When an awards show features over 100 categories of recognition, it’s very easy to find both good news and bad news to celebrate. The 72nd annual Emmy Awards were no exception this year, delivering a ton of expected recognition for favorites like Watchmen, The Good Place, and The Handmaid’s Tale, while also doling out some serious disappointments. Let’s break down the biggest jaw-droppers of the morning, from yet another bad morning for broadcast television and Reese Witherspoon to unexpected triumphs for underseen critical favorites.
Surprise: The Emmys Fucking Love Baby Yoda
I mean, can you blame them? But in all seriousness, The Mandalorian racking up 15 nominations is pretty stunning. While left out of the writing and directing categories, the Disney+ Star Wars drama did extremely well in below-the-line categories, including multiple editing nominations, acting nominations for Taika Waititi and Giancarlo Esposito (he had a good morning!), and even Outstanding Drama Series.
Surprise/Snub: This Is Us Shut Out of Drama Series
While Sterling K. Brown, Ron Cephas Jones, and Phylicia Rashad received recognition for their acting work, the one-time Emmys juggernaut otherwise received only two other nominations — Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling and Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics. Broadcast television hasn’t been competitive at the Emmys for a while now, but This Is Us was one of the last holdouts. This year, only streaming and cable programs are nominated in this category.
Snub: “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” for Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics
Admit it, you’ve got it stuck in your head now, don’t you? While Netflix’s The Witcher was never going to be a major contender (it in fact received zero nominations this morning), the bop composed by Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli, with lyrics by Jenny Klein, was a real earworm that also played perfectly into the first season of the series.
Surprise: A Good Morning for Season 2 Comedy First-Timers
It can be hard for a second season show to break into the Outstanding Comedy Series category if it wasn’t recognized for its first season, but this year Dead to Me and What We Do in the Shadows pulled off that pretty impressive feat thanks to strong seasons that showed their capacity to grow. While Ramy was overlooked for Outstanding Comedy Series, Ramy Youssef and Mahershala Ali picked up Outstanding Actor and Outstanding Supporting Actor nominations, and Christina Applegate was joined by Linda Cardellini in the Outstanding Lead Actress category. The one catch there…
Snub: Kristen Bell for The Good Place‘s Swan Song
The Good Place didn’t do too badly when it came to nominations, including richly deserved first-time nominations for D’Arcy Carden and William Jackson Harper. But the backbone of the show, especially the finale, was always lovable Arizona dirtbag Eleanor Shellstrop, and Kristen Bell being overlooked for the final chapter of Eleanor’s journey hurts just a little bit.
Surprise: Normal People Gets a Little Love
A sexually and emotionally intimate drama about two young Irish students isn’t exactly a shout of a series, but Hulu’s Normal People was a low-key heartbreaker, and so its four nominations for casting, writing, directing, and a lead actor nomination for star Paul Mescal were a pleasant surprise. Would we be even happier if the show had also broken into the Outstanding Limited Series category, and if Daisy Edgar-Jones had also received recognition for her extraordinary work? For sure. But even a little extra attention to Normal People is good news.
Snub: Wither Westworld?
Maybe voters were more focused on the other genre-skewing HBO series that begins with a W (even though they were competing in separate categories) but while Westworld managed to receive 11 nominations, it was left out of Outstanding Drama Series, only picking up Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress nominations for previous nominees Jeffrey Wright and Thandie Newton outside of the technical field.
Surprise: The Handmaid’s Tale Is Still in the Game
While winning big at the Emmys for its first season, The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 didn’t manage that same level of spark — however, this year Season 3 did manage to receive 10 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series and acting nominations for Bradley Whitford, Samira Wiley, and Alexis Bledel. One notable omission, though: Elisabeth Moss didn’t make it into Lead Actress this year. Speaking of…
Snub: Reese Witherspoon For… Everything
Reese Witherspoon starred in not one, not two, but three big Emmy contenders this year — Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, and The Morning Show — and in all three cases was left out while her co-stars were nominated. Of the three, perhaps the most egregious is Little Fires Everywhere; Kerry Washington‘s performance was staggering and rightfully recognized, but Witherspoon took what might have been a prototypically “Karen”-esque role and really found the humanity lurking beneath Elena’s micro-aggressions and well-meaning intentions.
Surprise: The Emmys Agree, Zendaya’s Outstanding
Moss and Witherspoon both lost out to a newbie: Euphoria wasn’t a major contender in this year’s nominations, but Zendaya being nominated alongside Olivia Colman, Laura Linney and the Killing Eve ladies for her work on the HBO drama was one of those moments where maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to believe that the Emmys really have their shit together. Then again…
Snub: Justice for Rhea Seehorn
Since the beginning of its run, Better Call Saul has always done very well when it comes to getting acting nominations, but has never actually won a single award. This year, it didn’t even manage that — the only member of the ensemble cast to receive recognition was Giancarlo Esposito, with Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, and Rhea Seehorn all left out. Seehorn in particular hurts after turning in career-best work; Kim Wexler’s journey in Season 5 was a heartbreaking, even chilling experience and there were many people saying that she stood a solid chance of not just getting nominated but actually winning. In general Better Call Saul deserved greater appreciation, but in particular Rhea Seehorn deserves. (Guess the Academy couldn’t resist snubbing her for Meryl.)
Snub: Big Little Lies Season 2
There was a big question going into Big Little Lies Season 2 as to whether its existence was needed. (The first season, let us remember, cleaned up at the Emmys in 2017, but competed as a limited series.) The Emmys’ answer to that question? Nominations for production design, casting, and Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. Sometimes silence says a lot.
Surprise: Star Trek: Picard Got a Nomination for Putting Patrick Stewart In an Eyepatch
The CBS All Access series’ nominations were limited to technical categories this year, but the episode “Stardust City Rag,” in which Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his squad visit the planet Freecloud, received nominations for both hair and make-up. These well-deserved nominations are, in reality, in recognition of the fact that the Picard team had to populate an alien bar with wild new alien races. But personally, I like to think it’s all about Picard’s eyepatch.
Snub: The Great Didn’t Do So Great
The Hulu period dramedy was a beautiful balancing act when it came to straddling the line between hilarity and horror, but perhaps that was a hindrance when it came to its chances, especially for Nicholas Hoult‘s astonishingly good performance as the craven and petty yet oddly sympathetic Emperor of Russia. The Great was recognized for the writing and directing of its pilot, but failed to break into any other major categories.
Surprise: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Got a Nomination!
It could be argued that it deserved more nominations, given the Netflix show’s incredible technical achievements. But it’s still great to see the puppet-driven fantasy action drama nominated for Outstanding Children’s Program alongside… Star Wars Resistance and We Are The Dream: The Kids Of The Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest. (Yeah, this category is weird.)
Surprise: Netflix’s Unorthodox Goes Big
It might never get the same amount of viewership as The Floor Is Lava, but the eight nominations for the critically acclaimed story of a young woman (Shira Haas, nominated) who escapes her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — including a slot in the Outstanding Limited Series category that many might have assumed would go to Netflix’s other big player in the limited series race, Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood — was one of the morning’s best surprises.
Surprise: Jeremy Pope for Hollywood
Jeremy Pope might not have had the showiest role in Hollywood, but he turned in one of the show’s best performances, and seeing the relative newcomer nominated alongside Jeremy Irons and Mark Ruffalo is the sort of underdog victory Hollywood itself would champion.
Snub: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for The Morning Show
The Apple TV+ drama was a bit polarizing after its initial critical reception, but anyone who finished watching the first season would have to agree that Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as a talent booker whose involvement in the sex scandals rocking the titular talk show goes deeper than we know, was one of the series’ standouts. She might not have stolen the whole dang show the way Billy Crudup did, but her performance deserved deeper recognition.
Surprise: Quibi Is a Contender
Will Quibi be around in a year’s time? Who knows. But at least Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman can take pride in the digital platform’s performance in the Short Form categories, including eight separate acting nominations, literally 80 percent of the total in that category. The Quibi format — high-quality product delivered 10 minutes at a time — may not be wowing subscribers, but it was tailor-made to dominate the Emmys in this one very specific regard.
Snub: Orange Is the New Black Goes Out With a Whimper
Sometimes the final season of a previous contender can build up additional buzz, but the Academy basically forgot Orange Is the New Black even aired last summer, beyond giving Laverne Cox another (as always, well-deserved) nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress.
Surprise: Watchmen Wins the Day
Okay, we all hoped Watchmen would do well, come nomination time. After all, it was one of the most fascinating things we saw on TV over the last year. But wow — the limited series was this year’s most-nominated program with 26 nominations, including expected acting recognition for Regina King and Jeremy Irons, but unexpected domination in the cinematography, directing, editing, and other technical categories. Jean Smart for Supporting Actress! Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Louis Gossett Jr., and Jovan Adepo for Supporting Actor! Every once in a while, the Emmys doesn’t just get it right — it gets it really right.
The 72nd Emmy Awards will be broadcast on September 20, 2020 on ABC.