The Weekend Movie Takeaway: The Emmy Awards Nomination Announcements Signal Hope For Our Narrative Future
August 4, 2020
When it comes to collectively celebrating the power of mass narrative, the Oscars® and the Emmy® Awards are arguably the two highest-profile events of the year. While the 2020 Oscars managed to come and go a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the States, this year's Emmys are happening right smack dab in the middle of the crisis. But they are happening, albeit with some obvious adjustments.
Jimmy Kimmel will host a special socially-distanced edition of the Emmys on Sunday, September 20th, the nominations for which were announced last week.
The participating nominees will be beamed in from their homes, and everything will be brought together digitally, although the producers are promising a somewhat slicker affair than some of the Zoom-centric TV specials we've seen lately.
The period of time in television being recognized in the upcoming awards season played out (for the most part) before the impact of COVID-19 upended the entertainment industry (and life as we know it) and its effects began to be felt in screen narrative. Therefore, the work being honored will generally reflect a more innocent time.
But while this ceremony may not represent any kind of narrative refocusing caused by the unpredictable events of 2020, it does say a lot about our collective narrative priorities in general.
It also represents something of a new era in the Emmys and television overall, as several legacy series that would often dominate the Emmys (such as Game of Thrones) are no longer in play. So this is also a chance to assert a new set of narrative values going forward.
That was most evident in the huge showing by Watchmen, the HBO limited series sequel to the legendary deconstructionist comic book of the same name. The show garnered 26 nominations, reflecting the rapturous critical and wide cultural response it generated.
Unlike the original comic book (and its cinematic 2009 adaptation), the new Watchmen is centered around the topic of race and racism in America, and it did so in an interesting and unexpected way that only made the storytelling more powerful.
It was an amazing example of how much is gained when you look directly and unflinchingly at the society you're a part of, and resolve to confront the most pertinent issues facing that society. No one could accuse Watchmen of tokenism or being led by its message – it was a damn fine story told exquisitely well and it happened to dovetail beautifully with the reckoning around race that has transpired in this country over the last few months.
While the Emmys are no bastion of progress, and tend to lag behind the times when it comes to these sorts of stories, it is heartening to see such wide industry love for Watchmen.
Less heartening is the breadth of the nominations in general. Certain categories were opened up to more nominations than before in the name of smaller shows getting a look in, but the results don't really reflect that end. The only real surprise in the Outstanding Drama Series category was the presence of Star Wars show The Mandalorian. Which isn’t exactly a fringe series that needed the attention.
It's good that Better Call Saul got an Outstanding Drama Series nomination, but considering how vocal critics have been about the excellent lead performances by Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn, it's positively criminal that they were both overlooked in the acting categories.
The Outstanding Comedy Series category was more encouraging, with What We Do In The Shadows being recognized alongside several of the usual suspects. A critical darling, Shadows (based on the 2014 mockumentary series by Oscar winner Taika Waititi [Jojo Rabbit] and Jemaine Clement) is something of an outlier amongst today's biggest comedy hits, and it's a good sign that an intuitional body such as the Emmys is bothering to recognize it.
The ceremony on September 20th will constitute one of the first times that the media focuses its attention on macro storytelling since all the craziness began, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out, and how the results promise to shape future narratives.
Written by: Dominic CorryDominic Corry is a Los Angeles-based film critic, writer, journalist and broadcaster. Raised in New Zealand, he is also the West Coast editor of Letterboxd, the social network for movie lovers. For more of his film writing, see his website www.TheGoodInMovies.com