TV
Michaela Coel, Weruche Opia in HBO's Emmy nominated 'I May Destroy You'

These Underrated Shows Could Become 2021 Emmy Winners Very Soon

Watch them before the hype hits.

Natalie Seery/HBO

For the 73rd Emmy Awards, the shows that dominated the nominations are the same ones everyone already knows everything about: The Crown and The Mandalorian got 24 nominations each, followed by WandaVision with 23; once again, The Handmaid’s Tale dominated the drama categories while Ted Lasso made history with the most nominations for a first-time comedy program. But what about the shows that didn’t dominate your group chats and Twitter? These underrated 2021 Emmy-nominated shows are worth checking out ahead of the hype train that’s sure to follow once they get their Emmys statues.

The Emmys are one of the few high-profile awards shows that still haven’t moved to a calendar year eligibility schedule. The Oscars have always been from January to December, and the Golden Globes recently followed suit and adopted that schedule. But the Emmys still function on the old TV schedule year, in which the season ended in May. That’s why the awards show is held in September instead of January/February like all the others. That means, sometimes, titles get nominated after being over for more than a year by the time the Emmy Awards air.

The Emmys are also one of the most extensive awards shows in the business. In a crowded landscape, that means this is an awards show that pulls from everywhere, sometimes turning up shows that stayed have under the radar for their whole run.

Here are seven shows audiences will hear mentioned during the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards that you may have originally missed.

01

The Flight Attendant

After spending a decade watching Kaley Cuoco’s comedy stylings on The Big Bang Theory, viewers owe it to her to see The Flight Attendant. She plays protagonist Cassie Bowden in this breezy murder whodunit that’s a perfect series for marathoning while spawning dozens of fan theories from episode to episode. Although this is far more serious than Big Bang, she’s still hilarious in it, keeping the perfect balance between grim and silly. Also, Rosie Perez is in it, and she gives the performance of her career.

The Flight Attendant is streaming on HBO Max.

02

The Underground Railroad

The pedigree on The Underground Railroad alone should be enough to get fans to tune in. Oscar winning director Barry Jenkins helms this Amazon series based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead, starring Thuso Mbedu as Cora, whose escape from slavery on a Georgia plantation in the mid-1800s drives the action. But what makes this show so remarkable is that it’s not the historical slavery narrative you’ve seen before, as it delicately avoids the easy tropes of Antebellum period piece TV series. For those looking for a different and deeper take on history, this is one show that should have gotten more nominations than it did.

The Underground Railroad is streaming on Amazon.

03

Hacks

The Smartaissance continues apace, with Jean Smart’s Hacks, another HBO Max exclusive show like The Flight Attendant. Smart’s performance as an aging comedian who hires a young writer to freshen her material was unfortunately overshadowed by her fantastic turn in Mare of Easttown on HBO proper, but fans of Smart should make sure they check this hilarious and poignant portrait of women in showbusiness.

Hacks is streaming on HBO Max.

04

I May Destroy You

I May Destroy You was criminally overlooked when it debuted back in June 2020. Michaela Coel plays Arabella, a Twitter-famous writer whose procrastination leads her to wind up at a bar where she is drugged and sexually assaulted. But this isn’t some after-school special about violence against women. Instead, it’s the experience of one artist trying to piece together what happened to her.

Coel is not only the star of the show, but is also the creator, writer, co-director, and executive producer. The personal angle on this piece makes it profoundly different from most anything else on the Emmy docket. Considering Coel was recently cast in the Black Panther sequel and is about to break A-list big, this is a must-watch for just about anyone getting ahead of the hype train.

I May Destroy You is streaming on HBO Max.

05

Lovecraft Country

HBO’s fantasy series based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country, falls squarely into the new genre (pioneered by Jordan Peele) of taking the Black experience of racism in America and filtering it through horror tropes. The series was canceled just before the Emmys showered it with nomination love, so checking this out is a must. Directed by Misha Green, the series stars Jonathan Majors as Atticus and Jurnee Smollett as Letitia in a loosely connected series of short stories that takes them and uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) around America. Bonus performance by the late Michael K. Williams as Atticus’ father.

Lovecraft Country is streaming on HBO Max.

06

The Boys

Amazon’s superhero series is a far cry from the Marvelverse over on Disney+. The Boys is meant for adults, and it’s not kidding about that. But it’s not just the mature themes and language that make this grown-up live-action series one to watch. The series takes pains to genuinely grapple with what the world would be like should superheroes walk among us, what beliefs those superheroes might have, and the answers it spits back aren’t always easy to accept.

The Boys Seasons 1-2 are streaming on Amazon.

07

Perry Mason

I know, your grandfather watched Perry Mason. Mine did too. But this Perry Mason reboot from HBO stars Matthew Rhys in the title role, so he’s a hot Perry Mason, in 1930s period clothing, solving crimes. You really can’t go wrong. Those who have read the books can (and do) complain the series has little to do with the source material, but Rhys’ performance is Emmy-worthy and most definitely watch-worthy.

Perry Mason is streaming on HBO Max.

The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards air live on Sept. 19, 2021, at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.