Need a New Binge? The International Emmys Has Some Recommendations

INTERNATIONAL EMMYS
COURTESY OF INTERNATIONAL EMMYS

'The Collapse'

The event offers fans of niche TV a curated list of the world's best, from French apocalyptic miniseries 'The Collapse' to the India-set romantic drama 'Made in Heaven.'

For fans of global TV, the International Emmys are the Burning Man of awards season. For years, the event, held in New York each November, was the only place where the sort of series loved by international TV binge watchers — Scandinavian noir, Asian horror or Israeli spy dramas — got celebrated.

The world, of course, has changed. Such international shows as Dark (Gothic German sci-fi), Borgen (Danish political drama) and Kingdom (Korean period horror) have become global hits. But for the true hipsters of foreign television on the hunt for the next big thing, the International Emmys is still the first port of call.

What else but the International Emmys would nominate cutting- edge French miniseries The Collapse — an apocalyptic horror tale done not in Walking Dead mode but realistically, with each of its five episodes shot in a single take? Who else but the International Television Academy, whose some 600 members come from more than 50 countries, would nominate actor Arjun Mathur for his performance as a gay wedding planner in heavily homophobic India in the romantic drama Made in Heaven, or Singapore actress Yeo Yann Yann for the omnibus series Invisible Stories?

At what other awards ceremony would the 44 nominees come from 20 different countries and include such gems as a Norwegian reality show that debunks fake news (The Public Enlightenment) and a Brazilian satire about a group of bored, bureaucratic guardian angels (Nobody’s Looking)?

"I wouldn’t call us curators of the best in international TV, but I think we’re a barometer of what’s out there," says International Academy CEO Bruce Paisner. "There’s a big world beyond the U.S., and these shows reflect that, the local cultures and concerns."

What’s striking about this year’s International Emmy nominees is how fiercely local they are. Much of the global boom in TV drama is being bankrolled by the big U.S. platforms: Made in Heaven is an Amazon show, Nobody’s Looking is on Netflix and HBO Asia carries Invisible Stories. But all this American capital is driving more global diversity, not less.

"If you want to write a great show that maybe, hopefully, might also travel across the Atlantic, you’re going to have to shut off that nagging voice in your mind: Think Netflix! Think Amazon! Think HBO!" notes Yael Hedaya, creator of Fifty, a show about a widowed mother of three struggling to make it as a TV writer in Israel, and a 2020 nominee for best comedy series. "[You’ve got to] forget about those bagels and stay close to home."

Italian showrunners Ludovica Rampoldi, Stefano Sardo, and Alessandro Fabbri stayed very close to home for 1994. The political drama, which airs on Sky, features best actor nominee Guido Caprino as Pietro Bosco, a real-life populist who played a key role in the turbulent political landscape of 1990s Italy, where a certain  Silvio Berlusconi came to power. In the age of  Donald Trump, this very local series looks both universal and frighteningly prescient.

"A rich entrepreneur with a soft spot for women and orange-hued foundation chooses to enter politics — some say to protect his economic interests and avoid convictions — and obtains a broad consensus due to a populist and strongly divisive approach," they note. "Despite being a billionaire with a large economic empire, he’s able to make the voters believe he’s the exponent of the people against the intellectual and political elites, exploiting the general distrust toward traditional politicians and undermining the rules of democracy. Ring a bell?"

Similarly, the themes of Brit drama Responsible Child — based on a true-life story of a 10-year-old boy who was charged as an adult with murder, which picked up nominations in the miniseries and actor categories (for lead Billy Barratt) — will echo with anyone who is concerned with the institutional flaws of an outdated criminal justice system.

"What you can clearly see, over the last number of years, is how the quality of TV series keeps going up," notes Paisner. "We, in some way, have contributed to this explosion of international television. Because many people around the world are making these shows with the idea they could win an International Emmy."

In a normal year, the diverse talents behind all the nominated shows would descend on New York on Nov. 23 for the International Emmy Awards; 2020, of course, is not a normal year. COVID-19 restrictions on travel and public gatherings mean, instead of a Manhattan gala, the academy is planning a live-streamed event, hosted by veteran actor Richard Kind (Mad About You). American presenters including The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Tituss Burgess, Arrow actor Paul Blackthorne, and Fargo actress Kelsey Asbille will announce winners from New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, with the likes of Turkish star (and 2019 International Emmy winner for best actor) Haluk Bilginer, Spain’s Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Brazilian actor Cauã Reymond, Chinese news anchor Fu Xiaotian, and German actress Caroline Peters pitching in from their respective homes in Istanbul, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, and Cologne.

"It won’t be a big party in New York, but it will still be a celebration of global TV," says Paisner. And for those truly hip to the best in international television, it still will be the place to be.

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3 Nominees That Break the Mold 

Welcome to the International Emmys, where TV genre conventions are meant to be broken. THR picks a trio of standout contenders for 2020

Best Comedy Series: Fifty 

"I pitched the show as Girls — the old-lady version," says Israeli creator and showrunner Yael Hedaya about this fictional but broadly autobiographical look at a 49-year-old widowed mother of three struggling to make her way as a television writer. Explains Hedaya, "I thought I’d have a hard time convincing broadcasters that the show has television sex appeal."

Best Actress: Glenda Jackson (Elizabeth Is Missing

A British murder mystery that doubles as a study of dementia, Elizabeth Is Missing stars Oscar winner Jackson as an 80-something in the throes of Alzheimer’s and struggling to figure out what happened when her friend Elizabeth vanishes after a day of gardening. Says director Aisling Walsh: "I wanted an actor who is strong and fearless, and Glenda is both."

Best Actor: Guido Caprino (1994

An Italian drama where politics takes center stage, with Caprino as real-life populist Pietro Bosco, a "man of the people" who played a key role in the rise of Silvio Berlusconi. "He’s an undesirable person … plagued by a constant feeling of being the victim of an injustice. When everything turns for the worst is when he is given the scepter of power," says Caprino.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.