I'm not just saying this because I'm a TV critic, honestly. But it seems like it's about time for the Emmys and the Oscars to switch places in Hollywood's status-obsessed pecking order.
Think about it: the last Oscars season was focused on films many people would never see and handed out at a time the audience was still unsure about even stepping inside a movie theater.
But the most-nominated series at this year's Emmycast includes one of Marvel's most popular streaming shows (WandaVision), plus the small screen reimagining of the Star Wars universe (The Mandalorian), the comedy with a pop culture profile you can't escape (Apple TV+'s Ted Lasso) and Netflix's hugely successful drama about England's royal family, The Crown.
These are shows fans have actually seen – among a deluge of television content Hollywood's media conglomerates are spending billions to create. In order to stand out, it's more important than ever that the right shows get the highest honor in television on Sunday – a task you can't always trust the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to get right.
Hence my own awards for the shows that SHOULD win Emmys: The DEGGYS.
Here, the rules for winners go out the window. Show wasn't nominated? Who cares! Two winners in one category? Just proves the value of being open minded! Nominated for a comedy Emmy when it should be a drama? (looking at you, Cobra Kai). That's what the DEGGYS are all about!
No groupthink. No politicking. And no nonsense. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... the 2021 DEGGYS!
Best Drama Series
Nominees: The Boys (Amazon Prime Video), Bridgerton (Netflix), The Crown (Netflix), The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu), Lovecraft Country (HBO), The Mandalorian (Disney+), Pose (FX) and This Is Us (NBC).
And the DEGGY goes to... The Mandalorian AND Lovecraft Country. That's right – two winners right off the bat! The Mandalorian gets my award because shows from the superhero/sci-fi genre are often overlooked (though major shoutouts this year for The Boys, Lovecraft Country WandaVision and Mando & Co. are a welcome change). Still, I think The Mandalorian hasn't gotten enough recognition for its massive achievement; not only did it jump start Star Wars on the small screen with a show focused on characters overlooked by the bloated mothership films, executive producer Jon Favreau pioneered a process for upgrading the entire franchise, from new, state of the art sets to a creative council of producers and directors, kinda like Marvel has for its films. And in this latest season they gave us a certain young Jedi with a missing hand! What more do they have to do to win an Emmy... exhume Darth Vader himself?
Lovecraft Country gets a DEGGY because I loved the way HBO's ambitious series spun an amazing allegory between the horrors of classic supernatural fiction and racism. This story about a Black family from the 1950s navigating witchcraft and afro-futurism to save their legacy and defeat white racism was my favorite new show of last year. And it had Michael K. Williams, who died just last week, once again challenging notions of Black masculinity, playing a closeted gay man whose inner pain led him to be an abusive father. Rest in power, with a well-deserved Deggy, my brother.
Okay, but who will ACTUALLY win? Three of these series — Lovecraft, The Handmaid's Tale and The Crown — are among the most-nominated series this year. Given what I noted earlier about the bias against "genre" shows – and the fact that its storylines last year finally got around to more royals we Yanks know, like Princess Diana — I'm thinking this is the year The Crown gets its first best drama trophy after four nominations.
Best Comedy Series
Nominees: Black-ish (ABC), Cobra Kai (Netflix), Emily in Paris (Netflix), Hacks (HBO Max), The Flight Attendant (HBO Max), The Kominsky Method (Netflix), Pen15 (Hulu), Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
And the DEGGY goes to... Ted Lasso. Much as I'm loving the Jean Smart-issance, her turn as a Joan Rivers-style comic in Hacks — which makes it the second-best comedy in contention — still doesn't come close to the heights Ted Lasso scaled last year. Even though this show about the power of American nice upped its game this season, the Emmy nominations are for its inaugural run in 2020 — when the world first met Jason Sudeikis' impossibly optimistic character, a U.S.-born doofus trying to coach soccer (a sport he doesn't understand) in Britain (a country he doesn't understand). Watching the show's producers deftly access heartwarming, sentimental and funny without ever stumbling into maudlin or predictable — that's worth a DEGGY alone.
Okay, but who will ACTUALLY win? The danger in Emmy's comedy categories is that Ted Lasso will run the table this year, like Schitt's Creek did in 2020, ensuring every winner announced in the first hour of the awards ceremony was from one show. Here's hoping the academy at least put some drama awards in the first hour to break things up.
Best Limited Series
Nominees: I May Destroy You (HBO), Mare of Easttown (HBO), The Queen's Gambit (Netflix), The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime Video), WandaVision (Disney+).
And the DEGGY goes to... I May Destroy You. This is an increasingly powerful category, as projects that might have been mid-level movies in years past are instead sold to streaming services as one-season special events (note to Academy: it deserves eight nomination slots, just like the drama and comedy categories). That's also why I fear Michaela Coel's inventive, incisive look at a woman slowly realizing she was raped might be lost in the acclaim for more recent triumphs like Mare of Easttown. But Coel's masterful work – which she also entirely wrote and co-directed – gets at the heart of harassment, trauma, sexism, sexual orientation and so many other subjects now standing at the heart of the modern zeitgeist.
Okay, but who will ACTUALLY win? It's a close competition with HBO's Mare of Easttown, but my money is on Netflix's chess drama The Queen's Gambit. That's mostly because it got one more nomination than Mare and won the most awards at ceremonies for the technical categories held last week, the Creative Arts Emmy awards (or, as comic Kathy Griffin lovingly calls them, "The Schmemmies").
Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Nominees: Giancarlo Esposito, The Mandalorian; O-T Fagbenle, The Handmaids Tale; John Lithgow, Perry Mason; Tobias Menzies, The Crown; Max Minghella, The Handmaid's Tale; Chris Sullivan, This Is Us; Bradley Whitford, The Handmaid's Tale; Michael K. Williams, Lovecraft Country.
And the DEGGY goes to... Michael K. Williams. Voting for this award concluded before Williams — a brilliant character actor who gave us indelible performances on shows like The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, Hap and Leonard and, yes, Lovecraft Country – was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment. So I want to make sure one of TV's most talented character actors gets his flowers for inhabiting Black male characters often overlooked or stereotyped in lesser hands. His turn in Lovecraft as Montrose Freeman, a closeted gay man who traveled back in time to the Tulsa Race Massacre to revisit a terrible moment in his past, was a sterling example of that work and should win him the Emmy, anyway. But just in case, there's a DEGGY sitting here, too.
Honorable mention: Have to shout out another amazing character actor also nominated here, Giancarlo Esposito. Not only is he killing it – pun intended – as a murderous bad guy Moff Gideon on The Mandalorian, he's giving us chills again as drug kingpin/fast food king Gus Fring on Better Call Saul, playing pastor and politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. on the criminally underseen Epix series Godfather of Harlem and keeping corrupt superheroes in line as Vought CEO, Stan Edgar, on Amazon Prime Video's, The Boys. If there was an Emmy for best lineup of supporting roles on series all eligible in the same year – and let's face it, there really should be – Esposito would be in the hall of fame.
Best Variety Sketch Series
Nominees: A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO), Saturday Night Live (NBC)
And the DEGGY goes to... NBC's The Amber Ruffin Show. This is another category where there are too few nominees – contenders like Netflix's I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson and That Damn Michael Che deserved a shout out, along with Ruffin. And Saturday Night Live is a behemoth all its own, deserving of a special category for 46-year-old showbiz institutions. Ruffin's Peacock show has been a wonder to watch evolve, as the Late Night with Seth Meyers writer marries cutting observations about racism, pop culture and sexism with a sunny charm and a growing cadre of contributors who will probably lead their own shows in a few years' time. Forget about the Jimmys and Stephen: This feels like the future of late night TV. And I'm here for all of it.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And finally today, the 73rd Emmy Awards air tonight on CBS live from Los Angeles. It will be a smaller ceremony than we were used to and socially distanced, of course. Still, no matter how it unfolds, what really matters is who wins, right? NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says you can't trust the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to get it right. So he created his own awards, the Deggys (ph). And he's here to tell us about them.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey, I'm taking over the TV industry...
MARTIN: You are. You are.
DEGGANS: ...You know?
DEGGANS: Why not?
MARTIN: Who better than you?
DEGGANS: (Laughter) I can't do a worse job...
MARTIN: (Laughter) OK.
DEGGANS: ...Than they're doing, so (laughter).
MARTIN: All right. Your first category is best TV drama.
DEGGANS: Yeah, we got lots of cool shows nominated here, including "Bridgerton" on Netflix, FX's "Pose," "This Is Us" on NBC. But my Deggy goes to...
(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMROLL)
MARTIN: "The Mandalorian" and "Lovecraft Country" - two winners. Come on, Eric. You can't do that, can you?
DEGGANS: Well, you know, I always like to start with two winners just to show how different the Deggys can be. Now, these two shows represent important trends. First, "The Mandalorian" is the rise of genre categories like science fiction and fantasy. This series from Disney+ was a giant step forward for sci-fi TV. And spoiler alert if you haven't seen it, they revived a certain one-handed Jedi night for the best cameo on TV from that year.
Now, "Lovecraft Country" on HBO was a kind of supernatural story that usually features white characters. But they centered it on a Black family in the 1950s. And they equaled the horror of sorcery with the horror of racism. Now, "Lovecraft Country" also features the late, great character actor Michael K. Williams. He's nominated for best supporting actor. "Lovecraft Country" also feature another great character actor, Courtney B. Vance, who actually won an Emmy last week as best guest actor in a drama.
Now, we've got a clip of him. His character is telling his nephew not to believe this terrible supernatural vision that he had. But in telling him this, he actually sounds like he could be talking about the way that Black folks had to cope with Jim Crow racism back then.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOVECRAFT COUNTRY")
COURTNEY B VANCE: (As George Freeman) Don't you ever let them make you question yourself. That's how they win. They want to make us crazy, terrorize us, make us scared.
DEGGANS: I'm telling you.
MARTIN: So who do you think will win best drama?
DEGGANS: Well, the two dramas with the most nominations, which tell you how excited the Academy is about the shows, are "The Mandalorian" and "The Crown." And given that there's this - usually this bias against science fiction shows, I'm going to say this award is going to go to "The Crown," which could be the first time it's won best drama after four nominations.
MARTIN: I see. OK. Let's go to best comedy series.
DEGGANS: OK. We got a lot of great nominees here, too, including HBO Max's "Hacks," "PEN15" on Hulu. But my Deggy goes to...
(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMROLL)
MARTIN: "Ted Lasso" on Apple TV+. Wow, come on. This is pretty much the favorite, right?
DEGGANS: I know. I know. This show about a clueless American coach winning over a British soccer team and its managers with the power of his niceness was the most popular show of last summer. And to me, it was the best comedy of 2020. So I'm just going to give it a Deggy before it wins best comedy at the Emmys on Sunday.
MARTIN: Well, sometimes there's synergy between the Deggys and the Emmys. Sometimes...
DEGGANS: That's right.
MARTIN: ...It happens, OK.
DEGGANS: Sometimes they get it right.
MARTIN: Sometimes. Now, this category, best limited series, is one that's become much more important in recent years. Am I right about that?
DEGGANS: Yeah, because these series have become much more high quality, like movies themselves. Kate Winslet's "Mare Of Easttown" is nominated here. But I'm giving my Deggy to...
(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMROLL)
MARTIN: HBO's "I May Destroy You." Oh, all right. So this was a critically acclaimed drama from last year. But it wasn't eligible for the 2020 Emmys. I don't remember why, but tell me about it.
DEGGANS: Well, it aired late. I think it debuted in July, which is past the deadline for that year's awards. So we're considering it for this awards. And British actress Michaela Coel, she created, she wrote, she co-directed and stars in this powerful series about a young writer who slowly comes to think that she may have been drugged and raped during a night out. And it got snubbed by the Golden Globes. So I want to make sure that Michaela gets her flowers here.
And, you know, I got to argue that this is the year that is proving that the Emmys are just as important as the Oscars in quality and impact because these honors are going to projects that people have actually seen, unlike some of the Oscar movies. And they're coming from big studios like Marvel and Lucasfilm. So, you know, maybe the Deggys can kind of help elevate them.
MARTIN: And why not? That was NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thank you so much.
DEGGANS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF OUTKAST SONG, "SO FRESH, SO CLEAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.