2021 Emmys: ‘The Crown’ prepares to ascend to the drama series throne

Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin star as Prince Charles and Princess Diana in Season 4 of "The Crown."
Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin in Season 4 of “The Crown.”
(Des Willie / Netflix)

The past year shifted the ground beneath us in innumerable ways, some of which we’re just beginning to fathom. Farmer John Dodger Dogs are ... gone??? And a Shake Shack is supposed to make us feel better about this heresy?

Also: Pretty much every one of television’s best dramas, at least the ones recognized by Emmy voters, saw their filming delayed by the pandemic, so we’re not going to be seeing them for a while. Of the eight series nominated last year, “Stranger Things,” “Better Call Saul,” “Ozark,” “Killing Eve” and last year’s drama series winner, “Succession,” will be sitting this season out. That leaves three of last year’s nominees standing: “The Crown,” “The Mandalorian” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It also leaves the door wide open for some new shows to step into the breach.

Too bad there really aren’t any.

Are there eight good dramas on TV right now? No? How about five? Uuuuummm ... OK ... three?

Well, there are going to be eight nominees, no matter how thin the field. Let’s look at the possibilities.



“The Crown” Netflix has never won a series Emmy — drama, comedy, limited, you name it, the streamer hasn’t taken it. That said, Peter Morgan’s sumptuous soap opera about a family of insufferable, self-absorbed monsters (the shy Diana excepted) has about a 0% chance of losing this award. Remember that episode in which Queen Elizabeth tries to figure out who her favorite child is and can’t because she realizes they’re all horrible? That’s how I often feel watching this show. I loathe them all! But the acting is superb, and every detail is meticulously crafted, and having finally arrived at the painful Princess Diana chapter, it became a genuine event that surpassed previous seasons. So, yeah, I’ll curtsy — deep and low and with a touch of sarcasm, just like when Margaret Thatcher first met the queen. But just this once.

“The Mandalorian” That Australian comic’s video breaking down the show’s formula — 1) Mando travels to a new planet to procure something he needs; 2) in order to obtain said something, he must defeat a monster/warlord; 3) he does; 4) Baby Yoda eats something he’s not supposed to, but it’s adorable — was spot on, but who cares? Thus far, the series has made it entertaining, each and every episode. I haven’t loved “Star Wars” this much since “The Empire Strikes Back.”

“The Handmaid’s Tale” Accusations that the show has turned into “torture porn” are a bit much. It’s not like “The Handmaid’s Tale” was ever sunshine and rainbows to begin with. The bigger problem goes beyond its unrelenting bleakness: The series has no idea who June is any more. That is painful to watch.


“Bridgerton” We’ll remember it as a fun, vapid distraction at a time when we needed a little burlesque to get us through the isolation. And it’s unlikely that it’ll ever be as entertaining again.

“Lovecraft Country” Bold, bonkers look at American racism, capable of delivering awe-inspiring moments. But the show never established a clear identity and became increasingly convoluted as it tried anything and everything to hold the audience’s attention. Watching “Lovecraft Country” became something of a chore, an unimaginable thought after its killer opening episode.

“The Mosquito Coast” Apple TV+ saw its first big-ticket series, “The Morning Show,” snubbed last year, and the streamer is unlikely to fare better with this tedious adaptation of Paul Theroux’s 1981 book. Would it have killed the showrunners to give us a character we care about, the way Julia Garner’s has been getting me through “Ozark” all these years?

“Perry Mason” The opening argument for this reboot’s existence was pretty weak. Lurid, gory, uninvolving.

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” The MCU gives the new Captain America an origin story, and it’s perfectly fine Marvel fare, flawed, fun and insubstantial as any kind of meaningful look at race and identity in America. A better genre alternative: “The Boys,” Amazon’s dark, daring evisceration of superhero tropes and modern-day America. Its second season was just as sharp as its first.


“Pose” The groundbreaking drama goes out in style with its seven-episode final season. There are tears, overwrought plot developments and welcome notes of optimism, but it’s the performances — it has always been the performances — that carry the day. I’d have to imagine this is the year Mj Rodriguez joins Billy Porter as an Emmy nominee.

“This Is Us” Nominated for its first three seasons, but not last year for its fourth. Most people I know who still watch plan to see it through to the end — next year will mark its last season — a sentiment that fans convey with a grim obligation absent of enthusiasm. Maybe they’re out of tears?