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A 2020 Emmy Awards list for the captive home audience

The cast of FX's Emmy-nominated comedy "What We Do in the Shadows."
Harvey Guillén (left) plays Guillermo, a human living in a house of vampires, in FX’s Emmy-nominated comedy “What We Do in the Shadows.” His vampire housemates include Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou).
(FX)

In honor of Sunday’s virtual Emmy Awards, some real winners for right now

The 2020 Emmy Awards telecast is airing at 5 p.m. Sunday on ABC, but the show will be happening in a virtual space, with the stars coming to you from 100-plus locations worldwide, and host Jimmy Kimmel playing to an invisible crowd. It will be a weird broadcast for a weird time, and when the virtual party is over, we will still be in the same surreal place we’ve been in since March.

Fortunately, we will have some great TV to keep us company. Regardless of who wins on Sunday, here are some Emmy-nominated shows that have provided prize-winning programming in some very important categories that I made up just for us, the captive audience at home. They are our champions, my friends.

Best Payoffs: “Succession” (HBO) and “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

Given the limited nature of our entertainment options, it’s not like anyone needs to incentivize our TV time. But in the interest of recognizing all gifts that come our way, let us raise our remotes and/or scrolling fingers to HBO’s “Succession” and FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” for rewarding viewers’ dedication with second seasons that were so much better than their first go-rounds.

In its second season of exploring the epically dysfunctional Roy family and its toxic media empire, “Succession” was ruthlessly focused on the many prices Logan Roy’s family and assorted underlings must pay to stay on the payroll and remain in the king’s good graces. The second season was both sharper and funnier than the first, with a season-finale battle royal in which the spoils went to the patient folks at home. And a golden drumstick to Emmy nominee Matthew Macfadyen for a poultry-related triumph that rates as one of my favorite moments of the TV year. Team Tom forever!

And speaking of dysfunctional families, here’s to the nest of Staten Island vampires at the heart of “What We Do in the Shadows,” the oddball FX comedy that emerged from the anemic ashes of its fairly forgettable first season as one sexy comedic beast. If there is anything more hilarious than Nandor, Nadja and Laszlo frantically battling the curse of the email chain letter or Colin Robinson getting his energy-vampire jollies via Internet trolling, I’m not sure my now-fractured funny bone can take it. Kudos to Harvey Guillén as the long-suffering Guillermo, whose martyred reaction shots deserve their own highlight reel.

Best Reality Checks: “Bad Education” (HBO) and “The Crown” (Netflix)

When the going gets tough, I go in search of TV reminders that life could be so much worse. For instance, I could be Frank Tassone (the Emmy-nominated Hugh Jackman), whose impeccably assembled life as superintendent of schools in Roslyn, N.Y., is blown to untidy pieces by a cascading series of scandals, most of which were caused by Frank and methodically uncovered by a student reporter at the Roslyn High School newspaper. In this inspired-by-true-events movie, a fearless Jackman plays Frank as a guy driven and tortured by his need to be the best and the best-compensated man he can be, and Allison Janney is her usual priceless self as a fellow bad-news bureaucrat who gives Frank a run for his ill-gotten money. Throw in a rumpled Ray Romano as a beleaguered board member, and you have a cautionary tale worth your wholehearted support.

Meanwhile, in Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II (Emmy nominee Olivia Colman) must contend with a Soviet spy in the house, a discontented husband underfoot and a new Princess Margaret-related scandal. Not to mention the deadly Aberfan mining disaster, a possible coup d’etat and her own version of cabin fever. No wonder the corgis are so barky. In its absorbing third season, “The Crown” weaves the historical, the personal and the fictional into a safety net strong enough to hold you and your non-royal pains. Long may it reign.

Alternative Families of the Year: “Stranger Things” (Netflix) and “Insecure” (HBO)

It’s not that we don’t love our bubble mates. Of course we love them! It’s just that sometimes we need to take refuge in people who are not them. So join us as we roll out the welcome mat for the loyal crews of the Emmy-nominated drama series “Stranger Things” and the Emmy-nominated comedy series “Insecure,” who are there when we need them and blessedly not there when we don’t.

With all due respect to Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and her Mama Bear fight to save the kids from becoming Mind Flayer meat, Season 3 of “Stranger Things” was once again dedicated to the power of friendship. With much of the action set in the awesome new Starcourt Mall, “Stranger Things” was all about the people who have your back, whether you are shopping at the Gap, cracking Russian codes or turning the mall into a Cold War battleground. Cinnabons for everybody!

If you are looking for more of an adult hang, ease on over to “Insecure,” where Issa (Emmy nominee Issa Rae) spends the bulk of Season 4 planning a homegrown L.A. block party while viewers bask in the glow of brunches, baby showers and self-care Sundays starring Issa and her formidable females. Yes, things between Issa and Molly (the Emmy-nominated Yvonne Orji) got very tense for a while, but their friendship survived blowups and flameouts, and their bubble remained as sturdy as ever because it had to. Let that be a lesson to us.

Alternate Universe Award: “Normal People” (Hulu)

Remember romance? And college? And rain? Lots and lots of rain? If any or all of the above send you into a swoony nostalgia spiral, welcome to “Normal People,” your TV safe house.

Based on Sally Rooney’s engulfing novel of the same name, Hulu’s 12-episode series about the turbulent relationship between two Irish teenagers — the awkward, brainy Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and the sporty but also brainy Connell (Emmy nominee Paul Mescal) — looks beautiful while also being totally honest about its messes. Marianne and Connell meet in high school, where he is popular, she is a pariah, and their relationship is definitely on the down-low. But the dynamics change when they both end up at Trinity College, where Marianne is in her element, Connell is out of the loop, and their relationship dramas are never-ending.

I promise that this is not as tiresome as it sounds. Thanks to the fierce, fully committed performances by Edgar-Jones and Mescal and the smart, subtle scriptwriting by Rooney, Alice Birth and Mark O’Rowe, “Normal People” will sweep you away into a world of intelligent conversations, deep passions, beautifully filmed sex and enough rain-drenched scenery to make you forget that it’s a jungle out there. Relief, ho!

For Your Non-Emmy Consideration: “Mr. Sou!l” (Streaming on DGC@Home)

While we are on the subject of treasures, here is a twofer. The first is “Mr. Soul!,” a new documentary dedicated to “Soul!,” a public-television variety show that celebrated the best of Black culture in the late 1960s and early ’70’s. Hosted by the erudite Ellis Haizlip and produced by a Black women-led crew, “Soul!” aired on PBS from from 1968 to 1973, giving precious TV exposure to everyone from Earth, Wind & Fire and Al Green to poet Nikki Giovanni and novelist Toni Morrison. Directed by Melissa Haizlip (Ellis’ niece), “Mr. Soul!” is packed with one-of-a-kind archival clips, insightful interviews and an energy that has not dimmed with time.

Which brings us to our second treasure. The 99-minute “Mr. Soul!” will be streaming through Sept. 24 courtesy of DGC@Home, the virtual-cinema headquarters for San Diego’s Digital Gym Cinema, which is currently closed due to COVID-19. Your $12 streaming pass will help benefit the Media Arts Center in North Park, which is home to the Digital Gym Cinema and also the source of many youth-education and community programs, including the Teen Producers Project and the San Diego Latino Film Festival. That’s a lot of priceless culture for $12. Go to the Digital Gym website (digitalgym.org) for information.


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