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'Bad Education' grabs 2 Emmy nods; 'Watchmen' leads all nominees

Emmy-nominated Hugh Jackman stars as former Roslyn schools

Emmy-nominated Hugh Jackman stars as former Roslyn schools superintendent Frank Tassone in HBO's "Bad Education." Credit: HBO

No "Game of Thrones," no "Veep," no worries! 

In fact, all the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences had to do in 2020 was sort out the Next Big Thing — amid COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, an industry shutdown and a disruptive, eruptive cultural divide that has decimated viewing habits, loyalty and even the barest semblance of consensus on what's actually good on TV.

So let's take that back: There are plenty worries, while that Next Big Thing remains elusive, or ephemeral. "Watchmen" is by far the winner of these 72nd Emmy nominations: A total of 26 nods and all-but-certain to win best in limited series in September. It was also the series that arrived at the best possible moment for the sometimes-sclerotic Emmys — a direct, blunt-force assault on American history, or at least the darkest corners of it. 

But "limited" is the word to remember. "Watchmen" is almost certainly one-and-done. 

Meanwhile, "Bad Education" — HBO's pretty-darned-great movie about Roslyn's school superintendent Frank Tassone (sentenced in 2006 for embezzling $11.2 million from the school district) — managed two nominations, both big ones: Hugh Jackman (lead actor, limited series/movie); and television movie. (Netflix's "Breaking Bad" wrap, "El Camino," is its major competition).

Jackman's statement said, in part: " … My immense appreciation goes out to all those who believed in 'Bad Education' … "

Here are my quick thoughts/predictions on the major categories.

COMEDY

Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

Dead to Me (Netflix)

The Good Place (NBC)

Insecure (HBO)

The Kominsky Method (Netflix)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime)

Schitt's Creek (Pop)

What We Do In the Shadows (FX) 

"Curb" had a brilliant season; "Insecure" its best yet; "The Good Place" ended just about perfectly; "Schitt's" peaked at the right moment — the last one. "Maisel" is still "Maisel" even if the third season was its weakest so far; "Dead" and "Kominsky" are the long shots, and "Shadows" the singular and most welcome surprise of the entire Emmys 2020 list.

But your winner is "Insecure." This is co-creator, writer and producer Issa Rae's moment, and I suspect the Emmys knows that, too. 

COMEDY/ACTOR

Anthony Anderson ("Black-ish")

Don Cheadle ("Black Monday")

Ted Danson ("The Good Place")

Michael Douglas ("The Kominsky Method")

Eugene Levy ("Schitt's Creek")

Ramy Youssef ("Ramy")

A Los Angeles Times story on Monday found that from 2015 to 2019 "82% of the nominees in 19 prime-time Emmy categories were white, including more than three-fourths of the acting nominees and fully 90% of the writing and directing nominees." The Emmys know they need to improve, and this category is a meaningful move in that direction. Will Danson three-peat (his last wins were in '90 and '93 for "Cheers")? My money is on Cheadle. 

DRAMA

Better Call Saul (AMC)

The Crown (Netflix)

The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)

Killing Eve (BBC America)

The Mandalorian (Disney)

Stranger Things (Netflix)

Ozark (Netflix)

Succession (HBO)

You're right — nobody expected "The Mandalorian," including the Mandalorian, but these others were a lock. More than any category, this one best reflects the industry's malaise. "Saul" remains a favorite only to its passionate fan base (me); "Tale" has lost its buzz. "Eve" has managed to get more lackluster with each passing season; "Ozark" gets stronger with each season, but fans (a fairly small group, by the way) are passionately divided; "Mandalorian" was a pleasure, but mostly because of that cute stuffed toy; "Things" is now just officially silly; and "Succession" is an embittered slam on Big Media and the depraved oligarchs who control it.

That leaves "The Crown" — easily my favorite of this group — but "depraved oligarchs" will carry the day. "Succession"wins. 

COMEDY/ACTRESS 

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" )

Netflix's "Dead to Me" — wrapping in 2021 — never caught on with subscribers but certainly did with Emmy voters. This nod is the second in a row for Applegate, the first for Cardellini. Rae was ignored last season, while Brosnahan now has permanent status. But this race is really down to just three names: Rae, Ross and O'Hara. Expect O'Hara's Moira Rose up there on the socially-distanced stage in September. 

ACTOR/DRAMA 

Jason Bateman ("Ozark")

Sterling K. Brown ("This Is Us")

Steve Carell ("The Morning Show")

Brian Cox ("Succession")

Billy Porter ("Pose")

Jeremy Strong (Succession")

These two nods for "Succession" indicate this will also be the show to beat in best drama. Bateman's back as the favorite, while Carell's nod here is (probably) deserved and (probably) irrelevant. Brown could win his second for "Us" but after three years, a long shot. So: We're down to Bateman and Porter. My bet: Porter wins for the second year in a row. 

ACTRESS/DRAMA 

Jennifer Aniston ("The Morning Show")

Olivia Colman ("The Crown")

Jodie Comer ("Killing Eve")

Laura Linney ("Ozark")

Sandra Oh ("Killing Eve")

Zendaya ("Euphoria")

Zendaya? Or, as Leslie Jones so gently intoned when announcing this name Tuesday, "ZENDAYYYYYAAAAAA!!!!" Yes, Zendaya, and why not Zendaya? At 23, she's by far the youngest here and — I'm gonna hazard a guess — the only cast member from Disney Channel's "Shake it Up!" to ever get an Emmy nod. Best of all, she was terrific in the lugubrious, ironically named "Euphoria." But she is also up against giants: Comer's back for a twofer; Oh is looking for her first after six nods; Linney's one of the greats; Aniston … well, who doesn't love Jen?; and then … yes, then, Colman. Magnificent in "The Crown," she's far and away the favorite here. 

LEAD ACTOR/LIMITED SERIES

Jeremy Irons ("Watchmen")

Hugh Jackman ("Bad Education")

Paul Mescal ("Normal People")

Jeremy Pope ("Hollywood")

Mark Ruffalo ("I Know This Much is True") 

 As usual, the limited series is the most interesting, and competitive. "True" and "Hollywood" may have been deeply flawed, but Pope and Ruffalo were standouts — both Ruffalos, in fact. This one comes down to Jackman and Ruffalo, with the edge to Ruffalo.

 

LEAD ACTRESS/LIMITED SERIES 

Cate Blanchett ("Mrs. America")

Shira Haas ("Unorthodox")

Regina King ("Watchmen")

Octavia Spencer ("Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker")

Kerry Washington ("Little Fires Everywhere") 

Like comedy/actor, this one hints best at the Emmys' newfound wokeness. Blanchett is having a Moment (see: "Stateless"); Haas was a breakout in "Unorthodox" while Spencer was in the movie for the right-here-right-now; Washington was in the crowd-pleaser of this distinguished little group.

Nevertheless, you know … I know … she probably knows: King is already the winner.

LIMITED SERIES 

Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu)

Mrs. America (FX)

Unbelievable (Netflix)

Unorthodox (Netflix)

Watchmen (HBO)

No contest here — it's "Watchmen" all the way. In fact, "Watchmen" should win but each of these is worthy, each a potential winner any other year. Not this one.

Meanwhile, stray thoughts:

The new champ: Netflix is now undisputed champ in the nominations category, with 160 nods compared to 107 for second-place HBO. That's a bitter blow to HBO, which won the race last season, 137 to 118.

Best "I'm Honored" statement of 2020 goes to … Don Cheadle, for "Black Monday." “Given that it’s been announced on a Tuesday," Cheadle said, "I hereby regretfully decline my nomination for 'Black Monday.' I am a dayist. Been one for many years. My principles are my bedrock and sacrosanct.”

Final-season blahs: Final seasons for once-beloved shows were mostly ignored. "Homeland," once an Emmy darling, got but one nod for the final season. So did."Silicon Valley," "How to Get Away with Murder" and "Orange Is the New Black." "Modern Family" once commanded these Emmys; for the final season, just three nods, none major.

Snubs: Allison Janney ("Bad Education") was a big one, but at least she's in good company: Elisabeth Moss ("The Handmaid's Tale"), Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn ("Saul") were also overlooked. Reese Witherspoon was eligible for three shows ("Little Fires Everywhere," "Morning Show" and "Big Little Lies"), but nada. For the first time, "This Is Us" didn't get a drama nod either.

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