The Emmy nominations each year, as much as they are a celebration of the television brass rings at a time that the medium is striving for—and achieving—an unparalleled level of greatness, ambition, and provocation, incite a collective airing of grievances.
There is too much TV. We all have our favorite shows. So do Emmy voters. That’s why Modern Family, House of Cards, and Downton Abbey are going to show up on Thursday morning’s lineups instead of the shows with passionate, if small followings and critical hosannas that you—or at least I—like: The Leftovers, The Americans, or The Carmichael Show...
So though the votes have already been cast and the press release is all but ready to be sent out tomorrow morning, we are sending this list out into the universe with a wish and a prayer: Dear God and Oprah above, Please let the Emmy voters have the wisdom to have nominated these underrated and wholly deserving gems—and also may they have forgotten that Downton existed, Amen.
The Americans: Nominate this chilly, engrossing spy drama because no thriller has packed as much of an emotional wallop and human relatability; four seasons in and better than ever. Also, nominate this series so TV critics will stop complaining that it was not nominated.
The Leftovers: The first season of The Leftovers was an uneven, though admirable curio of a HBO experiment. Season two was a marvel of creative audacity: wholly unexpected, spiritual, off-putting, confusing, uncomfortable, and, ultimately, riveting.
Shiri Appleby - UnREAL: Everything about Appleby’s performance as a ruthless reality TV producer is unsettling, from the wanton moral corruption with which she manipulates the contestants to the uniform self-destructiveness of her decisions—not to mention how she travels from one extreme to the other with dizzying speed.
Niecey Nash - Getting On/Scream Queens: Because of a tie in the voting, Nash was one of a whopping eight nominees for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy last year for her stirring, soulful, and sparkling performance in Getting On, a combination that is painfully difficult to achieve. Equally as hard: standing out in the crowded ensemble of Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens, but that’s exactly what Nash did, turning each line of dialogue into a meme-worthy comedy tour de force...and nailing the horror spoof camp tone better than anyone in the cast.
The Carmichael Show: Much has been made about Jerrod Carmichael’s bold seizing of the Norman Lear tradition with his The Carmichael Show—broaching the hot-button topics that real people talk about in their real lives in the sitcom’s comedy. But tackling Cosby, Trump, Islamophobia, gentrification, and more in season two, he illustrated just how dangerous truthfulness is. And just how funny.
Rachel Bloom - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: The single girl trying to figure this crazy thing called life out has been done before in comedy. But never has it done while confronting the pressures, stereotypes, mental illness, self-doubt, self-awareness, and self-destructiveness that occupy that journey in real-life—nor has it been done while singing and dancing. The intelligence and gravitas that Bloom brings to this gem of a show deserves recognition, as does her mad-genius vision to bring this to life in the first place. Bonus points if Bloom’s spectacular co-star Donna Lynne Champlin gets the notice owed to her as well.
Billy on the Street: You gotta have a gimmick, as they say, and Billy Eichner’s is running up to strangers on the streets of New York and “quizzing them in the face” about the nuances of Blake Lively’s career and other concerns of a pop culture savant. But attracting major celebs like Julianne Moore and Tina Fey and staging heightened versions of his infamous obstacle courses, Billy on the Street became more than just a gimmick. It became an event.
Thomas Middleditch - Silicon Valley: The brilliance of Silicon Valley is how it seems like a satire of start-up culture with its cocktail of arrogance, anxiety, and high stakes, but is actually an alarmingly accurate portrayal. Centering it all is Thomas Middleditch, playing what could be a cartoon or cliche but is instead the pitch-perfect portrayal of, well, an arrogant, anxious tech geek weathering Silicon Valley’s relentless onslaught of high stakes.
Catastrophe: Almost a throwback screwball comedy with the whizbang banter between stars and creators Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, who play a married couple brought together by a surprise pregnancy and kept together by the family obligations that ensued. Beating beneath the laughs, though, are pointed, poignant, sometimes upsetting discussions about why we stay committed to our partners. Or sometimes don’t.
Andrew Rannells - Girls: This was, inexplicably, the year Girls became “worth watching” again—though the show never lost its voice or acute knack for millennial observation, perhaps this is merely the year the Media Machine of Lena Dunham and Girls didn’t drown out the show’s quality. But it was a standout season nonetheless, and key to that was the surprisingly affecting work done by Andrew Rannells, graduating from sidekick gay to stumbling human in search of love and the ability to love himself, as are we all.
Amy Landecker - Transparent: Mirroring Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman’s journey to find herself as a trans woman is her family’s scrambling to do the same: discover who they really and what they really want out of life following a life-altering revelation. In season two, it’s Amy Landecker’s Sarah whose path is most interesting, with narcissism, responsibility, a possible nervous breakdown, and boundless love all battling to present themselves in her new identity.
Malachi Kirby - Roots: Leaving the conversation of whether we needed a new Roots or if it was wise to risk the original’s legacy with an update, undeniable is relative newcomer Malachi Kirby’s presence as Kunta Kinte. Every gaze is magnetic, every stance betraying a mix of power and brokenness. It’s a scorching performance, one that doesn’t defer to its character’s importance, but inhabits it.
Lili Taylor - American Crime: The acting in the second season of American Crime is so good. But the revelation, in my eyes, is Lili Taylor, who gave a mother without the means to care for her son but the unshakable desire to do so a kind of heartbreaking ferocity that lingered with me long after the show’s polarizing final scene.
Best Drama: Better Call Saul, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards, Mr. Robot, Orange Is the New Black
Best Comedy: black-ish, Master of None, Modern Family, Silicon Valley, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep
Best Actor, Drama: Bobby Cannavale - Vinyl, Paul Giamatti - Billions, Rami Malek - Mr. Robot, Wagner Moura - Narcos; Bob Odenkirk - Better Call Saul, Kevin Spacey - House of Cards
Best Actress, Drama: Catriona Balfe - Outlander, Claire Danes - Homeland, Viola Davis - How to Get Away With Murder, Taraji P. Henson - Empire, Julianna Margulies - The Good Wife, Robin Wright - House of Cards
Best Actor, Comedy: Anthony Anderson - black-ish, Aziz Ansari - Master of None, Will Forte - Last Man on Earth, Gael Garcia Bernal - Mozart in the Jungle, Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory, Jeffrey Tambor - Transparent
Best Actress, Comedy: Rachel Bloom - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Ellie Kemper - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Veep, Tracee Ellis Ross - black-ish, Amy Schumer - Inside Amy Schumer, Lily Tomlin - Grace and Frankie
Best Supporting Actor, Drama: Jonathan Banks - Better Call Saul, Jim Carter - Downton Abbey, Peter Dinklage - Game of Thrones, Kit Harington - Game of Thrones, Michael Kelly - House of Cards, Christian Slater - Mr. Robot
Best Supporting Actress, Drama: Uzo Aduba - Orange Is the New Black, Christine Baranski - The Good Wife, Emilia Clarke - Game of Thrones, Joanne Froggatt - Downton Abbey, Lena Headey - Game of Thrones
Best Supporting Actor, Comedy: Louie Anderson - Baskets, Tituss Burgess - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ty Burrell - Modern Family, Laurence Fishburne - black-ish, Tony Hale - Veep, Keegan-Michael Key - Key and Peele
Best Supporting Actress, Comedy: Mayim Bialik - The Big Bang Theory, Anna Chlumsky - Veep, Allison Janney - Mom, Jane Krakowski - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Judith Light - Transparent, Kate McKinnon - Saturday Night Live
Best TV Movie: All the Way, Confirmation, The Dresser, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, A Very Murray Christmas
Best Limited Series: American Crime, American Crime Story: People vs. O.J. Simpson, The Night Manager, Roots
Best Actor, Movie/Limited Series: Bryan Cranston - All the Way, Benedict Cumberbatch - Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, Idris Elba - Luther, Tom Hiddleston - The Night Manager, Oscar Isaac - Show Me a Hero, Courtney B. Vance - American Crime Story: People vs. O.J. Simpson
Best Actress, Movie/Limited Series: Kirsten Dunst - Fargo, Felicity Huffman - American Crime, Angela Lansbury - Driving Miss Daisy, Audra McDonald - Lady Day at Emersons Bar and Grill, Sarah Paulson - American Crime Story: People vs. O.J. Simpson, Kerry Washington - Confirmation
Best Supporting Actor, Movie/Limited Series: Sterling K. Brown - American Crime Story: People vs. O.J. Simpson, Ted Danson - Fargo, Hugh Laurie - The Night Manager, Anthony Mackie - All the Way, Jesse Plemons - Fargo, Forest Whitaker - Roots
Best Supporting Actress, Movie/Limited Series: Kathy Bates - American Horror Story: Hotel, Olivia Colman - The Night Manager, Emayatzy Corinealdi - Roots, Regina King - American Crime, Melissa Leo - All the Way, Jean Smart - Fargo