Emmy nominations 2020: ‘Watchmen’ or ‘Mrs. America’? Predictions for the top races

Kerry Washington, left, and Reese Witherspoon in "Little Fires Everywhere."
Kerry Washington, left, and Reese Witherspoon in “Little Fires Everywhere,” a prime Emmy contender.

Primetime Emmy nominations arrive Tuesday morning, and given the state of the world, you could be forgiven for being unaware (or uninterested) that they are even happening this year. But the show, probably a virtually gathering, will go on, scheduled to take place Sept. 20.

There’s never been an Emmy season like this one, what with the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out all the usual star-studded panels and lavish parties leading up to voting. In their place, networks and streaming platforms created and bolstered websites featuring behind-the-scenes looks at their contenders and virtual conversations that were largely banal but occasionally quite beautiful. When Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins became emotional telling Rob McElhenney how the quarantine episode of “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” on Apple TV+ moved him to tears, I almost lost it too. I had to watch, like, three episodes of McElhenny’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” just to regain my emotional equilibrium. Jenkins should host the Emmys this year.

Will the nominations look any different, given that voters, like the rest of us, have had a lot of time to fill these last few months? I’d like to think so. But old habits die hard, not to mention long-held perceptions about what constitutes an awards-worthy program and performance. So yeah, get ready to throw a John McEnroe-sized tantrum when the honest, hilarious Netflix teen comedy “Never Have I Ever” comes up empty.

What should you expect Tuesday? For starters, more nominations. Read on, and I’ll explain why.


“Better Call Saul”
“The Crown”
“The Morning Show”
“The Handmaid’s Tale”
“Big Little Lies”

Possible snub: “Big Little Lies”
Possible surprise: “This Is Us”

The Television Academy bumped the number of nominees in the drama and comedy series categories this year to eight from seven. You’d think that’d be enough. But it still leaves voters in a quandary here as there are a good dozen previously nominated drama programs competing, meaning that, among “Stranger Things,” “Westworld,” “This Is Us,” “Killing Eve” and “Big Little Lies,” something’s gotta give. And then there are the newcomers, like HBO’s harrowing Stephen King adaptation, “The Outsider,” which deserves to join “The Morning Show” among the first-year nominees. The logjam of past nominees likely blocks its path.



Olivia Colman, “The Crown”
Jennifer Aniston, “The Morning Show”
Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Laura Linney, “Ozark”
Viola Davis, “How to Get Away With Murder”

Possible snub: Kidman
Possible surprise: Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”

That the “possible surprise” is the woman who won this Emmy last year tells you everything you need to know about this competitive category. Comer’s costar Sandra Oh has been nominated here twice for “Killing Eve,” but she probably won’t return, given that voters must also choose among other past winners (Davis, Kidman, Linney and Moss), the revered Colman playing the queen of England and Aniston’s career-best work on “The Morning Show.” Get ready to read this often: How do you choose among all these women?


Brian Cox, “Succession”
Jeremy Strong, “Succession”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
Billy Porter, “Pose”
Jason Bateman, “Ozark”

Possible snub: Brown
Possible surprise: Tobias Menzies, “The Crown”

Menzies earned nominations at the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes for his persuasive performance as Prince Philip in “The Crown,” and he could find a place here if voters completely jump ship on the third season of “This Is Us.” Brown is likely to pick up a nomination for playing the protective manager on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” so perhaps people will think that’s enough. Then again, for awards voters, there’s no such thing as too much Sterling K. Brown.


Helena Bonham Carter, “The Crown”
Julia Garner, “Ozark”
Sarah Snook, “Succession”
Meryl Streep, “Big Little Lies”
Laura Dern, “Big Little Lies”
Rhea Seehorn, “Better Call Saul”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Janet McTeer, “Ozark”

Possible snub: Seehorn
Possible surprise: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “The Morning Show”

In addition to enlarging the series slates, the academy also decided that the number of nominees in other categories would be determined by the submissions count. This proved to be a boon for the supporting acting categories, all of which will have eight nominees this year. And again, on the actress side, that’s still not enough slots, though it should mean that finally, the annual Emmy rite of bemoaning Seehorn’s omission should come to an end. Probably. Because past winner Ann Dowd lurks too, as does her “Handmaid’s Tale” castmate Yvonne Strahovski. And then there’s Mbatha-Raw, who owned a powerful, intense story line on “The Morning Show.” Her work opposite Steve Carell in the series’ key Vegas episode proved crucial to the series.


Kieran Culkin, “Succession”
Billy Crudup, “The Morning Show”
Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Macfadyen, “Succession”
Bradley Whitford, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
David Harbour, “Stranger Things”
Tom Pelphrey, “Ozark”
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”

Possible snub: Patinkin
Possible surprise: Josh O'Connor, “The Crown”

Writing this, I checked to see how many Emmys Patinkin has won for playing the brilliant, bearish CIA agent Saul Berenson on “Homeland.” The answer is zero. How can that be? (Patinkin’s reputation as an ... uuumm ... “exacting” actor might have something to do with it.) It’s probably too late to right that wrong, but it would be nice to see him nominated one last time for “Homeland’s” satisfying final season. With the expanded eight slots, it’d be easy to send him out in style.


“Schitt’s Creek”
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
“The Good Place”
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
“Dead to Me”
“The Kominsky Method”

Possible snub: “The Kominsky Method”
Possible surprise: “The Great”

“Insecure” and “Better Things,” both four seasons into their runs, deserve to earn their first series nominations. But that might be too much to expect as Emmy voters might have been prioritizing new shows like Tony McNamara’s clever critique of privilege, “The Great,” and catching up with the essential “Ramy,” a series that was overlooked last year, probably because it debuted too late to amass enough love.


Catherine O'Hara, “Schitt’s Creek”
Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Christina Applegate, “Dead to Me”
Issa Rae, “Insecure”
Linda Cardellini, “Dead to Me”
Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”

Possible snub: Cardellini
Possible surprise: Elle Fanning, “The Great”

“Dead to Me” didn’t need a second season, but some people find escape in its soapy pleasures, and these days, I’m not going to judge. (Much.) The show’s leads make this hollow exercise watchable, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them both nominated, though that would mean talented newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (“Never Have I Ever”) would join the long list of young performers overlooked by Emmy voters. C'mon, voters. I believe that children are our future. Let them lead the way.


Ramy Youssef, “Ramy”
Eugene Levy, “Schitt’s Creek”
Ted Danson, “The Good Place”
Larry David, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Michael Douglas, “The Kominsky Method”
Don Cheadle, “Black Monday”

Possible snub: Douglas
Possible surprise: Paul Rudd, “Living with Yourself”

There’s not much depth or intrigue here, though the well-liked Rudd could find a reward for his dual role on the fun, thought-provoking “Living With Yourself.” Carell is beloved too, but the unfocused “Space Force” ranked as a crushing disappointment.


Alex Borstein, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Jane Lynch, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”
Marin Hinkle, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Annie Murphy, “Schitt’s Creek”
Betty Gilpin, “GLOW”
Yvonne Orji, “Insecure”
Rita Moreno, “One Day at a Time”

Possible snub: Moreno
Possible surprise: Emily Hampshire, “Schitt’s Creek”

For Emmy voters, it’s not just Mrs. Maisel who’s marvelous. Borstein won this category for the show’s first two seasons, and Lynch will find herself nominated here this year after winning the comedy guest actress Emmy in 2019. Hinkle earned her first nomination last year, and it won’t be her last. If Wanda Sykes’ Moms Mabley could somehow, some way get bumped up to series regular for Season 4 (she deserves her own show), they might just have to rename this category: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”


Mahershala Ali, “Ramy”
Tony Shalhoub, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Dan Levy, “Schitt’s Creek”
Sterling K. Brown, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Alan Arkin, “The Kominsky Method”
Kenan Thompson, “Saturday Night Live”
Louie Anderson, “Baskets”
Nicholas Hoult, “The Great”

Possible snub: Anderson
Possible surprise: John Malkovich, “Space Force”

Shalhoub owns four Emmys, including a win last year for “Maisel.” Brown has two Emmys. Ali has two Oscars. And Levy created and stars in the show that should win the comedy series Emmy this year. Let the games begin.


“Mrs. America”
“Little Fires Everywhere”
“Normal People”

Possible snub: “Normal People”
Possible surprise: “Unorthodox”

While the drama and comedy series categories became bigger, the limited series number remained fixed at five. On the one hand, sure. Networks and streamers don’t make a ton of these shows. On the other, when they do, they’re usually among the season’s best offerings. This year, in addition to the series listed, you could make a case for “Hollywood,” “The Plot Against America,” “I Know This Much Is True,” “Belgravia” and “Defending Jacob.” Hell, I’d even listen to an argument for the brainy sci-fi “Devs,” which might be the year’s most ambitious project. Any way you look at it, a couple of great shows are going to be left off the final list.


“Bad Education”
“El Camino”
“American Son”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend”
“Patsy and Loretta”

Possible snub: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Possible surprise: “Togo”

Unlike limited series, voters aren’t blessed with a bevy of options. The Emmy will come down to a choice between the emotionally satisfying and sumptuously shot “Breaking Bad” continuation, “El Camino,” and HBO’s excellent corruption drama “Bad Education,” which could earn star Hugh Jackman a prize.


Regina King, “Watchmen”
Cate Blanchett, “Mrs. America”
Merritt Wever, “Unbelievable”
Kerry Washington, “Little Fires Everywhere”
Reese Witherspoon, “Little Fires Everywhere”

Possible snub: Washington
Possible surprise: Kaitlyn Dever, “Unbelievable”

The new Emmy rules reduced the limited series/TV movie lead categories from six to five, leaving voters with the impossible job of choosing among the six women listed as well as the amazingly expressive Shira Haas in “Unorthodox” and Daisy Edgar-Jones’ achingly vulnerable work in “Normal People.” Every one of these women merits a nomination.


Hugh Jackman, “Bad Education”
Mark Ruffalo, “I Know This Much Is True”
Aaron Paul, “El Camino”
Russell Crowe, “The Loudest Voice”
Paul Mescal, “Normal People”

Possible snub: Mescal
Possible surprise: Jeremy Irons, “Watchmen”

Voters should be required to make an internal pact whereby they promise to nominate both the “Normal People” leads — or neither, if grand, melancholy Irish romance isn’t their thing. You know which way I’d lean. Keep their love alive through the Emmys, people.