The 2020 Emmy Nominations Are Filled With Snubs And Surprises

Here's who will (hooray!) and who should (boo!) be up for awards during television's biggest night.

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There’s no denying 2020 has been an unpredictable year. But in a very welcome twist, the 72nd Emmy Award nominations are pretty standard.

On Tuesday, host Leslie Jones and virtual presenters Josh Gad, Tatiana Maslany and Laverne Cox announced the Television Academy’s Emmy nominees. Watchmen reigned supreme with 26 nominations, beloved Schitt’s Creek actors were honoured and Netflix programs popped in all across the board.

Still, there were plenty of snubs ― Merritt Wever! Reese Witherspoon! ― and a few exciting surprises ― Zendaya! Cousin Greg! Even The Mandalorian!

Below, HuffPost reporters break them all down.

Zendaya in "Euphoria."
Zendaya in "Euphoria."
Men's Health

SNUB: Reese Witherspoon, Lead Actress in a Drama Series and in a Limited Series or Movie

Over the past few years, Reese Witherspoon has seemed like the most omnipresent actress working today. She had three shots at Emmy nominations this year: The Morning Show, Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere. Maybe overexposure cursed her. Witherspoon lost out across the board, missing two potential shots in the drama field (Morning, Lies) and another for a limited series (Fires). All three shows were spotlighted in other categories, so it’s not as if voters didn’t appreciate the material. Still, her snootier-than-thou characters in Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere were fairly similar, and co-star Jennifer Aniston outshined her in The Morning Show at every turn. Witherspoon, who has also become a producer extraordinaire, may have been the victim of industry fatigue. — Matthew Jacobs

SURPRISE: Zendaya, Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Zendaya was obviously phenomenal in Season 1 of HBO’s Euphoria as Rue, a recovering drug-addicted teenage girl navigating life and love. This is the kind of performance that should get an Emmy nomination. It was the first time we got to see Zendaya play a character with real edge, with complexity, with dark humour ― a far cry from her Disney Channel days. So yes, she should have been nominated but it’s kind of wild that she actually was. If you look at Emmy noms, especially for acting, they tend to stay very consistent, very safe ― you rarely see newcomers. But this year, the Emmys tied the number of nominees to the number of submissions, resulting in more slots in certain categories and offering up the chance for new faces. To see such a young first-time nominee from a show that was popular but also super divisive is pretty cool. ― Zeba Blay

SNUB: Tom Pelphrey, Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Tom Pelphrey stole the show in Ozark Season 3 as Laura Linney’s on-screen brother Ben Davis, who grapples with bipolar disorder amid the tensions of his family’s drug cartel dealings. Although he was thought to be a shoo-in for a nomination, Pelphrey’s name was left out in a seriously stacked category. The roster of nominees includes Giancarlo Esposito (Better Call Saul), Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun and Kieran Culkin (Succession), Bradley Whitford (The Handmaid’s Tale), Billy Crudup and Mark Duplass (The Morning Show), and Jeffrey Wright (Westworld). ― Leigh Blickley

Emmy nominees include Little Fires Everywhere, Watchmen, Ozark, Big Little Lies and Schitt's Creek.
Emmy nominees include Little Fires Everywhere, Watchmen, Ozark, Big Little Lies and Schitt's Creek.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Zach Dilgard/HBO/Netflix/Hulu/PopTV

SURPRISE: Nicholas Braun, Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

As expected, the second season of HBO drama Succession got a lot of well-deserved Emmy love across the board, netting 18 nominations, which somehow still doesn’t seem like enough. As HuffPost’s resident Succession Correspondent, I was pleasantly surprised to see Nicholas Braun’s *chef’s kiss* performance as Cousin Greg included in the supporting actor category, alongside co-stars Kieran Culkin and Matthew Macfadyen, whose nominations had been more expected. As the misfit on the outside looking in at the Roy family and its business empire, Cousin Greg is both the show’s comic relief and as close to a moral centre as it has. Whether he’s being pelted with water bottles, fumbling through congressional testimony, or raising concerns about the Roy family’s malfeasance, Braun carries it off with seamless aplomb. Marina Fang

SNUB: Pose, Drama Series

While Billy Porter rightly received a nomination for his stellar performance as Pray Tell on the FX drama series Pose, it’s frustrating that for yet another year the rest of the Pose cast and creators have been snubbed. The show received no directing or writing noms, particularly for producer Janet Mock. MJ Rodriguez, arguably the heart of the show, has yet to be recognised for her acting. Neither have supporting stars Dominique Jackson or Indya Moore. Angelica Ross, who turned in a poignant and moving final performance as Candy, was the best thing about Season 2. It’s great that a gay Black man like Porter is receiving this kind of recognition. But given the fact that the majority of the characters and stories on Pose are about uplifting Black trans women, it’s a shame that these women (and non-binary folks like Moore) aren’t receiving an equal share of that recognition. ― ZB

SNUB: Late Night with Seth Meyers, Variety Talk Series

Emmys, it’s time for a closer look. Why have you yet again snubbed Late Night with Seth Meyers in the variety talk series category? The show repeatedly gets nominations for writing for a variety series, so we know you know it exists. Both awards go to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight every year, rightfully so for that show’s ability to dive deep into various topics. But Late Night does deep dives multiple times per week with its ‘A Closer Look’ segment. They have so many deep dives there’s now a pirate-like sea captain in the background of the show. Arrrr you kidding me, Emmys? Additionally, Late Night writer Amber Ruffin’s poignant segments recalling disturbing police encounters are in a league of their own when it comes to late-night TV. Emmys, by snubbing Late Night, you just lost all credibility. Ya burnt. — Bill Bradley

SURPRISE: Octavia Spencer, Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

I’m mostly surprised by this because I couldn’t get through Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker. Several writers have articulated — better than I can in this blurb — their problems with the series overall. I suppose Spencer did as well as anyone could with the script. But the series was full of Black stereotypes and didn’t do justice to Madam C.J. Walker’s story and legacy. Just ask her great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles. ― Erin E. Evans

SNUB: Pamela Adlon and Better Things, Comedy Series

Creator, writer, director and star Pamela Adlon’s heartfelt, deeply lived-in FX comedy is consistently daring in its format-breaking episodes and singular vision, so it was maddening to see the entire show, but especially Adlon, excluded.

In the sixth episode of its most recent season, Adlon’s character, Sam, goes to New Orleans to attend a friend’s wedding. The dream-like episode takes place over one weekend, following Sam as she day-drinks, takes in street performances and gazes at the ornate houses in the Garden District. As viewers, we, like Sam, get to escape. Coincidentally, the episode aired during the height of the COVID-19 quarantine, lending it an added sense of longing and wistfulness. The gorgeous episode perfectly encapsulated what makes the show and Adlon’s vision so great. — MF

SNUB: Zoë Kravitz, Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Many more people likely watched Zoë Kravitz get away with murder on Big Little Lies, but it’s downright criminal that she wasn’t recognised for her performance on Hulu’s High Fidelity reboot. Kravitz takes the mic from John Cusack as the melancholic record store owner Rob in a reimagining of the 2000 comedy, which also starred her mother, Lisa Bonet. But that’s where the comparisons end. Instead of churning out another derivative reboot, the creators reinvented the story of a lovelorn music fiend not only to suit Kravitz’s strengths but also to show us her potential. Here the actor not only carries the emotional weight of the series, as her character traverses her romantic history, but she’s also allowed, for once, to be funny, trading barbs with friends, fuckboys and future soulmates alike. Her performance is incredibly lived-in, as the series forgoes traditional pacing for an endearing hang-out vibe, which finally allows Kravitz to relax into her many talents. ― Cole Delbyck

Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones on Hulu's "Normal People."
Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones on Hulu's "Normal People."

SURPRISE: Paul Mescal, Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

In a slight twist, Paul Mescal earned a lead actor nomination for his nuanced portrayal of Connell in Hulu’s Normal People. Slipping by the likes of Russell Crowe (The Loudest Voice) and Aaron Paul (El Camino), Mescal proves you don’t need to be an established Hollywood actor to earn some well-deserved recognition. His heart-wrenching and honest performance in Normal People deserves all the praise. ― LB

SNUB: The Good Fight, Drama Series

Once again, the Emmys failed to recognise that The Good Fight is one of the best shows on TV. Having recently concluded its fourth season, the starry Good Wife spin-off has been lost in the netherworld of CBS All Access, which is a shame because Christine Baranski, Delroy Lindo, Audra McDonald, Cush Jumbo and Sarah Steele just delivered series-best work. The lack of attention paid to Fight is evidence of the overall streaming bloat. A program this great should not be a throwaway. — MJ

SNUB: Susan Kelechi Watson, Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Justice for Susan Kelechi Watson! She still hasn’t been nominated for an Emmy for her role as Beth Pearson in the addictive and emotional roller-coaster series This Is Us. Yet she continues to wow in her role just as much as her on-screen husband, Sterling K. Brown, who earned another nomination this year. — EEE

SNUB: Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever, Lead and Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

In Unbelievable, the consistently great Merritt Wever shines as a tireless, patient and compassionate police detective trying to connect the dots in a series of sexual assault cases. Kaitlyn Dever, who has proven that she’s one of the most versatile young actors working today, plays a sexual assault survivor in an investigation completely mishandled by a different police department. Both give quietly powerful performances in the Netflix limited series, which treads carefully in illuminating sexual trauma without sensationalising it and which was widely hailed as one of the best shows of 2019. While the limited series categories have become impossibly competitive, these two omissions are just so glaring. The Emmys recently expanded the comedy and drama series categories because there is so much more good TV these days. I wish they’d do the same here. — MF

SURPRISE: The Mandalorian, Drama Series

The Force is stronger with The Mandalorian — referred to from here on as The Baby Yoda Show — than we thought. Even more unlikely than a helmet-haired bounty hunter teaming up with a 50-year-old green baby, somehow The Baby Yoda Show eked out a nomination for outstanding drama series. What? Star Pedro Pascal’s armour must have some stealth mode because The Baby Yoda Show wasn’t really on the radar in that category, which also includes Better Call Saul, The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, Killing Eve, Ozark, Stranger Things and Succession. But the live-action Star Wars series has a lot of heart, and a lot of Baby Yoda, which clearly connected with fans and critics. (The show received 15 noms overall.) Now all that’s left is to get Baby Yoda a nod for best actor in The Baby Yoda Show Season 2. Do or do not, Emmys. There is no try. — BB

SNUB: Never Have I Ever, Comedy Series

Never Have I Ever isn’t historically the type of show the Emmys would recognise: It’s a Netflix teen rom-com, with a mostly non-white cast featuring a lead performance from an actor with no prior credits. While none of those things should be disqualifying, they’re perhaps likely why the Mindy Kaling-created series, which has much more to offer than your average high school comedy, was overlooked across major categories. Beneath the surface, there is a quietly revolutionary story that finally puts an Indian American teen (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) at the forefront, as the series explore topics like grief, marriage and identity through an intergenerational lens. While Ramakrishnan is certainly the breakout star, Poorna Jagannathan’s turn as her widowed mother struggling to parent her daughter and keep herself afloat stuck with me long after the final episode. It’s a powerful counterpoint to the tired Indian mother stereotypes we’ve seen onscreen before and a performance that deserves to be in future awards contention. ― CD

SNUB: Kay Oyegun, The Dinner and the Date for This Is Us, Writing for a Drama Series

I still think about this episode of This Is Us, especially the conversation between Malik’s parents, Darnell and Kelly (portrayed perfectly by Omar Epps and Marsha Stephanie Blake), and Beth and Randall (Susan Kelechi Watson and Sterling K. Brown). It felt exactly like a real conversation among Black parents, with cutting dialogue and subtle jabs, who will say and do anything to protect their children. When Darnell pulls off his shirt to reveal his tattoos and reads Randall for filth, I lived and died all in the same moment. — EEE

Michele Fitzgerald, Tony Vlachos, Sarah Lacina, Ben Driebergen, Denise Stapley, Jeremy Collins and Nick Wilson at Tribal Council during an episode of "Survivor: Winners at War."
Michele Fitzgerald, Tony Vlachos, Sarah Lacina, Ben Driebergen, Denise Stapley, Jeremy Collins and Nick Wilson at Tribal Council during an episode of "Survivor: Winners at War."
CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

SNUB: Survivor, Competition Program

After a controversial Season 39 last fall, 2020 marked the return of the glory days of Survivor. Winners at War, earned the series its highest ratings in years and entertained quarantined viewers as it featured 20 former champions battling it out for the title of “best of the best” and a $2 million prize. Although the long-running reality series hasn’t been nominated in the competition program category since 2006, the highly entertaining Season 40 ― starring the likes of Yul Kwon, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Rob Mariano, Parvati Shallow, Jeremy Collins and Tony Vlachos ― deserved a bit more recognition. (At least there’s still Top Chef.) ― LB

SNUB: The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel, Limited Series or Movie

This Lifetime biopic about the legendary gospel group The Clark Sisters should have been nominated for best television movie. At the peak of the pandemic — in New York City, anyway — watching this movie felt truly like the communal balm a lot of us needed, especially if you grew up in the Black church. Aunjanue Ellis truly embodied the spirit and tenacity of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, the matriarch of the Clark family who helped them reach superstardom status. She deserves some recognition as well. ― EEE

SURPRISE: Quibi, Short Form categories

Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s struggling streaming platform that launched smack in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, earned 10 nominations in the short form categories. Yep. That’s all. ― LB

Despite Hollywood’s continued shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Emmys are moving forward with a presumed virtual ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on ABC Sept. 20.


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