What shows will win, and which should win, at the 2020 Emmys

And the nominees are, from left to right: Better Call Saul (Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Television), The Mandalorian (Photo: Courtesy of Disney+), Schitt’s Creek (Photo: Courtesy of Pop TV), Watchmen (Photo: Mark Hill/HBO), and Mrs. America (Photo: Sabrina Lantos/FX)
And the nominees are, from left to right: Better Call Saul (Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Television), The Mandalorian (Photo: Courtesy of Disney+), Schitt’s Creek (Photo: Courtesy of Pop TV), Watchmen (Photo: Mark Hill/HBO), and Mrs. America (Photo: Sabrina Lantos/FX)


Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards will still take place on Sunday, September 20, and we can once again count on Jimmy Kimmel to host. The rest feels more up in the air than usual, as the ceremony will be attended virtually by nominees and presenters. Here are A.V. Club TV editor Danette Chavez’s predictions of the winners of the major series awards, as well as some last-minute stumping for worthy programs overlooked by the Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences. Watch for our Emmys liveblog and news coverage on Sunday.

Advertisement

2 / 14

Outstanding drama series

Outstanding drama series

Nominees: Better Call Saul, The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Mandalorian, Ozark, Stranger Things, Succession, Killing Eve

Prediction: Unlike Logan Roy, whose reign may be coming to an end, the furor over Succession has only just begun. Jesse Armstrong’s darkly comedic drama nabbed two Emmys (for writing and its main titles) in its 2019 debut, but became one of the dominant pop culture forces with its second season, earning recognition from the Television Academy in virtually all of the major categories. With exceptional performances, writing, and directing across the board, Succession is the one to beat. Of course, Ozark, which has also picked up steam since its premiere, poses a threat, but for all of Netflix’s nominations—including 160 this year alone—the streamer has yet to bring home the big drama prize. We also can’t discount The Mandalorian: The inaugural Disney+ series beat out Big Little Lies, Westworld, and Pose to compete for outstanding drama against returning nominee Better Call Saul. But this Star Wars spin-off doesn’t quite look ready to fill in the “preeminent genre show” void left by the conclusion of Game Of Thrones. Returning nominees Stranger Things, The Crown, and Killing Eve all had more subdued third-season outings, so expect to hear Nicholas Britell’s insta-classic theme song at the end of the virtual ceremony.

Preference: Season two of Succession was assured, consummate, and occasionally, so pertinent it hurt. But AMC’s Better Call Saul reached a new high in its fifth season, with standout episodes on the latest chapter in Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) odyssey and Kim Wexler’s (Rhea “She Was Robbed, Dammit!” Seehorn) more internalized spiral. I don’t begrudge Armstrong & co. their likely win, but if any season of Better Call Saul should catapult the series past perennial outstanding drama nominee to reigning champ, it’s this one.

Advertisement

3 / 14

Outstanding comedy series

Outstanding comedy series

Left to right: Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Levy, Noah Reid, Emily Hampshire, Annie Murphy
Left to right: Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Levy, Noah Reid, Emily Hampshire, Annie Murphy
Photo: Courtesy of Pop TV

Nominees: Curb Your Enthusiasm,  Dead To Me, The Good Place, Insecure, The Kominsky Method, Schitt’s Creek, What We Do In The Shadows, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Prediction: This one’s just a tad tougher to call. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel shows little signs of wear (among voters at least), scoring 20 nominations for its third season, including a third for Alex Borstein for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy. But though Amy Sherman-Palladino’s candy-and-crinoline-coated period dramedy won top honors in 2018, it was unseated by fellow Amazon series Fleabag in 2019. The odds that Maisel can come back to win after being thwarted are not great, Bob. HBO’s Insecure had an excellent fourth season, but it’s coming up against the final seasons of The Good Place and Schitt’s Creek. The endearing Pop TV sitcom has garnered a tremendous amount of goodwill in the last year, including 15 Emmy nominations. Michael Schur’s generous, hilarious after-life comedy may have imparted some lovely lessons in its final episodes, but fans’ overwhelming appreciation for the combined comedic talents of Eugene and Dan Levy may be too high a bar to clear.

Preference: That said, the final seasons of The Good Place and Schitt’s Creek were far from the best offerings for their respective shows. FX’s What We Do In The Shadows was the funniest thing on TV (that was also nominated for an Emmy). Its sheer volume of jokes and sight gags wasn’t to be beaten, at one point inspiring a zeitgeist-capturing new meme before the end of broadcast. Alternately, Insecure has reached a new high in its combination of episodic and more serialized storytelling; the ambitious fourth season even managed to give viewers one of the best rom-coms, on the big screen or small.

Advertisement

4 / 14

Outstanding limited series

Outstanding limited series

Nominees: Little Fires Everywhere, Mrs. America, Unbelievable, Unorthodox, Watchmen

Prediction: The juggernaut genre show that’s missing from the drama race? It’s right here in the limited series category in the form of HBO’s Watchmen. Damon Lindelof’s powerfully relevant reimagining of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ influential comic book may be a self-contained story, but the series has taken on a life of its own (we can only imagine the Sister Knight and Lube Man cosplay at San Diego Comic-Con that we would’ve seen, were it not for the pandemic). Watchmen leads all series in nominations with 26, but it’s important to consider that HBO and FX have, in recent years, effectively traded off wins in this category. So FX on Hulu’s Mrs. America, despite having less than half the number of nominations, still poses strong competition, thanks to its own timely story and tour de force lead performance. Little Fires Everywhere never generated the kind of heat you’d expect from a high-profile adaptation, especially one starring (and produced by) Emmy favorite Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon. But there’s a reason why we devoted an entire episode of our Emmy spotlight miniseries Push The Envelope to limited series and TV movie discussion—this was one of the most exciting contests in years. Unbelievable and Unorthodox are both worthy contenders, though recognition for those Netflix series is more likely to come in a different category.

Preference: Mrs. America and Watchmen were both gripping and occasionally discomfiting watches, but few shows have stuck with me the way Watchmen has. Lindelof and his writers, including fellow Emmy nominee Cord Jefferson, asked for a lot of viewer faith in the show’s opening moments, but more than justified the request by the end.

Advertisement

5 / 14

Outstanding TV Movie

Outstanding TV Movie

Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney star in Bad Education
Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney star in Bad Education
Photo: JoJo Whilden (HBO

Nominees: American Son, Bad Education, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Old Bones, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend

Prediction: In recent years, Netflix has had a lock on this category, thanks to Black Mirror. But due to rule changes, Charlie Brooker’s dystopian sci-fi has been placed in the drama category, leaving this race more wide open than ever. Netflix still has pretty good odds, what with four entrants, including Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s swan song and Jesse Pinkman’s solo adventure, El Camino. But after its Toronto Film Festival premiere and a revelatory performance from Hugh Jackman, the odds are looking good that Bad Education is going to school the competition. With the help of director Cory Finley, screenwriter Mike Makowsky turned a salacious tale from his hometown into a heady combination of character study and class commentary. And lest we forget, HBO has racked several of its own wins in this category.

Preference: Kimmy Vs. The Reverend took the interactive model that helped Bandersnatch win last year and turned each fork in the road into a gas or a moment of reflection. But Bad Education was some of the most incisive TV of the year, with its exploration of private interests meddling in public school systems, and one man’s attempts to reconcile his private and public selves.:

Advertisement

6 / 14

Outstanding variety talk series

Outstanding variety talk series

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver
Last Week Tonight host John Oliver
Photo: Courtesy of HBO

Nominees: The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

Prediction: Talk shows proved surprisingly adaptable to pandemic-related shutdowns, and the five series nominated for outstanding variety talk series did a better job than most of keeping up the laughs, both topical and otherwise. Samantha Bee ventured outdoors to maintain social distancing and her timely takes; Trevor Noah set up shop at home while still dropping in on the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention; and Stephen Colbert charmed viewers from his bathtub. But Last Week Tonight With John Oliver didn’t just maintain in the face of a pandemic; the HBO series has continued to deliver enlightening segment after enlightening segment. So it looks like fifth time will be the charm for Oliver et al.

Preference: Where Full Frontal and The Daily Show initially struggled to find their footing in a non-studio setting, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver hasn’t missed a step.

Overlooked: I’m not going to go into full snubs mode (again) here, but now that Netflix has effectively canceled the show, I do want to point out that The Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj was every bit as urgent and meticulous as Last Week Tonight. Following the murder of George Floyd, The Patriot Act released one of the most important episodes of TV of the year, as Minhaj called out anti-Blackness in South Asian communities.

Advertisement

7 / 14

Outstanding animated series

Outstanding animated series

Nominees: BoJack Horseman, Rick & Morty, The Simpsons, Big Mouth, Bob’s Burgers

Prediction: The Simpsons may be the incumbent, but if ever there was the possibility of the TV Academy recognizing the brilliance of BoJack Horseman, it’s at this year’s ceremony. True, this is the TV Academy’s last chance to recognize the animated series that raised the bar for animated series in the last decade. But there’s something about the improvised nature of this year’s proceedings that seems ripe for a shake-up—in this category at least. This is the second nomination for BoJack Horseman, and the submission, “The View From Halfway Down,” is even more wrenching than “Free Churro,” while still brimming with humor. But even if voters don’t necessarily agree on that point, there’s no denying the bravery and pathos of this final season, which went all out in many respects while eliding a neat ending.

Preference: The Simpsons will have stories for years—this award belongs to the BoJack Horseman team.

Advertisement

8 / 14

Outstanding directing for a drama series

Outstanding directing for a drama series

Nominees: Homeland, “Prisoners Of War,” directed by Lesli Linka Glatter; Ozark, “Fire Pink,” directed by Alik Sakharov; Ozark, “Su Casa Es Mi Casa,” directed by Ben Semanoff; Succession, “Hunting,” directed by Andrij Parekh; Succession, “This Is Not For Tears,” directed by Mark Mylod; The Crown, “Aberfan,” directed by Benjamin Caron; The Crown, “Cri de Coeur,” directed by Jessica Hobbs; The Morning Show, “The Interview,” directed by Mimi Leder

Prediction: There’s some cause for vote-splitting concern, as Succession, Ozark, and The Crown all have two nominations a piece here, but these three series just represent the strongest competition. “Aberfan” and “Cri de Coeur” are both handsomely directed, but despite landing roughly the same number of nominations as in years past, the third season of The Crown doesn’t have the same momentum as its competitors. Ozark’s profile has only risen since it premiered in 2017, so “Fire Pink” director Alik Sakharov or “Su Casa Es Mi Casa” helmer Ben Semanoff could very well win. The Morning Show is a wild card; the season-one finale, “The Interview,” was a smart pick for a submission, as it’s more potent and focused than most of the preceding episodes. But Successions “Hunting” is expertly controlled chaos; director Andrij Parekh captures every bit of humiliation that Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) endure, as well as the rebellion stirring in Kendall (Jeremy Strong).

Preference: Succession’s “Hunting” is a triumph of direction (and writing), the camera almost shaking its head in disbelief at the latest string of indignities doled out by Logan Roy. Its stiffest competition comes from “This Is Not For Tears,” the Succession season-two finale.

Advertisement

9 / 14

Outstanding directing for a comedy series

Outstanding directing for a comedy series

Nominees: Modern Family, “Finale Part 2,” directed by Gail Mancuso; Ramy, “Miakhalifa.mov,” directed by Ramy Youssef; Schitt’s Creek, “Happy Ending,” directed by Andrew Cividino, directed by Daniel Levy; The Great, “The Great (Pilot),” directed by Matt Shakman; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “It’s Comedy Or Cabbage,” directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “Marvelous Radio,” directed by Daniel Palladino; Will & Grace, “We Love Lucy,” directed by James Burrows

Prediction: This is basically a two-horse race between the tearjerking (but uproarious) Schitt’s Creek finale and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s “Comedy Or Cabbage,” an exhilarating episode that dangled the possibility of a Midge-Lenny relationship. We’ve been afforded so few moments of unmitigated happiness that the Television Academy could very well make good on its 15 nominations by awarding Schitt’s Creek outstanding directing for the heartwarming “Happy Ending.” But Maisel’s stylish travelogue is comforting in its own way, whisking viewers away to Miami along with Midge.

Preference: The pilot for The Great is a dizzying romp that ends with a subtle declaration of war from Russian empress Catherine (Elle Fanning). But given that this star-studded Hulu series scored no acting nominations, this conversation’s a non-starter.

Advertisement

10 / 14

Outstanding directing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special

Outstanding directing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special

Nominees: Little Fires Everywhere, “Find A Way,” directed by Lynn Shelton; Normal People, “Episode 5,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson; Unorthodox, directed by Maria Schrader; Watchmen, “It’s Summer And We’re Running Out Of Ice,” directed by Nicole Kassell; Watchmen, “Little Fear Of Lightning,” directed by Steph Green; Watchmen, “This Extraordinary Being,” directed by Stephen Williams

Prediction: The late Lynn Shelton’s wonderful work on the Little Fires Everywhere finale, “Find A Way,” was rightly recognized with a nomination in this category, but the award is ultimately going to go to Watchmen for “It’s Summer And We’re Running Out Of Ice” or “This Extraordinary Being.” Despite Nicole Kassell’s fantastic work on the pilot, which had the scope and cast of a feature film, few TV episodes have generated as much discussion as “This Extraordinary Being.” Veteran director Stephen Williams showed great panache and sensitivity in handling the Hooded Justice reveal, while also demonstrating inherited trauma through layers of color. Of course, Lenny Abrahamson and Normal People could provide an upset here; this Hulu limited series has also picked up steam since its release, and Abrahamson already has awards luster courtesy of an Oscar.

Preference: “This Extraordinary Being” connected America’s racist past and present as seamlessly as it did multiple genres, and Williams’ direction is as key to its success as Lindelof and Jefferson’s script.

Advertisement

11 / 14

Outstanding writing for a comedy series

Outstanding writing for a comedy series

Nominees: The Good Place,” Whenever You’re Ready,” written by Michael Schur; The Great, “The Great (Pilot),” written by Tony McNamara; Schitt’s Creek, “Happy Ending,” written by Daniel Levy; Schitt’s Creek, “The Presidential Suite,” written by David West Read; What We Do In The Shadows, “Collaboration,” written by Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil; What We Do In The Shadows, “Ghosts,” written by Paul Simms; What We Do In The Shadows, “On The Run,” written by Stefani Robinson

Prediction: Why stop with outstanding directing for Schitt’s Creek’s “Happy Ending?” Dan Levy not only brought an end to the Roses’ riches-to-rags-to-wigs storyline, but he also managed to revive that old TV standby: a wedding. Levy will see some competition from “The Presidential Suite” scribe David West Read, but let’s not count out that other tearjerking series finale—The Good Place’s “Whenever You’re Ready.” What We Do In The Shadows’ multiple nominations in this category once again set up a vote-splitting conundrum, but its strong showing here can’t be for naught either, right?

Preference: Although it didn’t represent the culmination of years of storytelling, Stefani Robinson’s script for What We Do In The Shadows’ “On The Run” produced one of the flat-out funniest episodes of television.

Advertisement

12 / 14

Outstanding writing for a drama series

Outstanding writing for a drama series

Nominees: Better Call Saul, “Bad Choice Road,” written by Thomas Schnauz; Better Call Saul, “Bagman,” written by Gordon Smith; The Crown, “Aberfan” written Peter Morgan; Ozark, “All In,” written by Chris Mundy; Ozark, “Boss Fight,” by written by John Shiban; Ozark, “Fire Pink,” written by Miki Johnson; Succession, “This Is Not For Tears,” written by Jesse Armstrong

Prediction: With the ascension of Kendall and the possible comeuppance for the Roy family patriarch, “This Is Not For Tears” is one of the boldest, most memorable contenders in this field—not to mention that Jesse Armstrong is the incumbent, having won the prize in 2019 for “Nobody Is Ever Missing.” A cliffhanger ending never hurts to keep your episode top of mind for Academy voters, either. But with Ozark and Better Call Saul having divvied up most of the rest of the spots, things aren’t quite tied up for Succession just yet.

Preference: I have no quibble with the frontrunner, even if I think Better Call Saul’s “Bagman” is equally as epic and tense.

Advertisement

13 / 14

Outstanding writing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special

Outstanding writing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special

Nominees: Mrs. America, “Shirley,” written by Tanya Barfield; Normal People, “Episode 3,” written by Sally Rooney and Alice Birch; Unbelievable, “Episode 1,” teleplay by Susannah Grant, Michael Chabon, and Ayelet Waldman; Unorthodox, “Part 1,” written by Anna Winger; Watchmen, “This Extraordinary Being,” written by Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson

Prediction: As dominant as it is in the standings, Watchmen still faces some tough competition here from Mrs. America’s Shirley Chisholm-centered episode, whose story of injustice and lily-livered liberalism is just as resonant as Watchmen’s. Both “This Extraordinary Being” and “Shirley” reveal that the heroes we’re waiting for are already here, though they’re often forced to wait their turn. But if there’s any place where Netflix’s deeply moving Unorthodox is likely to shine, it’s in the writing category—the TV Academy could very well see fit to reward Anna Winger’s series premiere for setting up the luminous Esty (Shira Haas) on her journey.

Preference: Watchmen’s “This Extraordinary Being” is a bruising hour, one that is so unflinching in its look at racism in civic institutions and police forces, that it’s hard to find the spark of hope in it. But the episode is just as extraordinary for the story told behind the scenes, one in which executive producer Damon Lindelof yielded his platform to Black writers.

Advertisement

14 / 14