Critic's Notebook: Diversity, Surprises & Frontrunners in the Emmy Nominations

Matt Roush

Reflecting a tumultuous year of societal reckoning with racial injustice, the Emmy voters found plenty of diversity to celebrate in this year's nominations. (Check out the full list of major categories.) While Netflix and HBO predictably dominated the field with 160 and 107 nominations, respectively — compare that to 121 total nominations across the four broadcast networks (The CW got zero) — there were, as always, some surprising breakthroughs and unexpected snubs.

Breaking it down by genre:

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Comedy

The front-runners: former winner The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (the most-nominated comedy, with 20) and Pop TV's cult favorite Schitt's Creek (with 15). Possible sleeper: the final season of NBC's beloved The Good Place. Happiest surprise: FX's hilarious vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows breaking through with eight nominations, including three for writing (which is three more than Maisel got this year).

Diversity report: After four seasons, HBO's Insecure finally made the cut for comedy series, with star Issa Rae (her second nomination) and co-star Yvonne Orji (her first) also recognized. Ramy Youssef, who won a Golden Globe earlier this year, broke through with acting and directing nods (though Ramy the show was not nominated), and two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali scored a supporting bid — along with The Good Place's William Jackson Harper, Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Andre Braugher, Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's Sterling K. Brown (also nominated for This Is Us). ABC's black-ish stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross continue to rise about the network jinx, and Don Cheadle earned a repeat nomination for Showtime's Black Monday. The wonderful Maya Rudolph got two guest-actress nominations, as the judge in The Good Place and imitating Kamala Harris for SNL.

The Good Place

The Good Place (Credit: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

Should have been nominated: Pamela Adlon and her remarkable FX series Better Things, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist for anything, One Day at a Time's Rita Moreno, Ricky Gervais in After Life.

Early Predictions:

Comedy series: Schitt's Creek

Actor: Ted Danson (The Good Place)

Actress: Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)

Supporting actor: Dan Levy (Schitt's Creek)

Supporting actress: Alex Borstein (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)

Guest actor: Eddie Murphy (Saturday Night Live)

Guest actress: Bette Midler (The Politician)

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Note: If Schitt's Creek goes on a roll, Eugene Levy and especially Catherine O'Hara could easily take the top acting prizes. But if the Emmy voters choose not to reward shows for their final seasons, all bets are off.

Drama

The front-runners: HBO's Succession and Netflix's Ozark, tied with 18 nominations. Possible sleeper: the classy The Crown with 13. Biggest shock: Bob Odenkirk, finally coming into his own on Better Call Saul, was snubbed after four previous nominations. Biggest breakthrough: the Apple TV+ hit The Morning Show, with five acting nominations (though it missed out on a drama-series nod). Happiest surprise: The Mandalorian from new streamer Disney+

Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul (Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Diversity report: Last year's lead-actor winner, Pose's dynamic Billy Porter, once again is up against former This Is Us winner Sterling K. Brown. Westworld's Jeffrey Wright moves from the lead to supporting actor category, where Better Call Saul's Giancarlo Esposito has one of his two nominations (the other for guest actor on The Mandalorian). Killing Eve's Sandra Oh gets her third shot, while Euphoria's Zendaya is a first-time nominee. Westworld's 2018 supporting-actress winner Thandie Newton is back in the race, along with The Handmaid's Tale 2017 nominee Samira Wiley. In guest categories, former winner Ron Cephas Jones and Phylicia Rashad are nominated from This Is Us, while Cicely Tyson scores her fifth nomination for How to Get Away with Murder and Laverne Cox her fourth for Orange Is the New Black.

Should have been nominated: The aforementioned Odenkirk, along with his Saul acting partners Rhea Seehorn and Jonathan Banks, a four-time Saul nominee. (The episode where Saul and Mike were stranded in the desert should have earned each a nomination.) Reese Witherspoon was passed over multiple times this year: for The Morning Show and Big Little Lies in drama and Little Fires Everywhere in limited series. Ozark's heartbreaking Tom Pelphrey and The Crown's Josh O'Connor as a poignant Prince Charles were casualties of the Succession tsunami in the supporting category.

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Early Predictions:

Series: Succession

Actor: Brian Cox or Jeremy Strong of Succession (if they cancel each other out, Ozark's Jason Bateman)

Actress: Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show (close call with The Crown's Olivia Colman and Ozark's Laura Linney)

Supporting actor: Any of the Succession actors, but Matthew Macfadyen had the strongest material

Supporting actress: Meryl Streep (Big Little Lies)

Guest actor: Black Mirror's Andrew Scott (who should have been a contender last year as Fleabag's Hot Priest)

Guest actress: Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away with Murder (what becomes a legend most)

Watchmen

Watchmen (Credit: HBO)

Limited Series/Movie

The front-runners: Two politically charged dramas, HBO's fantastical Watchmen (28 nominations) and FX's period-perfect Mrs. America, were the standouts in limited series, while Netflix's Breaking Bad sequel El Camino (4) has the edge in the typically weak field of TV-movies. Possible sleepers: Netflix's provocative Unorthodox and compelling Unbelievable in limited series, and HBO's darkly comic Bad Education in TV-movies.

Diversity report: With an Oscar and three Emmys, Regina King could add a fourth for Watchmen, which earned nominations for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jovan Adepo and fellow Oscar and Emmy winner Louis Gossett Jr. Kerry Washington, also a star of Netflix's nominated American Son movie, earns her fourth acting nomination for Little Fires Everywhere, Tituss Burgess his fifth for the Kimmy Schmidt movie, and two-time Emmy winner Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black) is one of three Mrs. America supporting nominees, as congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. Two-time Tony nominee Jeremy Pope has his first Emmy nomination, for Netflix's Hollywood.

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Netflix dominated over HBO with 160 nods, but the latter snagged the largest number of nominations per series for 'Watchmen.'

Should have been nominated: In startling snubs, Russell Crowe was left out of the lead-actor race for his convincing transformation into Roger Ailes in Showtime's The Loudest Voice, while Aaron Paul, who won three supporting Emmys as Breaking Bad's Jesse Pinkman, failed to make the cut in the El Camino sequel. Also MIA: Unbelievable stars Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever, the aforementioned Witherspoon of Little Fires Everywhere, HBO's timely allegory The Plot Against America and supporting actor John Turturro, Lifetime's Patsy and Loretta movie and its stars from Broadway, Megan Hilty and Jessie Mueller.

Mark Ruffalo I know This Much Is True

I Know This Much Is True (Credit: HBO)

Early Predictions:

Limited series: Watchmen

Movie: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Actor: Mark Ruffalo (I Know This Much Is True)

Actress: Regina King (Watchmen)—although a very close contest with Mrs. America's Cate Blanchett

Supporting actor: Dylan McDermott or Jim Parsons (Hollywood), unless a Watchmen sweep affects the odds

Supporting actress: three-time Emmy winner Margo Martindale (Mrs. America) as an unforgettable Bella Abzug, but if her equally deserving co-stars (Aduba and Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan) split the votes, Unbelievable's Toni Collette could give that series a much-deserved win.