Nine 2020 Emmy-Winning TV Shows You Should Watch Immediately
Including a seven-time award-winning comedy, an acclaimed new take on a superhero classic, and a raw and evocative teen drama.
September 21, 2020
Presented in a year like no other in modern history, the 2020 Emmy Awards were always going to look and feel vastly different to previous ceremonies. Unlike last year, the proceedings had a host, with Jimmy Kimmel doing the honours. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no red carpet — and no packed theatre full of Hollywood's most famous TV faces either.
Prior to the chaos of 2020, you'd probably never wondered what an awards ceremony without all the celebrities and hoopla would look like. Now, however, you definitely have the answer. Kimmel rightly pointed out that these things are frivolous and unnecessary whether there's a virus spreading around the globe or not, and this year's virtual event was never going to dispel that reality. Still, amidst some understandable awkwardness — including countless gags about social distancing and an overextended opening joke that spliced old audience footage with Kimmel's monologue to make it look like he was talking to a full room — the awards gave a heap of talented folks shiny trophies for their hard work.
Some, like the big winners from Schitt's Creek crew, beamed in from their own socially distanced party in Canada. Others, such as Watchmen's Regina King and I Know This Much Is True's Mark Ruffalo, streamed in from their homes. A select few stars did join Kimmel in-person for skits and to act as presenters, including Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Zendaya, Laverne Cox, Sterling K Brown and Barry's Anthony Carrigan. But these events are always about the people receiving the prizes — and the great shows that, if you haven't watched them already, you should immediately add to your must-watch list.
What it's about: The idea behind Schitt's Creek is immensely straightforward, and also incredibly obvious: if one of those obscenely wealthy families who monopolise all those trashy reality TV shows was suddenly forced to live without their money, like the rest of us, how would they cope? As envisaged by father-son duo — and the program's stars — Eugene and Daniel Levy, that's the scenario the Rose crew finds itself in, including moving to the titular town that it happens to own as a last resort. Yes, as the name gives away, they're in a sticky situation. The adjustment process isn't easy, but it is very, very funny. And, although plenty of other credits on her resume have made this plain (such as Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman and For Your Consideration, all also with Eugene Levy), the great Catherine O'Hara is an absolute comedy powerhouse as the Rose family matriarch.
Won: Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Catherine O'Hara), Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Eugene Levy), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Daniel Levy), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Annie Murphy), Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (Daniel Levy), Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series (Andrew Cividino and Daniel Levy).
What it's about: If the current spate of seemingly non-stop superhero movies and TV shows has taught us anything, it's that any story can hit the screen multiple times. Viewers have watched oh-so-many versions of Batman, multiple Hulks and many a Spider-Man, after all, so 2019's version of Watchmen — following the 2009 film of the same name — really didn't come as a surprise. The series takes place 34 years after the events of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons-penned comic books of the same name, so it's a sequel, in a way. This is a particularly textured, timely and powerful take on the vigilante tale, however, even though that description has always applied to the underlying material. Starring Oscar-winner Regina King alongside Jeremy Irons, Hong Chau, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jean Smart and Louis Gossett Jr, and created by The Leftovers' Damon Lindelof, this iteration of Watchmen once again explores an alternative history — with a particular (and often chilling) focus on the impact of racist violence and racial injustice.
Won: Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Regina King), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special (Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson).
What it's about: For more than a decade, screenwriter Jesse Armstrong helped give the world one of the best British sitcoms of the 21st century, aka Peep Show. As fans will know, there's a sharp, dark edge to the hit comedy about two flatmates — and while a US drama about a wealthy family of constantly bickering media moguls mightn't necessarily seem like the obvious next step, Succession definitely possesses the same bite. The premise: with patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) suffering from health issues, his children Siobhan (Aussie actor Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin), Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Connor (Alan Ruck) all fight to step into his shoes. Brought to the screen with stellar writing, the resulting series is as compelling and clever as it is entertaining. Across its two seasons to date (with a third set to come), it's also filled with such ferocious performances from its top-notch cast — and such exceptionally witty dialogue for them to snipe and spit at each other — that you'll wish every season ran for twice as long.
Won: Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Jeremy Strong), Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (Jesse Armstrong), Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Andrij Parekh).
What it's about: It'd be easy to think that if you've seen one TV show about angsty teenagers and their antics, you've seen them all. But every now and then — more frequently than you might think, in fact — a new program pops up that demonstrates why that thinking will never ever prove true. Premiering in 2019 and instantly announcing itself as a must-watch addition to its genre, Euphoria is the latest, with Zendaya leading the series as recovering teen drug addict Rue Bennett. The show kicks off when Rue returns from rehab and immediately endeavours to settle back into the lifestyle she prefers. Expect illicit substances, boozy parties, sex, tested friendships, the ups and downs of love, and the quest to feel comfortable in one's shoes, because they all follow. A series that isn't just evocatively shot, but matches its style to the raw emotions on offer, Euphoria serves up one helluva ride.
Won: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Zendaya).
I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE
What it's about: There's no such thing as too much Mark Ruffalo, so six-part HBO series I Know This Much Is True obliges by casting the Avengers and Dark Waters star as identical twin brothers. In an adaptation of Wally Lamb's book of the same name, Ruffalo plays Dominick and Thomas Birdsey — with the latter struggling with paranoid schizophrenia, and the former's life often defined by his sibling. Set in the fictional small town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, and hopping between the present and the 90s, this is a thematically sprawling yet emotionally intimate drama that tracks the twins' parallel paths, while also spinning a story of betrayal, sacrifice and forgiveness. Although the cast also spans Melissa Leo, Kathryn Hahn, Archie Panjabi, Imogen Poots, Rob Huebel and Aisling Franciosi, Ruffalo unsurprisingly turns in two exceptional performances that steal the show. Prepare to be in particularly, unshakeably grim territory, though, with Blue Valentine filmmaker Derek Cianfrance directing every episode.
Won: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Mark Ruffalo).
What it's about: Deborah Feldman's best-selling 2012 autobiography Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots has made the leap to Netflix as a four-part mini-series. And, as the book's title makes plain, both explore her decision to leave her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, New York, flee her arranged marriage and everyone she's ever known, and escape to Berlin to start a brand new life. Names and details have been changed, as tends to be the case with dramas based on real-life stories; however, Unorthodox still follows the same overall path. In a tense but instantly commanding opening to the show's first episode, 19-year-old Esther 'Esty' Shapiro (Shira Haas) slips out of the apartment she shares with her husband Yanky (Amit Rahav), picks up a passport from her piano teacher and nervously heads to the airport. The end result proves a unique and intriguing coming-of-age tale, a thoughtful thriller, and an eye-opening but always careful and respectful look at a culture that's rarely depicted on-screen in such depth. Israeli actress Haas (The Zookeeper's Wife, Foxtrot, Mary Magdalene) turns in a nuanced, weighty and gripping performance as Esty, too — which is pivotal in making Unorthodox so compelling to watch.
Won: Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special (Maria Schrader).
Where to watch it: Netflix.
Further reading: our full review.
What it's about: From Aussie music biopic I Am Woman to US documentary 9to5: The Story of a Movement, the quest to have equal rights for women enshrined in American law has received ample on-screen attention of late. And that should firmly be the case, especially given that the proposed amendment to the US Constitution on that very matter — the Equal Rights Amendment — has yet to be adopted across the entire country. Joining the list of content on the topic, Mrs America explores the subject on the small screen, focusing on the heated fight in the 1970s across a blisteringly potent nine-episode series. As well as a fierce look at a still very relevant chapter of recent history, the series serves up the ever-impressive Cate Blanchett as real-life high-profile conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, fellow Australian Rose Byrne as famed feminist journalist Gloria Steinem, and a lineup of talent that also includes Elizabeth Banks, Uzo Aduba, Sarah Paulson, John Slattery, Margo Martindale, Tracey Ullman and Melanie Lynskey.
Won: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Uzo Aduba).
What it's about: In 2019, when the final batch of episodes from Arrested Development's fifth season dropped, no one really cared. That might sound harsh; however, it's a case of sad but true. Don't worry — star Jason Bateman certainly has enough to keep him busy elsewhere, particularly in the dramatic realm. As well as playing a part both in front of and behind the lens on this year's Stephen King adaptation The Outsider, since 2017 he's been leading, executive producing and sometimes even directing Netflix crime drama Ozark. Following a financial advisor who moves his family from Chicago to a quiet Missouri town after a money-laundering scheme goes wrong in a big way, this is one of Netflix's quiet achievers. That it also features the always-exceptional Laura Linney, as well as now two-time Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series winner Julia Garner — a standout on the big screen in The Assistant, too — also helps.
Won: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Julia Garner).
Where to watch it: Netflix.
What it's about: Called The Morning Show overseas and Morning Wars in Australia, this star-studded series takes a straight-from-the-headlines approach. Immersed within one of America's popular morning television shows, it follows the fallout after one of its hosts is fired after reports of sexual misconduct (something that did indeed happen on the US version of Today a couple of years back). Steve Carell plays the anchor newly joining the unemployment line, Jennifer Aniston returns to TV for her first regular role post-Friends as his shell-shocked but fiercely ambitious co-host and Reese Witherspoon is the opinionated upstart who starts making a splash — with the latter happening after a video of her passionate tirade at an uninformed protestor goes viral. Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass and Gugu Mbatha-Raw also feature (we said this was star-studded) in a series that doesn't always hit as hard as it wants to, but remains highly involving.
Won: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Billy Crudup).
Where to watch it: Apple TV+.
Images: Watchmen via Mark Hill/HBO, Succession via Graeme Hunter/HBO. I Know This Much Is True via Atsushi Nishijima/HBO, Ozark via Jessica Miglio/Netflix.