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The Shows Before The Show

A Short List to Get You Ready for the 73rd Emmy Awards

During last year's lockdown, as a lucky member of the privileged world, I binged a heckuva lot of television. And still (AND STILL!) I didn’t manage to watch all of the things. I’d be the first to admit, however, that there were times I actively tried to avoid watching what was popular because I needed a break from the hive mind that was lockdown television criticism. (I’m sorry, The Queen’s Gambit, I was afraid to be burned by you!) But at the end of the nomination period, I found that I had, in fact, watched a lot of what ended up getting nominated for this year’s 73rd Emmy Awards. Now, do I think everything that got nominated is Must-See TV? Not really. BUT there are a handful of gems I think you should check out in case you want to catch back up or if you’d simply like to check out that thing everybody’s been talking about. (I’ll get to you eventually, The Queen’s Gambit!)

So, in alphabetical order (mamas shouldn’t pick favorites), here are the top five shows I think will outlast the hype.

The Crown (Netflix)

Unfortunately, if you’re behind the curve with The Crown at this point, you’re looking at three seasons of prestige television to wade through to get to this Emmy season’s fourth season nominee, but I promise you, it’s all worth it. The beauty of watching The Crown is that it never feels like it’s wavering from its ultimate goal (documenting the struggles England’s royal family has endured while trying to maintain its tenuous relationship between tradition and the ever-advancing sentiments of modern society) while it also continues to reinvent itself every two seasons with new cast members in the different eras of the royals’ lives. The first two seasons of the Netflix epic feature a young Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip learning to adjust to their new lives in power, whereas these most recent two seasons have homed in on the Prince Charles / Princess Diana controversies that led to their ultimate decision to separate. (In the next season, the cast will change for its final time leading into the Princess Di tragedy that rocked the world.) The saddest part of these cast changes is having to say goodbye to the actors who have brought you on the journey so far. Now, we haven’t recorded a Cathode Ray Cast for Emmy predictions in a long time, but if I were a betting woman I’d say that The Crown is walking away with the Outstanding Drama trophy and that Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country) and Billy Porter (Pose) might be capable of taking the prize from Josh O’Connor’s portrayal of Prince Charles. But I’ll be damned if Gillian Anderson doesn’t take home the prize for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. The show is amazing on its own merit, but let the idea of Agent Scully stepping into the shoes of the Iron Lady fully tempt you to dig into season four. And then you’d be caught up when season five rolls around.

Hacks (HBO Max)

Hacks was an easy sell for me: Jean Smart starring as a Joan Rivers-esque stand-up who is in the throes of being shut out of her Las Vegas residency, so she’s forced to hire a younger down-and-out comedian to update her act. Easy, done, where do I sign? Jean Smart has been riding a reinvigorated career high as of late, recently starring in Fargo, Legion, and Watchmen, and is nominated not just for Hacks this year, but also for her turn in HBO Max’s Mare of Easttown. She, at the inspiring age of 70 by the time the Emmy Awards air on September 19th, has become, once again, the one to watch. But as for how exciting it is to see Smart fire on all cylinders as comedian Deborah Vance, it’s just as exciting to see her co-lead, Hannah Einbinder (daughter of SNL’s Laraine Newman) play Ava Daniels, her writing assistant. The entire cast is great, the writing is wisely sly, and as it’s only had one season with only ten episodes, it’s an easy and enjoyable binge. I’m not quite certain if its tools are sharp enough yet to secure any of the wins (its biggest front runner is Smart’s nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy), but you’re going to want to start watching now. It’s only going to get better from here.

I May Destroy You (HBO Max)

Out of this shortlist of five programs, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You is the hardest sell. I May Destroy You stars Coel as Arabella, a young aspiring writer, and social media celebrity who, in the process of attempting to meet the deadline for her second book, is raped in a bar bathroom during a night out with friends. Each subsequent episode tackles either her struggles with recovery and self-identity or the struggles of her close friend group who each have encountered some form of sexual abuse of their own. I May Destroy You is not afraid to truly challenge what it means to exist in this social media landscape (hellscape?) while also attempting to learn who you are or discover what is important to you. The show also tackles the beast within conversations relating to racism, classism, misogyny, and gender identity, and it doesn’t shy away from painting even those attempting to “do good” in a truthful and negative light. Even Arabella herself wavers between the monikers of hero and villain. Created, written, starring, and co-directed by Coel, I May Destroy You certainly is the show from the past year with the clearest vision, and if you’re able to get through the 12-episode miniseries, you’ll be handsomely rewarded. Michaela Coel is a name you’re going to be seeing from here on out; now is the time to educate yourself.

pen15 (Hulu)

I fear, and I wish I didn’t, that pen15 is gonna be one of those comedies that will be woefully unsung by the Emmy powers that be for the entirety of its existence. And that’s a shame because it’s the funniest thing on TV. It doesn’t have a polished sense of award-baiting humor akin to Emmy powerhouses like Modern Family and Veep, nor does it share in the same class as offbeat, character-driven comedies like Schitt’s Creek or the underappreciated It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. pen15 is something altogether fresh because they changed the recipe entirely. Created by Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, and Sam Zvibleman, pen15 stars early-30s-aged Erskine and Konkle as 13-year-old versions of themselves, entering junior high in the year 2000...and all of their classmates are played by actual 13 year-olds. If I had to liken Erskine and Konkle’s energy to any recent portrayals of female-led comedies, I’d have to say Maya is to Ilana Glazer as Konkle is to Abbi Jacobsen, and in the dearth that was left behind by Broad City’s ending, pen15 is a welcome addition to the comedy landscape. I’d like to think pen15’s comedy would be considered just as hysterical to anyone else as it is to me, but I think it hits me in the way that it does because I was entering sixth grade in the year 2000, just one year behind Maya and Anna...and BOY OH BOY IS THIS SHOW ACCURATE. Watching pen15 is the closest I’ve ever come to looking in a mirror while watching pretty much anything. Erskine and Konkle have seamlessly blended reality with fiction, and even though it’s been two decades since those fateful, hateful middle school years, I feel so very SEEN. As much as I can get into Award Season and live that Award Season hype, I know that winning awards is fairly silly and fraught with politics...but I would still like to live in a world where shows like pen15 are awarded with more than just nominations. But, if you’re gonna lose to anyone, you might as well lose to...

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Ted Lasso: from the minds of Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town, etc.), Jason Sudeikis (Ted Lasso, himself), Brendan Hunt (Coach Beard), and Joe Kelly. This whirlwind comedy came about after they decided to build on the character of a fictional American football coach (Lasso) who was the spokesperson in NBC commercials when they began to air coverage of Premier League futbol matches. I gotta say, I’m so glad they decided to build on this character while also removing the cynicism from the original template. Among the Outstanding Comedy Series this year, Ted Lasso takes the best qualities of all its fellow noms: the heart of pen15, the understanding of black-ish, the poise of The Kominsky Method, and it combines these assets into a masterclass on how to build an enduring comedy series. For its freshman season, Ted Lasso has earned 20 nominations, unseating the reigning freshman nomination holder (Glee) clean off its perch. And it couldn’t have happened to a better show. As a fan of futbol already (I got to attend a Tottenham Hotspurs match in October of 2019), I am absolutely giddy that the American public is starting to understand the fervor of the world’s obsession with “The Beautiful Game.” And, if anything, they’re being told that it’s okay to not understand it (I mean, it takes Ted an entire season to even begin to understand). Not since Friday Night Lights has there been a show that is so heavily beloved that focuses on the world of sports, and I’m so excited that it chose to highlight soccer. Not to mention that it features a diverse cast of actors that hold their own every time they’re on screen. I’m excited to see what the remainder of season 2 will hold (this season is flying high and taking advantage of its hard work from season one), but I’m also excited to see what happens on Emmy night for its inaugural season. Ted Lasso is life; does Emmy agree?


Bernadette Gorman-White

Managing Editor

Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.




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