The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards are going to look a little different than originally planned.
The awards ceremony is taking place on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic that swept the globe during the first and second quarter of this year — months that would have been crucial for certain contenders to finish filming and post-production in order to make the cutoff of the eligibility window. Even though the Television Academy extended this year’s awards calendar to allow hanging episodes to air or stream through June, a few presumed-to-be-top contenders sat out the race (FX’s “Fargo,” for example, as well as HBO’s “The Undoing” and National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha”). Couple that with quite a number of last year’s nominees also ineligible for a variety of reasons and all categories have been thrown wide open.
There were eight shows nominated in the coveted drama series category last year but two of them, including incumbent winner “Game of Thrones,” are not returning to the nominations-round ballot. (The other is Netflix’s “Bodyguard,” which has yet to produce a second season.) This is quite the reversal from 2019, which saw only two returning shows (“Game of Thrones” and “This Is Us”) on the ballot.
NBC’s “This Is Us” is eligible for its fourth season, as are 2019’s freshman nominees — BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” Netflix’s “Ozark,” FX’s “Pose” and HBO’s “Succession.” Rounding out returning options is AMC’s “Better Call Saul” for its penultimate chance at Emmy gold.
All six of these series are not necessarily shoo-ins for the ballot, though — not when considering some previous awards heavy-hitters have made triumphant returns this year. Those include Netflix’s “The Crown,” now with Olivia Colman in the role of Queen Elizabeth; HBO’s “Westworld”; and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
These, coupled with first-time Emmy hopeful Apple TV Plus’ “The Morning Show” and HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” which has been pushed into the drama category with its second season, make the lead drama actress category an exceptionally complicated one this year. Colman is genuine awards bait, as is “Big Little Lies’” Nicole Kidman, while “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Elisabeth Moss won in 2017, and “Westworld’s” Evan Rachel Wood only gets better as seasons go on. “The Morning Show” turns in two strong performances from Jennifer Aniston (who just won the SAG Award) and Reese Witherspoon.
But all eyes are certainly still on last year’s surprise winner: Jodie Comer from “Killing Eve.” She is eligible again, as is her co-star and two-time consecutive nominee Sandra Oh. Viola Davis, who won this statue for “How to Get Away With Murder” in 2015 and then received three more nods, including last year, is eligible once more for the final season of that Shondaland series. And both “This Is Us’” Mandy Moore and “Ozark’s” Laura Linney turned in stellar new seasons of their respective shows.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” being back in the drama mix may also shake up the supporting drama actress category. It has notoriously dominated nominations there in years past, but last year a quartet of “Game of Thrones” stars (Gwendoline Christie, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams) filled the ballot. Up against the “Game of Thrones” women were “Killing Eve’s” Fiona Shaw and “Ozark’s” Julia Garner, who ended up taking the trophy. Both of those women are likely to see a repeat on the ballot this year, but it could also finally be the year “Better Call Saul’s” Rhea Seehorn gets some recognition, and both Laura Dern and Meryl Streep from “Big Little Lies” should not be ignored.
When it comes to the men, the lead drama actor category looks a lot like the drama series race regarding potential returns to the ballot: Both Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia from “This Is Us” were nominated last year (their third consecutive noms each) and could see returns again, as could “Better Call Saul’s” Bob Odenkirk, “Ozark’s” Jason Bateman and especially “Pose’s” Billy Porter, who won this statue in 2019. The only nominee ineligible to return is Kit Harington from “Game of Thrones,” since that series had its final Emmy run in September.
However, the supporting drama actor race is a little more open: Out of last year’s seven nominees, four (including winner Peter Dinklage) were from shows that ended. Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito from “Better Call Saul” and Chris Sullivan from “This Is Us” are the trio that remain in contention for this year.
Things look notably different for comedy, where only three of last year’s seven nominees are eligible again — two (NBC’s “The Good Place” and Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek”) with their final seasons. Amazon Prime Video’s juggernaut “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is also in the running, with its third season. But Amazon’s “Fleabag,” which nearly swept the comedy categories last year, and HBO’s “Veep” launched their final seasons last year. HBO’s “Barry” and Netflix’s “Russian Doll” opted to sit out 2020. That might mean a newcomer such as Netflix’s “Space Force” or “Dead to Me,” a series that saw love for its lead (Christina Applegate) last year, can crack on the ballot. Or, it might leave room for long-beloved series such as HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to return.
The leading ladies of comedy are in a similar position, with only 50% of 2019’s nominees in both lead and supporting categories given the chance to be back on this year’s ballot. For lead: While Applegate, Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”) are all eligible again — with O’Hara up for her final time as the endlessly quotable Moira Rose — Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”), Natasha Lyonne (“Russian Doll”) and last year’s winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) won’t be. And when it comes to supporting, two-time consecutive winner Alex Borstein and her “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” co-star Marin Hinkle, as well as Betty Gilpin (“Glow”) and Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”) are eligible, but Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”), Sarah Goldberg (“Barry”) and “Fleabag’s” Sian Clifford and Olivia Colman are not.
Meanwhile, for the men, only one out of last year’s six leading comedy actor nominees is sitting out the race: Bill Hader, who won the as the titular “Barry.” Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”), Don Cheadle (“Black Monday”), Ted Danson (“The Good Place”), Michael Douglas (“The Kominsky Method”) and Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”) are all in the running again, with Danson and Levy seeming shoo-ins.
After winning the Golden Globe in January, Ramy Youssef returned with the second season of his semi-autobiographical comedy “Ramy” right under the wire for eligibility, while Steve Carell could be back on ballot for the first time since 2011 with “Space Force,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” return might mean Larry David nabs a seventh nom.
Only two of last year’s six supporting comedy actor nominees are potential repeats: Alan Arkin from “The Kominsky Method” and Tony Shalhoub, who won for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” “Barry’s” trio (Anthony Carrigan, Stephen Root and Henry Winkler) is ineligible as there was no new season, and “Veep’s” end last year knocked Tony Hale out of the running, too.
Where things get truly interesting is in the limited series race, though. Without any anthologies sneaking in last year, there is no possibility of repeat nominees from a franchise. “Big Little Lies,” which swept the limited series categories in 2017 with 16 nominations (eight wins), was pushed in the drama races upon its return. But that doesn’t make things easy for the voting members of the Television Academy. There is a plethora of worthy candidates from which to choose here, including HBO’s “Watchmen,” which went drama at the winter awards but shifted its strategy when creator Damon Lindelof said he didn’t want to do another season, to that same network’s “The Plot Against America”; Apple TV Plus’ “Defending Jacob”; Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere”; FX on Hulu’s “Mrs. America,” and Netflix’s “Hollywood” and “Unbelievable.”