viable “television event,” and two, letting it suck up space and dominate the conversation after all this time. We’re over it and it’s time we all finally move on.

Surprise: We Love The Boys

I’ve long been an advocate of The Boys, Amazon Prime’s super violent, super explicit, super subversive reimagining of the “superhero story.” Fun, witty, and above all, critical of its own genre’s shortcomings, the action-drama came out swinging with its first season before totally commanding the room during its second outing. Nevertheless, I found it hard to believe that the Television Academy would ever get behind a show that features an extended scene of an arrogant superhero quite literally having sex with himself. (“It’s not even gay if it’s with yourself, right?”)

Much in the way it took arty superhero fare like Joker to truly capture the Academy’s attention at the Oscars, it was hard to imagine the Emmys truly embracing a show as hyper-stylized as The Boys. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see it nominated twice this morning — and not just for technical categories either: for Writing and Outstanding Drama. Sure, I would have preferred its spot in the latter category to go to something like P-Valley (see above), but it’s still promising to know that, as genre television gets more daring and adventurous in its overall approach to filmmaking, awards-giving bodies are prepared to respond accordingly.

Snub: A Very Large Axe To Small Axe’s Chances

Much like Barry Jenkins’ technically impressive The Underground Railroad (which received three nominations this morning), Steve McQueen’s Small Axe was a profound work of Black-centered art that excelled on all fronts: acting, direction, cinematography, and writing. I still count the beautiful “Lovers Rock” installment as one of my favorite “films” of last year — whether it should be classified as such or not — and still believe “Mangrove” deserved the same love that was being poured onto Aaron Sorkin’s similarly minded The Trial of the Chicago 7 around the same time. Yet somehow, the Television Academy didn’t deem the anthology worthy of recognition, giving it a grand total of zero nominations this morning — an outcome made all the more glaring by the fact that the far more out-of-touch Golden Globes gave it two nominations, one of which turned out to be a win. So, John Boyega, I’m so sorry, sweetie.

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