2020 Emmys: At 24, Zendaya becomes youngest lead drama actress winner


Zendaya is euphoric at the Emmys.

She won the best actress in a drama for her role on HBO's "Euphoria," scoring one of the few long-shot victories in a Sunday night full of wins from favorites.

The 24-year-old is the youngest to ever win in the category and she overcame a strong group of nominees that included Olivia Colman, Jodie Comer, Laura Linney, and Sandra Oh.

One year ago, Comer took the spot as the youngest actress to win the best lead actress in a drama at age 26.

Gleeful family and friends screamed, cheered, hugged, and cried behind her as a stunned Zendaya accepted the trophy in what appeared to be a hotel suite.

"This is pretty crazy!" she said, trying to hold back tears.

On "Euphoria," Zendaya plays Rue Bennett, a teenage addict struggling with her sobriety and recovery on the series that delves into sex, drugs, trauma, and identity among high-schoolers.

“Schitt’s Creek,” the little Canadian show about a fish-out-of-water family, made history at Sunday’s Emmy Awards with a comedy awards sweep, something even TV greats including “Frasier” and “Modern Family” failed to achieve.

Zendaya, 24, became the youngest lead drama actress winner for her role as a troubled teenager in “Euphoria.” She’s only the second Black actress to win the award, following Viola Davis’ groundbreaking 2015 win for “How to Get Away With Murder.”

“I know this seems like a really weird time to be celebrating,” Zendaya said. “But I just want to say there is hope in the young people out there. I know our TV show doesn’t always feel like a great example of that,” but young people out there are “doing the work.”

“Succession,” a family power struggle over a media empire, was honored as best drama series, and creator Jesse Armstrong used the opportunity to offer “unthanks,” including to President Donald Trump for what Armstrong called his “crummy” handling of the pandemic.

“Succession” star Jeremy Strong won the drama actor trophy for his role as a potential heir to the throne.

The virtual ceremony, with a hard-working Jimmy Kimmel as host, went smoothly despite producers’ concerns that the plan to link 100-plus nominees remotely could result in glitches.

Although the rise of streaming services including Disney+ and Apple TV+ dominates the TV landscape, it was Emmy stalwart HBO that stole the show, with winners including “Succession” and “Watchmen” making up for its now-departed awards giant “Game of Thrones.” ViacomCBS-owned Pop TV and its quirky comedy also proved unbeatable.

Disney’s Star Wars-derived “The Mandalorian” had to settle for technical awards, falling short in the best drama contest.

The awards for Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek” included best comedy series and trophies for its stars, including Catherine O’Hara and father-son Eugene and Daniel Levy.

“It is absolutely incredible. I think my dad said it best earlier this evening: it’s a dream you don’t want to wake up from, to be honest. What an absolutely unbelievable way to end our series,” Daniel Levy said backstage.

His character’s comfortable pansexuality led to storylines that Levy called personally “cathartic.”

In his acceptance speech, he said the sitcom was about “the transformational effects of love and acceptance, and this is something we need more now than ever before,” encouraging people to register and vote to achieve that goal.

Other winners, including “Watchmen” star Regina King, made a point that the Nov. 3 general election was near.

All the winners accepted their awards virtually in the pandemic-safe ceremony, including O’Hara, but she wasn’t alone.

“Though these are the strangest of days, may you have as much joy being holed up in a room or two with your family as I had with my dear Roses,” O’Hara said from Canada, surrounded in a decorated room by mask-wearing co-stars who play the Rose family members.

Levy called it “ironical that the straightest role I ever played lands me an Emmy for a comedy performance. I have to seriously question what I’ve been doing” for the past 50 years.

Moments later, his son won the award for comedy writing for “Schitt’s Creek” episode, then shared a directing award and captured the supporting actor comedy trophy. The supporting actress trophy went to his co-star Annie Murphy.

Daniel Levy thanked his father and O’Hara for teaching an extended “master class” in comedy. The show’s sweep came for its much-acclaimed final season.

References to coronavirus were an ongoing part of the ceremony, with essential workers — including a teacher and a UPS deliveryman — presenting awards and Jason Sudeikis ostensibly getting a COVID-19 test onstage.

In a year with a record number of Black nominees, 35, there was a notable lack of diversity in the show’s early going. With “Schitt’s Creek” gobbling up comedy awards, that left “Insecure” and creator Issa Rae empty-handed.

That was also true of Ramy Youssef, creator-star of the semi-autobiographical comedy “Ramy,” about a young Muslim American’s love and religious life. Yousef tweeted a video of a hazmat suit-wearing person clutching an Emmy and waving goodbye after he lost the comedy actor category.

There was a sign of change with the drama awards, which came in the latter part of the ceremony, and Black actors ultimately won a record seven trophies. But there was a familiar pattern, with actors of color doing exceptional work in limited series but not finding as much opportunity in ongoing shows, with Zendaya this year’s exception.

“Watchmen” is a case in point. The graphic novel-adaptation, steeped in racial pain, was voted best-limited series and King won lead actress for her work on the HBO show. She was showered by confetti as she accepted in an armchair, wearing a T-shirt that honored police shooting victim Breonna Taylor.

“This is so freaking weird,” said King, who regained her composure and called on viewers to vote and, backstage, explained why she wore the message shirt.

“The cops still haven’t been held accountable,” she said. “She represents just decades, hundreds of years of violence against Black bodies. Wearing Breonna’s likeness and representing her and her family and the stories that we were exploring, presenting and holding a mirror up to on ‘Watchmen,’ it felt appropriate to represent with Breonna Taylor.”

Her co-star, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, won the Emmy for best supporting actor in a limited series. Uzo Aduba won the counterpart actress award for her portrayal of Shirley Chisholm in “Mrs. America.”

Anthony Anderson, a nominee for “black-ish,” came on stage to make his disappointment vigorously known, saying the awards should have been “Howard University homecoming Black.”

“This isn’t what it should have been. ... But Black stories, Black performances, and Black Lives Matter,” he said, urging Kimmel to shout with him.

Tyler Perry, the actor turned media mogul and influential booster of African American talent accepted the Governor's Award.

Supporting drama awards went to Billy Crudup for “The Morning Show” and repeat winner Julia Garner for “Ozark.”

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” was again honored as best variety-talk series, with David Letterman announcing the award after being abandoned roadside by an annoyed ride-share driver.

Oliver joined the ranks of winners calling for Americans to vote, as did Mark Ruffalo, who won the limited series acting trophy for “I Know This Much is True.”

Kimmel opened the show with a monologue that appeared to be defiantly delivered in front of a packed, cheering theater — until it was revealed clips were played from past Emmy shows.

“Of course I’m here all alone. Of course, we don’t have an audience,” he said. “This isn’t a MAGA rally. It’s the Emmys.”

A minor gaffe marred Saturday’s virtual creative arts Emmys for technical and other honors when Jason Bateman’s name was announced for a guest acting award that belonged to Ron Cephas Jones of “This Is Us.”

Bateman was one of the few people on hand at the Staples Center for Sunday’s show, sitting in the audience during Kimmel’s opening monologue. The actor sat stone-faced amid a collection of cardboard cutouts, trading jokes with Kimmel after the host pointed out he was there.

In the cumulative awards handed out Sunday and at the creative arts events, HBO was the leader with 30 trophies, followed by Netflix with 21, Pop TV with 10 and Disney+ and NBC with eight each.

For the second consecutive year, voters delivered a massive mea culpa to a critically-acclaimed series that the Emmys had ignored until its final season

An odd mix of ingredients went into Sunday night’s 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, but three of the ones that had the biggest impact on the show were the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The pandemic obviously forced the Television Academy to go virtual with the three-hour telecast, which had to go on with social distancing and no live audience and winners accepting from homes around the world. And to be honest, it kind of looked like a mess — an attempt to create a new kind of show that tried really hard but showed the strain every inch of the way.

And all the frantic comedy and flailing that poor host Jimmy Kimmel was forced to do got in the way of the heart of the show, which took a cue from the record number of Black performing nominees and consistently returned to speeches and film clips that emphasized the power of voices that are often underrepresented on television.

From a clip with Issa Rae, to an impassioned speech by presenter Anthony Anderson, to the presentation of the Governor's Award to Tyler Perry, to an America Ferrera video devoted to the proposition that “when the TV has more voices, it’s better,” the show that emerged between jokes was a showcase for Black Lives Televised. And while the voters showed they’d already gotten the message with a record number of non-white nominees, they added four more nonwhite acting winners to go with the six at the Creative Arts Emmys shows, meaning that more than 50% of this year’s 19 acting winners were people of color.

“Watchmen,” which ruled in the limited-series categories, was rooted in a story of racial oppression from the 1920s — but the drama and comedy series that dominated the night, “Succession” and “Schitt’s Creek,” had nothing to do with striking blows for inclusion or diversity. They were, instead, simply the shows that voters decided represented the best of the year — not the ones that felt timeliest for 2020, but the ones that seemed most entertaining and coolest to the voters.

That meant that for the second consecutive year, the comedy categories delivered a massive mea culpa to a critically-acclaimed series that the Emmys had ignored until its final season. And for that, I blame Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Last year, voters discovered the critics’ favorite “Fleabag” in its final season — and when they gave it four awards, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was such a delightful winner that the show turned into a full-on “Fleabag” love-fest. How better to recreate that feeling, even if it’s virtual this time around than to find another critics’ favorite that they’d ignored in its earlier seasons?

So they filled that 2020 slot with “Schitt’s Creek,” which ended up winning all seven comedy awards on Sunday night, in addition to the two it had won at the Creative Arts Emmys ceremonies earlier in the week. The show had won a grand total of zero Emmys for its first five seasons, but in its final season it did something no other series, comedy or drama, had ever done — it swept the top series award, as well as all four lead and supporting acting awards and the directing and writing Emmys.

Was that going overboard? Yeah, it probably was, leaving no room for the wonderful final season of “The Good Place” or the timeliness of “Insecure” or the scrappy “What We Do in the Shadows.” But it’s hard to argue with giving awards to Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, who hadn’t won Emmys since they were writing for “SCTV” in 1983 and 1982, respectively, or to Eugene’s son Dan, who picked up prizes as an actor, writer, and producer.

It would have made the Levys the first parent-child team to win acting Emmys in the same year if it weren’t for Ron Cephas Jones and Jasmine Cephas Jones, who beat them to the punch by winning Creative Arts Emmys earlier in the week for “The is Us” and “#FreeRayshawn,” respectively,

Voters were a little more egalitarian in the drama-series and limited-series categories, were big winners “Succession” and “Watchmen” each won four awards but didn’t hog all the statuettes. Those categories were where you found the night’s few upsets: Zendaya winning the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy for “Euphoria” over Laura Linney for “Ozark,” Jennifer Aniston for “The Morning Show” and Olivia Colman for “The Crown”; Uzo Aduba winning Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for “Mrs. America” over Jean Smart for “Watchmen” and Toni Collette for “Unbelievable”; and the Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special award going to the intimacy of “Unorthodox” over the scale and scope of “Watchmen.”

Surprises, though, were relatively scarce on Sunday. And while it’s no surprise that HBO came out with more wins than any other network or platform, as usual, it must also be frustrating for Netflix. The streaming giant smashed the existing records with 160 nominations to 107 for HBO but ended up with 21 wins to HBO’s 30.

The night was a lovely going-away party for “Schitt’s Creek,” which won’t be back next year. But does Sunday’s win mean that “Succession” is, well, the successor to “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s previous Emmy juggernaut in that category? It’s probably premature to suggest that — and who knows what the TV landscape will look like a year from now, with some shows still delayed and others in COVID mode.

But whatever the TV landscape looks like a year from now, can we hope that the Emmy show itself looks a little different?

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