Emmy Predictions: Best Comedy Series — A Race Like We Haven’t Seen in Decades

Ben Travers
·6 min read

Last Year’s Winner: “Schitt’s Creek”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: It’s been a few years since we saw a repeat winner in the Best Comedy Series category, and that’s OK! “Veep” was the last to pull it off, winning three in a row from 2015 – 2017, which came right after “Modern Family’s” historic run of five consecutive wins. Both of those preceded “30 Rock’s” three years atop Comedy Mountain, so after 11 years of hot streaks, let’s enjoy the unpredictability while it lasts.
Fun Fact: Despite the rise of streaming and cable, broadcast retains a firm grip on the Best Comedy category. NBC leads with 26 all-time wins; CBS is second with 22; then comes ABC with 11, HBO at four, while Amazon Prime Video is the only streamer with any victories. (It’s got two.) Over the last decade, however, you can see how streaming and cable are disrupting things. The winners’ break down to: broadcast with four wins, cable with four, and streaming with two.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Schitt’s Creek” (ended), “The Good Place” (ended), “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (Season 11 is not expected to be eligible), “Dead to Me” (Season 3 is not expected to be eligible), “Insecure” (Season 5 is not expected to be eligible), “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Season 4 is not expected to be eligible), “What We Do in the Shadows” (Season 3 is not expected to be eligible)

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Comedy Series. This article will be updated throughout the season, along with all our predictions, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest news from the 2020 race. Voting for the 2021 Emmys will be held from June 17 through June 28 (with polls closing at 10 p.m. PT). Emmy nominations will be announced Tuesday, July 13. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out in September, at a date (or dates) to be announced. The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place Sunday, September 19. CBS is broadcasting the ceremony.

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The State of the Race

Sticking with the year’s “massive turnover” theme, seven of last year’s eight Best Comedy Series nominees are no longer eligible — and the one prospective returnee is far from a lock. Could we see an entirely new batch of comedies nominated in 2021? If so, it would be the first time that’s happened since 1970, when that year’s class had zero repeat nominees from the year prior. The mere possibility of seeing eight new nominees in 2021 makes for a tantalizing (and unpredictable) race: This is a year to break in, establish the show as an Emmy player, and then bank on that momentum for years to come.

Still, the one returning hopeful is Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method,” which cracked into the Best Comedy race for the first time last year. Now without co-star Alan Arkin, Michael Douglas’ final season will try to land one more ticket to the big dance before bidding goodbye. The streaming giant’s other comedy contenders include “Cobra Kai,” which will need its reportedly sizable viewership to help overcome any genre bias against the reboot, and “Emily in Paris,” which saw its Golden Globe nominations arguably bring more harm than good.

Even after back-to-back loses to “Schitt’s Creek” at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, this year’s frontrunner appears to be “Ted Lasso.” Jason Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence’s Apple TV+ comedy just keeps growing its legion of fans. Reviews are strong, its messages are timely, and the tech giant will undoubtedly be putting together an aggressive campaign to make sure as many voters as possible consider the well-liked comedy. That being said, “Ted Lasso” isn’t the only Apple TV+ series in contention. “Mythic Quest” looks to build off the goodwill from its “Quarantine Special” in Season 2, and “Dickinson” has already debuted its second season to even better reviews. Both could push their way into contention, given the right backing.

HBO Max is also pushing a number of eligible series, with “The Flight Attendant” the buzziest among them. Kaley Cuoco’s SAG-nominated turn should help keep the fall release top of mind (it’s a memorable performance from an engaging star), and one could expect more viewers to check it out after a solid winter awards run. But the new streaming player has two newer options as well: “Made for Love” offers a fresh idea and a fun cast (Ray Romano and Cristin Milioti especially), while the upcoming “Hacks” is elevating recent supporting scene-stealer Jean Smart to lead status. Both will need a bit of endurance to make a dent this year, but both have the means to do just that.

Lest we forget about broadcast, “Black-ish” (ABC), “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” (NBC), and “Mom” (CBS) all have award-friendly casts, admirable productions, or both — all of which could help push them into a Comedy Series race that’s been tough to crack in the past. There’s also new series looking to go straight to the big time in their first shot: “Mr. Mayor” has the elite backing of Tina Fey and Ted Danson, “Kenan” puts Emmy-nominee Kenan Thompson front-and-center, and “Young Rock” has, well, The Rock.

There’s also plenty of dark horses — like “Superstore,” which has been criminally overlooked through all six seasons, and “A.P. Bio,” which also hasn’t been properly recognized for its adventurous plots and excellent ensemble cast — but the most curious serious threat has to be “Pen15.” While Hulu’s coming-of-age comedy only got one Emmy nomination in Season 1, a) it was a big one (Best Writing), b) reviews for Season 2 are really, really good, and c) this is the kind of series that should see its fanbase expand over time, as viewers look past its zany set-up and build deeper attachments to the endearing leads. “Pen15” offers the perfect blend of outlandish comedy and substantive storytelling. Voters should respect that, especially this year.

Given it’s still the early days of campaigning, there’s always the possibility that one or two late-arriving comedy series could disrupt the race. So check back for updates as the Emmy picture gets clearer.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Ted Lasso” (Apple TV+)

  2. “Pen15” (Hulu)

  3. “The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max)

  4. “Black-ish” (ABC)

  5. “The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)

  6. “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” (NBC)

  7. “Search Party” (HBO Max)

  8. “Mythic Quest” (Apple TV+)

Contenders: “Dickinson,” “Hacks,” “Mom,” “Shameless,” “Cobra Kai,” “Made for Love,” “Emily in Paris,” “Mr. Mayor,” “Kenan”

In a Perfect World: “Superstore,” “A.P. Bio,” “Corporate,” “Bridge and Tunnel”

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