This conflict-stricken year promised a shakeup in 2020’s Emmy nominations: The response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including stay-at-home orders and phased reopening, resulted in a move from in-person parties to digital campaigns, with millions of dollars diverted from for-your-consideration efforts to crisis funds. The voting and nomination schedule was revised, giving voters more time to catch up on everything from limited series to “hanging episodes.” Other changes seemed to be a matter of course: An increase in submissions meant the Outstanding Drama and Comedy categories would each boast eight nominees, while parity was ensured for gendered performer categories like Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress. Incumbents like Game Of Thrones, whose final season was honored at the 2019 Emmys, were now out of the running, while limited series stalwart Fargo was bumped due to pandemic-related shutdowns. And as social justice movements gathered new momentum, there was greater pressure on the Television Academy to rectify the disproportionately low number of nominations for actors of color found in the 2019 class.
Well, the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards nominations have been announced, and things look more stirred than shaken. Netflix may have trounced HBO with 160 nominations to the premium cabler’s 107, but Watchmen led the year’s programs with 26 nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series. With Fleabag resting in peace, the path to victory is once again clear for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which scored 20 nominations and has had a great showing in years past. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver continues to dominate the Outstanding Variety Talk Series conversation, and the infatuation with Killing Eve, Ozark, and Stranger Things remains very much active.
There were several heartening developments, including a nomination for variety sketch show newcomer A Black Lady Sketch Show, and genuine surprises, like Apple TV+ nabbing 18 nominations in its debut year (that’s six more than Quibi, which remains a thing.) But this year’s Emmy nominations mostly feature the usual suspects and ongoing omissions. Here are our most glaring (and persistent) snubs of the bunch, along with a handful of more pleasant surprises.
Snubs: Pose, Outstanding Drama Series; MJ Rodriguez, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
FX’s Pose beat the sophomore curse in its second season, balancing a sprawling cast and empathetic storytelling with a gimlet-eyed view of the past, particularly the inhumane treatment of trans people in the United States. Co-creators Steven Canals, Ryan Murphy, and Brad Falchuk have always taken care to shine a light on the most vulnerable within an already marginalized community, and season two offered as many outsize, glamorous ballroom scenes as it did more grounded moments among found family. Television Academy voters recognized the series for its powerful vision with a nomination in 2019, which makes their sudden forgetfulness confusing—all the more so when you consider that, despite being hailed for having the largest trans cast in a drama, the only Pose cast member to have ever been nominated in the acting categories is Billy Porter. Porter’s bravura performance as Pray Tell should be recognized (he rightly won Outstanding Lead Actor last year), but MJ Rodriguez remains the heart of the show. Season two added significantly more layers to the saintly Blanca, who showed as much insecurity as she did desire and ambition. Did the Academy just happen to miss Rodriguez’s lip sync of Whitney Houston’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which brought the house down in the season-two finale?
Surprise: The Mandalorian, Outstanding Drama Series
Cool your jet packs—we aren’t questioning the quality of Jon Favreau’s Western-inspired Star Wars series, which stars Pedro Pascal’s voice and body-from-the-neck-down as the eponymous bounty hunter. The Mandalorian, which served as the flagship series for the Disney+ launch, scored a whopping 15 nominations for its first season, including one for special visual effects and a nomination for Giancarlo Esposito in the guest actor category. This is the first showing for a live-action Star Wars TV production among Emmy nominees since 1984’s Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. More impressively, by nabbing a place in the race for Outstanding Drama Series, The Mandalorian is the first Star Wars show of any kind to be nominated for one of the major Primetime Emmy Awards.
Snubs: Better Things, Outstanding Comedy Series; Pamela Adlon, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
The fourth season of Better Things wasn’t just the best outing for Pamela Adlon’s incisive comedy—it was also some of the best TV we’ve seen (and are likely to see) all year. As Sam Fox, Adlon has confronted sexism, ageism, three daughters nearly as sarcastic as she is, an imperious mother, and her own changing body with grace, humor, and profanities. Adlon was nominated in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category in 2017 and 2018, but the Television Academy has yet to recognize the brilliance of her comedy-drama as a whole. Adlon is as much an auteur as her male peers in the business—still, we would have been consoled by the third nod for Adlon in the Outstanding Actress competition, but that wasn’t to be this year. Better Things has already been renewed for a fifth season, which means we’ll probably bang this drum again next year. (Speaking of drums, #JusticeForJustina.)
Surprise: Insecure, Outstanding Comedy Series
Another outstanding, female-led comedy in its fourth season, HBO’s Insecure has obviously earned a place in the Emmy race. But this marks the first time the show has been nominated in the Outstanding Comedy Series category. Season four might be the show’s strongest offering, as it explored the fissures-turned-chasm in its central relationship, that of Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji). Natasha Rothwell should have earned a nomination for writing one of the most romantic TV episodes of the year, but we’ll satisfy ourselves with the knowledge that Rae and Orji earned individual noms for Outstanding Lead Actress and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy, respectively.
Snub: Rhea Seehorn, Better Call Saul—Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
If Jimmy McGill can’t avoid his future as Saul Goodman, Rhea Seehorn can’t seem to break free from her Emmy-free past. After five seasons, Seehorn remains one of the most powerful performers of any show, capable of great ambiguity in the face of Kim’s ever-shifting circumstances and devotion to the most feckless (but likeable) of con men. Seehorn deftly portrays the fallout of each erosion of Kim’s trust, while always hinting at her hidden depths. No offense to La Streep, but some cardigans and fake teeth were hardly a match for Kim Wexler’s flinty resolve.
See also: Kirsten Dunst, who looked capable of tearing down the entirety of multilevel marketing schemes with only her bare hands and chipper attitude in On Becoming A God In Central Florida.
Surprise: Zendaya, Euphoria—Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Despite its unexpectedness, this is another one of the more promising signs of this year’s awards season, particularly in light of the fact that it’s been nearly a year since the first season of Euphoria ended. But first-time Emmy nominee Zendaya more than held her own in Sam Levinson’s equal parts dreamy and nightmarish HBO drama. As Rue, Zendaya could have easily found herself adrift in the show’s graphic content and other excesses; instead, she turned in a layered performance full of as much yearning and confusion as teenage bravado.
Snub: The Plot Against America
David Simon and Ed Burns’ adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel of the same name wasn’t completely shut out of this year’s Emmy race, as The Plot Against American did receive a nomination for Outstanding Cinematography in a Limited Series or Movie. But despite brimming with topicality, insight, and exceptionally moving performances from cast members like Zoe Kazan (not to mention John Turturro in demagogue mode), we have to wonder if Emmy voters could only stomach so many bleak alternate histories given the state of, well, everything.
Surprise: Laverne Cox, Orange Is The New Black
Orange Is The New Black’s final season premiered on July 26, 2019, making it eligible for this year’s Emmy nominations. Laverne Cox is not only the first trans person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category, but she’d followed that up with a second nod in 2017. The surprise we’re registering here is mostly Cox’s own lingering astonishment—during this morning’s announcements, Leslie Jones informed her rather informally of her third Emmy nomination (in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama category) for the role of Sophia Burset. Technical issues prevented Jones from fully relaying that information, which is why Cox seemed somewhat skeptical of her latest accolade. Or maybe it was the fact that Sophia had a very limited presence in the final season of OITNB, showing up to do Piper’s (Taylor Schilling) hair one last time, albeit in the luxury of her own salon.