This past Saturday, Abbott Elementary went home with four wins at the 2022 TCA (Television Critics Association) Awards – Program of the Year, Outstanding New Program, Outstanding Achievement in Comedy, and Individual Achievement in Comedy (for creator, executive producer, writer, and star Quinta Brunson). Not only was Abbott already the most-nominated series at this year’s TCA Awards with five nominations (the only it didn’t win was for Janelle James in Individual Achievement in Comedy, since Brunson won instead), but it was also the series with the most wins, and the only series to earn more than one award, period.
With each week that has passed since the Emmy nominations were announced, Abbott has seemed like a stronger and stronger challenger to reigning Outstanding Comedy Series champ Ted Lasso (and fellow competitors Hacks and Barry), and its clean sweep at the TCA Awards lends credence to this claim – it’s clear as day that the passion for the hit ABC network comedy is potent. However, as the love for Abbott continues to grow with no end in sight, one question remains: how many of its seven Emmy nominations can it win? And additionally, how many can Brunson win herself? If the results of the TCA Awards have taught us anything, it’s that her win tally in particular may be higher than once expected.
For a few weeks now, many pundits have felt that Emmy voters would believe the best place to award Brunson for her creative contributions would be in the Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series category, where she’s nominated for Abbott Elementary‘s pilot – which best encapsulates the personalities of the staggeringly successful show’s colorful cast of characters and its central themes, allowing this to be Abbott‘s “big win,” even if they choose to spread the love to other comedies elsewhere. Brunson’s closest competition appears to be the Hacks writing team (Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky) for the Season 2 finale, “The One, the Only,” but since that trio won this award last year, there could be an impetus to anoint another this time around.
However, a narrative has also emerged as of late for Abbott to take home the Outstanding Comedy Series trophy as well, which would give Brunson a second Emmy win, since she’s the executive producer of the show. Sure, the show is only in its freshman season, but so was last year’s victor Ted Lasso when it was won, and you can’t deny Abbott‘s acclaim (a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes with an 8.6/10 average rating and an 80 on Metacritic) or the intense adoration for the show found in its most fervent fanbase. And, despite the second season of Ted Lasso earning a respectable 20 Emmy nominations (more than double that of Abbott), there could be a feeling amongst voters that Ted has already had its time to shine, and now they have the opportunity to honor a different – but equally exemplary – series (while other top contenders like Hacks and Barry feel stronger in specific acting, directing, and writing races than in the top category).
But even if Brunson were to take home these two awards, few have considered the possibility of her toppling Hacks‘ Jean Smart in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category, given how absurdly beloved Smart is in the industry and how, to many, she even topped her performance in the first season of Hacks in Season 2. Many even see her as the heir apparent to Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus – who won this award six times in a row, becoming the actress with the most wins ever in the category and the performer with the most Emmys for the same role in the same series – due to the passion for Smart’s performance and the nature of her role. However, as Abbott rose in the Emmy rankings, Brunson started to be seen as “next-in-line” behind Smart in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series line-up, and we got our first sign that she could even leapfrog Smart too when she beat her at the TCA Awards in Individual Achievement in Comedy.
Why was this so significant, you ask? Well, since 2017, the winner in Individual Achievement in Comedy at the TCA Awards has gone on to win the Emmy Award in their respective category (Atlanta‘s Donald Glover in 2017, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Rachel Brosnahan in 2018, Fleabag‘s Phoebe Waller-Bridge in 2019, Schitt’s Creek‘s Catherine O’Hara in 2020, and Hacks‘ Jean Smart in 2021). Now, I’m not one to believe that stats are iron-clad by any means (just look at CODA‘s Best Picture victory at the Oscars earlier this year), and Mandy Moore won Individual Achievement in Drama at these same TCA Awards despite not even being nominated for an Emmy, so maybe this win was a fluke. However, I do feel that stats tell us some of the story and shouldn’t be discarded entirely, and when paired with the passion we’re seeing for Abbott overall in multiple categories, this win is certainly something to seriously consider.
But wait – if you predict Quinta Brunson (and Abbott Elementary) to win Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, that’d mean you’re predicting her to win every award she’s nominated for. That’s crazy, right? When has that ever happened? Well, only three years ago in fact, when Phoebe Waller-Bridge completed a clean sweep of her Emmy nominations for the second season of Fleabag against all odds, just as Brunson would. And what propelled her above her seemingly “stronger” and “more beloved” competitors? Pure passion for her universally acclaimed show and performance.
Like Brunson, Waller-Bridge was expected to “get her due” in the Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series category, pacing behind six-time winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category for the final season of Veep (just as Brunson supposedly is right now behind the “Julia Louis-Dreyfus-esque” reigning champ Jean Smart) as her show also paced behind The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (the previous year’s winner) and Veep in Outstanding Comedy Series. And yet, when the results were read on the evening of the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, Fleabag won every category it was nominated for save for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and most importantly, every category Waller-Bridge was nominated for.
I’m not the first to note the potential parallels between Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s and Quinta Brunson’s performances at the Emmys, but when you really dig deep and look at how Abbott has been performing thus far and how it also mirrors Fleabag as a word-of-mouth-driven smash sensation that bucked convention to become a worthy competitor against supposedly “higher-profile” shows from streamers who will spare no expense to earn some Emmy wins, you start to see the path for Brunson to follow in Waller-Bridge’s footsteps, and it becomes impossible to deny the fact that she can’t be counted out as a top contender to win everything she’s up for. This is a stacked year for Comedy Series contenders, but it sure seems like Abbott‘s days of proving people wrong are far from over.