Comic book shows are finally getting the Emmys love the genre deserves
WandaVision, The Boys, and The Falcon and Winter Soldier all received 2021 Emmy nominations, proving last year's win for Watchmen really did end the TV Academy's snobbery around superhero fare.
It's a great day for comic book shows.
After decades upon decades of being ignored when it came to awards show recognition, the genre is finally getting the overdue love it deserves. On Tuesday morning, the 2021 Emmy nominations were announced, revealing multiple nominations for WandaVision, The Boys, and The Falcon and Winter Soldier, proving the awards show snobbery against comic book shows has finally ended.
WandaVision received 23 nominations overall — earning the second most nods of any other series (just behind The Crown and The Mandalorian with 24 nominations each) — including Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series as well as acting nods for Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Kathryn Hahn. The Boys received five nominations including Best Drama Series. And The Falcon and Winter Soldier also received five nominations, including Don Cheadle for Guest Actor in a Drama Series (yes, for his blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo appearance). And The Umbrella Academy racked up four below-the-line nominations this year, with Doom Patrol and Lucifer also earning their first nominations as well in below-the-line categories.
The Television Academy finally showing love to comic book fare has been a long time coming, as the genre has been dominating the small screen for a while. But awards show voting bodies refused to acknowledge that shift in pop culture — until now. The blockade against superhero TV adaptations officially ended last year when Watchmen won big at the 2020 Emmys, as Damon Lindelof's HBO show was named Best Limited Series along with 10 other wins, marking the first time a comic book adaptation took home a main category trophy at that awards show.
But all these 2021 nominations in top categories for WandaVision, The Boys, and The Falcon and Winter Soldier prove that Watchmen's Emmys success wasn't just because Lindelof somehow gamed the awards show system by delivering a prestige drama exploring the legacy of racial violence in America that just so happened to be set in a comic book universe. Watchmen was simply the first (of hopefully many series to come) that opened the TV Academy's eyes to the fact that the superhero genre has actually been delivering awards-worthy content for years — and the only thing stopping critically beloved shows like Daredevil and Legion from being recognized is the outdated school of thought that comic book adaptations are somehow a lower form of art than other prestige projects. Apologies to Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, but the times, they are a-changing. And those changes sometimes come with tights and capes.
The Boys creator Eric Kripke recently told EW that while he doesn't think he can "blow that much smoke up my own ass to say that we're redefining the genre" with his bloody Amazon Prime series, he does attribute this year's Emmy love of comic book shows to the unprecedented platform TV was given during the pandemic. "I think what streaming has allowed, plus frankly a year where there weren't that many Hollywood movies, there's an openness to the sci-fi/fantasy genre more than there has been [before]," he said. "If you look at who else is nominated, The Mandalorian is cleaning up, and Umbrella Academy is there and Lovecraft Country, maybe people are starting to realize collectively that there's more to [the genre] than just what's on the surface. It's beyond superhero stuff — be it horror or science fiction or superheroes, I think everyone is just doing such extraordinary work that it's finally becoming noticed."
And TV is actually behind the film industry by a few years in recognizing that massive cultural shift. Black Panther made history at the 2019 Oscars with a nomination for Best Picture, the first time a comic book movie was ever in contention for the Academy Awards' top prize. The genre has long enjoyed awards recognition for the below-the-line categories like special effects, sound design, sound editing, makeup, production design, costume design, or original score. But it wasn't until 2009 when Heath Ledger won a posthumous Best Supporting Actor honor for The Dark Knight that a superhero movie actually broke into a top category (however the film was still shut out of the Best Picture category despite its box office domination and critical acclaim, which made Black Panther's nomination years later an even bigger honor). Black Panther also helped pave the way for Joker's success last year with Joaquin Phoenix's Best Actor win.
All it takes is one comic book adaptation project to break the long held barrier against the genre's awards show recognition, whether it be in TV or film. And thanks to Watchmen, the floodgates have officially opened for superhero TV shows — at least when it comes to Emmy nominations. Whether the comic book genre will actually reign supreme when the 2021 Emmy winners are announced on Sept. 19 remains to be seen. But at least they're finally in the race. It turns out what the genre really needed was Agatha all along.
The 73rd annual Emmy Awards airs Sunday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS and will stream live on Paramount+.
—Additional reporting by Nick Romano.