emmys 2020

Best Animated Series, Variety Series, Docuseries, and More: Our Creative Arts Emmy Predictions

“Hello? This is BoJack. Did I win an Emmy yet?” Photo: Netflix

In 2020, the year of making adjustments, the Creative Arts Emmy Awards is making some adjustments. In recent years, the many, many Emmys not given out during the main prime-time broadcast have been handed out over two nights. This year, that process will be spread across five separate nights: this Monday through Thursday and on Saturday, September 19. Saturday’s ceremony, to be held in a pandemic-appropriate virtual format, will be broadcast on FXX, while the other evening ceremonies will be streamed on the Emmy Awards’ website.

In an effort to prepare for this five-day onslaught of TV trophy distribution, here are our predictions in 16 key categories. (A breakdown of the schedule, with details about which categories will be covered on which nights, can be found here.) A list of predictions for the main Emmys ceremony, to be broadcast Sunday night on ABC, will be published separately.

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series

The nominees:
A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO)
Drunk History (Comedy Central)
Saturday Night Live (NBC)

With all due respect to the dearly departed Drunk History, I can’t imagine it winning, mainly because it gets nominated every year in this category and never wins. It’s the (drunk) Susan Lucci of variety sketch comedy. Instead, this one’s going to come down to the veteran — SNL, which has won this Emmy for the past three consecutive years — and the up-and-comer, A Black Lady Sketch Show, the first series in this genre starring, written, and directed by exclusively Black women. Safe betters will probably say Saturday Night Live will win, especially since it made such a game effort to continue virtually during the pandemic, but I’m putting my metaphorical money on Robin Thede and A Black Lady Sketch Show, which is clever, hilarious, groundbreaking, and offers evidence of TV’s recent attempts to make more room for Black and female voices.

Will win: A Black Lady Sketch Show
Should win: A Black Lady Sketch Show

Outstanding Variety Special (Live)

The nominees:
77th Annual Golden Globe Awards (NBC)
Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times (ABC)
The Oscars (ABC)
Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show (Fox)
73rd Annual Tony Awards (CBS)

Last year, the first Live in Front of a Studio Audience production won here, and I’d be surprised if the second one doesn’t do the same thing. It’s got several elements that appeal to industry folks: a reverence for and elevation of classic television, deep affection for Norman Lear, and a strong cast putting their own spins on familiar characters in a live environment. The Tony Awards, historically, have won many times in this category, but I’m sticking with the live broadcast event that honors the power of television.

Will win: Live in Front of a Studio Audience
Should win: Live in Front of a Studio Audience

Outstanding Variety Special (Prerecorded)

The nominees:
Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones (Netflix)
Dave Chappelle: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor (PBS)
Hannah Gadsby: Douglas (Netflix)
Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (Netflix)
John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch (Netflix)
Tiffany Haddish: Black Mitzvah (Netflix)

One thing is clear: Netflix is probably going to walk away with a trophy for one of its comedy specials. The question is which one. Dave Chappelle’s Equanimity won in this category two years ago, and he could win again for Sticks & Stones, even though it was a divisive and controversial piece of work. (Then again, the album version just won a Grammy, so that may not matter.) Hannah Gadsby’s boundary-pushing Nanette lost last year to yet another “Carpool Karaoke” special, and it’s possible voters may want to reward Douglas because of that oversight and also because the special is funny and insightful on its own merits. Then there’s John Mulaney and his Sack Lunch Bunch, the only nominee that features Jake Gyllenhaal singing a maniacal song while wearing a xylophone jacket and, therefore, the most Emmy-worthy entry of the, yep, I said it, bunch.

Will win: Hannah Gadsby: Douglas
Should win: John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch

Outstanding Animated Series

The nominees:
Big Mouth (Netflix)
Bob’s Burgers (Fox)
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
The Simpsons (Fox)

These are all fine shows, but BoJack Horseman, in its last season, deserves to win this above all the others. BoJack was hilarious, inventive, acerbic, and heartbreaking for six seasons, and it has exactly zero Emmys to show for it. I have to think that oversight will be rectified this year.

Will win: BoJack Horseman
Should win: BoJack Horseman

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series

The nominees:
American Masters (PBS)
Hillary (Hulu)
The Last Dance (ESPN)
McMillions (HBO)
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (Netflix)

This has been a big year for docuseries, which makes this more of a 👀 category than usual. It’s natural to look at this list and conclude that Tiger King is a shoo-in, given how widely it was watched. I do think it has a decent shot at an Emmy for that reason, but I also think discerning viewers will recognize its sensationalistic qualities, as well as the fact that other shows on this list are simply better made. Personally, I think Hillary does the most to realign viewers’ understanding of one of the most significant figures in modern American history, but I suspect voters will choose another docuseries that also realigns viewers’ understanding of a significant American figure while also being a widely watched sensation: The Last Dance.

Should win: Hillary
Will win: The Last Dance

Outstanding TV Movie

American Son
Bad Education
Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Old Bones
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend

The three nominees with the strongest chance of winning here are American Son, Bad Education, and El Camino. American Son, which explores police culture and racism, is certainly a relevant story but was dinged by some critics for being too reductive and carried largely by its performances. El Camino was fine and engaging enough, but Bad Education was one of the best movies of the year in any medium. It is also timely in that it’s a nuanced, impeccably acted look at individual and institutional deceit at a moment when many Americans have a hard time knowing what to believe.

Should win: Bad Education
Will win: Bad Education

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy

The nominees:
Adam Driver as host, Saturday Night Live
Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Eddie Murphy as host, Saturday Night Live
Dev Patel as Joshua, Modern Love
Brad Pitt as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Saturday Night Live
Fred Willard as Frank Dunphy, Modern Family

At one time, I thought Eddie Murphy would walk away with this one. But a case could be made for the late Fred Willard, nominated for one of his final television roles, or Luke Kirby, who is so crucial to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, especially in its third season, that it sounds weird to call him a guest. (He also won last year.) I wonder if some voters won’t be able to resist the prospect of renowned acceptance-speech-giver Brad Pitt accepting an Emmy for briefly becoming renowned pandemic expert Anthony Fauci. Bottom line: Anything could happen! But …

Will win: Eddie Murphy
Should win: Luke Kirby

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy

The nominees:
Angela Bassett as Mo, A Black Lady Sketch Show
Bette Midler as Hadassah Gold, The Politician
Maya Rudolph as the Judge, The Good Place
Maya Rudolph as Senator Kamala Harris, Saturday Night Live
Wanda Sykes as Moms Mabley, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Phoebe Waller-Bridge as host, Saturday Night Live

Can Maya Rudolph be nominated twice in the same category and lose? Maybe, especially since Wanda Sykes made such a great Moms Mabley and Emmy voters love their Mrs. Maisel. If Rudolph does win, I think it will be for The Good Place, not her portrayal of Kamala Harris. Let’s save that one for next year.

Will win: Wanda Sykes
Should win: Maya Rudolph

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama

The nominees:
Jason Bateman, The Outsider
Ron Cephas Jones, This Is Us
James Cromwell, Succession
Giancarlo Esposito, The Mandalorian
Andrew Scott, Black Mirror
Martin Short, The Morning Show

The prevailing wisdom seems to be that Andrew Scott will win here for a performance that carried the Black Mirror episode “Smithereens.” Lord knows I am not one to stand in the way of a Hot Priest, but I will say that Jason Bateman, another Emmy favorite, gave an appropriately cryptic and gripping performance in The Outsider.

Will win: Andrew Scott
Should win: Jason Bateman

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama

The nominees:
Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
Laverne Cox, Orange Is the New Black
Cherry Jones, Succession
Phylicia Rashad, This Is Us
Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away With Murder
Harriet Walter, Succession

This is simple: If you have the opportunity to give an award to the legendary Cicely Tyson, that is what you do.

Will win: Cicely Tyson
Should win: Cicely Tyson

Outstanding Structured Reality Program

The nominees:
Antiques Roadshow (PBS)
Love Is Blind (Netflix)
Queer Eye (Netflix)
Shark Tank (ABC)
A Very Brady Renovation

Since the reality-program category was broken down into two separate fields — structured and unstructured — in 2014, two shows have won every year in the structured race: Shark Tank for the first four years and Queer Eye for the two after that. Given that track record, I am predicting a win for Queer Eye, even though a win for Love Is Blind, the reality show that foresaw a world, pre-pandemic, in which we’d be living in pods and dating from a distance, would be a fun change of pace.

Will win: Queer Eye
Should win: Love Is Blind

Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program

The nominees:
Amy Schumer Learns to Cook (Food Network)
Cheer (Netflix)
Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up (Netflix)
RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked (VH1)
We’re Here (HBO)

Is this Emmy really going to a show other than Cheer? It’s not. It’s going to Cheer.

Should win: Cheer
Will win: Cheer

Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Series

The nominees:
Making It: Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman
Nailed It!: Nicole Byer
RuPaul’s Drag Race: RuPaul
Queer Eye: Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski, and Jonathan Van Ness
Shark Tank: Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, and Kevin O’Leary
Top Chef: Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi

Things you can rely on: birth, death, taxes, and the fact that RuPaul will win in this category, since he’s done it for the past four straight years. It seems likely that he will win again, however, it’s worth noting that Nicole Byer is hosting all five nights of the Creative Arts Emmys. That does not mean she will win, but I think if RuPaul doesn’t, the charming Nailed It! host is the next likeliest victor.

Will win: RuPaul
Should win: Nicole Byer

Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics

The nominees:
The Black Godfather, “Letter to My Godfather”
Euphoria, “All for Us”
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, “Eat Shit, Bob”
Little Fires Everywhere, “Build It Up”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “One Less Angel”
This Is Us, “Memorized”
Watchmen, “The Way It Used to Be”

This is a really strong category this year, but I think voters will be swayed by “The Way It Used to Be,” the Trent Reznor–Atticus Ross song that seamlessly fits in with the other period music in the Watchmen episode “This Extraordinary Being.” That said, it would be amazing if “Eat Shit, Bob,” the profane, lawsuit-baiting musical number John Oliver directed at climate-change-denying businessman Bob Murray, somehow emerged victorious.

Will win: “The Way It Used to Be”
Should win: “The Way It Used to Be” but also “Eat Shit, Bob”

Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes

The nominees:
Carnival Row (Amazon)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Watchmen (HBO)
Westworld (HBO)

This is only the third year that fantasy/sci-fi costumes have had their own category and the first in which Game of Thrones is not a contender. The two strongest contenders here may be The Mandalorian and Watchmen. I’m inclined to think The Mandalorian may win because its costumes are more thoroughly sci-fi, but Watchmen is the most nominated show of the year, and its costumes nod is specifically for its first episode. That’s the one where we get our first glimpse of Sister Knight’s costume, which is elegant, badass, and functional in a way that is certainly Emmy worthy.

Will win: The Mandalorian (I think)
Should win: Watchmen

Outstanding Contemporary Makeup (Non-Prosthetic)

The nominees:
Big Little Lies
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Politician
Schitt’s Creek

Look, I have no idea who is going to win in this category. What I do know is this: If you’re telling me that there was better contemporary makeup on TV last year than the glitter and eyebrow pearl magic of HBO’s Euphoria, then I am here to tell you to sit the hell down.

Will win: Euphoria, if the universe still makes any sense
Should win: I said Euphoria — do I need to say it again? Fine. Euphoria!

Our Creative Arts Emmy Predictions