Emmy Nominations Wish List: Under-the Radar Picks for 2020

TV Features Emmy Awards
Emmy Nominations Wish List: Under-the Radar Picks for 2020

I’m tired of reality, so let’s indulge in some fantasy shall we? The 2020 Emmys are happening, virtually, in perhaps the most bizarre time in television production history. Much of the Emmy eligibility window is pre-COVID (running from June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020), but the effects of the pandemic are felt throughout. Because, of course, who remembers what happened in the Before Times of 2020, much less 2019, which was actually 400 years ago? It’s taxing.

Nevertheless the Emmys persist, and before the actual nominations drop on July 28th, I’ve compiled a wish list of under-the-radar picks that would be great to see but probably won’t happen. In some cases, they aren’t even eligible to happen (more on that below). But why not dream, and honor some great entertainment in the meanwhile? Because remember: The Emmys are increasingly ill-equipped to handle the changing TV landscape in almost all ways, and the awards themselves are not even remotely a barometer of the plethora of great television available. Having said that, let’s dive into some of the major categories:

Drama Series: David Makes Man (OWN)


Absolutely one of the best shows to air in 2019, David Makes Man is now available on HBO Max which is great news, because I genuinely can’t tell you how few people know what OWN is. (It’s Oprah’s cable network). David Makes Man is a deeply lyrical come-of-age drama that deals with growing up poor, searching for role models, facing hardships as a child, making choices to stay on the right path, and the consequences that come with balancing your real life with your dreams of the future. It’s wonderful, difficult, funny, painful … a true gem.

Lead Actor in a Drama: Jimmi Simpson, Perpetual Grace, LTD (Epix)


So right away, here’s one of the nomination picks that won’t happen because Epix only submitted Ben Kingsley as the lead actor (no doubt to up their chances of a nomination, because he’s Ben Friggin’ Kingsley, which I don’t begrudge). Simpson is relegated to the crowded supporting category, but while Kingsley was absolutely the soul of this great, weirdo show, Simpson was its heart—even while playing a grifter. In a series that deserved a lot more attention than it got and was full of great actors, Simpson really put in an outstanding performance that grounded the show in charm. If only he could get recognized for it.

Lead Actress in a Drama: Kirsten Dunst, On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime)


You might not think of this as an under-the-radar pick, but did you remember this aired in the Emmy eligibility window? Indeed it did! Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t belong in the drama category (it’s neither a comedy nor a drama, something increasingly true of many television series and the Emmys just won’t address it). Regardless, Dunst put in one of the most earnestly exceptional performances of the year. The show didn’t always hold up as well around her, but she was flawless from start (determined with braces) to finish (mermaid overlord).

Supporting Actor in a Drama: Matthew Macfadyen, Succession (HBO)


Again, this doesn’t at first appear as an under-the-radar pick. Succession was one of the few TV shows to really capture the zeitgeist in 2019, and seems destined for Emmy glory. Macfadyen is in a crowded field though, even within his own show—HBO also submitted Nicholas Braun, Kieran Culkin, and Alan Ruck in this category. But for two seasons now, Macfadyen has had one of the most memorable and most calculatedly bizarre performances on television (the Panic Room episode!!) Maybe he’s too good for an Emmy …

Supporting Actress in a Drama: Tala Ashe, Legends of Tomorrow (The CW)


God bless the The CW, this will never happen. I don’t know if The CW even bothers submitting for the Emmys, but they certainly have rarely been shown any love. But look, I’m not going to let the chance to stump for Legends of Tomorrow pass me by, especially in the case of Tala Ashe. I always respect actors who play various versions of the same character and make them so distinct that I forget it’s the same person playing them. Ashe made us love two very different versions of Zari in the show’s latest season, and when it came time to decide who would stay and who would go it nearly tore me apart. Ashe is funny, nuanced, and very talented.

Comedy Series: Little America (Apple TV+)


Personally, I would not describe the touching immigrant tales in the anthology series Little America as “comedy,” but the Emmys didn’t ask me so, here we are. It is, however, the best thing on Apple TV+. Warm, funny, poignant, it also premiered in the Before Times of 2019, so unless Apple does a big push with it specifically (which I think they will instead turn towards the star power present in The Morning Show), it may be forgotten. But it shouldn’t be!

Lead Actor in a Comedy: Daniel Radcliffe, Miracle Workers: Dark Ages (TBS)

One of the things that has become abundantly clear post-Harry Potter is that Daniel Radcliffe is actually an incredibly gifted comedic actor. Paired with the also excellent Geraldine Viswanathan in Dark Ages (who played the straight man of sorts to his zanier character), Radcliffe’s dopey prince balanced both incompetence and pathos. Radcliffe brings an earnestness to every character he embodies, and Chauncley the “Pretty Cool” is no different. And yet, because Miracle Workers has become an anthology, TBS has submitted it into the Limited Series category, which I think is a massive mistake that I am rectifying with this list here.

Lead Actress in a Comedy: Daisy Haggard, Back to Life (Showtime)


So here’s another “this won’t happen” choice because it’s a BBC series that happened to air here. But what a hidden gem! Haggard, who also wrote the series, stars as a woman coming back to her hometown after serving a prison sentence for murder. It doesn’t sound like a comedy, but this quirky, emotionally revelatory series hinged on Haggard’s character bringing a witty naturalism to the role, as she dips a toe back into her old life. Outstanding, but … (Of note, Haggard also stars in the far inferior Breeders on FX).

Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Harvey Guillen, What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

I would argue that Guillen’s Guillermo is really a lead in the series, even if he’s not a vampire. For one, Season 2 hinged almost entirely around his arc as a descendant of [spoiler], including the excellent finale. And two, while the entire cast is a treasure (perhaps particularly Matt Berry), Guillen has managed to carve out an entirely unique and increasingly vital role for himself as a familiar who yearns to take the next step in his vampiric transformation (despite his bloodline). His understated moments of exasperation while glancing at the camera can not be overstated.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Aimee Lou Wood, Sex Education (Netflix)


Aimee (the name of both the actress and the character) has become a fan favorite in Netflix’s UK-based teen series. But in Season 2, Aimee had to take on more than just being the bubbly, confused friend. She was the victim of a disgusting incident on a bus where a man ejaculated on her. She didn’t register this as sexual assault, even though Maeve did and took her to the police to give a statement. In her typical way, Aimee tried to smile and ignore it. Throughout the season, we saw how burying her fear was not the way to overcome it, as she cheerily decided to walk the many miles to school rather than getting on the bus again, and suddenly stopped wanting to have sex with her boyfriend. Aimee’s quiet discomfort over what happened was one of the most potent performances on TV last year, and the moment where she confronted the reality and took her power back brought me to tears.

Limited Series: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)


Look, it has almost been a year since Netflix bestowed this incredible gift on us and still there is no word of a Season 2 pickup, a movie to wrap things up, or anything. So for now, it’s a limited series. And for those who have seen the film for which it acts as a prequel, that is a damning timeline we now have to live with. I hope I’m wrong and we get more of the Dark Crystal series (which was submitted only in the Children’s Programming category), but like with Legends of Tomorrow, I will take any opportunity I get to remind everyone to watch it and enjoy its magic.

TV Movie: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (Netflix)


El Camino didn’t need to exist, and yet, it made a case for itself. It gave Breaking Bad two endings: one for Walt (which was bad for him, rightfully so), and one for Jesse (which was as good as things could possibly get). That felt right, and it gave additional closure to the world of Breaking Bad, as far as this timeline goes. You would think a show that received as much Emmy love as Breaking Bad did in its day would mean El Camino is a shoe-in, but I’m hardly so sure. It was in the Before Times, Netflix more or less buried it, and some people just don’t like emotionally satisfying thrill rides. But despite not needing to exist, I’m certainly happy it does.

The real Emmy nominations for the 72nd annual awards will be announced Tuesday, July 28th on Emmys.com, and judged harshly here on Paste.com.

Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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