Winners, Losers, Pleasant Surprises, and Snubs of the 2020 Emmy Nominations
The 2020 Emmy nominations were announced yesterday, with the awards show set to air on ABC on September 20. It will be hosted again by Jimmy Kimmel. I love the power of television to tell stories about people and ideas which are real like Netflix’s Unbelievable, and fantastical like Stranger Things. Anybody can relate to something in a TV series and that’s what makes it meaningful.
The first time I felt seen while watching anything on screen was Fox’s high school dramedy Glee. I was also in high school at the time and was processing the realization that I am gay. One of the main characters was a charming, anxious, outgoing gay kid in the glee club — Kurt Hummel, played by Chris Colfer. The only gay people I knew was my uncle Ron and his husband Sam; I did not know any gay kids at school or elsewhere. Kurt Hummel was the first time I had seen a gay person my age portrayed on screen and it was impactful. The power of television is to see yourself represented on screen before seeing it in your personal life.
There were some lovely surprises and disappointing snubs as always. And the winners and losers follow recent trends which only grew this year. Here are my most notable pleasant surprises, snubs, winners, and losers of the 2020 Emmy nominations.
Streamers were again a big winner this year. Netflix received an incredible 160 nominations, eclipsing HBO’s 107. In fact, 160 nominations is a record for one network in a single year. Although Amazon Prime Video’s number of nominations is almost half of last year’s total, Disney+ and Apple TV+ got 19 and 18, respectively. Quibi, the new short form service which is off to a rough start, also got ten nominations. Netflix’s Ozark got 18 nominations, tied for the most of any drama with Succession. They each got several acting nominations, as well as a slew writing and directing noms. The Drama category could come down to these two shows in the post-Game of Thrones era.
Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel had a big day. With 20 noms, it received the second-most Emmy nominations for a comedy series in a year ever. 30 Rock got 22 in 2009. Sterling K. Brown — nominated for Supporting Actor — joined Rachel Brosnahan, Marin Hinkle, Alex Borstein, and Tony Shaloub, who had all been nominated last year.
HBO’s Watchmen — which confronted white supremacy and was a modern spin on the legendary graphic novel — dominated the Limited Series category with 26 nominations. It was chosen for outstanding Limited Series and six actors were nominated. It was also nominated for an impressive 12 below-the-line (meaning non writers, directors and on screen talent) categories. The most Emmys won by a miniseries was John Adams in 2008 with 13 so Watchmen could surpass it in September if it has a stellar night.
Diversity and inclusion on camera was a bright spot. A majority of the nominees in four of the twelve acting categories (excluding the Guest Actor categories) are people of color. 36 percent of the 78 actors nominated are people of color, which is very similar to how much the U.S. population was nonwhite as of 2019. In addition, a record 34 percent of the acting nominations were Black actors.
Unpredictability… I hope? Besides 2018 when it wasn’t eligible, it is the first time Veep isn’t on the ballot since 2011. It won Outstanding Comedy Series from 2015–2017 and Julia Louis-Dreyfus won for Lead Actress from 2012–2017. Aside from 2017 when it was not eligible, it is also the first time Game of Thrones is not on the ballot since 2010. It won Outstanding Drama in 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 (even if it did not deserve it the last two years) and Peter Dinklage won for Supporting Actor four of eight times including the last two years. In total, a remarkable nine actors from the show were nominated in 2019. So Outstanding Drama, and the dramatic acting categories are arguably wide open without Game of Thrones.
The Broadcast Networks — ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox — had an even worse year than 2019. They only earned 121 out of the 637 total nominations, which accounts for just 19 percent. Netflix had more than all four networks combined. Furthermore, The Big Four had more nominations last year with 145. Could it get worse? Maybe! HBO and Netflix are bound to reach 100+ nominations each for years to come. Apple TV+ is expanding and Disney+ will be bringing us more Mandalorian and new Marvel shows so their numbers could rise. FX continues to do well each year as well, routinely getting the most nominations of any basic cable network.
James Corden is a loser because his late night show on CBS had gotten nominated for Outstanding Variety Talk Series from 2016–2019, but this year his only nomination is for producing Carpool Karaoke. A recent rule change, which limited categories with between 20 and 80 submissions to five nominations, likely hurt him.
Racial and gender parity behind the camera was disappointing. Unlike the acting nominations, the writing and directing nominees were almost all white. I counted just four people of color out of over forty-five writing and directing nominations. For the same two categories, only seventeen out of forty-five nominees were women. That equates to just 38 percent of women receiving nominations for writing and directing episodes.
A lack of women nominated for shows that centers on women’s experiences is maddening and ironic. Take The Morning Show on Apple TV+, a series largely about female empowerment and trying to push back against a toxic #MeToo workplace. Steve Carell was weirdly nominated for Lead Actor as well as Mark Duplass and Billy Crudup for Supporting Actor (though Crudup genuinely deserves it). Perhaps someone more deserving than Anniston — who was nominated — or Reese Witherspoon is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a talented woman of color in a very white show. We see her character Hannah sexually assaulted in a flashback by a powerful co-worker and her performance is riveting throughout the season. Regardless, it is weird three men are nominated for this series but only one woman.
Unfortunately, almost everybody on Better Call Saul was snubbed. The one silver lining is it received two writing nominations — one for the epic desert episode “Bagman,” and one for the penultimate episode “Bad Choice Road,” which included the scene highlighted below. Giancarlo Esposito’s nomination is nice but he is very underutilized anyway. Tony Dalton, who plays Lalo Salamanca, was the breakout star this season as the most terrifying villain I’ve seen on TV in years. Lalo is charming, fun, and frightening all at once. It’s the first year Bob Odenkirk has not been nominated for Saul despite it being arguably his best season. Rhea Seehorn was also excellent. I have thought she has deserved a nomination and recognition for her work for years but this snub is so egregious. Just watch this clip and seriously tell me she shouldn’t get an award.
Another David Simon series goes totally unrecognized as his riveting limited series The Plot Against America got shut out. The alternate history series — based on a Philip Roth novel — centers on a Jewish family as their lives are upended when Charles Lindberg defeats President Roosevelt in 1940 and the country veers toward Fascism and virulent anti-semitism. I know the Limited Series category is very competitive this year but I thought at least John Turturro or Winona Ryder would get nominated.
In Netflix’s Unbelievable — a limited series about a young girl who is sexually assaulted and the two female detectives who stop at nothing to arrest the man responsible — the Academy skipped over the best performer. It’s cool Toni Collette got nominated but it was a real mistake to leave out Kaitlyn Dever, who gave a nuanced and powerful performance of a sexual assault survivor who was doubted by male detectives. I watch this anxiety-ridden scene in which Marie feels pressured to backtrack on her rape allegation and it’s crazy to me she wasn’t recognized.
Then with Pose, the only actor nominated is a cisgender man, despite the fact that the series is largely about the experience of Black trans women. I love Billy Porter but these talented women deserve recognition. Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, and Indya Moore are all Black trans women who are extremely impressive on the show. Rodriguez shows us vulnerability, humor, and rage all within a scene. Addressing the snubs on Twitter, Indya Moore called the show’s promotion is weak. “Most of us have never been on any talk shows except MJ, here and there. And they still ignored her work.” This heartbreaking MJ Rodriguez scene shows why she deserved a nomination.
- Plenty of nominations for The Good Place is awesome! Typically only Ted Danson gets nominated and last year it was included in the Outstanding Comedy Series category, but this year D’Arcy Carden and William Jackson Harper were unexpectedly nominated, too. Carden’s portrayal of the lovable, stoic robot Janet has been a joy to watch the last four years. And Jackson Harper’s portrayal of our favorite tender, uptight, and indecisive philosopher was fantastic. His chemistry with Kristen Bell was perfect.
- Insecure getting more love this year is very exciting. It’s the first time it has been nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series in its four-year run. So often on television we see love interests or couples at the center of a show but Insecure is primarily about a close friendship between two Black women. That friendship is tested in season four and Yvonne Orji’s nuanced portrayal of Molly was stellar last season. Among the show’s eight total noms it is also a finalist for Outstanding Casting, a great choice for a series which has a tremendous cast. It also got an under-the-radar nomination for Outstanding Music Supervision, which is perfect because anybody who has watched Insecure knows how unique and fun the music is.
- Since 1977, Star Wars has only gotten Oscar nominations in technical categories so it was unexpected when the Emmys granted The Mandalorian fifteen nominations, including for Outstanding Drama Series. It makes a ton of sense it got several nominations for editing, as well as some for cinematography and production design. I hope it wins for it Outstanding Dramatic Score — Ludwig Göransson makes you feel like you’re in a galaxy far, far away.
- Zendaya’s nomination was delightful but also pretty surprising. None of the articles I read predicting the nominees thought she would be selected. It’s not common for someone as young as 23 to get recognized for a major category especially when she took the spot of veterans like Elizabeth Moss, Nicole Kidman, and Reese Witherspoon. The last scene of season one when Rue relapses — or we’re shown a flashback, depending on your interpretation — is visually stunning and a fantastic performance.