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2020 Primetime Emmys: Who Will Win, Who Should Win

There's Watchmen and Handmaids, media barons and motel owners, but who will take home gold?
  • The Emmy should-win all stars: Jennifer Aniston, Kenan Thompson, D'ArcyCarden and Jeremy Strong. (Photos: Apple TV+, NBC, Netflix)
    The Emmy should-win all stars: Jennifer Aniston, Kenan Thompson, D'ArcyCarden and Jeremy Strong. (Photos: Apple TV+, NBC, Netflix)

    Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz. Today Joe puts his prognostication skills to the test with his final picks for who will win (and who should win) in each of this year's major categories.

    The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards air on ABC Sunday night, the latest of the COVID-era award shows, presented with social distance (all the nominees and presenters will be beamed in from home) and an eye towards balancing the many fraught tones swirling around the country right now. It's not going to be an easy task production-wise, but what will be easy is finding worthy shows and performances to honor with Emmy awards. This year's nominees are a particularly strong crop, with expanded nomination fields in most categories reaping the rewards of the Peak TV era.

    The major contenders include shows like Watchmen, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Ozark, Succession, and Schitt's Creek, but who will be making awkward remote acceptance speeches and who should be?

    DRAMAS


    OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

    The Nominees:
    Better Call Saul
    The Crown
    The Handmaid's Tale
    Killing Eve
    The Mandalorian
    Ozark
    Stranger Things
    Succession

    Should Win: Shout out to Stranger Things for delivering a resurgent third season where all the best stuff took place in a mall, but the high-water mark for TV dramas was set last fall with Succession's wickedly funny and deeply compelling second season.

    Will Win: Don't count out Ozark, a show that's been steadily amassing viewership and press attention, but ultimately I believe in the HBO machine's ability to get this done more than I do Netflix's, so I give the edge to Succession.


    OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA

    The Nominees:
    Jason Bateman, Ozark
    Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
    Steve Carell, The Morning Show
    Brian Cox, Succession
    Billy Porter, Pose
    Jeremy Strong, Succession

    Should Win: Last year's winner, Billy Porter, managed to have an even better Season 2 for Pose, but I've got to hand it to the rollercoaster of self-loathing, thinly veiled bravado, and nightmare birthday rapping that made Jeremy Strong the year's best actor.

    Will Win: Billy Porter would be in a stronger position to repeat last year's win if Pose were a Drama Series nominee, but it's not. And there is a very good chance that Cox and Strong split the Succession vote. We know the Emmys already love Jason Bateman after they gave him a directing award for Ozark last year. I'm braced for him to pull off the upset this year.


    OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

    The Nominees:
    Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show
    Olivia Colman, The Crown
    Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
    Laura Linney, Ozark
    Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
    Zendaya, Euphoria

    Should Win: The work that Jennifer Aniston puts into making her Morning Show character succeed should not be discounted. There is a vortex of madness happening on the show around her, and Aniston somehow makes it all work for her.

    Will Win: It's tempting to say that will be the year that Sandra Oh finally wins her long-overdue Emmy, especially after seeing her co-star win last year, but I'm guessing that Emmy voters will want to follow in Oscar voters' footsteps, and Olivia Colman will emerge victorious.


    OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA

    The Nominees:
    Nicholas Braun, Succession
    Billy Crudup, The Morning Show
    Kieran Culkin, Succession
    Mark Duplass, The Morning Show
    Giancarlo Esposito, Better Call Saul
    Matthew Macfadyen, Succession
    Bradley Whitford, The Handmaid's Tale
    Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

    Should Win: This is a ridiculously stacked category, with worthy winners from top to bottom. Among the Succession boys alone, it's an impossible choice. A big part of me wants to award Crudup, who is stole the (Morning) show playing a scumbag TV exec. But my conscience won't let me vote for anyone but Matthew Macfadyen for bringing soulless, desperate, pathetic, hilarious Tom Wambsgans to life.

    Will Win: Far too much internal competition for Succession here, and I think Duplass will cut into Crudup's totals just enough to keep him off the podium. Bradley Whitford is a huge Emmy fave, and he won the Guest Actor award for this same performance last year. I think he takes the level-up award this year.


    OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

    The Nominees:
    Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown
    Laura Dern, Big Little Lies
    Julia Garner, Ozark
    Thandie Newton, Westworld
    Fiona Shaw, Killing Eve
    Sarah Snook, Succession
    Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies
    Samira Wiley, The Handmaid's Tale

    Should Win: It breaks my heart that I can't in good conscience support either Laura Dern or Meryl Streep, two superior actresses who were let down severely by their material in Big Little Lies' second season. To me, this comes down to Sarah Snook's scorpion-and-frog act in Succession and Helena Bonham Carter's full Princess Margaret fantasy on The Crown, and while HBC was a scream, especially in the episode where the Princess visits America, Sarah Snook was the opportunistic heart of her show's superior second season, and deserves the trophy for it.

    Will Win: Just a ton of heavy hitters here, with three actresses (Dern, Garner, Newton) who've already won Emmys in these roles. It's tempting to say that Emmy voters won't be able to resist Streep, but the heat from her very buzzy turn is almost completely gone. Emmy voters chose Julia Garner for a reason last year, and I think they'll do it again this year.

    COMEDIES


    OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES

    The Nominees:
    Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown
    Curb Your Enthusiasm
    Dead to Me
    The Good Place
    Insecure
    The Kominsky Method
    The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
    Schitt's Creek
    What We Do in the Shadows

    Should Win: Two very strong final seasons from The Good Place and Schitt's Creek make strong cases for each of them, but the class of this category is 100% What We Do in the Shadows, the funniest and most inventive comedy on television. If you don't believe me, Nadja's animated doll will tell you.

    Will Win: The haul of nominations across the board should give us an indication of how strong The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's chances are, but they've never won in this category before, and there may be a ceiling on the show's support. Schitt's Creek, meanwhile, is a sentimental favorite that experienced a popular awakening at exactly the right time. At the risk of being overly optimistic, I'm betting on it.


    OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY

    The Nominees:
    Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
    Don Cheadle, Black Monday
    Ted Danson, The Good Place
    Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method
    Eugene Levy, Schitt's Creek
    Ramy Yousef, Ramy

    Should Win: Ted Danson ended his run on The Good Place with a performance that personified all of his show's lunacy with its deep heart and fearlessness. He deserves it.

    Will Win: A very tough call! If the Schitt's Creek love is there, Levy could be a formidable contender, but it's tough to shake the fact that his performance is the least impressive of the show's four main characters. Ramy Yousef won the Golden Globe and would be an inspired choice for Emmy voters, but I don't put too much faith in them to make the cool choice. Better to cynically bet on a legend like Michael Douglas and hope I'm wrong.


    OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

    The Nominees:
    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
    Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish

    Should Win: Not a bad performance in this bunch, and a big part of me feels like this should go to Issa Rae for the huge accomplishment that is Insecure as a whole. But I also think we won't see a comedic performance on the level of Catherine O'Hara's as Moira Rose for a very long time.

    Will Win: The smart money is on Catherine O'Hara, but we underestimate the Maisel voting bloc at our peril. Rachel Brosnahan won this award two years ago, and the Emmys love a repeat winner. I'm putting my chips on O'Hara, but I'm prepared to go bust.


    OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY

    The Nominees:
    Mahershala Ali, Ramy
    Alan Arkin, The Kominsky Method
    Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
    Sterling K. Brown, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
    William Jackson Harper, The Good Place
    Dan Levy, Schitt's Creek
    Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
    Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live

    Should Win: On some level, it would be good and righteous for Andre Braugher to add another Emmy to his mantle, this time for his perfectly composed performance on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And since this is the last chance to honor's The Good Place's Chidi or Schitt's Creek's David, the impulse is to do that as well. But as long as Kenan Thompson remains inexplicably Emmy-less, he's where my vote's going.

    Will Win: Defending champ Tony Shalhoub is going to be difficult to knock off, even with Emmy fave Sterling K. Brown offering internal competition. But if you're looking for an upset pick, just as the voters will likely gravitate to recent Oscar-winner Olivia Colman, they very well might do the same for recent Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali.


    OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

    The Nominees:
    Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
    D'Arcy Carden, The Good Place
    Betty Gilpin, GLOW
    Marin Hinkle, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
    Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
    Annie Murphy, Schitt's Creek
    Yvonne Orji, Insecure
    Cecily Strong, Saturday Night Live

    Should Win: Just an absolute embarrassment of riches in this category, from top to bottom. Setting aside the incredibly talented and worthy performers in SNL and Maisel, there's Betty Gilpin giving complex, ass-kicking work on GLOW and Yvonne Orji finally getting her due as Insecure's indispensable Molly. Still, the best in this category comes down to the two final-season girls: Annie Murphy bringing a heartbreaking depth to Alexis and, in the most-worthy performance, D'Arcy Carden emerging as the secret soul of The Good Place.

    Will Win: Betting against a two-time winner like Borstein at the Emmys is foolish, but this category hasn't seen a threepeat since Doris Roberts for Everybody Loves Raymond in 2001-03. The thing is, with the competition so strong, it's hard to imagine sufficient momentum building up behind any one contender. If it does, however, it willl probably be Annie Murphy, and I'm feeling a little bit Alexis on this one.

    LIMITED SERIES


    OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES

    The Nominees:
    Better Call Saul
    Little Fires Everywhere
    Mrs. America
    Unbelievable
    Unorthodox
    Watchmen

    Should Win: As the years have gone on, Limited Series has inched closer and closer to being the first class category of television. It's hard to argue with that this year, with Mrs. America, Unbelievable, and Watchmen delivering some of the best and most relevant TV around. Watchmen is more than worthy of a win, but I'd put my vote in for Unbelievable, a show that put the rest of the crime procedural industry to shame with its empathetic storytelling and pitch-perfect performances.

    Will Win: With the most nominations of any program and the well-earned status of the TV show that spoke most urgently to Our Current Moment, Watchmen is your winner.


    OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES

    The Nominees:
    Jeremy Irons, Watchmen
    Hugh Jackman, Bad Education
    Paul Mescal, Normal People
    Jeremy Pope, Hollywood
    Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True

    Should Win: Jeremy Irons was having a delightful time frolicking on his space-prison planet throughout Watchmen, and it was a joy to watch the Oscar-winner. But Hugh Jackman's performance was the stuff of Oscar nominations before Bad Education got sent to HBO. It's his best work … maybe ever?

    Will Win: The Watchmen pull will be strong, but this feels like it's going to come down to a battle between the Hulk and Wolverine. Jackman really does deliver career-best work here, but I'm guessing Mark Ruffalo's dual roles give him the edge.


    OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES

    The Nominees:
    Cate Blanchett, Mrs. America
    Shira Haas, Unorthodox
    Regina King, Watchmen
    Octavia Spencer, Self Made
    Kerry Washington, Little Fires Everywhere

    Should Win: Some especially strong performances from Haas and especially Blanchett, who patiently carved out the precise portrait of villainy that was Phyllis Schlaffly. But how can you not give it to Regina King's stalwart work at the center of Watchmen.

    Will Win: It's Blanchett versus King, and it's going to be a battle. Blanchet has Hollywood A-List power, but King is no slouch herself, a recent Oscar winner and — most importantly — three-time Emmy winner. They love her. Still, I think Cate Blanchett gets the "thanks for doing TV, movie star!" honors this year.


    OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES

    The Nominees:
    Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Watchmen
    Jovan Adepo, Watchmen
    Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend
    Louis Gossett, Jr., Watchmen
    Dylan McDermott, Hollywood
    Jim Parsons, Hollywood

    Should Win: It's a bummer that Tituss never won for Kimmy Schmidt, and he's a delight in the choose-your-own-adventure movie, of course, but I'd actually rather have had Daniel Radcliffe this time. To me, it comes down to the Watchmen trio, and with only one episode to really deliver, Jovan Adepo did exactly that.

    Will Win: Ryan Murphy's shows aren't fixing to win a ton this year, but I'm betting Jim Parsons takes this one home for the bigness of his performance as Rock Hudson's sneering, predatory Old Hollywood agent.


    OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES

    The Nominees:
    Uzo Aduba, Mrs. America
    Toni Collette, Unbelievable
    Margo Martindale, Mrs. America
    Jean Smart, Watchmen
    Holland Taylor, Hollywood
    Tracey Ullman, Mrs. America

    Should Win: All of them! Seriously, this field was absolutely stacked with worthy winners, and that includes at least a half-dozen other women who weren't nominated. To me, this comes down to Ullman's wounded-warrior turn as Betty Freidan, Toni Collette's hard-bitten detective, and Jean Smart's jaded former costumed crimefighter. By the slimmest of margins, I'd give it to Tracey Ullman.

    Will Win: Every single actress in this category is a former Emmy winner, so it's tough to claim any one of them has too much of an edge. While I could see Collette or Aduba score a win, I think this one is Jean Smart's to lose.

    REALITY SERIES


    OUTSTANDING REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM

    The Nominees:
    The Masked Singer
    Nailed It!
    RuPaul's Drag Race
    Top Chef
    The Voice

    Should Win: Nailed It! remains one of TV's great delights, but Top Chef's second all-star season was an unqualified success, a perfectly-cast, deeply satisfying, and often quite emotionally affecting season — their best in many years.

    Will Win: It feels like we're waiting for the next big reality show to take the crown away from RuPaul's Drag Race, but I don't think we've arrived at it yet.

    VARIETY SERIES


    OUTSTANDING VARIETY TALK SERIES

    The Nominees:
    The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
    Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
    Jimmy Kimmel Live
    Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
    The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

    Should Win: The truly deserving winner is the un-nominated Late Night with Seth Meyers, but if we have to choose, give Trevor Noah his due for keeping The Daily Show strong in the post-Stewart years.

    Will Win: John Oliver has won this award four years in a row, and the Emmys decidedly do not spread the wealth in this category.

    The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards air Sunday September 20th at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on ABC

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, Big Little Lies, The Crown, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, The Good Place, Hollywood, The Kominsky Method, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Morning Show, Mrs. America, Ozark, Pose, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Schitt's Creek, Succession, Top Chef, Watchmen, Billy Crudup, Cate Blanchett , Catherine O'Hara, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Jackman, Jason Bateman, Jean Smart, Jennifer Aniston, Jim Parsons, Julia Garner, Kenan Thompson, Laura Dern, Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Meryl Streep, Olivia Colman, Rachel Brosnahan, Regina King, Ted Danson, Tony Shalhoub