Emmy Nominations: ‘Small Axe,’ ‘WandaVision’ and More Snubs and Surprises

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With television production slowed over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were significantly fewer shows and performers submitted for the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards. This means, due to the Television Academy’s sliding scale, some of the acting races have drastically different numbers of nominees on the final-round ballot.

The incumbent winners in the drama and comedy series races (“Succession” and “Schitt’s Creek,” respectively) not being eligible again also caused some major changes to the way nominations shook out. Both dominated last year when it came to acting, writing and directing categories, in addition to series, for example. Even though there may have been fewer spots available in certain categories this year, those races were thrown wide open.

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Naturally, that allowed for quite a few new additions — both expected and not. Here, Variety breaks down the snubs and surprises of the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards nominations.

SNUB: “Small Axe
Call it a case of category confusion? The Steve McQueen-helmed anthology for Amazon Prime Video did not make the cut for the limited or anthology series ballot, nor any of the acting races, despite having some heavy hitters involved on-screen, as well, including Golden Globe winner John Boyega. It did pick up one nom: limited/anthology series for cinematography.

SURPRISE: “WandaVision” with second-most nominations overall
Perhaps this shouldn’t be such a surprise, since the Marvel Studios-Disney Plus venture was so strong in the artisans arena, but the limited series snatched up some key above-the-line nominations, as well, including lead limited series/TV movie actor and actress for Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively, and limited or anthology series. The latter perhaps is the biggest surprise because as beloved as it was when it was streaming new episodes weekly, that was a tight race to squeeze into.

SNUB: Nicole Kidman, “The Undoing”
Although Hugh Grant scored in the lead limited series/TV movie actor category for his work as the sociopathic murderer Dr. Jonathan Fraser on HBO’s limited series adaptation, his co-star Kidman did not make the lead limited series/TV movie ballot. Kidman always turns out a stellar performance and is a previous winner in that category (in 2017 for her previous adaptation collaboration with showrunner David E. Kelley, “Big Little Lies”). Additionally, this show was very much from her character’s point of view but and required emotional, introspective work from the veteran, so she was expected to pick up Academy attention once again.

SURPRISE: “Hacks
The freshman HBO comedy not only cracked onto the comedy series ballot, but it brought with it a lot of cast members. Jean Smart was a frontrunner for lead comedy actress, so of course she snatched up a nom there, but her verbal sparring partner Hannah Einbinder snuck into the supporting comedy actress race, despite that category usually being dominated by “Saturday Night Live” players. Carl Clemons-Hopkins made it into supporting comedy actor and Jane Adams nabbed a nod in guest comedy actress.

SNUB: “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”
TBS’ late-night talker has been a ballot staple for the past four consecutive years and Bee is the only female late-night host that has made the ballot in all of that time. But this year she was shut out for a ballot that features five shows all led by men instead.

SURPRISE: “Lovecraft Country”
File this under: you just never know. Many pundits were predicting “Lovecraft Country” and its leads Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett would make it onto the drama series ballots this year, but nothing was a done deal. And then it was announced that HBO would not be renewing the series for the expected second season. Suddenly, this became a rare drama submission that only has one chance to be celebrated. Thankfully, the news of the non-renewal came after voting had closed and enough of the Television Academy did want to see it celebrated, regardless of whether it would return. The show picked up 18 nominations overall.

SNUB: “Girls5eva”
Peacock’s half-hour about a former girl group trying to resurrect their careers in their 40s was the talk of social media when it launched just before the close of Emmy eligibility. The cast was so visible during FYC voting that it seemed like at least one of them would be able to break into an acting race, even if the show as a whole didn’t make it in series. It did score a coveted comedy writing nom, though, for creator Meredith Scardino, for the pilot.

SURPRISE: “Emily in Paris”
It was a surprise when the Netflix comedy made it onto the Golden Globe ballot earlier this year, and that attention drew some negative reaction. But the voting members of the Television Academy were not deterred and celebrated the show with comedy series nom of their own.

SNUB: Pedro Pascal
The star of Disney Plus’ “Star Wars” universe set drama “The Mandalorian” didn’t make it onto the lead drama actor ballot this year, despite increased buzz around the show and his performance, specifically, in its second season. The show did still come out on top when it came to overall noms, though, tying with Netflix’s “The Crown” for the most this year with 24.

SURPRISE: Final seasons give actors a boost
The final season of Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method” was expected to land in the comedy series race, as well as pick up more attention for series star Michael Douglas — and it did just that — but it was hardly alone. Allison Janney picked up another lead comedy actress nomination for her work on CBS’ “Mom,” which came to a quiet close earlier this spring, while Aidy Bryant was on the same ballot for Hulu’s” Shrill,” William H. Macy returned to the lead comedy actor ballot for the first time since 2018 for his work on the final season of Showtime’s “Shameless.” Talk show “Conan” also picked up a surprise variety talk series nom; that series came to a much-lauded end in June.

SNUB: “The Masked Singer”
The Fox competition that has everyone tweeting did not make it onto the competition program ballot this year, despite a buzzy season that went on amid the COVID-19 pandemic (and honestly seemed made for it since the contestants wear giant masks and costumes anyway) and had a host switcharoo.

SURPRISE: Bernadette Peters, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”
The NBC musical comedy was an early favorite for some voters, but then FYC season took off and it slipped further to the back of the pack. Couple that with the fact that the network canceled the show in the middle of FYC and it suddenly wasn’t clear if it would receive any Emmy love. But Peters did — in the guest comedy actress category. It was one of a handful of noms the show received, but the only above-the-line one.

SNUB: Ethan Hawke and “The Good Lord Bird”
Showtime’s adaptation of James McBride’s novel of the same name tackled a difficult subject matter with wit, but it wasn’t enough to push it onto any major ballots — not even for star, EP and writer Hawke. The only nomination the limited series grabbed was main title design.

SURPRISE: “The Boys”
Amazon truly kept this superhero-vigilante drama top of mind when it was streaming and all through awards season, which paid off beautifully with a drama series nom (its first). The Eric Kripke-created comic book adaptation is now one of a few shows leading the charge for more genre representation at the Emmys. It received five nominations overall.

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