Emmy Awards 2020: A ‘Should Win’ List

From Succession taking Best Drama to Netflix's Unbelievable winning Best Limited Series, here's our wishlist of the shows and actors that deserve to win at the 2020 Emmy Awards
Emmy Awards 2020: A ‘Should Win’ List

On September 20th, the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards will air from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the entire ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel will take place online.

It's been an extraordinary year, and it's mildly reassuring that art will, somehow, still be celebrated. The nominations were announced in July, and given that most of us have had plenty of indoor time in the last six months, I'm up to speed with almost all the titles in contention. The obscene amount of television (shows) I've watched in 2020 makes this a rare year where I am in a position to comment – and root for, and ponder over, and discuss – the Emmys more than the Oscars. It's never happened before, but this is the season of firsts. 

Fortunately, I'm not in the business of predictions (and then embarrassing myself by getting them wrong). We already know the favourites nods-wise: Ozark (18), Succession (18), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (20), Watchmen (26). We know they're favourites for a reason.

But these are my favourites in all the main categories. In short, it's a dreamy "Should win" list, not a dry "Will win" one:

Drama Series

"Better Call Saul" (AMC)
"The Crown" (Netflix)
"The Handmaid's Tale" (Hulu)
"Killing Eve" (BBC America/AMC)
"The Mandalorian" (Disney Plus Hotstar Premium)
"Ozark" (Netflix)
"Stranger Things" (Netflix)
"Succession" (HBO)

I have a soft spot for The Crown. Ozark really picked up. Killing Eve Season 3 wasn't half as good as Season 1, and in an ideal world Better Call Saul might have been the frontrunner on potential alone. My favourite here is everyone else's. Succession – Jesse Armstrong's profoundly wicked series about the Shakespearean dysfunctionality of a billionaire business family. I want the Roys to come, see and conquer.

Comedy Series

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO)
"Dead to Me" (Netflix)
"The Good Place" (NBC)
"Insecure" (HBO)
"The Kominsky Method" (Netflix)
"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (Amazon Prime Video)
"Schitt's Creek" (Pop TV)
"What We Do in the Shadows" (FX)

It's nice to have a packed comedy category in a bleak year. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is omnipresent, The Good Place is the obvious dark horse. I can see the ingenious vampire mockumentary series What We Do in the Shadows dominate the category in its next few seasons (but lock in I May Destroy You for next year). But the heart wants Schitt's Creek, a rare family comedy that got better with every season until it culminated in a flood of feel-goodness in its sixth and final season. The Joni Mitchell line "You don't know what you've got until it's gone" was written for Schitt's Creek. 

Limited Series

"Little Fires Everywhere" (Hulu)
"Mrs. America" (Hulu)
"Unbelievable" (Netflix)
"Unorthodox" (Netflix)
"Watchmen" (HBO)

It's probably between Watchmen and Mrs. America, but I've never been able to look past Unbelievable, the stunning mini-series based on the Pulitzer-winning article, An Unbelievable Story of Rape. The story – of two female detectives, a survivor whose story is erroneously debunked, and a serial rapist – punches a dramatic hole in the culture of consent, victim politics and the scattered American police ecosystem. Unbelievable feels like it came out years ago – it was certainly the first of the five nominees to drop online – and that might make its memory a little less powerful for the voters. But forget I will not.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Jason Bateman ("Ozark")
Sterling K. Brown ("This Is Us")
Steve Carell ("The Morning Show")
Brian Cox ("Succession")
Billy Porter ("Pose")
Jeremy Strong ("Succession")

The always-solid-but-never-spectacular Jason Bateman could be the favourite for Ozark, but if Jeremy Strong doesn't win for taking the dead-eyed heir-inapparent Kendall Roy – a character with one of the most heartbreaking arcs ever written for television – into the realms of spiritual suffering, I'm boycotting this year even more than I already have. I'd go far enough to say that Strong's performance is the best, across all formats and mediums and languages, in the last 12 months.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Jennifer Aniston ("The Morning Show")
Olivia Colman ("The Crown")
Jodie Comer ("Killing Eve")
Laura Linney ("Ozark")
Sandra Oh ("Killing Eve")
Zendaya ("Euphoria")

I understand the hype behind Jennifer Aniston's The Morning Show performance (as is the case when most rom-com actors go serious), and I'd be pleased if Laura Linney took it home too – if nothing, just for Wendy's scenes with her brother. Jodie Comer is a personal favourite, and even though the show loses its magic in the third season, Villanelle's scene with her mother is timeless. And as electric as Zendaya was in Euphoria, I'm staying traditional on this one – the peerless Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. The ending of the Aberfan episode is so moving that even the tear that escapes Colman's eye deserves an Oscar or three.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson ("Black-ish")
Don Cheadle ("Black Monday")
Ted Danson ("The Good Place")
Michael Douglas ("The Kominsky Method")
Eugene Levy ("Schitt's Creek")
Ramy Youssef ("Ramy")

The mind says (and knows) it's Ramy Youssef, and deservedly so. But if there is ever such a thing as a perfect farewell, Eugene Levy as Johnny Rose – one of the most affable rich snobs in the history of television – must win. Those eyebrows can carry the trophy, and I'm choking up thinking about a father winning his ultimate prize for co-creating a show with his son.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Christina Applegate ("Dead to Me")
Rachel Brosnahan ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel")
Linda Cardellini ("Dead to Me")
Catherine O'Hara ("Schitt's Creek")
Issa Rae ("Insecure")
Tracee Ellis Ross ("Black-ish")

I have absolutely nothing against the marvellous Rachel Brosnahan and the deadpan Dead to Me actresses. But I cannot look past Moira Rose – featuring Catherine O'Hara, her wigs and her accent ("be-be") – for Schitt's Creek. It was a role that could have so easily forced an actress to play a loud person, but instead O'Hara turned it into a role where a person played a loud actress. It helps that there has been no better (inadvertent) LGBTQ icon in the last 6 years.

Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Jeremy Irons ("Watchmen")
Hugh Jackman ("Bad Education")
Paul Mescal ("Normal People")
Jeremy Pope ("Hollywood")
Mark Ruffalo ("I Know This Much Is True")

As much as I loved Hugh Jackman's Matt-Damon-ish turn in Bad Education and admired Paul Mescal and Jeremy Irons for their roles, Mark Ruffalo is everyone and everything in Derek Cianfrance's strangely under-the-radar I Know This Much Is True. As two brothers – one of them intellectually challenged – Ruffalo outdoes himself, and though Cianfrance's mini-series can feel like a heavy-handed adaptation at times, this is a performance that might attain cult status over time.

Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Cate Blanchett ("Mrs. America")
Shira Haas ("Unorthodox")
Regina King ("Watchmen")
Octavia Spencer ("Self Made")
Kerry Washington ("Little Fires Everywhere")

It's hard to look past Cate Blanchett in any acting category, and though Kerry Washington may take it for giving a mother/artist her own spin, I adored Shira Haas in what was perhaps the most culturally accurate and technically complex role out of the five. As a Yiddish-speaking Jewish teenager from New York who runs away to Berlin and battles her own conditioning, Haas has a tonal tenderness about her that's difficult to "perform" – it's just there


Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Giancarlo Esposito ("Better Call Saul")
Bradley Whitford ("The Handmaid's Tale")
Billy Crudup ("The Morning Show")
Mark Duplass ("The Morning Show")
Nicholas Braun ("Succession")
Kieran Culkin ("Succession")
Matthew Macfadyen ("Succession")
Jeffrey Wright ("Westworld")

In this ridiculously greedy category, Kieran Culkin is probably the favourite as the foul-mouthed and freewheeling Roman Roy. And as much as Giancarlo Esposito deserves a trophy, I want Mark Duplass to miraculously steal it as the conflicted male news producer stuck at the center of a female moment in American time. Duplass is deceptively intense as Chip, and probably the only cast member that deserves a prize from a series that ended so strongly that we were forced to forget the limp beginning.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Laura Dern ("Big Little Lies")
Meryl Streep ("Big Little Lies")
Helena Bonham Carter ("The Crown")
Samira Wiley ("The Handmaid's Tale")
Fiona Shaw ("Killing Eve")
Julia Garner ("Ozark")
Sarah Snook ("Succession")
Thandie Newton ("Westworld")

It's between Helena Bonham Carter (not sure why) and Julia Garner (for good reason), Meryl Streep is too good for the second season of Big Little Lies, but I was blown away by Fiona Shaw's deft handling of MI6 boss Carolyn Martens, who goes from cold God to ice-cold tragedy in the latest season of Killing Eve. For that one scene in Episode 2 alone, where Carolyn silently mourns the death of her son – while sitting in her car, eating a sandwich and listening to Henry Purcell's opera classic Dido's Lament – Shaw deserves every award for how she humanizes the grief of the strongest woman in a show replete with strong, fragile women.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Andre Braugher ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine")
William Jackson Harper ("The Good Place")
Alan Arkin ("The Kominsky Method")
Sterling K. Brown ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel")
Tony Shalhoub ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel")
Mahershala Ali ("Ramy")
Kenan Thompson ("Saturday Night Live")
Dan Levy ("Schitt's Creek")

Those names. Harper, Arkin, Brown, Shalhoub (!), Ali. All of them worthy in their own ways. Yet it's Dan Levy, co-creator and son in Schitt's Creek, who should walk away with an Emmy – for that absurdly expressive face, for those handsomely emotional eyes, for normalizing queer representation on screen, for turning gay romance into just romance, and most of all, for immortalizing the name "David" in the inimitable reality-show-teen drawl (Da-vid-ah) of co-star and hopefully-fellow-winner Annie Murphy.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Betty Gilpin ("GLOW")
D'Arcy Carden ("The Good Place")
Yvonne Orji ("Insecure")
Alex Borstein ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel")
Marin Hinkle ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel")
Kate McKinnon ("Saturday Night Live")
Cecily Strong ("Saturday Night Live")
Annie Murphy ("Schitt's Creek")

This broken world's going to be up shit's creek if the madly talented Annie Murphy doesn't steal this one – not just for nostalgia sake, but also for Alexis Rose's genuinely affecting coming-of-age arc (that breakup/goodbye) – from under the noses of her more favoured and high-profile fellow nominees. Da-vid-ah, indeed.

Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Dylan McDermott ("Hollywood")
Jim Parsons ("Hollywood")
Tituss Burgess ("Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend")
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II ("Watchmen")
Jovan Adepo ("Watchmen")
Louis Gossett Jr. ("Watchmen")

I'm not crazy about the category, but Louis Gossett Jr. can light up the Watchmen trifecta and I'll be satisfied.

Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Holland Taylor ("Hollywood")
Uzo Aduba ("Mrs. America")
Margo Martindale ("Mrs. America")
Tracey Ullman ("Mrs. America")
Toni Collette ("Unbelievable")
Jean Smart ("Watchmen")

Mrs. America caught fire at the right time, and Jean Smart isn't far behind for Watchmen, but it'll be unbelievable if Toni Collette doesn't win this – not just for herself but also her wonderful co-stars Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever who were denied nominations because of some nutty technical mixup. In a perfect world, Merritt Wever as the tender-tough detective to Collette's eccentric wit would be walking away with another Emmy.

Other personal favourites:

Casting (Drama): Mind says Succession or Ozark but the heart wants The Crown.
Casting (Comedy): The Emmys are dead to me if Schitt's Creek is snubbed.
Directing (Drama): I'm torn between The Crown (Aberfan) and Succession (This Is Not For Tears)
Directing (Comedy): Schitt's Creek (Happy Ending)
Directing (Non-fiction/docu): American Factory

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