In many respects 2020 was a year in which the rule book was not so much re-written as simply torn up and thrown out the window. It is true for many aspects of our lives, and it is certainly true for the annual Emmy Awards.
American television’s entrenched “night of nights”, which honours the best and the brightest, has historically leaned into the safest and most well-established among television’s blue chip shows. Glancing back, there are few surprises on Emmy night.
This year’s two most nominated programs – The Crown and The Mandalorian, with 24 nominations each – are also no surprise. Both have already scooped a bunch of awards at the Creative Arts Emmys, held a week ahead of the telecast, which is more or less the grand final of a three-month long “for your consideration” race.
But the competition nipping at their heels is very much different this year when compared to preceding years. It is a swarm of first-time nominees including Bridgerton, Lovecraft Country and The Boys (in drama) and Cobra Kai, Emily in Paris, Hacks, Pen15, Ted Lasso and The Flight Attendant (in comedy). Can the Emmy game finally be changing?
The night’s other strongest contenders – in terms of breadth of nomination – are WandaVision (with 23 nominations), The Handmaid’s Tale (21), Saturday Night Live (21), Ted Lasso (20), Lovecraft Country (18), The Queen’s Gambit (18) and Mare of Easttown (16).
What is more, this year’s Emmys are as noteworthy for those not included, as they are for those who scored the nod.
Case in point: what is Emily in Paris doing with a comedy series nomination? This is, after all, the show whose mediocrity in the face of a Golden Globe nomination drew wide eye-rolling. And where is Steve McQueen’s Small Axe? Come to that, where is Thuso Mbedu’s nomination for The Underground Railroad? Or Nicole Kidman’s for The Undoing? Or Pedro Pascal’s for The Mandalorian?
Some Emmy mysteries are easier to solve. Where is Succession? The answer: production was delayed by COVID-19, pushing the show’s air dates out of the eligibility window. And what is Hamilton even doing there? The answer: the eligibility criteria do not preclude filmed performances of five-year-old Broadway musicals from falling through the cracks. Even the Oscars insist on one new song.
This year’s Emmys are as noteworthy for those not included, as they are for those who scored the nod.
Australia’s other Emmy nominees this year – visual effects supervisor Julian Hutchens for his work on The Boys, and main title designers Patrick Clair, Raoul Marks and Ken Taylor – were not successful. Their categories were announced at last week’s creative arts Emmys, the visual effects Emmy going to The Mandalorian and the main title design Emmy to The Good Lord Bird.
There was, however, a glimmer of good news. Australian director Felix Thompson won an Emmy for his work on the Netflix series The Letter for the King. The series was nominated in the directing team for a daytime fiction program category at the Daytime Emmys in Los Angeles in July.
So, ahead of Monday’s telecast, Australia still has two contenders: actress Yvonne Strahovski, nominated for her turn in The Handmaid’s Tale, and New Zealand-born director Jessica Hobbs, who has worked extensively in Australian television, nominated for her work on The Crown.
And what clues can we divine from the Creative Arts Emmys, which hand out awards in a range of craft categories a week before the main show, including production design, wardrobe, editing, directing, writing, guest actor, main title design, sound, special effects and stunt performance.
Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso won an early Emmy for outstanding casting for a comedy series, which would seem to give it some steam, certainly in the outstanding comedy category. But then there is HBO Max’s Hacks, which has emerged as the most buzz-worthy comedy of the year. Ted Lasso still looks solid for the program category, but Hacks star Jean Smart will surely take out the lead actress in a comedy statue for her brilliant work.
Drama is a somewhat more straightforward race. Off the back of its best season since the first, The Crown is expected to take out the Emmy for outstanding drama, and the awards for lead actor and actress should fall to Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin, who elevated the story of Charles and Diana from mere telemovie to celluloid magic.
Which is where things get a little sticky for Australia’s solitary acting nominee: Yvonne Strahovski, for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a rock solid performance in a rock solid show, but against Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Crown? It’s a hoary old cliche on awards nights, but “it’s Gillian’s year”.
And all of that said, the Creative Arts Emmys were not without micro-scandals of their own. The most noticeable: that the outstanding guest actress in a drama series award went to Claire Foy, who made a cameo in the latest season of The Crown, reprising the role of young Queen Elizabeth II in a flashback.
Given it amounted to less than two minutes of screen time, and that Foy has already won the lead actress Emmy for the role (plus two Screen Actors Guild awards), it does somewhat make a mockery of the purpose of the category. Particularly when the other nominees were guest actors in The Handmaid’s Tale, Ratched and other noteworthy programs.
Some of this is pure guesswork: is Emma Corrin really better than Olivia Colman? Or is it just an alignment of the stars, media buzz and the opinions of Emmy voters who have just binged the last season of The Crown on Netflix?
And some of it is just a measure of a show’s moment in the cultural consciousness. Think Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance in Hacks, whose frustration with ageism, sexism and the injustices of a hollow life are an easy note for an audience to find harmony with. Or Kathryn Hahn’s performance as Agatha in Disney+’s WandaVision, which was simply magnificent. Singalong: Who’s been messing up everything? / It’s been Agatha all along / Who’s been pulling every evil string? / It’s been Agatha all along.
If you’re surprised that WandaVision’s shocking twist, and the catchy jingle that came with it, stuck in the audience’s mind like some kind of magic spell, don’t be. The clue is in the songwriter credit: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the same couple who wrote those crack-for-kids masterpieces Frozen and Frozen II. Who’s been messing up everything? / It’s been Disney all along.
Ultimately, the Emmys are a strategic marketing war between the key players on the television industry chessboard. Despite a decade of tectonic landscape change, the dual-identity HBO (and its streaming offspring HBO Max) lead the nominations with 130. The industry’s gauntlet-throwing challenger, Netflix, is a whisker behind with 129.
Then you have the still-fattening (and relatively new) streaming behemoth Disney+ with 71 nominations and the only free-to-air network to make the cut in the top five, NBC, with 46. Completing the top five is Apple TV+ with 36 nominations. On the night there will be tears, frocks and – for the first time in a long while – a vaccinated and negative-Covid-tested red carpet.
But like all things in television, behind the facade of high fashion and product placement, it comes down to a numbers came.
The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards will air Monday, September 20, live at 10am AEST on Foxtel. Join our live Emmy Awards blog and red carpet coverage from 8am on Monday.
The contenders: the 10 battleground categories
Outstanding Comedy Series
Cobra Kai (Netflix)
Emily in Paris (Netflix)
The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)
Hacks (HBO Max)
The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Who will win? Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Outstanding Drama Series
The Boys (Prime Video)
The Crown (Netflix)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
The Mandalorian (Disney+)
This Is Us (NBC)
Who will win? The Crown (Netflix)
Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series
I May Destroy You (HBO)
Mare of Easttown (HBO)
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
The Underground Railroad (Prime Video)
Who will win? Mare of Easttown (HBO) or The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Aidy Bryant, Shrill (Hulu)
Kaley Cuoco, The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)
Allison Janney, Mom (CBS)
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish (ABC)
Jean Smart, Hacks (HBO Max)
Who will win? Jean Smart, Hacks (HBO Max)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us (NBC)
Jonathan Majors, Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Josh O’Conno, The Crown (Netflix)
Regé-Jean Page, Bridgerton (Netflix)
Billy Porter, Pose (FX)
Matthew Rhys, Perry Mason (HBO)
Who will win? Josh O’Connor, The Crown (Netflix)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Uzo Aduba, In Treatment (HBO)
Olivia Colman, The Crown (Netflix)
Emma Corrin, The Crown (Netflix)
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Mj Rodriguez, Pose (FX)
Jurnee Smollett, Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Who will win? Emma Corrin, The Crown (Netflix)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Gillian Anderson, The Crown (Netflix)
Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown (Netflix)
Madeline Brewer, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Aunjanue Ellis, Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Emerald Fennell, The Crown (Netflix)
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Samira Wiley, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu).
Who will win? Gillian Anderson, The Crown (Netflix)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton (Disney+)
Kathryn Hahn, WandaVision (Disney+)
Moses Ingram, The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
Julianne Nicholson, Mare of Easttown (HBO)
Jean Smart, Mare of Easttown (HBO)
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton (Disney+)
Who will win? Kathryn Hahn, WandaVision (Disney+)
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
James Burrows, B Positive (CBS)
Susanna Fogel, The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)
Lucia Aniello, Hacks (HBO Max)
James Widdoes, Mom (CBS)
Zach Braff, Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
MJ Delaney, Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Declan Lowney, Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Who will win? Lucia Aniello, Hacks (HBO Max) or MJ Delaney, Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series
Julie Anne Robinson, Bridgerton (Netflix)
Benjamin Caron, The Crown (Netflix)
Jessica Hobbs, The Crown (Netflix)
Liz Garbus, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Steven Canals, Pose (FX)
Who will win? Jessica Hobbs, The Crown (Netflix) or Liz Garbus, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
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