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All this week, The 72nd Emmy Awards have been rolling out, with creative categories revealed each day via livestream, and a wrap-up ceremony scheduled for this Saturday on FXX. It all leads up to the big announcements for major awards – nods for the most “outstanding” in TV drama, comedy, variety, etc., broadcasting this Sunday, Sept. 20 on ABC and on Hulu with Live TV.

But the big night will (of course) be different this year in the wake of Covid-19. That means no show in front of a packed audience at Downtown’s L.A. Live, no red carpets or designer promo parades, and no after-parties are planned. Instead, the virtual ceremony promises to take on a talk show or variety show feel, with Jimmy Kimmel hosting and at the helm as an executive producer.

We’re intrigued to see what Kimmel and company will do within the virtual platform because truth be told, most of the digitally-driven presentations of this kind we’ve seen so far have been uninspired Zoom-style affairs. This is “TV’s biggest night” after all, so we’d like to see some creativity that really tries to excite and engage at least somewhat as well as the content the Emmys acknowledge.

Here, L.A. Weekly’s film, TV and culture writers – including Erin Maxwell, Michael Cooper, Chad Byrnes, and Daniel Broadway – join us in sharing their picks for nominated shows and performances. This is not a predictions list (some of the winners have already been announced), but rather, an appreciative assemblage for the television that grabbed us, made us laugh and/or cry, and made us think. Though there were some snubs (most notably for trans and Latin actors and productions) this year did see more Black and gay nominees, and a lot of our favorites didn’t just entertain, they changed our perspectives on humanity and the world which can’t be celebrated enough.  (Lina Lecaro)

OZARK (Netflix)

Outstanding Television Drama: Ozark

In its third and arguably best season, Netflix’s Ozark drops us back into the saga of the Byrde clan, who are still waist-deep in Missouri mud as they continue to launder money for the Mexican Cartel. This time, Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) come to blows on how to utilize the cartel’s cash flow. Not only are they forced into couples’ therapy but Bateman ends up in the cartel leader’s torture den. Meanwhile, Wendy’s bipolar brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey) unexpectedly shows up, engaging in a relationship with Ruth (Julia Garner), while making mob lawyer Helen (Janet McTeer) a little anxious with his capricious behavior. Season One was a gut punch which introduced us to a cast of characters that was both Don Winslow and William Faulkner. Season Two was a bit of a slog as the Byrdes struggled to gain a foothold in the community. Season Three strikes a perfect balance with a narrative that’s both gritty and immersed in character. And for all its pulp and backwoods melodrama, Ozark’s third season is an honest reflection of a country at war with itself.  (Chad Byrnes)

SCHITT’S CREEK (Pop TV)

Outstanding Comedy Series: Schitt’s Creek

With a year like 2020, it’s great that we have so many great comedies to choose from– who doesn’t need a good laugh? While every comedy series nominated is no doubt deserving of the Emmy award, it’s Schitt’s Creek that should take it home this year. If you haven’t fallen in love with the Roses then you must not be watching the show. Schitt’s Creek manages to find the perfect balance between acerbically witty and universally heartwarming. Its sharp writing and masterclass comedic performances hooked in more and more viewers every season before culminating into a pop culture behemoth which most recently included a tour, social media pop-ups and three-story billboards. The show’s sixth and final season was packed with laughs but wrapped up each character’s arc beautifully, making their journeys from season one to six rewarding and transformative to watch.  (Michael Cooper)

RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE (VH1)

Outstanding Competition Program: RuPaul’s Drag Race

If you are not watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, it is safe to say your life is half lived. The show is not only challenging for its contestants — who must compete as designers, singers, actors, and models — but also challenges everyday norms. While Season 12 saw the final showdown between Gigi Goode, Jaida Essence Hall, and Crystal Methyd competing from home, the positive message of the show remained intact. By bringing LGBTQ+ figures to the forefront of pop culture and focusing on themes of inclusion, community, and support, Drag Race breaks down previous prejudices, creating extraordinary spokespeople for societal issues and allowing once taboo subjects to become part of a national conversation. Now with a decade under its belt, Drag Race has not just evolved, but forced the genre in which it thrives to evolve as well. (Erin Maxwell)

LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER (HBO)

Outstanding Variety Talk Series: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

As of 2020, John Oliver is no longer hosting a comedy show. He is saving the world, one sarcastic remark at a time. A sane voice that counters the insane situations we’re all living through, Oliver offers acumen through the lens of laughter in a time where few things are funny. In a year where Murder Hornets is a reprieve from larger horrors, his reactions to the lunacy of the current news cycle mixed with British sensibility is the exact amount of snark we need to carry us through the tough times. But what makes him stand out from his fellow late-night funny folks is that he isn’t merely reporting the absurd, he’s along for the ride. He is just as angry and scared as we are, and it’s a comfort to know we are not alone in our exasperation. (Erin Maxwell)

WE’RE HERE (HBO)

Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program: We’re Here

HBO’s six-episode docuseries We’re Here is a must watch for anyone who wants to see raw and honest LGBTQ+ representation depicted on screen. In a concept reminiscent of the drag queen classic film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, three diverse queens (RuPaul Drag Race alums Shangela, Eureka O’Hara and Bob The Drag Queen) let loose on a small, unsuspecting town in Middle or Southern America to bring some much needed LGBTQ+ visibility to the area. While the queens are of course scene stealers, the most powerful part of the show is getting to meet the gay people (and their allies) who are living in these towns. Los Angeles is lucky to have many ‘gayborhoods,’ but as many who have flocked here from smaller towns know- being queer isn’t as easy outside of our blue, liberal bubble. Perhaps We’re Here won’t change the mind of every MAGA-wearing homophobic hater, but this true reality is nonetheless important to document and award.  (Michael Cooper)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC)

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series: Saturday Night Live

In a world where current events have taken on an a skit-like absurdism, SNL not only maintained its rep as the definitive showcase for comedy reflecting and dissecting culture, it rose to the moment, making us laugh, even when the news cycle made us want to do anything but. This year, the show adapted to quarantine by presenting “at home” editions that conveyed (and in the process unified) the country. But even before that, Season 45  had some stellar guests (Woody Harrelson, Adam Driver, Harry Styles and Eddie Murphy, to name a few), and some of the funniest politically-inspired cold opens ever, with returning players including Fred Armisen, Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph and Larry David portraying the Democratic candidates for Prez and Alec Baldwin channeling Donald Trump in all his narcissistic indignity. (Lina Lecaro)

Regina King in WATCHMEN (HBO)

Outstanding Limited Series or Movie: Watchmen

Defying the usual superhero cliches while maintaining the sense of wonder and visual spectacle we’ve come to expect from comic book inspired entertainment, Watchmen is easily one of the most unforgettable shows ever to air on HBO (and yes, that’s saying something considering its formidable company). Foreshadowing the issues and imagery that were always there but are now on the forefront of our cultural conversation concerning white supremacy, police brutality, government manipulation and identity (the mask wearing stuff is downright eerie watching in the Covid era), the show deservedly made history scoring 26 Emmy nominations this year, more than any other limited series (it was re-classified as such after creator Damon Lindelof announced there would not be a second season). With incredible performances by its leads (Regina King, Jeremy Irons) and supporting actors (it scored 6 nominations in that category alone), every episode of Watchmen is the kind of stunning, statement-making experience that sticks with you long afterward. It’s not a stretch to say that its thought-provoking elements covering historical truths about racism have played some part in where we are today. Capturing how trauma from the past can manifest repercussions in the present, the show was a revelation that we wish wasn’t limited to just one season. The fact that it is -even with questions unanswered and climactic twists unexplained- makes it all the more special. (Lina Lecaro)

Runner-Up- Outstanding Limited Series or Movie: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere threw fans off guard from the start, presenting an illusive and cunning rollercoaster ride through scandalous Shaker Heights, Ohio where mysteries, deceptions and outbursts suck you in and leave you wanting more. Each episode delivers, weaving us through a wicked woman-driven world that raises as many questions as it answers and reminds us that no one is truly innocent. (Danielle Broadway)

Kerry Washington in LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE (Hulu)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a TV Movie or Limited Series: Regina King, Watchmen 

Regina King’s Sister Knight was the badass superhero we didn’t really know we needed until we got her. When HBO’s Watchmen ended it was hard to say goodbye to the character, in part because of the dimensional way she was written (wife, mother, cop, vigilante asskicker) but mostly due to the real and nuanced way she’s played. The role of Angela Abar aka masked nun dynamo Knight, was in fact, written with King in mind, and that makes sense. There’s a realness and strength to almost everything King does and here, she gets to flex it full-on in a performance that conveys pain and empowerment often at the same time. A definitive role not just for King, but for the uncertainty and unrest of the times, Sister Knight’s too brief presence on our TV screens was more than enough to land her alongside the iconic hero list, and if there’s any justice in the world it should land the actress an Emmy to place next to the Oscar on her awards shelf. (Lina Lecaro)

Runner-Up- Kerry Washington, Little Fires Everywhere 

While King is likely to win the Emmy, Kerry Washington’s Mia in Little Fires deserves special note. Everything about the character is pensive, mysterious and enchanting.  We never really trust her or feel like we know who she is, but Washington’s performance ignites a combination of discursive love and hate. Her character’s complexity sets her on a constant path of guilt and redemption making for a warped and carefully constructed portrayal that highlights the flawed humanity within us all. (Danielle Broadway)

Mark Ruffalo in I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a TV Movie or Limited Series:  Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True  

HBO’s I Know This Much Is True is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s hard to imagine Watchmen lovers clicking over to a grim portrait of mental illness directed by the guy who brought us 2010’s Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance). Not what anyone would call a good time. But who cares, it stars Mark Ruffalo! Ruffalo brings his A-game playing the dual role of twins Dominic and Thomas Birdsey. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Thomas has been shuttled to several homes before chopping off his own hand. His brother Dominic struggles to get him transferred out of a lockdown facility as he wrestles with his own stability and family history. Ruffalo is spot on as the schizophrenic brother Thomas, but his portrayal of Dominic, a seemingly “normal” guy who is trapped in a cauldron of despair, is grit personified. With a cigarette lodged in his mouth and his browbeaten glare, Dominic lives on the edge of his own hatred as he navigates his broken relationships and jobs. Halfway through the first episode, you simply forget Ruffalo is playing both roles, and man, does he play them, with every nuance accounted for.  (Chad Byrnes)

Zendaya in EUPHORIA (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Zendaya, Euphoria

As omniscient narrator and series touchstone Rue Bennett, Zendaya carries the world of Euphoria on her slim shoulders. She demands the audiences’ attention thanks to a nuanced performance that rides the line between badass bitch, lovesick teen, and hopeless addict. Even when she is not the focus of a scene, Rue still lurks in the background of every moment, offering detailed synopsis of the Euphoria universe. In her performance, Zendaya elevates Rue from an angsty adolescent to fragile fiend driven by inner demons to the brink of destruction. With every destructive action, every lovelorn gaze cast towards bestie Jules, and with every lie that leaves her lips, we hold our breath, not knowing where Rue will go. And while the journey might make us anxious, Zendaya’s role as series tour guide is nothing short of mesmerizing. (Erin Maxwell)

Billy Porter in POSE (FX)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Billy Porter, Pose

While his fellow (trans) actress should have been nominated as well, no one can deny that Billy Porter brings soul, passion and pain to TV that resonates onscreen with power and conviction. His portrayal of Pray Tell, an HIV positive ballroom emcee and DJ is unnerving in the best way, making audiences question their fears surrounding queerness, racism and anti-blackness. Porter does a phenomenal job commanding our attention, both with his biting commentary at the Balls and in his personal life, where he’s a father figure who guides others but has challenges of his own. The character is a formidable reminder of reliance and hope within the LGBTQ+ community and reminding us that in a world of death and disease, being fabulous isn’t always as glamorous as it may sound. (Danielle Broadway)

Ted Danson in THE GOOD PLACE (NBC)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: Ted Danson, The Good Place

Rarely has any actor given a demonic entity so much charm. Ted Danson’s Michael might have started as a hell spawn in a silver fox man-suit, but his transition to good guy in the final season of The Good Place is a study in character growth. Since revealed to be a demon at the end of the first season, audiences watched as anti-Christ architect Michael slowly fell in love with both “Team Cockroach” and humanity as a whole. Michael’s child-like curiosity about mankind made him endearing, and by the final season, his metamorphous from torture-loving fire squid to full-fledged human being stands as a wonderful reminder to audiences that there is still so much to love in this weird-ass world, even in the bad times.  (Erin Maxwell)

Issa Rae in INSECURE (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Issa Rae, Insecure

Watching Issa Rae’s character development on Insecure, especially during Season 4, has made for a transformative journey. Illustrating this growth and highlighting self-care and self-advocating has given validity to the struggles that Black women endure every day. Rae performances test the limits in conveying what we all go through as we try to stay on a forward path in life.  Whether she’s making us laugh with her signature mirror rapping or making us cry as we follow her relationship woes each season, her compelling presence always makes us care. Four seasons in, Insecure’ star reflects the journey to self actualization better than ever, showing us how lonely, isolating, seemingly selfish and above all, delightfully awkward it can be. (Danielle Broadway)

Julia Garner in OZARK (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series: Julia Garner, Ozark  

It’s almost impossible to imagine Ozark without the spitfire force of Julia Garner’s Ruth Langmore. She might be small but her brittle glare and razor-sharp lacerations can out-tough any biker or backwoods drug dealer. Returning as Marty Byrde’s (Jason Bateman) trusted associate, Ruth runs the newly acquired casino boat with an iron fist as she goes head to head with the mob boss’ privileged son, Frank Jr. (Joseph Sikora). We’ve seen Ruth get pissed before. It’s a little scary and kind of a hoot. But it’s also in season three where we discover Ruth’s soft side (yes, she has one) when she strikes up a romance with Wendy’s brother, Ben (Tom Pelphrey, robbed of a nomination).  Her romance with Ben not only inspires her to reestablish a relationship with her estranged family but forces her to view the Byrde’s in an unflattering light. This would be Garner’s second Emmy win playing Ruth, but hell, give it to her again. Would you say no to Ruth Langmore? (Chad Byrnes)

Giancarlo Esposito in BETTER CALL SAUL (Netflix)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Giancarlo Esposito, Better Call Saul

The role of a particularly nasty villain is like an indulgent dessert to a good actor: delicious, decadent, and usually the best part of the meal. Such is the case of Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring, a miscreant so memorable he transcended two series’ to terrorize Albuquerque locals. Gus is evil incarnate with a name badge and Esposito’s ability to shed his customer service smile at a moment’s notice is a masterclass in acting as he projects an energy that can make both drug lords and Los Pollos Hermanos employees cower in fear. Behind Fring’s grin is a volatile nature, indiscriminate in its cruelty when it comes to protecting his own interests, a personality quirk of which he is well aware. “I am what I am,” declares Fring. For some, he is a monster. For others, a businessman. But for fans of Better Call Saul, Esposito’s Fring is a true marvel in character construction. (Erin Maxwell)

D’Arcy Carden in THE GOOD PLACE (NBC)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy: D’Arcy Carden, The Good Place

One of the biggest snubs from last year’s Emmys, D’Arcy Carden failed to garner even a nomination for her brilliant performance(s) in the 2018 “Janet(s)” episode, which found her playing Janet iterations based on each of her castmates. Just a year later, after The Good Place aired its final season, D’arcy finally received her first Emmy nomination ever for the role. And even though “Janet(s)” may have aired in the previous season, D’arcy’s performance throughout season four is certainly just as deserving of accolades this year– one episode even featured an entire Janet army!  (Michael Cooper)

Daniel Levy in SCHITT’S CREEK (Pop TV)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Daniel Levy, Schitt’s Creek

The charming and hilarious comedy that could, Schitt’s Creek, will no doubt rack up some bling at this year’s awards since airing its final season earlier this year. While the show featured many stand out performances, it’s perhaps Daniel Levy’s Pansexual, gender-bendering character of David Rose that had the biggest impact on representation. Fashion-loving, eye-rolling, bad at sports, femme queers had someone to relate to on screen. But perhaps it was Dan’s mom Deborah Divine who summed it up best in an April 2020 Tweet on the eve of the Schitt’s Creek series finale: “Today I regret every single second of worry back in the uninformed 80’s-wondering how the world was going to treat my brilliant little boy who loved to twirl. Little did I know that he was going to kick that old world’s ass to the curb and create a brand new one.” Can we get an Amen up in here and give him an Emmy?  (Michael Cooper)

Toni Collette in UNBELIEVABLE (Netflix)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie: Toni Collette –  Unbelievable

The no-nonsense female police detective is a well-worn TV trope, but Toni Collette’s Det. Grace Rasmussen is anything but a cliche. She is a good cop, but also a therapist, a wife, a difficult partner, at times impolite, and more importantly, a person. In Netflix’s Unbelievable, the true story of a serial rape investigation that turned a victim into a criminal, her character tackles the question, “Why is it difficult to believe women?” In court, she gives voice to victims who could not face their attacker and her direct manner mixed with the venom of previous experiences creates a layered performance that highlights the implications of a flawed legal system. (Erin Maxwell)

Tituss Burgess in THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT (Netflix)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie: Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Vs. the Reverend

The leap from network TV to Netflix meant really letting the freak flag fly for Tina Fey, and despite brilliant performances by its star Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it was the lesser known actor Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon, who stole every scene and captured America’s heart in the process. He deserved to win this honor way before now, but the limited series/movie category should be the charm. The interactive “movie” version of Kimmy is highlighted by another incredibly hilarious turn in which the flamboyant Titus joins his equally quirky pal Schmidt on an adventure to Frackwater, West Virginia, to finally defeat the nefarious Reverend (Jon Hamm). Viewers decided how the story would go but whatever version you saw, one thing remained constant, Titus’ thoughts, words and essence remained as weirdly lovable as they were deliciously laugh out loud. (Lina Lecaro)

Laverne Cox in ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (Netflix)

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Laverne Cox, Orange is the New Black

It was just six years ago when actress Laverne Cox was first nominated for her role as Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black. That year, Cox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category. This year’s nomination marks the fourth and final time Cox will ever be nominated for the role, having yet to win up until now. The fourth time is hopefully the charm because it’s definitely time to make Cox the first openly transgender person to win a Primetime Emmy Award (she previously won a Daytime Emmy in 2015 for Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word). Within a cast as big and talented as Orange Is the New Black, Cox has made such an impact on the show, and on pop culture in general, that it’s sometimes hard to remember that her character is actually a guest and not a series regular. Laverne Cox should finally bring home gold for this groundbreaking role.  (Michael Cooper)

Ron Cephas Jones in THIS IS US (NBC)

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Ron Cephas Jones, This Is Us

Though NBC’s This Is Us is in many ways manipulative mourn porn that makes our eyes puffy and our heart hurt every time we watch it, we still binged on once we began the journey with the long long-suffering Pearson family because it was so well-crafted and acted. We cared about everyone involved pretty much from the get-go, but Ron Cephas Jones take on William Hill- the former drug addict, musician and biological father of Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown)- left the biggest lump in our throat every time. Nominated four times and winning for the role back in 2017, the actor deserves it again this year, offering a subdued yet riveting performance that conveys a seasoned perspective on the past and the inner-peace that comes with acceptance in the present. (Lina Lecaro)

Bette Midler in THE POLITICIAN (Netflix)

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series: Bette Midler, The Politician

Seeing the Divine Miss M (as she was once called) on our TV screens in Ryan Murphy’s vibrant The Politician was pure joy, especially alongside a fellow diva-level actress like Judith Light. While the previous season of this show concerned the down and dirty tactics during a high school presidential election, season two took things to the real world with central character Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) going head to head against New York state Sen. Dede Standish (Light) and her formidable sidekick/chief of staff Hadassah Gold (Midler). Midler brings everything we’ve ever loved about her to this role- humor, wit, some insecurity too, making her a real yet aspirational figure that shows older women don’t have to lose their drive or vigor to be vulnerable in politics or on TV. (Lina Lecaro)

Eddie Murphy on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC)

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Eddie Murphy, Saturday Night Live

If you re-watch the Eddie Murphy episode of SNL now, you’ll quickly get a sense of irony, resonance and just, wow. The legendary comedian is up for his first Emmy for the hosting gig back in December and if anybody thinks it’s a token nom (like Brad Pitt’s), think again.  Thirty-five years after leaving the show that made him a star, Murphy’s return was all that fans could have wanted, featuring his most memorable characters (Buckwheat, Mr. Robinson, Gumby- Dammit!) and a monologue that highlighted his legacy alongside fellow Black alums Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, SNL guest host Dave Chappelle and cast member Kenan Thompson. The world has changed a lot since the end of 2019 and Murphy’s shamelessly satiric takes on racial disparity have a bittersweet relevance right now, even if it took protest for many to see the struggles he explores were always there. Like we said, wow. (Lina Lecaro)