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  • James Kunovski

Thoughts on the 2020 Emmy Nominations

The nominations for the 72nd Emmy Awards were released the other day because, yes, the Emmys are still happening. It’s business as usual as far as surprises and snubs go with returning champs and plenty of newcomers in the mix. I was curious to see how this year’s circumstances would play into voting. With more people at home, especially industry personnel, would they give a second look at under-the-radar-type shows, or find comfort in familiar territory? These trends arise in the nominations but across the board it has to be one of the more scattered and unfocused selection in years. Regardless, there are still plenty of choices to revel in. All right, without any more chitchat, what are the takeaways from the nominees.

Watchmen makes its mark.

HBO’s superhero reinvention leads the pack with a whopping 26 nominations. Given the recent social unrest in the States, it is no surprise that voters clung to its timely message. It finds itself a repeat nominee in four categories including supporting actor, directing, cinematography and editing. Stoked to see recognition for the supporting players.

Industry competition ramps up.

Well, hello Netflix. TV’s cool cousin racked up 160 combined nominations, the most a network has ever achieved. Its frontrunner shows include Ozark and The Crown but its mainstay is over in the creative arts department (or below-the-line craft). HBO is second with 107 nominations. While executives at Netflix can applaud themselves on their huge range of shows that credited this achievement, it is also the only major network to have not won best drama/comedy/limited etc. Well, it technically has won TV movie. Novice networks Apple TV+ and Disney+ have 19 nominations each. Remember, Netflix’s first year of eligibility back in 2013 garnered 14 noms. The difference is Apple’s prestige drama The Morning Show hardly made a splash, missing out on best drama. Disney has the edge here. Their billboard program, The Mandalorian pushed its way into a best drama slot. Then there’s Quibi with ten nominations but we don’t have to talk about that.

Nod to the underdogs.

767 programs submitted for consideration this year, so I think it’s fair to say that you would expect a few favourites to be left behind, but what remains more impressive are those unexpected, but welcome ballots that slip through. What We Do in the Shadows’ second season made its foray into the main ceremony with a nom for best comedy and three for writing. The elegantly intimate Normal People surprised with a nomination for its lead Paul Mescal, as did Unorthodox over at Netflix, with the beautiful work of breakthrough Shira Haas. In a delightful decision, Euphoria’s Zendaya secured a spot for lead actress. The equally deserving makeup department also got their due. Following a Golden Globe win earlier this year, Ramy Youssef joins co-star Mahershala Ali in the run-up for the acting trophies. After a strong presence on YouTube, A Black Lady Sketch Show, created by Robin Thede, burst onto the variety sketch series platform joining perennial nominee Saturday Night Live.

Mrs. America. Award darling?

If you had asked me a month ago which program had limited series in the bag, I would have picked FX’s Mrs. America which follows the ratification of the ERA from opposing political sides, but their nominees across the board are underwhelming. Firstly, it has one of the most fantastic ensembles, (Ryan Murphy could never) including the likes of Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Uzo Aduba, Margo Martindale, Tracey Ullman and Rose Byrne. I figured they would completely occupy the supporting categories, but both favourites Byrne and Paulson were left off. It also has the “snob appeal” which voters adore and in a way reminds me of last year’s Fosse/Verdon (also an FX production with similar era, tone and style), which snapped up 17 nominations.

Mrs. Witherspoon can’t get a break.

No doubt in the books can deny Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon is acing the TV game. She had three big performances in contention with Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere and The Morning Show. She received no nominations. Could she have saturated her own market? I have heard commentators note that she plays the same character on all three shows, and the lack of distinction muddles her in competition. In a similar vein, Aaron Paul, of El Camino and Westworld doubly missed out.

Westworld? Never seen her.

Voters seem to have tuned out from HBO's sci-fi neo-Western given that the series barely resembles its beginnings. The third season, which pushed its characters into the “real world” was still treated to 11 nominations, but this a far cry from the combined 42 nominations of prior years. Amongst growing fan and critical polarisation, an omission from the best drama category could be the series’ final straw.

Doing right by Succession.

After snubbing the entire cast in the first season of HBO’s dysfunctional family drama, the Television Academy wrongs some rights. Succession’s second season received 18 nominations, compared to 5 from last year, in a move that places it as a favourite and a frontrunner. Voters in the acting branch may have pondered “how do I chose between these actors?” So, they thought, I’ll put them all in. Nine ensemble members received nods.

They know Better Call Saul exists, right?

First it was The Americans, now it’s Better Call Saul. The Academy tends to have an issue recognising literal excellence when it comes to TV, and the tepid response to Better Call Saul’s fifth season proves this cycle. Yes, they managed a spot for best drama, but Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn, the hearty motor to this vehicle were shut out. It also missed out on deserved slots for directing, cinematography and, I don’t know, can we give another one for writing? All the more perplexing given how much the Emmys loved Breaking Bad. Oh well, let’s see how the sixth season fares. Start that clock.

Incumbent nominees sort of show up.

I mentioned Westworld earlier, but it is far from the only reigning nominee that fizzled this year. Surprisingly, a lot of these shows premiered in the 2016-2017 season. Stranger Things managed a nom for best drama but neither Millie Bobby Brown or David Harbour showed up. I blame its lacklustre and tonally strange third season, which also suffers from poor recency bias. Voters fell head over heels for Big Little Lies back when it was a limited adaptation, but only Laura Dern and Meryl Streep represent the star-studded ensemble. Interesting to note that neither Josh O’Connor nor Tobias Menzies were recognised for their respective works as Prince Charles and Prince Philip in The Crown. Maybe voters just need some time to adjust to the new cast. I will reserve blame because the once surreal and brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale has derailed but Elisabeth Moss did not make it into the lead actress category. I guess she didn’t pray hard enough to the Emmy Gods in those prosaic closeups. Considering how loudly the show’s life-affirming messages ring, it is disappointing to see Pose snubbed (again), though lead Billy Porter managed a second nomination. Does all this say something about television’s recent declining nature as it progresses or do voters easily tire?

Schitt’s Creek gets the last laugh.

In a year that the returning Mrs. Maisel received 20 nominations, the beloved Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek, in its final season, garnered 15 noms. These two will fight it out for best comedy series. Co-creator Dan Levy’s cup has run full; he picked up four nominations. The series has been on voters' radars but its uplifting angle, especially in these times, boosted it to a nomination explosion.

Mr. Robot deserved better.

One nomination. For interactive special. Come on guys. As viewership has dropped each season, so have nominations for USA Network’s criminally underrated thriller. I figured it might have benefitted from the final season push à la Schitt’s Creek and in previous years, Breaking Bad. Lead Rami Malek (who won an Emmy for season one), now has an Oscar to his name which would have given the show a prestige push. Or, has everyone jumped off the Malek-train by now?


Anyhow, in these chaotic times why should we give a damn about an award ceremony? Television has a unique ability to bring the masses together, through weekly recaps, online boards and water-cooler chats. Strip away the competition and appreciate some of the programs that have offered a bit of diversion and engagement in these strange times. Hopefully, this year’s virtual ceremony will tune into this aspect a little more than years past.

When it comes to predictions, I would say: drama - Succession, comedy - Schitt’s Creek (though I’d rather The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Curb Your Enthusiasm) and limited series - Watchmen. All right, now I have a little bit of catching up to do.


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