Emmy Nominations Wish List: From ‘Atlanta’ to ‘Westworld’
Last year, in a shock to most, the Emmy Awards actually got their list of nominees very right. After long being considered one of the more out of touch industry awards, the Emmys (which are voted on by peers, not the press or a membership board across the entertainment world) really stepped into the Peak TV era and began rewarding series that had previously and woefully been overlooked. Still, there are always snubs, if only because there are a limited number of nominations to be had — and there are only so many hours in the day to watch all of these nearly 500 scripted shows to begin with. Since the Emmys also covered unscripted, well … you get the point.
That intro also serves as a bit of a disclaimer — this is my list, if I had a vote, of who I think deserves to be recognized in the major categories. There are plenty of great shows I haven’t had a chance to watch from June 1, 2016 of last year to May 31st of this one (the limits of the Emmy nominations window, meaning both Downward Dog and Twin Peaks don’t count since most of their episodes have aired past the cutoff; Game of Thrones also missed out last year by airing before). There are also some highly-lauded shows that frankly I just don’t like. But from everything I have seen (which is an immense, almost insane amount of television), I’ve made my picks below. Since this is just a dream ballot, share your picks in the comments as well, and let’s see how many actually get a nod on Thursday:
Outstanding Comedy Series
Detroiters (Comedy Central)
Man Seeking Woman (FXX)
Search Party (TBS)
2016-2017 was not just a great year for comedy series about people and places that are often overlooked, but series that really broke established formats. Atlanta defied genre and leaned heavily into the surreal, which Man Seeking Woman also continued to do. Baskets and Search Party had incredibly cinematic seasons, while Fleabag broke the fourth wall to fantastically affecting results. Detroiters found a way to be so wonderfully specific about its location and still highlight general truths about urban centers, just as Catastrophe remains one of the most caustically real series about adult relationships, career, and family on the air. All were incredibly unique, sincere, surprisingly emotional, and above all really, really funny.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Jay Baruchel (Man Seeking Woman)
Sam Richardson (Detroiters)
Donald Glover (Atlanta)
Micah Fowler (Speechless)
Patrick Stewart (Blunt Talk)
Tim Robinson (Detroiters)
There are occasions where several actors from the same show should be recognized, and the natural rapport and comedic timing that Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson brought to Detroiters is hard to match. Donald Glover broke new ground with Atlanta, while Jay Baruchel continued to be the Everyman of his under-appreciated series. As the title of his show says, Micah Fowler does not communicate through his own speech, and spent an entire season creating a fully-fledged, funny, and empathetic character through essentially silent acting. Though not enough love is ever given to Blunt Talk, Starz’s cancelled little jewel, Patrick Stewart gave another tour de force performance as a man-child character who is wonderfully impossible to deal with.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe)
Minnie Driver (Speechless)
Phoebe Waller-Coates (Fleabag)
Alia Shawkat (Search Party)
Pamela Adlon (Better Things)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
With so many female-driven comedies this year, this category was particularly hard to narrow down. All of these women had stand-out roles as women trying to hold the world together while everything is falling apart. Emmy queen Julia Louis-Dreyfus does so with confidence, while Shawkat’s performance, like Horgan, was of a messier and less self-assured character. The same is true of Waller-Coates’ conspiratorial protagonist, while Adlon and Driver were down-to-earth, practical, and put-upon. This particular group of actresses and their series also, for the most part, ushered in a new kind of comedy that is also emotionally dense — while also embracing classic elements of wit and slapstick.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Louie Anderson (Baskets)
Bryan Tyree Henry (Atlanta)
Timothy Simons (Veep)
Tony Hale (Veep)
Timm Sharp (Blunt Talk)
Ian Chen (Fresh Off the Boat)
I kept wanting to put Louie Anderson in the Actress category because of the way he so completely embodies his character Christine Baskets. But nay, he belongs here alongside all of these other incredibly uproarious actors. Henry was a standout in Atlanta as Paper Boi, while Simons and Hale have had some of their best material and performances on Veep yet. Sharp’s incredibly neurotic Blunt Talk character is always a joy, but it may be young Ian Chen who has turned in the most consistently hilarious, scene-stealing moments of the year. As an exceptionally driven, HOA-running Mama’s boy, Chen’s catty performance provides one of the most nuanced and fully-developed characters in a comedy series.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Sian Clifford (Fleabag)
Zazie Beetz (Atlanta)
Dolly Wells (Blunt Talk)
Jemima Kirke (Girls)
Lucille Soong (Fresh Off the Boat)
Katie Findlay (Man Seeking Woman)
What has been so heartening about this wave of comedy series in 2016-2017 is that the rosters go so deep, especially with female characters. Clifford was the perfect, grounded foil for Fleabag, in the same way Beetz brought a realness to the sometimes cartoonish world of Atlanta, and Wells’ presence calmed down the more insane moments of Blunt Talk. Kirke was fearless in Girls this year, and Findlay’s plucky optimism (and I would argue with myself here that she is really a co-lead) was a refreshing change of pace for Man Seeking Woman. Soong also continues to be a scene-stealer as the world’s best (or worst?) grandma.
Outstanding Drama Series
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Stranger Things (Netflix)
The Crown (Netflix)
The Americans (FX)
Hap and Leonard (SundanceTV)
Folks, we are blessed with some great TV, especially series that continue to push the boundaries of what we have experienced in television before. Legion was a visual fun house and a delight to explore, while Stranger Things proved you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make obsession-worthy stories. The Crown’s lush settings and incredible performances revamped the idea of historical drama, while The Handmaid’s Tale’s stark setting and carefully crafted world presented a dire potential future. The Americans simmered along as one of TV’s top shows, though it was not its best season (and I nearly swapped it out for Westworld, which for all of its flaws, gave us a great ride). Rectify concluded an emotional run with a near-perfect finale, and the oft-overlooked Hap and Leonard told a devastating and colossally important story that focused on race, all with its trademark humor and humanity.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Keri Russell (The Americans)
Claire Foy (The Crown)
Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Melanie Scrofano (Wynonna Earp)
Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel)
Melissa Benoist (Supergirl)
I know what you’re looking at, and let me explain. There is a certain kind of acting talent that gets overlooked with these awards, and it’s called “making us believe in the CG.” There are few better at this than Benoist, who sells us on Supergirl’s powers and everything else that gets added in post production like no other superhero has. Beyond that, Benoist also embodies what we tend to think of as Superman’s traits — she’s a hero, but also a goofball; she’s sincere, and often awkward; she stands up for what’s right, but can also be wrongheaded and stubborn. Scrofano, in her fantasy series, also has redefined what it means to be a woman and a hero, with a complicated, layered, and sardonic performance that is, like Benoist, so natural and charming.
Russell’s performance continues to grow more layered with each passing season as we start to see a thaw within Elizabeth, while Claire Foy embodied an unknowable character in a relatable way. Moss was exceptional, per usual, as was Farmiga, with both women playing a variety of different versions of their characters throughout the season, based on who was observing them.
As for who isn’t here, I’m fairly certain that both Penny Dreadful and Outlander are not eligible because of most of their episodes aired before the cutoff, but otherwise Catriona Balfe and Eva Green would absolutely be here. Carrie Coon is also represented, though in Limited Series rather than Drama (though she deserves everything in every category).
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Dan Stevens (Legion)
Mike Colter (Luke Cage)
Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel)
Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things)
Michael K Williams (Hap and Leonard)
Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul)
Bob Odenkirk gave another exceptional, energetic, and heartbreaking performance this year in Better Call Saul. But the other actors I’ve chosen are either from new series, or stepped up in a big way this past year. Highmore took over Bates Motel and carried it through its final episodes, while Williams’ mixture of skepticism, deep-seated emotions, and understated humor helped make Hap and Leonard so good this year. Though the material ultimately let him down, Colter showed us a true hero in Luke Cage, and Dan Stevens poured everything into Legion, redefining our idea of a superhero. Out of a cast full of breakout stars, Wolfhard made a lasting impression as a brave yet relatable kid just trying to do the right thing. (Bonus pick: Rami Malek for Mr. Robot, still one of the best parts of a show with a lot of Season 2 flaws).
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Thandie Newton (Westworld)
Grace Gummer (Mr Robot)
Aubrey Plaza (Legion)
Margot Martindale (Sneaky Pete)
Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul)
Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things)
The deck is once again stacked for supporting actresses in drama this year, and each were scene-stealers that helped define and elevate their series. Newton was a fan-favorite as a tough saloon owner searching for the truth, while Plaza got to dance through Legion in a variety of roles. Stranger Things worked because Brown made us believe in her, while Gummer proved to be an exceptional and grounded addition to a story that stalled out in other ways this year. What is an Emmy list without Martindale, though, who had a pivotal role in the underrated Sneaky Pete? And then there is Seehorn, the beacon of light in what was otherwise a very dark season of Better Call Saul.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Clayne Crawford (Rectify)
Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage)
Rufus Sewell (Victoria)
Josh Segarra (Arrow)
Joseph Gilgun (Preacher)
Michael McKean (Better Call Saul)
I like to think this list might be the most random one of all, yet possibly the one I am the most proud of. It’s full of actors who played guys we shouldn’t like, and yet, we can’t help but love (or weep for, in the case of McKean). Crawford once again provided one of the most complicated and exhaustively emotional performances on TV, the very opposite of Sewell’s wry and staid approach to his simmering character, yet both were successful. Segarra and Ali brought such exceptional energy to their respective series that when they weren’t a part of the story things deflated quickly. Gilgun took a cartoonish character on Preacher and made him hilariously relatable and even sweet, while McKean’s pompous and often devastating performance in Better Call Saul continues to represent the show at its very best.
Outstanding Limited Series
Big Little Lies (HBO)
Feud: Bette and Joan (FX)
The White Princess (Starz)
Yes, I have only chosen four out of a possible six, but I won’t compromise quality for numbers (I really didn’t like The Night Of, good performances aside). Each of these four series were fantastic this year, although for once Fargo is not my front-runner. But more so than any other category, the creativity and craftsmanship on display in these series show a new side to TV. Noah Hawley’s aesthetic control over Fargo is mesmerizing, as were the pop colors and stagey drama of the first installment of Ryan Murphy’s Feud. Big Little Lies was luscious and unrestrained in its visuals and performances, while The White Princess provided an exceptional acting showcase that — like every series in this list — put women on top.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
John Tuturro (The Night Of)
Ewan McGregor (Fargo)
Jacob Collins-Levy (The White Princess)
Riz Ahmed (The Night Of)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock)
Cumberbatch could, at this point, phone it in for Sherlock, but he never does — and the show, which has really suffered narratively recently, is always better for it. My problems with The Night Of had nothing to do with Ahmed or Tuturro’s performances, which were fantastic in very different ways. Collins-Levy, a newcomer, was particularly impressive as the paranoid Henry VII, and McGregor’s dual roles in Fargo were played with such amazing specificity that it was easy to forget it was McGregor as both (although the pot-belly and bald spot on the character Ray helped with that suspension of disbelief).
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Carrie Coon (Fargo)
Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies)
Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies)
Susan Sarandon (Feud: Bette and Joan)
Jessica Lange (Feud: Bette and Joan)
Jodie Comer (The White Princess)
Bow down to your queens. There have been some complaints over the last few years about A-list movie stars swooping in and gathering up Emmys for their TV roles, but look, if they deserve it then they deserve it. Kidman, Witherspoon, Sarandon, and Lange gave some of the best performances of their careers in these limited series, and I very much hope they return to TV soon. But don’t overlook the always fantastic Coon for her quiet Fargo character, or Comer as the strong, conflicted, and ultimately heroic queen in The White Princess. An easy category to pick nominees — impossible to pick a winner.
(Though I didn’t fill out a best supporting actress category for limited series, know that it is also filled with even more exceptional women — Essie Davis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michelle Fairley, to name but a few).