Television has been there for us during the Great Pandemic Shut-In. Now it's time to honor the shows that saved us from ourselves and the plague outside our front door. Nominations for the 72nd Emmy Awards, scheduled to air Sept. 20 on ABC, were announced this morning, and there's plenty to celebrate, bemoan, debate and quietly overthink as we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. Here are five takeaways to get things started:
The academy misses the fantasy of 'Game of Thrones'
HBO's "Watchmen" received 26 nominations. Disney's "The Mandalorian" landed 15. Netflix's "Stranger Things" is up for the top drama prize and FX's vampire comedy, "What We Do in the Shadows," emerged as one of the day's biggest surprises.
Who can blame voters for wanting to escape? The last year has been a wrecked clown car inside a dumpster fire that's riddled with the plague. Series that deal with today's ugly reality through a sci-fi or comic-book lens are a fine way of working through tough issues without subjecting oneself to the here and now. "Watchmen" tackles the deadly implications of racism by revisiting the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, with the benefit of superhero courage and otherworldly powers. Plus, avenger Angela Abar (Regina King, who's also nominated for her role) looks phenomenal in a mask, and that means a lot right now.
And yes, "Stranger Things" deserves to be here. Not many shows get stronger with each season or grow with their cast. This one did. The lifestyles of the rich fantasy "Succession"? It also provides an escape hatch, though I'd rather avoid it altogether and watch another satire about how power corrupts, Amazon's "The Boys" -- which was not nominated, but damn well should have been.
Black representation grabs the spotlight in the major categories
Comedy, drama and limited series alike, Black narratives and leads were nominated in record numbers. Besides "Watchmen's" eye-popping haul, "Insecure," "black-ish," "Little Fires Everywhere" and "A Black Lady Sketch Show" are among the series competing for the big prizes.
The absence of HBO awards hogs "Game of Thrones" and "Veep," both juggernaut hits that ended last year, opened up more slots for newish series, and many of those series reflect the public's hunger for stories told from fresh perspectives. The change we're seeing among the 2020 Emmy nominees is also the result of pressure from talent and audiences on social media and beyond to make television more representative of the population at large. The fragmentation of the TV landscape -- as basic and premium cable have been joined by Netflix, Hulu, Apple+ and now Quibi -- has created space for shows and talent that might have otherwise been overlooked by an old network system that saw non-white stories as too risky for prime time. The recent flood of original programming has made television a more daring and creative place than film. Let's see if that dynamic carries through to when the winners are announced in September.
Don't raise your glass yet. Narratives about other American shades of color, especially the immigrant experience, were overlooked
Six words: Netflix breakthrough "Never Have I Ever." Mindy Kaling's teen comedy about the trials of an Indian girl growing up in the San Fernando Valley was totally snubbed, and that's a crime. It is, hands down, one of best comedies in the Emmy eligibility period, and it was passed over.