The 2020 Emmy nominations rolled out today, and boy, were they something. Right away, Rhea Seehorn fans grew furious that she was somehow left on the side of the road again, and it’s very strange to not see Larry David receive more nods for being a lovable curmudgeon on HBO, but perhaps he’s topped out with a lifetime total of 27 Emmy nominations and 2 wins. We could also talk about numbers mattering, which is good news on the HBO front, with Watchmen and Succession scoring 26 and 18 nominations, respectively, and Disney+ scooping up 15 nods for The Mandalorian, although sorry, Baby Yoda, you are somehow not eligible for acting awards.
That’s not as satisfying, though, as talking about the real winners and losers, which is a fine tradition here. Please do not consider this to be a complete list of wronged-and-righted parties (for example, I cannot even begin to understand why Desus and Mero got the shaft, which shouldn’t have happened), but let’s get this ball rolling, shall we?
WINNER: Great Netflix shows that no one expected to be great
When it comes to Ozark, I kind-of get why people don’t want to give this show a shot at first. The bizarre insistence upon a blue filter goes a long way, for example, or the fact that it arguably fine-tunes the Walt-Jesse dynamic from Breaking Bad — yes, that might grind some gears. Yet all of those concerns don’t matter once you surrender to the setting and watch Jason Bateman lose his sh*t in consistently captivating ways. The acting nominations here were all well deserved, as was the Outstanding Drama series nod, especially with that cliffhanger. I do look forward to one day seeing Julia Garner win her 15th Emmy in, like, 2045, but let’s also shout out Dead To Me. That little Netflix series also been recognized once again despite (probably) being intended as a trash-comfort watch. Yet it works surprisingly well to stir up a wide range of emotions and affirm humanity in the process. Also, recognition for Linda Cardellini will never get old. Now she can forget that Capone came out this year.
LOSER: Reese Witherspoon is doing fine, but not fantastic
Let’s make one thing clear: Reese is doing just fine. In fact, she’s likely doing wonderful. However, her prestige TV turns have gone unrewarded for this year’s ceremony. Whereas Jennifer Aniston received a nod for Apple TV’s The Morning Show, Reese didn’t walk away with the same honor for her performance as an unruly spitfire of a co-host. Her Hulu and HBO roles, in Little Fires Everywhere and Big Little Lies, also went unrecognized. I can only guess that there simply wasn’t enough room for all the BLL ladies, and although her ruffling of Adam Scott was convincing enough, neither she nor Nicole Kidman could beat out Laura Dern and Meryl Streep’s extremely unhinged turns on the show. Still, Reese will not walk away from 2020 empty-handed. Quibi paid her $6 million to narrate a wildlife series, and you gotta respect that hustle.
Yes, I did suggest that numbers don’t matter, but c’mon. Not only did The Mandalorian receive 15 nods, but Watchmen scored 26. The best part about Damon Lindelof’s show gathering so many decorations, though, is that no one even asked for a Watchmen TV series to be made. Alan Moore’s graphic novel was always considered to be unfilmable (and Zack Snyder made the case there), but Lindelof did it anyway. He recontextualized the whole story against the backdrop of a long-buried U.S. atrocity and hid Doctor Manhattan in the body of a Black man. He put the damn squid in there, included Jeremy Irons’ fart face, made Regina King walk on water (or not), and inserted a Lube Man. Watchmen could win no Emmys at all, and it’d still be the winner for all those things.
LOSER: The Better Call Saul cast, mostly
This one is a puzzler. The Emmys nominated Bob Odenkirk in 2019, 2017, 2016, and 2015, but he somehow came up short this year for his lead role in AMC’s Breaking Bad spinoff that landed on the top of our best shows of the year (so far) list. Even if one considers that his category was stacked — and let’s be honest here, it wasn’t airtight because Steve Carell’s The Morning Show role felt more like a supporting role than a lead — it’s hard to ignore how the Emmys almost entirely shut out the Saul actors. And really, how does one justify continuing to leave Rhea Seehorn on the side of the road with an arc like the one she had this season? With those finger guns… and everything? It just doesn’t make sense, but I guess at least Gus Fring is getting his due.
WINNER: Unconventional characters that feel new to TV
Zendaya could become the youngest winner of the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series award for her turn in the provocative Euphoria. The drug-fueled series about teens isn’t an easy watch by any stretch, but it’s a relevant one, and Zendaya’s finally receiving the dramatic material that her talents deserve. On the Ramy side of things, it’s nice to see more affirmation that this is the best show that you’re not currently watching. It’s a little disheartening to not see the show’s actresses gain recognition while their characters are finally coming to the forefront, but it’s hard to argue with the possibility of creator Ramy Youssef adding an Emmy to his Globe win for this dramedy about Muslim-Americans. Also, Mahershala Ali getting a nod for his Hot Sheikh means that at least something’s right in our current universe (after that Green Book mess).
WINNER: Limited Series that star with Un-
Young women challenging institutions are where it’s at this year. Even though Watchmen will (and should) walk away with the Outstanding Limited Series category, I’m thrilled to see two insurgent-feeling shows, Unbelievable and Unorthodox, make the shortlist. Kaitlyn Dever should have also been nominated in the acting department for her turn as a rape survivor who was treated like a criminal, due to being an “imperfect victim,” but the show as a whole deserved the nod that it received for being taking such a feminist approach to crime-drama storytelling. And I’m pumped to see Unorthodox‘s Shira Hass pop up with an Outstanding Lead Actress In A Limited Series nod (she’s up against Regina King and Cate Blanchett), as well as seeing recognition for the stunning miniseries’ exploration of a young woman’s flight from Hasidic Judaism.
LOSER: Al Pacino, maybe for the first time in his life
Pacino’s first regular TV role in Amazon Prime’s Hunters was a highly anticipated one, but sadly, the show (despite plenty of enticing ingredients like Jordan Peele producing and, you know, the killing of Nazis), didn’t hit the mark. Honestly, yeah, it was messy, and Pacino’s accent work managed to be one of the weirdest parts of a very weird show. It’s not worth too many words to rehash what happened there, for it’s enough to say that Pacino’s already won two TV-movie Emmys for You Don’t Know Jack and Angels In America. He’s also notched an Oscar win (in 1993 for Scent of a Woman) and eight Oscar nominations (including in 2020 for The Irishman). He doesn’t necessarily need to win at TV shows, too!
You can see the full list the Emmy nominations here.