How ‘The Crown’ Became the Drama Series to Beat

With 24 Emmy nominations this year, The Crown is an almost unstoppable force heading toward its own coronation next month. In its first three seasons, the period drama about Britain’s royals garnered 39 nominations (including three Outstanding Drama Series nods) and 10 wins. Only one streaming drama series has won TV’s highest honor, fellow nominee The Handmaid’s Tale from Hulu. (It should be noted that Amazon Prime has celebrated wins with comedies Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.) During its run, The Crown also lost to the bygone Game of Thrones and currently hiatused Succession, both from HBO. But after 4 seasons, 63 total nominations, and still growing popularity, would a win for The Crown this year be inevitable? Or is it a lucky break after a most unusual year for the industry?

There are two significant factors that give the royal drama an edge over one of its primary competitors, Disney+’s The Mandalorian. Even though they tied in overall nominations, and even though Baby Yoda (okay, fine, Grogu) is ridiculously, painfully cute, it’s been nearly impossible to have a conversation about television in 2021 that didn’t turn at some point to the incredible performances of Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher. Two of Britain’s and the 1980s’ most iconic and infamous women made their mark on The Crown and on television history with portrayals that revealed the flaws, the struggles, and ultimately the humanity of both.

One challenge the series faced as the timeline moved into the 80s was how to tell a story that most of its target audience is old enough to remember. How to reveal new information about Charles and Diana’s tumultuous marriage, to let the audience feel like they are part of the story without straying into voyeurism, and to be honest about the damage inflicted on everyone involved without reopening old wounds in the real world. It was a tall order that came together at every level of the creative process, from costumes and production to writing, directing, and editing. Looking beyond Corrin and Anderson, the whole cast is incredible, and eight acting awards put an exclamation point on that sentence. The fourth season of The Crown is an impeccable production that deserves every one of its 24 nominations. But the question lingers: would it be the frontrunner if shows like Game of Thrones and Succession were still in the mix?

This isn’t to suggest that the rest of the nominees for Outstanding Drama Series are unworthy, and we certainly wouldn’t say The Crown is only winning by default. The Mandalorian burst onto the scene as an immediate hit for Disney+ in its very first year. The built-in (though fickle) Star Wars fandom obviously assured some degree of success, but the show still had to prove itself. And it went on to score 15 nominations before increasing that total by more than half for Season 2. Largely considered a tech player, to dismiss it as a true contender in this category could be a mistake. The Mandalorian sets itself apart from the rest of the lineup with something unique that appeals to audiences across genres, ages, and interests. That being said, right now it doesn’t quite feel like the winner in part because its lead actor missed out, not because it is in any way lesser.

Netflix has a second nominee in freshman series Bridgerton, a breakout hit that emerged from their huge production deal with Shonda Rhimes. It’s not unthinkable for a first timer to win. Succession did so just last year. But if voters are really torn between two royal Netflix shows, the bubbly and bright newcomer pales in comparison to its older and more esteemed cousin. Sadly, fellow freshman series Lovecraft Country, despite multiple acting and tech nominations, has been canceled by HBO. The chances of a canceled new series winning the Emmy are so low that it has never happened before. There’s a first time for everything, but probably not this year.

Sophomore show The Boys from Prime Video was an interesting inclusion in this year’s category. It has gained new viewers as a result of homebound bingers, and fared better with the TV academy than many expected. It doesn’t have the reach that the others have, but the attention brought by six nominations may help it become a formidable foe in years to come. If anything, the absence of favorites like Better Call Saul gave The Boys a chance to shine and it might not go quietly even when those others return.

Returning nominees Pose, and This Is Us brought exceptional and award-worthy recent seasons after each being ignored last year. Pose, which reached its too-soon conclusion but ended on a heartbreaking high note, was groundbreaking for many reasons and never got the praise it deserved. With just one last chance, perhaps FX walks away with the statuette. This Is Us is hurtling toward a just-right ending that still feels too soon because of how much we all love the Pearsons. It would be fun to call it a real contender this year, but with only 6 nominations, three for acting and zero for writing or directing, Dan Fogelman and crew are just happy to be here.

The Handmaid’s Tale which won Outstanding Drama in its first season, took significant steps forward in its story this year and nabbed an astounding 10 acting nominations. It may have seemed like enthusiasm was waning last year when star Elisabeth Moss missed out and they only received 10 noms in total, but the dystopian tale roared back in a big way this spring. They’ve beaten The Crown before and could do it again.

After four seasons, The Crown is well positioned to finally win Outstanding Drama Series. It’s impossible to know what might have happened if the Diana/Thatcher season was pitted against a third season of Succession or other favorites who were forced to take time off. We’ll never know. What seems clear, though, is that a series that spans decades and tells a story we already think we know while reintroducing new iterations of its cast without losing momentum is going to win sooner or later. It just so happens that now is the time.

Outstanding Drama Series Predictions

  1. “The Crown” — Netflix
  2. “The Handmaid’s Tale” — Hulu
  3. “The Mandalorian” — Disney+
  4. “Pose” — FX
  5. “Bridgerton” — Netflix
  6. “Lovecraft Country” — HBO
  7. “The Boys” — Prime Video
  8. “This Is Us” — NBC
Written by
Karen Peterson is the Awards Editor for We Live Entertainment. She previously worked as the Assistant Editor at Awards Circuit, now owned by Variety. Her work can also be found at Citizen Dame and at the Watch and Talk podcast. Her non-awards season hobbies include Angels baseball, taking pictures of other peoples' pets, and tweeting about The Bachelor franchise.

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