12 TV shows you’ll need to watch to get ready for this year’s Emmys

Brian Cox stars in the HBO drama "Succession," which figures to be a force at this year's Emmys.
Brian Cox stars in the HBO drama “Succession,” which figures to be a force at this year’s Emmys.

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards are a little more than six months away, which means if you start watching now and apply yourself — I mean, really grind it out — then you might see about half the programs and performances that figure to be nominated this year.

That kind of abundance means you need to be disciplined and discerning (or possess a limitless amount of free time). And, these days, who has that? To help, I’ve put together an early Emmys guide, mixing series that have already aired with promising programs that will premiere in the next several weeks. One way or another, they’ll all be in the conversation leading up to July 14.

Drama Series

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in Season 3 of Netflix's "The Crown."
(Sophie Mutevelian / Netflix)

Emmy voters threw up their hands and nominated eight dramas last year, a sign that, yes, there’s way too much TV — and it’s splintering people’s attention spans. It’s even more crowded this year, as six of those eight nominated shows are returning and several programs that took the year off — “The Crown,” “Stranger Things,” “Big Little Lies,” “Westworld” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” — are back too. Let’s prioritize.


“Succession” (HBO): “Veep” may be gone, but “Succession” seamlessly fills the void in its depiction of horrible, self-centered people behaving like monsters and the way it straddles the line between tragedy and comedy. Make no mistake: It’s terrifying too, a convincing depiction of a world where money always wins, leaving behind plenty of collateral damage in the process. “Succession’s” first season earned a modest five Emmy nominations, winning for writing. Look for that number to double as voters catch up with the show and its superb ensemble, including Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin and Jeremy Strong.

“The Crown” (Netflix): “Succession” might be the best series on TV, but the Roys will have a hard time competing with the royals when it comes to voters’ loyalty. “The Crown” hauled in 26 Emmy nominations for its first two seasons, winning eight, including a prize for Claire Foy in its last season. Oscar winner Olivia Colman replaced Foy as the series jumped ahead a decade, and the show remains a dazzling soap opera, distinguished by its willingness to bend its narrative structure to serve its storytelling.

“The Morning Show” (Apple TV+): As the first series from streaming service Apple TV+, “The Morning Show” arrived with great fanfare and an eye-popping budget ($15 million per episode) that made it an easy target. Critics savaged its early episodes, but it improved as it went along, though the progression seemed to be noticed more by viewers than the media. At the SAG Awards, star Jennifer Aniston won the lead actress prize and launched a million memes with her lingering backstage reunion with ex-husband Brad Pitt. She might win the Emmy too. This is easily the best work of her career.

“Pose” (FX): While the second season didn’t quite equal its first (a tall order), “Pose” retained a singular place in “prestige” television — a show about poor, black and brown LGBTQ characters that reveled in beauty, depicting grace in the midst of sorrow, anger on the road to comfort. Billy Porter won the lead actor drama Emmy last year for his incomparable turn as ballroom emcee Pray Tell, and a repeat seems possible as he’s even more central to the story this season. Voters’ first order of business, though, is to nominate his co-star Mj Rodriguez.


Comedy Series

Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in "Schitt's Creek."

“Fleabag,” last year’s winner, is gone, though I’m still having a hard time accepting that. “Veep” ended too. And new seasons of “Barry” and “Russian Doll” will arrive past the May 31 eligibility cutoff. So there’s plenty of room at the inn, and it’ll be interesting to see whether voters return to old favorites (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) or embrace programs long overdue for recognition (“Better Things”). Here’s a mix of the old and the new.

“Schitt’s Creek” (PopTV): It took five seasons and a key streaming platform on Netflix, but “Schitt’s Creek” finally cracked the Emmys last year, earning nominations for comedy series, stars Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy and (yes!) outstanding contemporary costumes. This sweet and funny treasure of a show has never dipped in quality, which makes it all the more bittersweet that it’s ending. Building on last year’s breakthrough, it should be an absolute force at this year’s Emmys.

“Ramy” (Hulu): When Ramy Youssef won the lead actor comedy Golden Globe in January, he joked at the podium, “Look, I know you guys haven’t seen my show,” and everyone in the Beverly Hilton ballroom laughed knowingly. You do wonder how many Emmy voters saw the first season of Youssef’s groundbreaking coming-of-age comedy about a Muslim American searching for belonging. Season 1 episodes dropped a few weeks before nominations voting began, and Season 2 is cutting it even closer, landing on Hulu on May 29. Hopefully, that Globes speech — and a year’s worth of time — builds more awareness.


“Run” (HBO): “Fleabag” may have ended, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her frequent collaborator Vicky Jones return next month with this promising comedy-thriller about a woman (the great Merritt Wever) who escapes her humdrum suburban life to travel America with her old college boyfriend (Domhnall Gleeson). Waller-Bridge will guest on a couple of episodes as a woman they meet on their journey, putting her in line for two more Emmy nominations. (She and Jones are executive producers on the show.)

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon Prime): Broadly appealing, lavishly crafted and intermittently insufferable, “Maisel” won 16 Emmys from 34 nominations for its first two seasons. Expect the love to continue for Amy Sherman-Palladino’s fizzy series and its excellent ensemble, though the show’s nostalgic escapism is beginning to show signs of age.

Limited Series

Cate Blanchett plays Phyllis Schlafly in the upcoming FX limited series "Mrs. America."

Networks’ infatuation with the limited series format has become a full-blown love affair. HBO alone has three high-profile miniseries coming soon — “The Undoing,” “I Know This Much Is True” and “The Plot Against America” — and they’ll compete alongside its fall offering, the ambitious, audacious superhero epic “Watchmen.” Also yet to come: Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere,” Netflix’s “The Eddy” and “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” and a new season of “Fargo” starring Chris Rock. Clear your calendars and your DVRs.


“Mrs. America” (FX): Cate Blanchett is playing Phyllis Schlafly. Do I need to go on? OK. How about Margo Martindale being cast as Bella Abzug? Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm? Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan? “Mrs. America” uses the ‘70s fight for the Equal Rights Amendment as a starting point for an examination of the culture wars and the rise of religion in conservative politics. The cast and the explosive subject matter guarantee loads of attention.

“Unbelievable” (Netflix): This true-crime series, starring Toni Collette and Merritt Wever as detectives investigating a series of sexual assaults, debuted last September, winning raves for its skillful, detailed storytelling and an affirmation of the importance of hearing and validating victims. Months later, it remains one of the best programs of the Emmy year.

“The Undoing” (HBO): Nicole Kidman won an Emmy two years ago for “Big Little Lies,” and she could return to the ceremony this year with two nominations — for her clash-of-the-titans match against Meryl Streep in “Big Little Lies’” second season and for this Hitchockian series, which Kidman calls one of the most challenging roles of her career. (And she has challenged herself often.) Susanne Bier directs; David E. Kelley wrote it. It lands in May.

“Genius: Aretha” (Nat Geo): Had Cynthia Erivo won an Oscar from either of her two “Harriet” nominations (lead actress, original song), she would have joined the EGOT club — though some raised the question of whether her daytime Emmy counted as a real Emmy. (It does.) Erivo may end up owning a primetime Emmy anyway and get the R-E-S-P-E-C-T she deserves if her turn as Aretha Franklin delivers on the promise of its trailer. The eight-episode series begins airing May 25.