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Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Comedy Series

So here’s the thing – I am either the ideal columnist to analyze this category or the absolute worst possible Awards Radar writer to tackle it. Because I have not watched a single episode of any of the eight nominees. At all. For any season, let alone the ones specifically nominated here. Despite paying for active subscriptions to all but one of the nominated streaming services these are available on, I have become increasingly withdrawn from getting into shows either on the internet or basic cable television (though is there even a real difference between the two, anymore?), especially comedy shows.

It may be because of the sheer number of “must-see” shows these days creates a weird sort of anxiety within me that keeps me from jumping into them. Perhaps it’s because I already feel behind on movies and made a judgment call to be more of a “Movie Dude” here than a “TV/Streaming Show Guy.” It might also be because of how fickle the longevity of these shows have been lately. Imagine how I would have felt if I tried to devote some time to Away, Teenage Bounty Hunters, I Am Not Okay With This or The Society last year, all of which were cancelled after just one season? Also, because of how balkanized these streaming services have become, I feel no communal element attached to them the way I remember popular shows were when I was growing up. I have no idea if anyone outside of my tiny social media bubble has even heard of these nominated shows. The whole “water cooler” part of show discourse seems to be disappearing these days.

But that’s not to say this category isn’t interesting to me. Because for the first time in a long time, Outstanding Comedy Series isn’t just being awarded to a single show, year after year, like clockwork. It’s one of my least-favorite trends with the Emmys and why I find them less exciting than the Oscars; did I really want to watch Veep and Games of Thrones effortlessly waltz their way to winning the top awards again? But things are different now. The last three years have seen this award bestowed to three different shows, and none of them are nominated this year. That’s cool! The Emmys should be doing this more often! Even if there’s one show this year that is as close to a “lock” to win this award as Veep was during its heyday. 

Let’s break it down:

BLACK-ISH / Season Seven / Kenya Barris, Anthony Anderson, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Sugland, E. Brian Dobbins, Michael Petok, Courtney Lilly and Laura Gutin Peterson, executive producers / Christian Lander, Lisa Muse Bryant, Robb Chavis and Eric Horsted, co-executive producers / Steven White and Marquita J. Robinson, supervising producers / Tracee Ellis Ross, Jamie Nelsen and Tom Ragazzo, producers / Heidi G. McGowen, produced by / ABC

Black-Ish is the oldest nominee in this category, nominated for its seventh season on the air. It has been a consistently popular and critically praised show ever since its premiere in 2014, which, considering my previously-stated apprehension about the fickleness of series longevity these days, is an impressive achievement. It has inspired dozens of thinkpieces and video essays examining the issues the show raises about race, class, and cultural identity in 21st century America, reportedly without losing sight of the lighthearted humor that has kept its viewers invested for almost a decade. It launched a spinoff show following one of its grown-up kids as she went to college. And though it has won a number of awards, including a Golden Globe for Tracee Ellis Ross’s performance in 2017, multiple NAACP Image Awards, and an Emmy for Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling last year, it has never taken home the top prize.

This would be as good a year as any to honor a successful and socio-politically relevant sitcom enjoying its seventh year on the air. There’s just one problem: it’s not Ted Lasso.

COBRA KAI / Season Three / Hayden Schlossberg, Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald, Caleeb Pinkett, Susan Ekins, James Lassiter and Will Smith, executive producers / Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, co-executive producers / Luan Thomas, Joe Piarulli and Michael Jonathan Smith, supervising producers / Stacey Harman and Bob Dearden, producers / Bob Wilson, produced by / Netflix

When you step back and really think about it, it’s kind of amazing how well this show has done considering the circumstances of its creation. Here is a spin-off show focusing on the now middle-aged villain of a movie that was released over three decades ago, whose most memorable character was portrayed by an actor who passed away in 2005. Not only that, but the show was cancelled by YouTube Red after its second season and was picked up by Netflix and is still ongoing with a dedicated fanbase, despite many of them not even being born yet when the first movie was out. That’s a pretty inspiring little-show-that-could story

I don’t think anyone was expecting this show to last beyond a single season as a sad inside joke for a moribund franchise, and to receive not just one but four nominations is a sign that this has more than a small number of voters in its corner… but probably not as many as Ted Lasso has.

EMILY IN PARIS / Season One / Andrew Fleming, Tony Hernandez, Lilly Burns and Darren Star, executive producers / Alison Brown, co-executive producer / Grant Sloss, supervising producer / Stephen Joel Brown, Shihan Fey, Jake Fuller, Lily Collins and Raphaël Benoliel, producers / Netflix

This is where the Internet Discourse™ really warps my perceptions of how a show is received by audiences and critics. TV Twitter seems to hate it, and even its fans sort of sheepishly admit they like it for reasons that have nothing to do with quality? No one on Awards Radar seems to care much about the show, as none of us are covering it and it’s the only nominee without a tag attached to it here. It has the lowest average critic tomatometer by over thirty points and tied for the lowest average audience tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes. And yes, I know, Rotten Tomatoes is a meaningless arbitrary scoring system that in no way should be considered an “objective” barometer of quality, but the gulf is still worth noting. Its only other Emmy nomination is for Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program (Half-Hour), and it doesn’t seem like “lack of opulent visual craftmanship” is the predominant criticism hurled at the show.

So… how did this get nominated at all? There must be a decent number of ATAS or NATAS or IATAS members out there who genuinely enjoy the show, or at least, more fans than there were for Girls5Eva and Shameless. I’m not wondering if it will win (because it won’t, because it’s not Ted Lasso); the question on my mind at the moment is… is it pronounced Emily in Par-IS? Or Emily in Par-EE? Because if it’s the latter, I might have to hate this show sight unseen just on general principle.

THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT / Season One / Greg Berlanti, Kaley Cuoco, Steve Yockey, Meredith Lavender, Marcie Ulin and Sarah Schechter, executive producers / Suzanne McCormack and Jess Meyer, co-executive producers / Jennifer Lence and Erika Kennair, producers / Raymond Quinlan, produced by / HBO Max

Greg Berlanti has never won a competitive Primetime Emmy, and this is only the second time he’s been nominated for one ever in his career (his first nomination was for the miniseries Political Animals, which lost to Behind the Candelabra in 2013). That may not seem like a particularly big deal to a layman, but it’s honestly kind of weird, considering the enormous impact he’s had on television and especially The CW channel over the last twenty years. He had a pioneering influence on advancing LGBT representation in primetime scripted shows during the aughts and was the showrunner for Arrow, which launched the Arrowverse, which was – for a long time – the only major series of live-action adaptations of DC Comics properties that weren’t a constant embarrassment. Those were huge shows, and pretty much set the standard by which all other mainstream superhero shows are judged by. He surpassed Jerry Bruckheimer’s record for simultaneously producing the most live-action scripted television shows airing on multiple networks for a single season in 2017, and signed the most expensive producer deal in television history in June 2018. And he’s not even fifty years-old!

I bring all of this up because Berlanti is an indisputable titan of the medium, and like Martin Scorsese at the Oscars and Cormac McCarthy with the Pulitzers in 2007, most of the time, the titans eventually get their due. Other than that, I have no real opinion on The Flight Attendant other than it looks nice and I can’t not root for anything that gives Rosie Perez a good role (one of nine nominations the show has received, already winning one for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music), and I don’t feel it’s worth wasting time pretending it’s going to win Outstanding Comedy Series because it’s not Ted Lasso.

HACKS / Season One / Jen Statsky, Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, Michael Schur, David Miner and Morgan Sackett, executive producers / Joanna Calo, Andrew Law and David Hyman, co-executive producers / Joe Mande and Jessica Chaffin, consulting producers / HBO Max

Here we are: the only nominee that has a semi-realistic shot (but not really) at toppling Ted Lasso. It has racked up a whopping fifteen nominations for its debut season, and centers on a washed-up Vegas performer and a young “canceled” comedy writer working together to maintain their relevance in a brutal entertainment industry. At a minimum, it has a very good chance at capturing one of the top awards, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Jean Smart, and will more than likely walk away with several more by the end of the night.

It also, interestingly, is the only one of the nominees to have not garnered a single negative review from a major outlet. At least, not anyone counted by Rotten Tomatoes. And I know, I know, arbitrary meaningless barometer, but still, it does mean that this show’s fanbase is considerable, and may be more of a unified faction of voters than we’re expecting. 

Then again, Hacks isn’t Ted Lasso, so it’s probably going to lose this award this round.

THE KOMINSKY METHOD / Season Three / Alan J. Higgins, Michael Douglas and Chuck Lorre, executive producers / Marlis Pujol, co-executive producer / Andy Tennant, producer / Netflix

Here’s another show-about-showbusiness starring Michael Douglas as another has-been actor now settling in as an acting coach to up-and-comers in Hollywood. It was certainly popular enough with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 2019 as it walked away with Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy (guess which show didn’t exist yet to compete with it back then?) and has a respectable six nominations this year, double the Emmy nominations it tallied up in 2020 and in 2019. Our own Bradley Weir believes Paul Reiser is a considerable dark horse contender for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, since the multiple nominees from Ted Lasso could “split the vote.”

These are all major points in its favor. However, it’s not Ted Lasso, so of all the awards it can win, this is not going to be one of them.

PEN15 / Season Two / Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, Sam Zvibleman, Debbie Liebling, Vera Santamaria, Marc Provissiero, Brooke Pobjoy, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Becky Sloviter, Shelley Zimmerman, Brin Lukens and Jordan Levin, executive producers / Don Dunn and Scott Levine, producers / Jeremy Reitz, produced by / Hulu

So the “hook” for this show actually seems kind of ingenious: two women in their thirties play versions of themselves as thirteen year-old social outcasts suffering the indignities and humiliations of eighth grade. But here’s the thing – every other actor around them playing their classmates are kids who really are the age they’re supposed to be in the timeline of the show. So imagine if Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade was made in the same way Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods was, where the same older actors play their younger selves in the flashback scenes, giving those sequences a highly-subjective, surreal feeling throughout.

This is a really fresh idea; the kind I’m sure other comedy showrunners are kicking themselves for not thinking of earlier. The evolution of the teen sex comedy in the last ten years has completely upended the tropes and common gags that has defined the genre for its entire existence up until recently. In a culture that no longer finds filming and broadcasting people naked without their consent funny (which is a positive step, let’s be clear), some comedians will throw up their hands and whine about the genre being “cancelled,” but not the nominees for this show.

They saw an opportunity and took it, and that kind of creative gambit would make it a dark horse contender. But alas, it is not Ted Lasso.

TED LASSO / Season One / Bill Lawrence, Jason Sudeikis, Jeff Ingold and Bill Wrubel, executive producers / Liza Katzer, co-executive producer / Jane Becker, Jamie Lee and Kip Kroeger, supervising producers / Brendan Hunt, producer / Tina Pawlik, produced by / Joe Kelly, consulting producer / Apple TV+

Made history for the most Primetime Emmy nominations garnered by a comedy series in its first season, with a jaw-dropping twenty in total. It has already won “best comedy show” awards from the Writers Guild of America, Television Critics Association, Hollywood Critics Association, Critics’ Choice Television Awards, was declared one of the top ten shows of the year by the American Film Institute, and won a Peabody Award. It has provoked breathless praise and in-depth analysis from some of the most popular and active film critics on social media.

These are major points in its favor, with the only serious drawback being that it isn’t Ted Lass-oh wait, it is!

So with these thoughts on shows I can only observe from a total remove from their actual episode content, here is where my predictions are finalized:

Prediction: Ted Lasso

Preference: I mean… I keep hearing great things about Ted Lasso? Seems like it’s the most deserving nominee? Please tell me if it’s worth an Apple TV+ subscription in the comments!

Sleeper: Hacks

Predicted (read: baselessly speculated) ranking:

  1. Ted Lasso

  1. Hacks
  2. Black-Ish
  3. PEN15
  4. Cobra Kai
  5. The Kominsky Method
  6. Emily in Paris
Associate Writer at

Formerly an associate writer for recently-retired Award Circuit, Robert Hamer is a U.S. Navy veteran and current Washington, D.C. bean-counter who spends his time obsessing over movies and pop politics.

He is returning to film and awards season commentary to return to a sense of normalcy in these plague-ridden times of rising fascism and late-stage capitalist dystopia. Join him, won't you, in these unorthodox attempts at cinematic therapy?

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Written by Robert Hamer

Formerly an associate writer for recently-retired Award Circuit, Robert Hamer is a U.S. Navy veteran and current Washington, D.C. bean-counter who spends his time obsessing over movies and pop politics.

He is returning to film and awards season commentary to return to a sense of normalcy in these plague-ridden times of rising fascism and late-stage capitalist dystopia. Join him, won't you, in these unorthodox attempts at cinematic therapy?

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