EW's TV critics react to the 2020 Emmy nominations. Insecure? Cool! Watchmen? Yeah! The Mandalorian... Whaaaa?

By Kristen Baldwin and Darren Franich
July 28, 2020 at 04:12 PM EDT
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Tuesday's Emmy nominations were always going to be surprising, because every second of living through 2020 is a rollercoaster ride of endless shock and horror. Still, TV critics Kristen Baldwin and Darren Franich were astonished by a few noms — and equally astonished at some of the great shows left out by the TV Academy. Check out the full list of Emmy nominations here.

KRISTEN: Don’t cry because the Emmy nominations are over, Darren — laugh because the voters completely invalidated themselves by not recognizing the two best performances on TV this year: Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn as Saul Goodman and Kim Wexler, respectively, on Better Call Saul.

I’m sorry to come in hot raging about snubs, but boy, it’s one thing when the Television Academy voting body ignores something or someone on a regular basis (see: Seehorn, or The Good Fight, left empty-handed yet again), but it’s quite another when they yank what should have been a sure-thing nomination from a deserving performer. Odenkirk has been nominated every season for Better Call Saul, and the work he’s done this season — as he leaves Jimmy in the Albuquerque dust and careers headlong toward a life as a “friend of the cartel” — has been nothing short of revelatory. And yet, he was passed over. The Lead Actor in a Drama category was made up of expected and mostly deserving nominees, though I’d argue that Steve Carell — who was very good in The Morning Show — did not deserve to edge out Odenkirk, who was sublime. At least the show itself earned seven nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series.

Sticking with the drama categories, let’s look for some more good news: Carell’s Morning Show costar Jennifer Aniston definitely earned her spot among the Lead Actress nominees, and what a delight to see Succession’s trio of comic-relief standouts — Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, and Kieran Culkin — in the Supporting Actor running. (Thank you for the chicken!) Succession and Netflix’s Ozark tied for the most nominations for a drama series, with 18 each. And here’s where things get weird: The second most-nominated drama, Darren, was… The Mandalorian. Discuss.

DARREN: The Mandalorian is certainly a very expensive Star Wars DVD Special Feature about someone who looks exactly like Boba Fett except with shinier armor and he gets sad sometimes. If it were a videogame, it would be almost as good as Shadows of the Empire. And now it is the flagship member of a uniquely dispiriting Outstanding Drama Series lineup. I get a strong yesteryear feeling from that category, Kristen, and not just because I agree with you that Odenkirk and Seehorn were the year's most dynamic duo. I'm not a genre snob — huzzah for all the Limited Series noms for Watchmen, the year's finest cosmic action epic about squid rain! But The Mandalorian and Stranger Things are both so obviously comfort food, cutesy retreats into 40-year-old pop flotsam. (How cutesy? Take famously adorable Yoda and make him a baby!)

I prefer when the Emmys shine a light on newer discoveries. I'm glad Zendaya earned a nomination for Euphoria, partially because I think her careful performance moderated that show's "Us Kids Of Today Are CrrrrAZY!" excess. The comedy categories gave serious recognition to Ramy Youssef's Ramy and Issa Rae's Insecure. They're both bright, young multi-hyphenates making uniquely personal sitcoms that are stylish and laugh-out-loud funny. I'm so happy Betty Gilpin scored another supporting nomination for her towering work on GLOW. This is the Outstanding Comedy Series category in the post-Veep, post-Modern Family era, so how fun to see Insecure sitting alongside FX's vamp-com What We Do in the Shadows. I'm bummed that Better Things and your beloved Brooklyn Nine-Nine aren't here, but I guess some voters were really stoked about the one-and-a-half funny episodes in Curb Your Enthusiasm's overextended latest season.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the comedy awards, Kristen, and was your primal scream as loud as mine when it became clear that Showtime's Desus & Mero, the best show in late-night, was entirely snubbed in the Variety Series categories?

Greg Lewis/AMC

KRISTEN: Well, let me start with one correction: We’re not yet in the post-Modern Family era. The show was eligible, but its final season was largely ignored (it received three nominations, including one for the late Fred Willard) — not surprising, given how the sitcom was relegated to the “used to be cool” dustbin several years ago. (It was good all the way through, folks!)

But yes, there was much happiness to be wrung from the comedy categories. My biggest yelp of delight came upon hearing Andre Braugher’s name. He was last nominated for Brooklyn Nine-Nine six years ago, so I was sure his masterful, deadpan work as Captain Raymond Holt was no longer on the voters’ radar. The same goes for Gilpin and GLOW — season 3 premiered almost a year ago, which feels like 136 years ago at this point — so I’m thrilled her performance was not forgotten.

Of course, Saturday Night Live’s players snapped up a lot of slots in the Supporting Comedy categories, but it was great to see A Black Lady Sketch Show earn a nomination (along with SNL and Drunk History) for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. If you haven’t watched, just fire up the first episode, titled “Angela Bassett is the Baddest Bitch.” (Ms. Bassett, too, is nominated for her guest turn as the leader of a Bad Bitch Support Group.)

Also in need of a support group? The Bodega Hive! Once again, Darren, the Variety Talk Series nominees are the same names we’ve seen for several years. What will it take for voters to step out of their rubber-stamp comfort zone and give Desus & Mero the shot they so richly deserve? The snub feels even more egregious this year: There are only five shows nominated instead of the usual six. Fam, that’s harsh.

One series that did get the love it deserves: HBO’s Watchmen, which dominated with 26 nominations, the most of any series. I’m not sure anything can (or should) beat it in the Limited Series category, but what do you think Darren?

DARREN: Before I celebrate all of Watchmen's nominations, I want to pour one out for my other favorite alterna-history American HBO epic. The Plot Against America marks another sacred entry in co-creator David Simon's ongoing secret history of our nation, and the Emmys never give his work the appreciation it deserves. While the excellent final season of his New York symphony The Deuce didn't get a single nomination, Plot at least got a nod for its cinematography. (No love for Zoe Kazan's transformative performance as a desperate parent keeping her family alive through dark times!)

Now I'm done complaining about Limited Series, which found plenty of room for the ecstatic meanderings of Watchmen's overstuffed single season. I'm stoked that Regina King is leading a Lead Actress lineup stuffed with talent (Cate Blanchett, Octavia Spencer, and Kerry Washington!) and pleasantly surprised to see Jeremy Irons' adventurous clowning receive a Lead Actor nomination. The series earned three directing noms and three spots in the Supporting Actor category, plus a nod for Jean Smart (Nothing but respect for my Mrs. America!) and a writing nomination for creator Damon Lindelof's and Cord Jefferson's superhero-myth-rewriting "This Extraordinary Being."

Necessary mention, as always, that our own former EW critic Jeff Jensen worked on Watchmen, so I'll also point out that the whole Limited Series lineup is a great expression of the diverse array of subjects tackled by television this year. I'm also stoked that Outstanding Animated Program recognized Bojack Horseman's swan song and another blisteringly inventive season of Rick and Morty. But can we talk about how the zombie season of Westworld somehow earned nominations for Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright, despite both fine actors being relegated behind Aaron Paul's grimacing leather jacket? How can I put this, Kristen? The Emmy nominations curbed my enthusiasm, but the awards aren't quite dead to me, and some of the categories are in a good place, but the drama races are all up Schitt's creek.

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