Here’s what we know about this year’s 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards: it’s happening on Sunday, Sept. 20, in a live telecast that will air at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC. From the stage of L.A.’s Staples Center, Jimmy Kimmel will host a ceremony that promises 138 stars—including Oprah Winfrey, America Ferrera and Gabrielle Union, among others—in 114 locations across 10 countries. Singer-songwriter H.E.R. will perform alongside the “In Memoriam” segment. And the producers are going to great lengths to ensure that the program feels like a Hollywood production more than a three-hour Zoom meeting. That’s about it.
So, will the winners be as much of a surprise as the format? You’ll have to watch to find out. In the meantime, here are my picks and predictions for the socially distanced 2020 Emmys.
Better Call Saul
The Handmaid’s Tale
Will Win: Succession
Should Win: Succession or Better Call Saul
Woof. Of all the great dramas the 2019-20 TV season offered, these are the nominees? Most of the field is either past its prime (see: Killing Eve, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown) or an expensive, flash-over-substance flex on the part of its streaming platform (The Mandalorian), if not both (Stranger Things). Where were Pose, Dare Me, David Makes Man, Vida, Lodge 49?
Anyway! With last year’s ridiculous winner Game of Thrones finally out of the way and Succession flying high on a critically adored second season that even managed to top its excellent predecessor, pundits seem pretty sure it’s the latter show’s year. And I’m extremely fine with that. Still, it’s worth noting that Better Call Saul has been nominated in this category every single year it’s been eligible but never taken home the trophy—and its fifth season might’ve been its strongest yet.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Dead to Me
The Good Place
The Kominsky Method
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
What We Do in the Shadows
Will Win: Schitt’s Creek
Should Win: The Good Place
Last year, Fleabag‘s upset in this category was the highlight of the evening. (That photo of Phoebe Waller-Bridge with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, flanked by a small army of Emmy statues? Still iconic.) Now, with both that show and HBO’s Emmy darling Veep out of the running, consensus has settled on Schitt’s Creek as the frontrunner. Which is awesome! That a sweet family sitcom from Canada, starring two of that country’s most venerable comedy actors, could leverage its low-key early U.S. run on Pop TV into an international phenomenon remains one of the most heartening narratives of the streaming era. So, despite the fact that it peaked a few seasons before the finale, I’ll be crying tears of joy if Dan and Eugene Levy’s sleeper hit does indeed take the trophy.
But Mike Schur’s wonderful NBC afterlife dramedy The Good Place also ended this winter, with a finale that artfully balanced narrative resolution, character development, philosophical resonance, humor and fan service. It has never won a single Emmy, remains one of the most ambitious and timely comedies of its generation—and may go down in history as the last great network primetime series. Meanwhile, when it comes to pure laughs, FX’s What We Do in the Shadows is easily the funniest show of the bunch. It has already been renewed for a third season, and the network has said that its audience is growing thanks to FX’s new Hulu presence. So be sure to watch this space in 2021.
Little Fires Everywhere
Limited series are increasingly where the real art gets made on TV these days, with comedies (and their half-hour dramedy cousins) placing a close second. With the exception of Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere—which clobbered viewers over the head with well-worn ideas about race and gender, even as its competitors applied more nuance and specificity to similar themes—you could make an argument for anything on this list. HBO’s Watchmen is the clear favorite for plenty of reasons: a partnership between star Regina King and creator Damon Lindelof that lived up to both artists’ top-shelf reputations, it’s also a smart, inspired update of one of the greatest, most difficult comics of all time. And it would be hard to top the timeliness of a show that cloaks a reckoning with American racism, imperialism and policing in the trappings of the indefatigable superhero genre.
I was, however, equally impressed by FX on Hulu’s Mrs. America, a richly observant period piece about the rise and fall of the women’s liberation movement. Maybe that’s because I tend to prefer realistic drama to fantasy tales, because I’m kind of a nerd about feminist history or simply because I love Cate Blanchett with my whole heart. (A hall-of-fame supporting cast that also includes Uzo Aduba, Rose Byrne, Tracey Ullman, Margo Martindale, Sarah Paulson, John Slattery, Melanie Lynskey, Niecy Nash, Ari Graynor, Jay Ellis and Elizabeth Banks certainly doesn’t hurt.) But in a less personal sense, what puts this miniseries in the same league as Watchmen is the degree of narrative, political and particularly intersectional complexity both shows weave into their scripts, without sacrificing aesthetics or performance quality or entertainment value.
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
There’s no clear frontrunner in this category, and with good reason: every performance here has something to recommend it. But Killing Eve got a bit redundant in its third season, and its two stars have already been handsomely rewarded for the superior work they’ve done in years past. On merit alone, the Emmy should go to Zendaya. A young multi-hyphenate who imbues her antihero character with the perfect mix of precocious gravitas and adolescent angst, she—along with co-star Hunter Schafer—was the best reason to watch HBO’s druggy, depressive teen drama Euphoria. Sadly, it’s hard to imagine the not-exactly-youthful Television Academy membership rewarding her performance. That leaves Linney, Colman and Aniston. While I wouldn’t be surprised by any of those three outcomes, and Colman’s first season as Queen Elizabeth II would be my pick from that bunch, Aniston is TV’s returning sweetheart. Everybody loves a comeback (that’s also a chance to pat Apple TV+ on the head for all the money it spent on The Morning Show, its star-studded flagship series).
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
Will Win: Brian Cox
Should Win: Jeremy Strong
How did this turn into an all-Succession race? Well, Billy Porter got the well-deserved win in 2019. Steve Carell’s Morning Show character doesn’t feel like a lead, and the writing in most of his scenes made me cringe. Jason Bateman and this category’s 2017 winner Sterling K. Brown may be doing a lot of acting, but their roles aren’t necessarily highlighting new aspects of their talents several seasons into their runs. And though it’s always possible that two names from the same series will split the vote, it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing well enough to capitalize on that advantage. Neither actor was nominated for their show’s first season, but Cox is both Succession‘s center (if not its most memorable presence) and a universally esteemed, highly decorated elder statesman of stage and screen, so my prediction is that the Emmy goes to him. Meanwhile, if Strong is turning in a performance that’s equal parts serious and comic (see: Kendall Roy’s infamous rap), it’s that willingness to humiliate in a desperate attempt to earn his father’s love that makes his sad-clown character so poignant.
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
Will Win: Eugene Levy
Should Win: Eugene Levy
What a boring category! With the exception of two-time winner Bill Hader, whose ineligibility in 2020 created space for a fresh face in Ramy Youssef, this year’s nominees are exactly the same as last year’s nominees. I mean, how about some recognition for Nicholas Hoult in The Great or Rob McElhenney in Mythic Quest or Julio Torres in Los Espookys? Ramy was both stronger and more focused on its protagonist in its first season (for which Youssef won a Golden Globe in this category) than it was in the recent sequel. Anthony Anderson is on his sixth straight nomination for Black-ish, with a win looking less likely after every passing season. Don Cheadle, Michael Douglas and Ted Danson are fun to watch on their respective shows, but they’re all essentially getting lifetime-achievement nominations. So is Eugene Levy, to a certain extent, but he’s also just starting to get the respect he deserves from American audiences who mostly know the SCTV legend as the dorky dad from American Pie. As a star and co-creator of Schitt’s Creek (as well as a co-creator of its other creator-star, his son Dan Levy), he gives the show its core of familial warmth. What a gift.
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
Will Win: Catherine O’Hara
Should Win: Catherine O’Hara
See above: like her frequent collaborator Levy, O’Hara just deserves this. As frustrated diva Moira Rose, she was the spice to his sugar and—between Moira’s fruit-wine commercial, her strange pronunciations, her even stranger outfits and her sorta-triumphant comeback as the star of The Crows Have Eyes III: The Crowening—the breakout character of a show that offered no shortage of competition. Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini have fantastic chemistry in Dead to Me, which makes it hard to say that either one of them deserves the award on her own. Rachel Brosnahan already won it for the first season of a fun series whose novelty is now in decline. Tracee Ellis Ross probably should’ve gotten her Emmy sometime during Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ six-year streak, before Black-ish became a launching pad for spinoffs. Insecure just had what was, in my estimation, its most satisfying season to date, but the breakthrough had more to do with creator-star Issa Rae’s writing than her acting.
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
Even as a longtime stan who adored her as the smart, charismatic, empathy-challenged Equal Rights Amendment foe Phyllis Schlafly, I get that, although an A-list movie star has a decent shot, this is probably not Cate Blanchett’s year. Regina King was perhaps the only actor capable of doing justice to all the different facets of a character who is part-superhero, part-cop, part-regular-Black-woman-wrestling-with-history. And the Emmys love her; Watchmen would be the third series, after American Crime and Seven Seconds, to earn her an award since 2015. (She also earned an Oscar for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk during that period.) The argument for giving Shira Haas the prize instead is that, while King is already among the most celebrated actors of our time, Unorthodox‘s young Israeli star—who gave one of the rawest, most embodied performances I’ve ever seen as a teenage wife escaping Hasidic Brooklyn—doesn’t have much name recognition stateside. While the role and the nomination have already boosted her visibility in the U.S., a win would make her return to Hollywood even more likely.
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
Jeremy Irons is a legend, but if we’re being honest, I’d forgotten he was even in Watchmen—that’s how much King dominated my (and I suspect many other viewers’) experience of the show. Jeremy Pope was great in Hollywood, but Hollywood was a disappointment, and his grounded performance got lost amid so much scenery chewing from the rest of the cast. All three of the remaining nominees have a shot. Among them, tender Irish newcomer Paul Mescal is one of the season’s best finds. Even so, I slightly prefer Mark Ruffalo’s dual performance as a pair of very different, very disturbed twins, which was precisely the right kind of role for an actor who tends toward maximalism. But I think Hugh Jackman will take it for his memorable portrayal of a superintendent with secrets in a buzzy feature that was one of few made-for-TV movies to make an impact this season.
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
Will Win: Alex Borstein, because the Academy loves her. Last year, she won her second consecutive Emmy for this role despite tougher competition in Olivia Colman and Sian Clifford from Fleabag.
Should Win: Yvonne Orji, who has become an indispensable co-lead in Insecure—and whose storyline in the most recent season encompassed such emotional trials as an interracial relationship and a rift with her best friend (Rae).
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
Daniel Levy, Schitt’s Creek
Will Win: Dan Levy, because Schitt’s Creek was his beautiful brainchild and because David’s wedding was a rare bright spot in a terrible year for humanity.
Should Win: William Jackson Harper, because his character Chidi was the sweet, nerdy conscience of a show about a moral philosophy and because more than one of his final scenes with Kristen Bell’s Eleanor made me weep.
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
Will Win: Billy Crudup, because his performance was easily the best part of The Morning Show.
Should Win: Matthew Macfadyen, because “THANK YOU FOR THE CHICKEN.” (Giancarlo Esposito would also be fine, because Better Call Saul deserves all the accolades it can get.)
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
Will Win: Helena Bonham Carter, because she’s a high-profile, smartly cast addition to the category and The Crown, an expensive drama whose continued existence seemed tied to its capacity to nab awards for Netflix, has to win something.
Should Win: Sarah Snook, because Shiv’s storyline this season amounted to watching the only competent human being in the Roy family quietly surrender her last iota of a soul and Snook’s performance, though restrained, vividly captured her inner life.