Another year, another Emmys. Well, maybe it’s not that simple this time around, because this 72nd annual celebration of television’s best is destined to be anything but just another Emmys. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has turned everything upside down. We’ve seen civil unrest in major cities, plus a wild Presidential election season, economic turmoil and who knows what else is yet to come?
But throughout all this, television has been a great unifier, and this year the variety of options for Emmy voters is bigger, better and more diverse than ever before. In fact, for the first year the marquee categories of Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series have both gone to a set of eight nominees each—and, considering the breadth of possibilities, they could have even gone wider.
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With last year’s winners in both categories—Game of Thrones and Fleabag, respectively—having completed their runs, 2020 promises an open race, and one that will be difficult to call since the recent nationwide lockdown makes it likely that Television Academy members will have seen more of the contenders than ever before—which means that the final winners are anybody’s guess and sure to be unpredictable.
My annual attempt to gaze into my crystal ball, then, could wind up being an exercise in futility, and this week I have been playing the game at full tilt. I have covered the Comedy and Limited Series races, and also yesterday ran through the lead and supporting lineups for Drama Series acting. Finally we come upon Emmy’s marquee category and the race for Outstanding Drama Series is indeed intriguing. Perhaps Emmy’s most prestigious category, this year’s lineup is the biggest in history and includes the return of a former winner after a year off, plus five previously nominated contenders looking to enter the winner’s circle for the first time. Additionally, two shows have broken through for the first time, including one from a new streamer which managed to put its first drama series in the category in a very big way.
Let’s look at the enlarged field and see which one gets the Pete’s Winner Pick stamp.
Better Call Saul
This spinoff of two-time winner Breaking Bad has been nominated in this category in every year of its eligibility since its 2015 debut. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, after 32 nominations, it still has yet to win. Now in its fifth, penultimate season, the show has seven shots this time, but with overlooked star Bob Odenkirk (WTF!), the glorious never-nominated Rhea Seehorn (double WTF!), and snake-bit Jonathan Banks (triple WTF!), I don’t hold much hope for any Emmy wins until it’s in its final year.
This is the kind of series Emmy voters traditionally used to honor, and in its first three years this upscale royal saga racked up 13 nominations each time out. With eight Emmy wins, it is certainly better off than poor Saul, but still has yet to bag the big one, something Netflix would like more than anything else for one of its shows. If 2020 doesn’t turn out to be its year, Netflix announced recently that the show would be going to a sixth season, so there’s still plenty of time for that.
The Handmaid’s Tale
In its first year, it became the first Drama Series from a streamer to snag the big prize, with eight wins overall. It was short-lived, however—while the second season brought 20 nominations, it garnered only three wins and was overlooked in the major categories. Last year it wasn’t eligible here, but quirky Academy rules allowed for 11 nominations and three wins, so there is clearly still love left. But can it come all the way back in 2020, with no acting nod for star Elisabeth Moss?
Some pundits thought maybe this cultishly popular BBC America series wouldn’t make it into this category for a second consecutive year, but, after a surprise win that I predicted for co-star Jodie Comer last season, it and she are back and the show has eight nods overall. So, it’s still in the game, but a definite dark horse, considering the stiff competition.
Sci-fi isn’t a staple in this category—it usually gets all its Emmy love for Special Effects and not much else. But in its first year, with strong Star Wars roots, this upstart has The Force with it, much like the original Star Wars did at the 1978 Oscars. Having debuted to near-universal critical acclaim, with 15 nominations, this is the category’s only first-season entry this year. It could follow in The Handmaid’s Tale’s footsteps by knocking it out of the park first time out, while making history as the first sci-fi series to do it.
A winner last year for stars Jason Bateman (Outstanding Directing) and Julia Garner (Supporting Actress, Drama), Ozark was perhaps the year’s biggest beneficiary from the pandemic lockdown—housebound viewers finally discovered the series and turned it into a word-of-mouth phenomenon. It didn’t hurt that Season 3 was also the best so far, but will the fact that Netflix has announced that Season 4 will be its last mean that voters might wait until then to give it the big prize?
For this fan favorite, it has been a lesson in diminishing returns. With Season 1, it came roaring into the Emmys with 18 nominations and five wins. For Season 2, that dropped down to 12 nominations and one win. Last year it was not eligible, and now, after that hiatus, it’s back with just eight nominations. As was the case with its previous seasons, it’s a rare genre contender in this category, and momentum does not seem to be on the cards for this one.
Now in its second season, this show has been building a steady fanbase since it premiered two years ago. It pulled off a couple of wins in its first season, including Outstanding Writing, but this year it is probably perennial Emmy champ HBO’s best shot after the exit of three-time winner Game of Thrones. A quick snapshot says Ozark or Succession will prevail, and both come into the race with 18 nominations. It will be a photo finish.
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