As always, the 2020 Emmy nominations are eliciting strong reactions, and the outcry over snubs is overwhelming the joy surrounding this year’s batch of nominees. Really, complaining is a time-honored tradition of nominations morning — and with good reason: There are always more potential nominees left off the list than worthy nominees on it, and it’s worth remembering the talented TV folks and shows that didn’t survive the Emmy race. After all, the era of “too much TV” makes it impossible for any one person to see everything, just as it makes it impossible for any one organization to get everything right. Snubs are inevitable.
But before we start listing our grievances, let’s remember: The word “snub” typically implies a purposeful exclusion more than a mere omission, but the term loses those malicious connotations when it comes to awards shows. No one would argue the 26,000-plus TV Academy members got together and decided to ignore any of this year’s contenders. Like any other contest, popularity is important, and some shows are more accessible, more memorable, or more likable (yuck) than others. Some shows are “better” — based on reviews, pervasive thought, or past accolades — but depending on who you talk to, as many of “the best” shows were left off Emmys’ list as made it in.
So let’s get started. Below, IndieWire has gathered the most notable surprises of the 2020 Emmy nominations. Some are good, some are bad, but they all shocked someone, and we’ve done our darnedest to explain why and how this unforeseen choice came to be. Make sure to read the full list of nominations and exult in the triumphs where you can. The Emmys are a celebration, and it’s important to remember that… just as soon as we get over these omissions. Let the complaining commence!
“Better Call Saul” Cast
Heading into nominations morning, it seemed like the worst case scenario for Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s “Breaking Bad” spinoff would be another snub for Rhea Seehorn. Not only did one of TV’s best actors get snubbed, but two more did, too: Emmy mainstays Bob Odenkirk (a four-time acting nominee) and Jonathan Banks (a six-time nominee) were both left off the list, as the AMC drama took an inexplicable tumble with only seven nominations. It did land a Best Drama Series nod, so at least the majority of the TV Academy can still recognize greatness, even if the acting branch is missing out.
With so many of last year’s nominated comedies exiting the race, many thought Pamela Adlon’s highly praised FX series would be a lock to replace one of them; it was just too hard to imagine such a consistently creative and universally beloved half-hour program wasn’t on the bubble these past few years, waiting for its opening. Well, “Better Things” is still on the outs. Perhaps the ratings are too low, or too many seasons have passed for prospective viewers to want to catch up. No matter how you slice it, this one hurts.
“Big Little Lies”
The transition from Limited Series to Drama Series did not go smoothly for the Monterey Five. Only Laura Dern and Meryl Streep landed acting nominations, and the show was stuck with just four total — a quarter of its total for “Season 1.” Voters either forgot about this one (it aired in the summer of 2019), rejected its category switch-a-roo, or agreed with most critics and were disappointed with the new ending.
The main loss of the day came with “The Morning Show,” which missed out on a Best Drama Series nomination even though Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Billy Crudup, and Mark Duplass were all nominated for acting, Mimi Leder snagged a much-deserved directing nomination, and Martin Short even stole a nod for Guest Actor. Eight nominations for a brand new streamer’s marquee show is very good, and the reason Apple is listed as an overall snub isn’t because of one category; it’s because of Disney+. Not only did “The Mandalorian” shock the world by stealing “The Morning Show’s” Drama Series nod, but Disney+ edged out Apple TV+ in total nominations (19 to 18), without appearing to try that hard. It sure felt like Apple would be the streaming story heading into nomination day, but Disney will be the focus until the ceremony crowns its winners. Let the wars continue.
Erin Simkin / Hulu
Not only was the actress not nominated for her heavily campaigned work in “The Morning Show” and “Little Fires Everywhere,” but her shot at Emmy gold as a producer of “Big Little Lies” and the Apple TV+ drama were both denied. She’s still got a shot with Hulu’s limited series, but the TV Academy did not embrace this Oscar winner’s big year on television.
Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” ended up getting more nominations for its third season in 2019 than its formal eligibility year in 2020 (11 last year vs. 10 this year), but the real shocker was Moss’ snub. The nine-time nominee and winner (for Season 1 of “Handmaid’s”) was seen by most as a lock, even in a competitive year, and seeing multiple acting nominees but not the star feels very odd given how focused Hulu’s series is on June.
Viola Davis, “How To Get Away with Murder”
After taking a year off in 2018, Davis re-entered the nominations circle in 2019, which led many to think her widely hailed performance in ABC’s nighttime soap would land one last nod. Alas, it wasn’t to be, as the arrival of so many dramas boxed out longstanding favorites like this Oscar winner.
Sarah Paulson and John Slattery, “Mrs. America”
Though FX on Hulu’s limited series did very well overall — landing 10 nominations, including Best Limited Series — there were a few surprising absences. Sarah Paulson is Emmy royalty who got her own sterling episode filled with outlandish comedy and deeply felt drama, but there are only so many Supporting Actress slots “Mrs. America” can take up, and it seems she lost out to co-stars Margo Martindale and Tracey Ullman, who are Emmy royalty in their own rights. (Uzo Aduba was always a lock.) Meanwhile, many thought “Mad Men” favorite John Slattery would get back into Emmy’s good graces, but the “Watchmen” love was too strong, as three actors from the HBO anthology snagged spots instead.
“This Is Us”
At the Emmys, Dan Fogelman’s NBC drama has always lived and died with the acting branch. Its first three seasons earned 10, eight, and nine nominations respectively, and 18 of those 27 were acting nods. But with heavier competition this year, those votes were spread thin, and NBC’s awards heavy landed half as many nominations and missed out on Best Drama Series. Three of the five nominations were for the show’s Black actors — Sterling K. Brown, Phylicia Rashad, and Ron Cephas Jones — which is the best part of “This Is Us,” so… call it a win?
It’s often hard for second seasons to break into the Emmys, and “Ramy” did manage to land its first nominations for Best Actor (Ramy Youssef), Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Director (Youssef again). Still, many expected Hulu’s comedy to perform more like “What We Do in the Shadows,” landing a Best Comedy Series nod and push toward double-digit nominations. Alas, maybe next year.
Tim Blake Nelson, “Watchmen”
In what was otherwise a magnificent day for Damon Lindelof’s limited series — snagging the most nominations of any program with 26(!) — Tim Blake Nelson’s omission is a bit of a head-scratcher. Did the actors overlook him because he was wearing a mask too often? Did they skip the episode that highlighted Looking Glass, and thus served as a showcase for Nelson’s laid back, emotionally rattling talents? It’s hard to say, but this certainly seems like mask bias to me.
With only one less nomination than last year, the FX drama’s five nods are a respectable sum — but missing out on Best Drama Series hurts, even in an ultra-competitive year.
Eleven nominations are nothing to sneeze at, but that’s down nearly half from the Season 2 total, as HBO’s sleek juggernaut lost ground in the Best Drama Series race to “The Mandalorian.” Stars Evan Rachel Wood and Ed Harris were also kept off the list, though love for Jeffrey Wright and Thandie Newton weathered the storm.
“I Know This Much Is True”
Heavy no matter when you watched it, Derek Cianfrance’s harrowing adaptation of Wally Lamb’s 1998 novel couldn’t muster any juice outside of Mark Ruffalo’s performance. Perhaps reality has been too hard to invite in any more pain, or perhaps the Limited Series race is just too stacked, but HBO had to be hoping for more than one nomination out of this meticulously crafted drama.
More of a B-movie thriller than a legitimate awards contender, Apple nonetheless put on the full-court press with voters for Chris Evans’ television debut. Alas, all those (great) interviews weren’t enough to elevate this twisty courtroom drama above its more serious competition.
Merritt Wever, “Unbelievable” and “Run”
Once considered a presumptive double nominee, the typically Emmy-friendly star was shut out this year. Her HBO comedy couldn’t even gain enough traction to avoid cancellation, but the real surprise came with her Netflix limited series. “Unbelievable” was nominated for Best Limited Series, Supporting Actress (Toni Collette), Writing, and Casting, but Wever and her co-star, Kaitlyn Dever, were both shut out. This is most likely a case of bad timing, as “Unbelievable” premiered in the early fall of 2019.
Al Pacino and “Hunters”
Al Pacino wasn’t enough to carry this big-budget B-movie about 1970s Nazi hunters all the way to the Emmys. To be clear, it would’ve been a bit surprising to see him it in the field of six, but you can never count out a legend, even if the Emmys have snubbed him before. Also, given its period setting and heavy push from Amazon Prime Video, zero nominations seems pretty rough for “Hunters” overall.
Courtesy of Netflix
Steve Carell and “Space Force”
Call it one for three? Steve Carell’s much-anticipated return to TV comedy got skewered by most reviews, but enjoyed a long life on Netflix’s (self-reported) Top 10 lists. Now, with a renewal still in the offing, will its somewhat expected poor showing at the Emmys decide its fate? If anything, Carell — who notably never won an Emmy for his work on “The Office” — should’ve been able to break into a relatively open race for Best Actor. Instead, “Space Force” had to settle for just four nominations, all in the Creative Arts categories. (John Malkovich is another snub for Best Supporting Actor, as even the show’s detractors enjoyed his quirky turn.)
Let this be the death knell for final season Emmy heat — it doesn’t exist. Few shows have been showered with as much love as “Modern Family,” but like its fellow record-setting Best Series winner “Mad Men,” the TV Academy didn’t show much renewed interest in the ABC sitcom’s last episodes. (It landed three nominations, for Directing, Guest Actor, and Sound Mixing). When the Emmys love a show’s last season, it’s not because it’s its last season; it’s because they’re still in love with the show.
André Holland and “The Eddy”
Damian Chazelle’s Netflix limited series didn’t strike the right note with Emmy voters, as the Parisian jazz drama failed to land a single nomination. Holland, the series’ star, is long overdue for some Emmy love, and Amandla Stenberg gave one of the year’s most under-appreciated performances. That the music-heavy series — with two episodes directed by Chazelle — couldn’t crack the Creative Arts categories is a real shame.
Daisy Edgar-Jones, “Normal People”
Though some thought Hulu’s passionate adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel had enough offscreen heat to land a Limited Series nomination, its best bets were always in the acting categories. Edgar-Jones faced a tougher competitive slate than her co-star, Mescal, and he was the only one of these excellent actors to break through. Luckily, people will be keeping an eye on whatever Edgar-Jones does next: If there was a Breakout Stars category at the Emmys, their only competition would be each other.
Russell Crowe, “The Loudest Voice”
After a Golden Globe nomination and continued support from the guilds, it seemed like Showtime’s Roger Ailes limited series had a good shot at a few nominations. Instead, it was blanked, including Crowe’s transformative turn as the Fox News founder. Perhaps the TV Academy simply wanted nothing to do with the toxic network in an election year (but more likely, it simply came out too soon and faced too much competition).
Aaron Paul, “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”
Paul’s lead turn in Netflix’s sequel film couldn’t crack the Best Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie race either. It’s a rough day for the “Westworld” contender, as well as his “Breaking Bad” / “Better Call Saul” friends — “El Camino” snagged five nominations, including Best TV Movie, but everyone in this extended universe had to be expected a higher total.
Written off long ago by most, Tom Perrotta’s excellent adaptation of his own novel merited more awards buzz than it got, especially for Kathryn Hahn’s funny, unflinching, and and deeply felt central performance. Come on, HBO. Just give us a second season.
“Desus & Mero”
In a year when there were more Black actors nominated than ever and more attention paid to Black talent across television, Showtime’s excellent and entertaining late-night series from Desus Nice and The Kid Mero should’ve gotten an extra look from voters. Instead, it’s another year on the snubs list. Don’t forget this one, people!
“Late Night with Seth Meyers”
Always the bridesmaid, never the nominee for Outstanding Variety Talk Series. “Late Night with Seth Meyers” has been nominated four years running for Best Writing in a Variety Series (including a nod this year), but NBC’s inventive, addictive offering still hasn’t made its way into the inner circle of Variety Talk. If Meyers’ attic antics didn’t do the trick, I can’t imagine what will — but he can. “Late Night” never stops inventing.
“What We Do in the Shadows”
Jemaine Clement’s FX comedy only got better in its second season, and the TV Academy took note. “What We Do in the Shadows” landed eight nominations in 2020; six more than 2019, including a huge surprise in the Outstanding Comedy Series category. Other well-deserved nominations include three writing nods (highlighted by Stefani Robinson’s “On the Run” / Jackie Daytona episode) and one for production design (for Kate Bunch & Co.).
Proving that attention is the ultimate factor in deciding major Emmy categories, Disney+ swooped in with its smash hit “Star Wars” series and stole a Best Drama Series nomination from fellow streamer Apple TV+. (See “The Morning Show” in the snubs category). Baby Yoda’s powers are greater than many may have thought, as the blockbuster show landed 15 nominations in all — the third most of any drama series.
Though many considered it to be the dark horse of the Limited Series race, I doubt many bet on Netflix’s limited series landing eight nominations — that’s a sizable amount in a category that includes heavyweights like “Watchmen,” “Mrs. America,” and “Little Fires Everywhere.” Now it looks like “Unorthodox” can go toe-to-toe with them in certain categories. (Shira Haas could win it!)
They said she was too young. They said the show came out too long ago. They said Emmy voters just weren’t going to be that excited for a super heavy drama about teens on drugs, but “Euphoria” proved them wrong. HBO’s new series landed six nominations, including honors for costumes, makeup, and music, as well as a huge nod for Zendaya’s magnificent lead performance. That means people are watching, they like at least some of what they’ve seen, and they remembered this show a year after its release — all very encouraging signs. Season 2 can build on this kind of success, so who knows what’s possible?
Paul Mescal, “Normal People”
“Normal People” had to be this close to a Best Limited Series nomination, given the nods for Mescal, casting director Louise Kiely, director Lenny Abrahamson, and writer Sally Rooney, but Hulu has to be pretty happy with his haul. While it’s a bit strange to see Mescal nominated without his ever-present co-star Daisy Edgar-Jones, his category was slightly less competitive and his character got a big, emotional episode during the last few. That, combined with his lack of major roles prior to this revelation, proved to be enough.
Octavia Spencer, “Self-Made”
Though thoroughly panned by critics, Netflix’s limited series was reportedly very well-watched, and Spencer remains a crowd favorite. Many may have counted her out of the race a while ago, but with these kind of numbers and this kind of showcase, she was never far from voters’ minds.
Steve Carell and Mark Duplass, “The Morning Show”
Perhaps these nods weren’t a surprise for anyone who believed “The Morning Show” would dominate — or saw Carell’s SAG nomination as a bellwether for the Emmys — but these look all the more impressive after Apple’s gem missed out on a Drama Series nomination. Duplass’ nod makes for two nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category (alongside Billy Crudup), which is two more than some bet on.
Yvonne Orji, “Insecure”
“Insecure” had its best year ever at the Emmys, snagging eight nominations, and Orji capitalized. Not only was their extra love for the show (and Black actors across television), but her stand-up special, “Mama, I Made It” had to help boost awareness, as well.
The “Succession” Cast
One of the biggest concerns for “Succession” was whether or not the TV Academy’s acting branch would honor its cast. They’d been shut out in Season 1 and were zero-for-two at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (which has some overlap with Emmy voters). But those fears were proven facetious as “Succession” racked up nine acting nominations Tuesday morning, including two Lead Actor nods for Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox, three Supporting Actor nominations for Nicholas Braun, Kieran Culkin, and Matthew Macfadyen, a Supporting Actress nod for Sarah Snook, and three Guest acting nominations as well.
Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Can past nominees be a surprise? They can when their show was tailing off in nominations entering a competitive year. Anderson beat out the likes of Steve Carell and Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm.”)