There’s a double-edged sword to being singled out as an awards frontrunner. Yes, it’s a positive sign when pundits consider you the top contender to score a top prize. But be identified as the top of the pack too early, and you’ve immediately been handed a target on your back as the one to beat.
So I suppose it’s a bit of an apology to Netflix’s “The Crown” and “The Queen’s Gambit,” as well as Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso,” but we’re going to have to use that “f” word — frontrunner — right now. The three programs have already been early favorites to lead this year’s Emmy Awards in drama, limited series and comedy, respectively. And Sunday night’s SAG Awards wins for all three shows just solidified it.
At this year’s rather predictable (for TV) SAG Awards ceremony, “The Crown” was named best drama ensemble, while “Ted Lasso” star Jason Sudeikis also won for best comedy male actor, and “The Queen’s Gambit” star Anya Taylor-Joy was named best female actor in a limited series/TV movie.
Time for the disclaimer: The Emmy season is long, and several contenders haven’t even debuted yet. (The May 31 eligibility cut-off is still nearly a month and a half away.) So it’s way too soon to call any of these programs’ wins a fait accompli. But we can start throwing out our wildly early predictions, and here’s that “f” word again, category frontrunners.
The SAG Awards’ ensemble categories are most definitely not a precursor to predicting the series winners at the Emmys. Part of that is because different eligibility periods. But they’re also very different kind of honors, as SAG focuses solely on performers. The last time SAG foreshadowed the Emmys was in 2014, when “Breaking Bad” and “Modern Family” won at SAG before moving on to win the top drama and comedy Emmys later that year.
Last year, SAG gave the comedy ensemble win to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” not foreseeing the massive “Schitt’s Creek” movement that was about to take over the Emmy race. And the same thing happened in drama, where SAG voters gave the ensemble win to “The Crown,” despite the deafening buzz over “Succession,” which eventually won the drama Emmy. (As a matter of fact, SAG didn’t even nominate “Succession,” which is still shocking, given how much viewers had already been obsessed with that ensemble.)
This year, SAG gave the comedy ensemble award to “Schitt’s Creek,” completing that show’s farewell victory tour. But “Schitt’s Creek” is out of the race for the Emmys this year, and Sudeikis’ win for comedy actor is yet another sign that “Ted Lasso” is waiting in the wings as the next feel-good comedy that is filling that “Schitt’s” itch.
No matter what SAG voters chose, there’s a reason “The Crown” and “Ted Lasso” feel like the real Emmy deal. In comedy, the last two Emmy winners, “Schitt’s Creek” and “Fleabag,” both grew into pop cultural phenomena thanks to word of mouth and an almost universal adoration by fans and critics who didn’t just suggest others watch, but continue to evangelize about it. “Ted Lasso” is easily this year’s version of that rabid fandom.
And as “Schitt’s Creek” ends its eleventh hour awards surge, “Ted Lasso” is already starting to land its fair share of kudos. So far “Ted Lasso” has also won a Globe, for Sudeikis as comedy actor; Critics Choice awards for comedy actor (Sudeikis), supporting comedy actress (Hannah Waddingham) and best comedy; and WGA awards for comedy series and new series.
An Emmy best comedy win is by no means a foregone conclusion for “Ted Lasso” just yet. The next several months of campaigning and narratives could make it a much more interesting race, with “The Flight Attendant” and “Pen15” (apparently, according to Sunday night’s telecast, Helen Mirren is fan!) providing particularly interesting challenge. But for now, we’ve gotta follow the Lasso mantra and “believe.”
Turning our attention to the drama race, the last two winners — “Succession” and “Game of Thrones” — are also not eligible this year, which gives “The Crown” yet another leg up. Season 4 of the Royal Family drama, which centered on both the story of Charles and Diana plus Queen Elizabeth II vs. Margaret Thatcher, has become perhaps its most honored yet. At the Globes, the show won best drama, drama actress (Emma Corrin), supporting actress (Gillian Anderson) and drama actor (Josh O’Connor). Those three performers also won corresponding categories at Critics Choice, where “The Crown” also won best drama. The Producers Guild gave “The Crown” a PGA award for outstanding producer of episodic drama. And it landed the WGA award this year for drama series.
On Sunday, besides the drama ensemble award, “The Crown” won the female actor in a drama category for Anderson.’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher.
But compared to the comedy race, this year’s Emmy drama competition is perhaps a little more open to a potential upset swooping in and stealing some of the attention. Netflix may face the awkward situation of having new British-set ensembles (“The Crown” vs. “Bridgerton”) facing off. And 2017 winner “The Handmaid’s Tale” is still in the mix and as relevant as ever.
Then there’s the super crowded limited series race, where “The Queen’s Gambit” is, yes, the one to beat. But “I May Destroy You,” “Small Axe” and “Wandavision” and countless others will not make it easy to get to check mate. Taylor-Joy seems on a pretty good path, but the limited race is so jam-packed that the “Gambit” — like everything else about this year’s Emmy race — is by no means assured.
(Pictured: Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso,” Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Crown”)