awards season

The Good, the Bad, and the Weird of This Year’s Emmy Nominations

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by ABC, FX, and Kailey Schwerman/Showtime

It is simply not possible for most Emmy voters to watch even a fraction of the TV that is out there, so it’s not at all surprising that many of the shows nominated for an Emmy this morning were also the noisiest, most visible series of the past year. And yet it’s startling to see how few shows managed to muscle their way into the major categories. The White Lotus and Dopesick sopped up a huge chunk of the limited-series category, which is simply bananas in a year in which approximately 8,000 limited series were released. Succession ate up a ton of the drama nominations, as expected, but Euphoria, Ozark, Squid Game, Severance, and Stranger Things (really? Stranger Things? In 2022?) were also well represented. The same goes for comedy: A few shows pulled the vast majority of the big nominations (Only Murders in the Building, Hacks, Abbott Elementary, Ted Lasso, and the wearily unstoppable behemoth that is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). 

Again, no one is going to bat an eye when the news is “Popular shows win awards!” Still, it’s an indication of just how far the Emmys continue to stray from the full universe of television today. As a measure of which TV shows somehow, miraculously, managed to surface into broader awareness this past year — sure! As a meaningful measure of the best television, though, when Reservation Dogs wasn’t nominated for best comedy, and neither Station Eleven nor Pachinko got best-series nods … well, at least the Academy remembered Yellowjackets.

Good: Quinta Brunson and Abbott Elementary dominate. Yes, we can complain about how the Emmys are a popularity contest that shuts out most newcomers and shows with smaller audiences. But occasionally a series is so immediately undeniable that it almost makes the system seem like it works after all. Nominations for Brunson, Abbott Elementary, and several of the show’s supporting cast members (including Sheryl Lee Ralph and Janelle James) are the best kind of foregone conclusion. And with Black creators and talent still so underrecognized by awards bodies, it’s worth calling out how rare it is for a show created by a Black woman with a majority-Black cast to get such extensive Emmys love. Somewhere Principal Coleman is cheering while diverting school funds to an absurdly luxurious Emmys party.

Bad: Zero nominations for Reservation Dogs?! The FX on Hulu series was one of our favorites of 2021, a thoughtful example of the resurgence of the working-class comedy and a fantastic coming-of-age narrative for a community still sorely underrepresented on television (especially in projects made by Indigenous creators themselves rather than Taylor Sheridan). But sure, ignore it entirely.

Good: Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult nominated for The Great. Both fantastic performances, both absolutely fundamental to making the thin comic line of The Great actually work. At Vulture Festival 2021, Hoult told us it was his idea to smear K-Y Jelly on his face during a scene in which Peter eats Catherine out, and we are pretending this nomination is mostly for that.

Weird: A nomination for What We Do in the Shadows, but no nomination for Matt Berry? Couldn’t be us. (But also, when will we, as a culture, see the genius of Natasia Demetriou?)

Bad: A shutout of the lovely Somebody Somewhere. Awards shows tend to reward shows that are loud and direct. If only we lived in a world that had room for the quiet and wandering beauty of Bridget Everett’s performance of a woman like herself finding herself in small-town Kansas. The same goes for Jeff Hiller as her close friend Joel, who plays off Everett’s natural charisma while trying to find his own boundaries. There is more texture in that show and that relationship than in many of the more high-profile nominees.

Bad: Zero nominations for The Righteous Gemstones. It’s one of the most astute series about how America works on TV right now, but I suppose Danny McBride will just continue making absurd and darkly observational comedies that the Emmys never notice. After Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, it’s a fun pattern for him!

Good: Severance managed to break into the crowded drama categories. This one feels almost as unsurprising as Abbott Elementary and every bit as well deserved. If Apple doesn’t throw an Emmys-celebration waffle party, someone in public relations has messed up.

Bad: No nomination for Severance supporting actor Tramell Tillman. Did the Academy even watch the “Defiant Jazz” sequence?

Good: Yellowjackets also got an Outstanding Drama nomination. Probably the biggest surprise in the drama category, a nomination for Yellowjackets will hopefully bolster the show’s small but rabid audience. Plus, best-case scenario, the Yellowjackets producers all show up on the red carpet in their antler-queen finest.

Good: Melanie Lynskey nominated for her role in Yellowjackets. The Melanie Lynskey Fan Club (a.k.a. the staff of Vulture) is happy to congratulate Lynskey on her success. Congrats to Melanie Lynskey!

Bad: Reese Witherspoon nominated for lead actress on The Morning Show. If you actually watched the delirious second season of The Morning Show (which we did, for some reason), you’d know that Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson is barely even a main character anymore. The season focused on Jennifer Aniston’s chaotic return to network TV, which Aniston gives a fascinatingly angry and compelling spin, while Witherspoon was sidelined in plots about dyeing her hair, trying to take care of her wayward brother, and suddenly falling into a relationship with Julianna Margulies, a development that could’ve been compelling for a character from a vague “conservative background” but goes underexplored. Anyway, the voters probably didn’t watch the series and just gave her a nom for being Reese Witherspoon!

Weird: An Outstanding Drama nomination for Stranger Things. Look, we’ve been known to enjoy Stranger Things. Have you read those audio descriptions in the captions? Some of the best writing of the year, as far as we’re concerned. Nevertheless, uh, season four of Stranger Things … hmm.

Bad, bad, bad: No Outstanding Drama nomination for Pachinko?! It feels like the Emmys choose to acknowledge just one foreign-language series per year, and in 2022, that distinction went to Netflix’s Squid Game. Yes, it’s a very deserving, very fitting series for our current “Capitalism is bad!” moment. But Pachinko is a beautifully crafted family epic that considers the weight of our history and the malleability of our memories, and the fact that it was ignored fully — from its lush cinematography to its flawless ensemble — is a pretty bleak reflection of what kind of storytelling the Emmys is ignoring. Y’all will watch The Morning Show on Apple TV+ but not this?

Good: No nominations for Yellowstone. Huh. [Grimacing emoji] [horse emoji] [shrug emoji].

Bad: Dopesick. Huh. Some big fans of Dopesick over there in the Emmys voting pool. Dopesick is fine! Dopesick achieves what it set out to do. It is about an important topic, and Michael Keaton gives a solid lead performance. But of all the limited series out there, we went with Dopesick? Speaking of which …

Bad, bad: It is completely unacceptable that these people did not nominate Station Eleven for Outstanding Limited Series. Himesh Patel was nominated for outstanding performance, and the show did get several other nominations: writing, directing, editing, and score. But that makes the show’s absence from Outstanding Limited Series even more baffling! We will be muttering about how we remember damage on September 12.

Good: Margaret Qualley nominated for Maid. One of the few new series to break into the major awards categories, Maid was generally underappreciated last year, making this recognition for Qualley’s performance — unquestionably the standout feature of the limited series — all the more surprising.

Bad: Naveen Andrews robbed. There is a moment in The Dropout finale when Amanda Seyfried’s Elizabeth Holmes is curled up in the lap of Naveen Andrews’s Sunny Balwani. He makes a move as if he is going to smooth her hair in comfort but ultimately clenches his fist in unspoken rage, and I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. It’s a bit of physical acting that says so much about who Balwani has become and how these former lovers and business partners now view each other, and in a couple of seconds, it is more believable than anything Sebastian Stan does in Pam & Tommy. Sorry to that man, but his spot should’ve been Andrews’s.

Weird: Anne Hathaway and Julia Roberts can’t just walk in and get a nomination. The movie stars put in gonzo performances (with varying degrees of success, sure — Roberts gets lost in Gaslit, and Hathaway is the best part of WeCrashed), but neither managed the typical “Thank you for being a movie star who does TV” nomination in their categories.

Bad: Juliette Binoche cambriolée. Given the limited-series squeeze, maybe it’s enough of a win for HBO Max’s haunting true-crime re-creation of The Staircase to get acting noms for Toni Collette and Colin Firth. But among the deep bench of other fascinating performances in the show, Binoche’s work as the French documentary editor who ends up falling for Firth’s Michael Peterson felt ripe for recognition. She had to explain the owl theory! We’re sure Binoche and her pile of international cinema awards have barely an inkling of what an Emmy is, but still.

Bad: No nominations for Alan Ruck. Really? Not for Succession or The Dropout? Sometimes the Emmys really do make you feel like a plastic bag drifting through the wind, wanting to start again.

Bad: We Own This City shut out. Jon Bernthal got that haircut and perfected that Baltimore County accent for nothing, I guess.

Good: Lizzo’s show, Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, nominated for Outstanding Competition Program. It’s always nice to see a nomination for Lizzo, but it’s especially impressive given that the rest of this category is full of well-known, high-profile shows such as Top Chef and The Voice.

Fun: Reno 911!: The Hunt for QAnon snagging a TV-movie nom. I simply love this category for feeling unpredictable. Who would’ve guessed that clear awards bait The Survivor would stand alongside a movie that asks how goofy Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Niecy Nash, and the rest of the Reno 911! cast can get on a conspiracy-themed booze cruise? The Emmys’ willingness to recognize its surreal brilliance is an unexpected delight.

The Good, Bad, and Weird of This Year’s Emmy Nominations