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Biggest Shocks and Surprises from the 2020 Emmy Nominations

Despite 2020 being derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Television Academy pressed ahead with nominations for the 72nd Emmy Awards on July 28. Hosted by SNL star Leslie Jones, the (virtual) announcement featured many delightful surprises and head-scratching snubs, as well as serving reminders of all the shows that were eligible for this year’s nominations. (Doesn’t season 3 of “Stranger Things” feel like years ago??). Netflix took the nomination crown this year with a grand total of 160 nominations, though HBO wasn’t far behind with 107. The nominations once again reflected the dominance of streaming services, with newer models such as AppleTV+ and Disney+ (and yes, even Quibi) breaking into the leading categories.

“Watchmen” Leads the Way 

Regina King as Angela Abar/ Sister Night | Photo courtesy of HBO

HBO’s “Watchmen” received a whopping 26 nominations, the most of any show this year. The limited series picked up nominations in all the major categories, (Best Limited Series, writing and three nominations for directing). The cast, in particular, got recognised across the limited series categories, with Regina King (Leading Actress), Jeremy Irons (Leading Actor), Jean Smart (Supporting Actress), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jovan Adepo and Louis Gossett Jr (Supporting Actor) all garnering Emmy attention. With such an impressive haul, this stunning series is the one to beat in September.

Still Marvelous 

While most of the Emmy recognition was gifted towards HBO and Netflix, Amazon didn’t have a bad day either. Three seasons on, “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel” proved it is still the jewel in Amazon’s crown, scoring 20 nominations. Scooping up nominations for Oustanding Comedy Series, as well as eight nominations for acting, the Emmy love for this show hasn’t gone anywhere.

All Hail “Succession”

Sarah Snook and Matthew Macfadyen as Shiv Roy and Tom Wambsgans | Photo courtesy of HBO

Both “Succession” and “Ozark” cemented their positions as the drama series frontrunners, the HBO and Netflix series scoring 18 nominations each. “Succession” in particular was showered with Emmy love, considerably increasing its nomination haul from last year (where the show received five nominations), with half of the show’s nominations falling in the acting categories. Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong both got nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Drama Series, Sarah Snook for Best Supporting Actress, while Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun dominated the Supporting Actor category. Meanwhile, Harriet Walter, Cherry Jones and James Cromwell snuck into the Guest Actor categories. The show’s masterful season two finale “This is Not for Tears” is up for both Best Directing and Writing for a Drama Series. As one of the best dramas on television, it’s great to see the Emmys finally recognize the show’s brilliance.

“Ozark” Levels Up

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as Marty and Wendy Bird | Photo courtesy of Netflix

One show that has actually benefited from the pandemic has been Netflix’s “Ozark”. Dropping its third (and best) season while the world was on lockdown, the show garnered its highest ratings and heaps of praise from fans and critics alike. This was reflected on nomination day, with Jason Bateman and Laura Linney being nominated for Best Leading Actor and Actress in a Drama Series respectively, alongside Julia Garner for Best Supporting Actress. Despite also gaining writing and (three!) directing nominations, season 3 standout Tom Pelphrey was strangely snubbed in the Supporting Actor category.

A Fond Farewell to “Schitt’s Creek”

Despite only breaking into the Emmys race for the first time last year, the TV academy made up for their previous neglect, awarding the beloved Pop TV comedy fifteen nominations. These included Best Leading Actor and Actress in a Comedy for stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, alongside (at last) first-time nominations for supporting actors Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy. After a heartwarming final season, it’s thankful the cast and crew have been recognised on a larger scale in acting, writing and directing. Here’s hoping Catherine O’Hara finally gets awarded for her iconic performance as Moira Rose.

Best Surprises

Zendaya as Rue Bennett | Photo courtesy of HBO
  • Zendaya receiving her first nomination for her breathtaking performance in HBO’s “Euphoria”. While a critically acclaimed performance, it was expected the Emmys would snub “Euphoria,” making the announcement a wonderful surprise for fans of the show.
  • “Normal People” appeared late in the game, yet the Hulu/BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s acclaimed novel made waves across the globe, and stars of its young actors Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. The show’s popularity was evidenced by its four Emmy nominations, Paul Mescal breaking into the competitive Best Leading Actor in a Limited Series category. It’s only a shame talented co-star Daisy Edgar-Jones missed out on a nomination also.
  • “What We Do in the Shadows”: Critics guessed the beloved FX comedy wouldn’t make its way into the Emmy field but thankfully were proven wrong. The show netted eight nominations, including three in writing (including “On the Run”, the brilliant Jackie Daytona episode). Let’s hope the show’s talented cast break into the acting categories next year.
Matt Berry as Laszlo Cravensworth | Photo courtesy of FX
  • D’Arcy Carden and William Jackson Harper (finally) getting attention for their performances as Janet and Chidi in the final season of NBC’s “The Good Place.”
  • “Insecure” is back in the race. After an incredibly well-received season four, the Emmys finally remembered to show the HBO comedy some love, with the show earning eight nominations. This included stars Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji getting nominated for Best Leading and Supporting Actress in a Comedy.
Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji as Issa Dee and Molly Carter | Photo courtesy of HBO
  • “The Mandalorian” sneaking past “The Morning Show” for a Best Drama Series nomination. Incredibly surprising, but not unwelcome at all.

Most Shocking Snubs

Kaitlyn Dever as Marie Adler | Photo courtesy of Netflix
  • Kaitlyn Dever and Merritt Weaver missing out on nominations for their sensitive and stunning performances in Netflix’s “Unbelievable.” 
  • Proving herself one of the busiest women in Hollywood, Reese Witherspoon could have gotten three Emmy nominations this year, for her work in AppleTV+‘s “The Morning Show,” Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere” and HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” Most had expected her to break in for “Little Fires Everywhere,” but the actress was surprisingly shut out completely.
  • “Better Call Saul” has long been one of the most well-received dramas on television, with its fifth and latest season earning rave reviews. Yet despite a Best Drama Series nomination and a few others, leading actor Bob Odenkirk’s performance was snubbed for the first time. Co-star Rhea Seehorn was ignored by the TV academy yet again, despite being one of the most praised supporting actresses on television. 
Better Call Saul
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill | Photo courtesy of AMC
  • Despite Laura Dern and Meryl Streep being nominated, the second season of “Big Little Lies” was shut out of the major categories, missing out on Best Drama Series and the Leading Actress category.
  • Viola Davis not getting nominated for her final season of “How to Get Away with Murder.”
  • The talented women from FX’s “Pose” not getting recognized again in the Leading and Supporting Actress categories.
  • “One Day at a Time” being ignored again in the comedy categories, despite standout performances from stars Justina Machado and Rita Moreno. 
Rita Moreno
Rita Moreno as Lydia Riera | Photo courtesy of Pop
  • AppleTV+’s “Defending Jacob” being shut out from the main categories, despite well-received performances from stars Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery. 
  • Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning missing out on comedy acting nominations for Hulu’s “The Great”, despite both giving the best performances of their careers.


  • “The Kominsky Method” still somehow getting nominations despite everyone collectively forgetting its existence.
  • Steve Carell getting a Best Leading Actor nomination for “The Morning Show.”
  • “Stranger Things” being nominated for Best Drama Series. 

The 72nd Emmy Awards will be held on September 20 on ABC, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel in a virtual ceremony, in what should be an unusual ceremony. You can see the full nomination list here.

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