At no other time is the blessing and the curse of there being so much good television out there—except for maybe when I’m bleary-eyed watching hours of screeners for a deadline—than when it’s time to whittle down the literally hundreds of deserving shows and actors to a measly six or seven nominated for TV awards.
And that is precisely why it’s so goddamn infuriating each year when freaking House of Cards, Homeland, and Modern Family show up all over the Emmys ballot instead of far more deserving (if, sure, less seen) shows and performers.
Voting for the 2017 Emmy nominations began this week, meaning that networks and studios are basically shooting cash out of air cannons all over Hollywood with their fancy and pricey For Your Consideration parties and ads. In a television landscape in which no one can seem to agree on the measure of a show’s success—Ratings? Trending on Twitter? Good reviews?—there is still a near-universal thirst for awards attention.
So, bracing for the annual Emmys injustice—voters love rubberstamping stale veterans and ignoring vibrant new blood—and operating with the naïve optimism that voters might pay attention to what a little ole critic with a vitamin D deficiency because of how much TV he watches has to say, here is my helpful guide to voters on how to fill out their ballots.
Best Comedy Series
The Good Place
Just missing the cut: Transparent, One Day at a Time, Silicon Valley, Fleabag, Dear White People
Our two favorite broadcast shows from last year—black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat—are replaced by the two best broadcast sitcoms from this year: the surprisingly audacious The Good Place and Speechless, which balances razor-sharp writing with buttery heartwarming feelies better than any comedy since Modern Family’s first season. The Girls final season was a triumph of voice and confidence, just as the debut season of Insecure was.
Atlanta mixed the vibrant specificity of place with a resounding socio-political commentary with unrivaled grace and humor, while Catastrophe and Veep are in a battle over sheer number of gut-busting, ribald jokes per minute.
Best Drama Series
The Good Fight
The Handmaid’s Tale
This Is Us
Just missing the cut: Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, Scandal, Underground, Better Call Saul
Game of Thrones, which won Best Drama the last two years, isn’t eligible this year, making this category more exciting than usual. The Americans, despite one of its more uneven seasons, is overdue. The eerily politically resonant The Handmaid’s Tale and the painfully, emotionally resonant The Leftovers are probably the most deserving—and the most cinematically and creatively groundbreaking, to boot. The Crown, on the other hand, is quite simply TV’s most epic and lavish production, but never sacrifices the intimacy of storytelling for its scope.
The Good Fight is one of TV’s few scripted programs to write Trump’s presidency into its narrative, and was richer and more provocative for it. This Is Us, while polarizing for sure, is popular, but popular because it does a very hard thing—make an aggressive and transparent play for emotion—and does it astonishingly well. Meanwhile Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar was a visually sumptuous, grief-soaked portrait of a southern family told with the care and deliberateness TV creators rarely give themselves the permission to take.
Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Rachel Bloom – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Lena Dunham – Girls
Minnie Driver – Speechless
Sarah Jessica Parker – Divorce
Kathryn Hahn – l Love Dick
Issa Rae – Insecure
Just missing the cut: Tracee Ellis Ross – black-ish, Sharon Horgan – Catastrophe, Kristen Bell – The Good Place, Justina Machado – One Day at a Time, Michaela Watkins – Casual
This category is a maddening embarrassment of riches, capable of being filled at least three times over with deserving women. Bloom does everything TV’s best comedy actors are doing—being hilarious and giving greater insight to the human condition—but does it while singing and dancing to songs that she just happened to write, too. Parker does something nearly as herculean: she takes all the narcissism that read as charming as Carrie Bradshaw and leans into its off-putting prickliness, creating a character on Divorce that, amazingly, stands up next to some of her best work on Sex and the City.
Hahn is a spellbinding tornado of causticness, selfishness, insecurity, sexuality, and womanhood on the explosive I Love Dick. Driver brings similar ferocity to the role of a mother lion protecting her young with little regard for propriety on Speechless. Dunham’s nuanced acting work on Girls often goes unnoticed, but, especially in a devastating diner scene with Adam Driver, demanded attention in the series’ final season. And Rae is the very definition of a breakout star: charismatic, fearless, and singular in her creation.
Best Actor in a Comedy Series
Anthony Anderson – black-ish
Aziz Ansari – Master of None
Rob Delaney – Catastrophe
Donald Glover – Atlanta
Bill Hader – Documentary Now
Jeffrey Tambor – Transparent
Just missing the cut: Thomas Middleditch – Silicon Valley, Ted Danson – The Good Place, Hank Azaria – Brockmire, Chris Geere – You’re the Worst, Neil Patrick Harris – Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Glover and Ansari’s nominations, as much as they are for creating engaging, instantly likable protagonists, are also for crafting the unmistakable voices of the respective shows they created. Similarly, Delaney is a creator and writer of his show, offering one of the most brutal and brutally funny takes on the family man in a show that does the same for parenthood and marriage.
Anderson is the narrator and beating heart of a broadcast sitcom that takes equal pleasure in its high-octane energy—led by Anderson’s performance—and its ability to say something meaningful. Tambor takes the idea of saying something meaningful and spins it on its head, offering up the idea that these protagonists who are changing the world can still be fallible, even terrible, people. And Hader on Documentary Now? It’s quite simply batshit what he does, almost defying description other than to say: “Hilarious.”
Best Actress in a Drama Series
Christine Baranski – The Good Fight
Carrie Coon – The Leftovers
Claire Foy – The Crown
Elisabeth Moss – The Handmaid’s Tale
Keri Russell – The Americans
Evan Rachel Wood – Westworld
Just missing the cut: Viola Davis – How to Get Away With Murder, Jurnee Smollett-Bell – Underground, Robin Wright – House of Cards, Katherine Langford – 13 Reasons Why, Shiri Appleby – UnREAL
To have to choose between Carrie Coon and Elisabeth Moss in this category is simply cruel. (Though we’d venture that Coon will miss out on a nomination for the underappreciated Leftovers.) Not only do they give the best performances in this category, but of the entire year in any division. Close behind them, though, is Claire Foy, who rises regally to the formidable task of playing Queen Elizabeth with fitting dignity and tantalizing humanity.
Baranski is playing the same role she did on The Good Wife, but with the added depth the promotion of lead to its spinoff affords her. Russell is typically thrilling in another season of The Americans, while Wood, in a role that is veritably supporting in the frustrating Westworld narrative, makes such an impression that HBO has submitted her complex work—a robot flittering through different levels of consciousness—here in lead.
Best Actor in a Drama Series
Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us
Ian McShane – American Gods
Dylan Minnette – 13 Reasons Why
Justin Theroux – The Leftovers
Matthew Rhys – The Americans
Dan Stevens - Legion
Just missing the cut: Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul, Anthony Hopkins – Westworld, Aldis Hodge – Underground, Kevin Spacey – House of Cards, Freddie Highmore – Bates Motel
Youth is often a liability at the Emmys, which is why, despite its massive popularity, the intense and emotionally vigorous work Minnette did in (the admittedly problematic) 13 Reasons Why will be ignored. But for sheer emotional athleticism, Brown stands a great shot at landing This Is Us’s biggest acting nomination. And if endurance is taken into account, Theroux should take every award for the ringer—emotional, physical, and often naked—The Leftovers put him through over three seasons.
McShane in lead is a bit of category fraud, though there’s no denying his godly commanding of the screen in American Gods. And it takes a special talent to ground and center a series as mind-bending and challenging as Legion the way that Stevens did. And while, like his co-star Russell, Rhys’s phenomenal work on The Americans is hardly anything new, it’s still a crime that it’s yet to be rewarded here.
Best Limited Series
Big Little Lies
Feud: Bette and Joan
The Night Of
Just missing the cut: Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Genius, The Young Pope, Shots Fired, When We Rise
The zeitgeist-seizing Big Little Lies should make the biggest splash here, though last summer’s The Night Of rivals it in terms of popularity—and the former stuck its landing with far more satisfaction than the latter. Fargo and American Crime delivering outstanding new season is expected at this point, which is a testament to their reliable level of quality. Feud, meanwhile, should be catnip for industry voters salivating over the campiness and dishiness of this showbiz story.
Best TV Movie
Black Mirror: San Junipero
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Looking: The Movie
The Wizard of Lies
Just missing the cut: Sherlock: The Lying Detective, Custody, Churchill’s Secret, Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution, The Most Hated Woman in America
It’s shrewd of Black Mirror to enter a single episode into the much less competitive TV movie category rather than limited series, even if we’d have chosen “Nose Dive” over “San Junipero.” In a weak category, the middling HBO biopics Henrietta Lacks and Wizard of Lies surely get in, while the well-acted—if by-the-numbers—Killing Reagan is on the fence. Not standing a chance of actual nomination, but more engaging, meaningful, and spirited than the rest of the contenders, is the farewell Looking movie.
Best Actress in a Limited Series/TV Movie
Lauren Graham – Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
Bryce Dallas Howard – Black Mirror: Nose Dive
Nicole Kidman – Big Little Lies
Jessica Lange – Feud: Bette and Joan
Reese Witherspoon – Big Little Lies
Oprah Winfrey – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Just missing the cut: Felicity Huffman – American Crime, Carrie Coon – Fargo, Sanaa Lathan – Shots Fired, Mary Louise-Parker – When We Rise, Viola Davis – Custody
Seriously, screw this category. Screw this category and its insane competitiveness. This was my biggest Sophie’s Choice category. The Big Little Lies women are unquestionable inclusions. Winfrey is towering in her movie. Graham delivers the monologue of the year in Gilmore Girls, and is owed Emmys attention still for years of being snubbed as Lorelai. Howard is a mesmerizing mess in the harrowing “Nose Dive” episode of Black Mirror, and Lange is a force—and much more forceful than co-star Susan Sarandon—in Feud. It’s insane. Any other year, the also-rans in this category could win.
Best Actor in a Limited Series/TV Movie
Riz Ahmed – The Night Of
Robert De Niro – Wizard of Lies
Harvey Fierstein – Hairspray Live!
Jonathan Groff – Looking: The Movie
Ewan McGregor – Fargo
Guy Pearce – When We Rise
Just missing the cut: John Turturro – The Night Of, Jude Law – The Young Pope, Geoffrey Rush – Genius, Timothy Hutton – American Crime, Ricky Gervais – David Brent: Life on the Road
This category, however: meh. Ahmed is far and away the standout for his quiet, powerful work in The Night Of. Co-star John Turturro will likely get Emmys love, but we’d rather his spot go to someone like Groff, who created one of the most refreshing gay male characters we’ve seen yet on television, or Pearce, who, for all of When We Rise’s afterschool special issues, was profoundly moving in the series. Hopefully voters will appreciate what a gift it was to see national treasure Fierstein recreate his iconic Hairspray performance for TV, while De Niro doing Madoff is exactly as good, if as boring, as you’d imagine. And McGregor playing twins on Fargo? Sure. We’ll include him, too.
(Because our fingers are about to fall off, we’ll present the rest of our picks without commentary.)
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Donna Lynne Champlin – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
June Diane Raphael – Grace and Frankie
Amy Landecker – Transparent
Judith Light – Transparent
Kate McKinnon – Saturday Night Live
Rita Moreno – One Day at a Time
Just missing the cut: D’Arcy Carden – The Good Place, Yvonne Orji – Insecure, Molly Shannon – Divorce, Jenifer Lewis – black-ish, Allison Williams – Girls
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Louie Anderson – Baskets
Tituss Burgess – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Bryan Tyree Henry – Atlanta
Andrew Rannells - Girls
Patrick Warburton – Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events
Timothy Simons - Veep
Just missing the cut: Tony Hale – Veep, K. Todd Freeman – Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Jamie Camil – Jane the Virgin, Zach Woods – Silicon Valley, Andre Braugher – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Aisha Hinds – Underground
Chrissy Metz – This Is Us
Thandie Newton – Westworld
Yvonne Strahovski – The Handmaid’s Tale
Kate Walsh – 13 Reasons Why
Samira Wiley – Orange Is the New Black
Just missing the cut: Ann Dowd – The Handmaid’s Tale, Winona Ryder – Stranger Things, Aubrey Plaza – Legion, Amy Brenneman – The Leftovers, Bellamy Young – Scandal
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Jonathan Banks – Better Call Saul
Christopher Eccleston – The Leftovers
Ron Cephas Jones – This Is Us
John Lithgow – The Crown
Jeff Perry – Scandal
Jeffrey Wright – Westworld
Just missing the cut: Christian Slater – Mr. Robot, Michael McKean – Better Call Saul, David Harbour – Stranger Things, Jonathan Tucker – Kingdom, Delroy Lindo – The Good Fight
Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series/TV Movie
Kelly Bishop – Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
Kristin Chenoweth – Hairspray Live!
Judy Davis – Feud: Bette and Joan
Laura Dern – Big Little Lies
Helen Hunt – Shots Fired
Liza Weil – Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
Just missing the cut: Regina King – American Crime, Shailene Woodley – Big Little Lies, Alison Wright – Feud: Bette and Joan, Kathy Bates – American Horror Story: Roanoke, Lili Taylor – American Crime
Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series/TV Movie
Bill Camp – The Night Of
Benito Martinez – American Crime
Alfred Molina – Feud: Bette and Joan
Alexander Skarsgard – Big Little Lies
Stanley Tucci – Feud: Bette and Joan
Michael Kenneth Williams – The Night Of
Just missing the cut: Johnny Flynn – Genius, Michael K. Williams – When We Rise, Adam Scott – Big Little Lies, Connor Jessup – American Crime, Michael Stuhlbarg – Fargo
Best Reality-Competition Program
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Just missing the cut: The Amazing Race, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, MasterChef Junior, America’s Got Talent
Best Reality Host
Ted Allen – Chopped
Alec Baldwin – Match Game
RuPaul Charles – RuPaul’s Drag Race
Cat Deeley – So You Think You Can Dance
Steve Harvey – Little Big Shots
Jeff Probst – Survivor
Just missing the cut: Anthony Anderson – To Tell the Truth, Ellen Page and Ian Daniel – Gaycation, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg – Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, Tom Bergeron – Dancing with the Stars, W. Kamau Bell – United Shades of America
Best Variety Talk Series
Full Frontal With Samantha Bee
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Late Late Show with James Corden
Late Night with Seth Meyers
Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen
Just missing the cut: Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Chelsea, The Daily Show, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Best Variety Sketch Series
Billy on the Street
The President Show
Tracey Ullman’s Show
Saturday Night Live
Just missing the cut: Portlandia, Maya and Marty, Comedy Bang Bang, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Kevin Hart Presents: Hart of the City