Sports in empty stadiums. Late-night TV shows from the homes of hosts. The strangeness of everything. Into this new normal comes the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards (Sunday, ABC, CTV, 8 p.m.).
Attempting to honour the best of television in the best way possible is a tall order. But the Television Academy and ABC are up for it. What will be missing: a red-carpet fandango and a theatre full of TV people. Also missing, by the way, are the two big winners from last year’s Emmys – Game of Thrones (remember that?) and Fleabag, both of which are, well, over and done.
Instead of the ordinary, host Jimmy Kimmel, back from a long summer vacation, will be live – yes, live, unlike some recent attempts at awards shows – from a little stage inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, working with a safely distanced broadcast crew. What Kimmel and the crew will attempt to wrangle into an entertaining show is 140 feeds coming from the homes of nominees – or possibly on the street somewhere. The Zoom party to end all Zoom parties, with TV stars and their families taking part. Except it’s not on Zoom, with more traditional broadcast technology being used. This is either a daft plan or a recipe for gloriously unrehearsed tomfoolery.
The Emmy Awards are never a reliable guide to the best of TV. There are always groan-inducing predictable wins and bizarre snubs, but the awards do offer an annual snapshot of what the TV industry values and how it sees itself. In a year that has seen cataclysmic shifts in U.S. culture, it could offer valuable insight.
Netflix leads the pack this year with 160 nominations across all categories. That huge number includes 18 for Ozark, 13 for The Crown and 12 for Hollywood. HBO’s Watchmen, however, was the most nominated program, with 26.
In the Outstanding Drama Series category, usually considered the prestige arena, the nominees are Better Call Saul, The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, Killing Eve, The Mandalorian, Ozark, Stranger Things and Succession. The likely and deserved winner is Succession, a flame-thrower of a small-scale drama, superbly written and scathing about the ultra-rich. The fact that The Mandalorian is on the list suggests heavy lobbying by Disney+ to draw attention to its newly launched service.
In Outstanding Comedy Series, the nominees are Curb Your Enthusiasm, Dead to Me, The Good Place, Insecure, The Kominsky Method, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Schitt’s Creek and What We Do in the Shadows. Industry pundits predict a win for Schitt’s Creek, which would suggest lobbying by the Levy family and great affection for Catherine O’Hara. Still, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel might once again claim victory in what is not exactly a stellar category this year.
The Outstanding Limited Series category is actually the real prestige arena, and it is formidable this year: Little Fires Everywhere, Mrs. America, Unbelievable, Unorthodox and Watchmen. Each is storytelling at the highest, most powerful level. Watchmen is the likely winner and rightly so. An intense, complex drama, it opens with a treatment of the Tulsa, Okla., race massacre of 1921. You know where it stands from there, even as it curls into a macabre, utterly new kind of superhero drama. A review in Vox said, accurately, that it starts with “a moment so thoroughly steeped in all of the country’s worst selves,” and for that heft and ensuing originality, it is a contemporary touchstone series.
In the acting categories, predictability is the likely outcome. For Outstanding Drama Actress, Jennifer Aniston, for The Morning Show, is a near-certainty. Olivia Colman for The Crown is a remote possibility, but The Crown seems too familiar now, and with both Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh up for Killing Eve, and a weak season for the series about Eve and her nemesis, the thinking might be that a nomination is enough of an honour. Basically, the TV industry crushes on Aniston.
The Outstanding Comedy Actress list is a harder call. It’s Christina Applegate (Dead to Me), Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Linda Cardellini (Dead to Me), Catherine O’Hara (Schitt’s Creek), Issa Rae (Insecure) and Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish).
The pundits say Catherine O’Hara is in line for a kind of lifetime achievement win, but Schitt’s Creek has ended, and often, this award goes to an actress in a still-running series. That suggests Christina Applegate is the likely winner. Into a revival of a long career, she’s only won an Emmy once, for a guest role on Friends years ago. And she’s brilliant in Dead to Me, a series that is more morbidly, icily funny than traditional TV comedy.
There are many, many more categories – 140 live feeds, remember – and in this, the strangest of years, anything can happen. With a good deal of TV production still halted or just slowly returning, this is likely the last Emmy Awards of what’s commonly called the “peak TV” era, with hundreds of new series arriving each year.
Next year, it might be slimmer pickings. This year, the Emmy Awards might be the most bonkers attempt at an awards show ever, but the industry needs a party, no matter how daft.
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