Screenwriters Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver know how to get the party started and keep it lively.
Do the Emmys matter in 2016? As shows that have dominated the awards for the last decade like “Mad Men” and “Modern Family” are either over or past their prime, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is in a position to make a statement about the future of what critics call Peak TV. They’ve embraced streaming platforms with awards for Netflix and Amazon productions in recent years, but will that extend to Louis CK’s “Horace and Pete,” available only on the creator’s website? Will they finally take a chance to recognize one of the most critically-acclaimed television shows of its era in “The Americans”? What about the universally praised second season of “The Leftovers”? Will they expand the definition of TV comedy outside of the standards they keep nominating over and over again? With ballots due this Monday, June 27th at 10pm PST, this TV critic wanted to take his annual chance to offer some suggestions. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. Well, please take at least a few.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
The supporting categories are often filled out in a way that reflects how the Academy feels about ensemble comedies. For example, the years that “Modern Family” dominated, most of the cast popped up in the supporting actor and supporting actress categories. While that may seem a little simplistic, it’s reflective of the way most of us approach comedy. What are your favorite comedies? They’re likely ensemble pieces like “Cheers,” “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” etc. I used to say that a comedy is only as good as its worst actor. And so you’ll start to see trends in these first two categories, in which what I consider the best comedies of 2015-16 are well-represented.
To that end, let’s start with a few of the guys from HBO’s “Veep,” arguably the best comedy on TV. While Matt Walsh has been great this year, it’s been Timothy Simons’ season, as his Jonah Ryan has staged the most hilarious fictional campaign in TV history. Of course, “Veep” is nothing without past winner Tony Hale. So there’s two out of six spots taken already. Unlike a lot of categories below, I’m actually cool here with a lot of repeat nominees, including Tituss Burgess for Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and the best thing about HBO’s “Girls”—Adam Driver. (Although I’d love a deserving shock of Alex Karpovsky one year.) As for just-misses, the entire cast of “Silicon Valley” is good but doesn’t make the cut this year, and while I won’t be upset if the Academy takes the chance to recognize Keegan-Michael Key and/or Jordan Peele for the last year of “Key & Peele,” it was also the worst season of the show. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has been funnier this year than ever, in no small part thanks to Andre Braugher’s perfect, dry sense of comic timing (and Terry Crews and Joe Lo Truglio deserve consideration too). Finally, there’s Desmin Borges, a highly underrated comic foil on “You’re the Worst,” often the straight man in scenes of comic extremity. He’s fantastic.
Desmin Borges, “You’re the Worst”
Andre Braugher, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Adam Driver, “Girls”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Timothy Simons, “Veep”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
The Emmys often fall back on routine here, nominating cast members of “Modern Family” and “The Big Bang Theory” just to fill out a dance card. It’s not like there aren’t deserving performances across the comedy landscape. In fact, a lot of comedies feature multiple choices for this category, including “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” “Transparent,” “Togetherness,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Last Man on Earth.” So let’s start looking outside the box.
HBO’s last season of “Togetherness” was, to this viewer, defined by its female performances. Mark Duplass and Steve Zissis were good, but I felt more emotional truth from their counterparts in Melanie Lynskey and Amanda Peet, and when I tried to consider which one deserved a nomination this year, I decided not to pick. “The Last Man on Earth” has one of the best ensembles on TV, and while Kristen Schaal would make a great choice (and recognize what she brought to “Bob’s Burgers” and “Gravity Falls” this year by extension), I couldn’t get over the perfect timing of Mary Steenburgen, funny in every scene she was in. On a completely different plane is the work of Noël Wells on Netflix’s “Master of None,” a good show for the first half of its season that became a great one when her part was expanded. The ensemble of “Brooklyn: Nine-Nine” was better than it’s ever been this season and Chelsea Peretti seems like the most likely nominee to represent it. Finally, there’s Anna Chlumsky, the woman who holds her own with Julia Louis-Dreyfus on HBO’s outstanding “Veep,” a good choice for not just a nominee but a likely winner.
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Melanie Lynskey, “Togetherness”
Amanda Peet, “Togetherness”
Chelsea Peretti, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Mary Steenburgen, “The Last Man on Earth”
Noel Wells, “Master of None”
BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
For a few years, this was a tough category to fill, and it often felt like the Academy was phoning it in a bit what with the repeated crowning of Jim Parsons. That’s changed in the last few years across all three television spectrums—broadcast, cable and streaming. There are highly deserving choices in all three areas that miss out even for me. Runner-ups include the pair of Showtime A-listers who have made the cut a few times (Don Cheadle for “House of Lies” and William H. Macy for “Shameless”), ABC comedy stars Randall Park (“Fresh Off the Boat”) and Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”) and Chris Geere for the phenomenal “You’re the Worst.” Even Dwayne Johnson wouldn’t be a horrible choice for “Ballers” (even if the show is consistently pretty disappointing).
The shows may be radically different but the two most fearless comedy performances on television come from Jeffrey Tambor for Amazon’s “Transparent” and Andy Daly for Comedy Central’s “Review.” Aziz Ansari drove Netflix’s “Master of None” in much the same way that Louis CK broke new ground for his FX series years ago. He’s a no-brainer here. That leaves three spots. Will Forte is simply perfect on “The Last Man on Earth,” Bill Hader may offer the best range in the category for “Documentary Now!,” and, finally, Thomas Middleditch has had his best season to date on “Silicon Valley.” See? You don’t need those “Big Bang Theory” guys this year.
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Andy Daly, “Review”
Will Forte, “The Last Man on Earth”
Bill Hader, “Documentary Now!”
Thomas Middleditch, “Silicon Valley”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”
BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
While the ABC men (Randall Park & Anthony Anderson) miss out in the previous category, I’m tempted to just fill this one with the incredibly talented comediennes on the network, including Wendi McClendon-Covey on “The Goldbergs,” Tracee Ellis Ross on “Black-ish,” Constance Wu on “Fresh Off the Boat,” and the oddly underrated Patricia Heaton on “The Middle.” They’re all proving comedy is the one genre still really working on traditional network TV. However, I can only make room for two. And I can’t find space for the ladies of “Broad City,” “Another Period,” the best thing about “Love” (Gillian Jacobs) or the star of “Inside Amy Schumer” either. There’s just too much competition.
So who does get in? I beg you, Emmy voters who are still reading—look at what Aya Cash did this year on “You’re the Worst.” It is one of the most truthful and resonant portrayals of depression in the history of television … and it’s on a comedy. It was criminal that “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was nominated in multiple categories last year but the Emmys ignored Ellie Kemper, the main reason the show works. Don’t make the same mistake again. I know you’re going to nominate Julia Louis-Dreyfus for “Veep” again, and she’s arguably having her best season to date. My final spot goes to a long-shot, but consider Michaela Watkins for “Casual.” She’s taken what could have been a clichéd character and invested her with truth. She’s great.
Aya Cash, “You’re the Worst”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Wendi McClendon-Covey, “The Goldbergs”
Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Michaela Watkins, “Casual”
If you’ve been reading the categories above, you already pretty much know what I think should be represented here. Let’s start with the runner-ups: “Togetherness,” “The Last Man on Earth,” “Transparent,” “Review,” “Casual,” “Girls” and “Documentary Now!”
What does that leave? While it may not have been a major player in individual categories above, the best comedy on network TV this year was ABC’s “Black-ish,” one of the few comedies taking risks within the traditional family sitcom. HBO’s one-two punch of “Veep” and “Silicon Valley” is as funny as ever. Netflix has done better over the last year with comedy than they have with drama and both “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Master of None” deserve nods. That leaves one spot for FX’s “You’re the Worst,” a show that broke genre rules this year and produced one of the most memorable seasons of any show in recent memory.
“Master of None”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
“You’re the Worst”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
This is the only category that I would say is pretty straightforward. While I know the Emmys are far more likely to go with the final seasons of “Downton Abbey” and “The Good Wife” here, neither program makes my cut in any category. I’m not caught up on the latter and never cared for the former. (Shocking, I know.) So, while my picks may be obvious to myself, they’re all likely to be snubbed on Emmy nomination morning—the tragedy of caring too much about awards groups.
I do truly hope and almost expect that the Academy will see the brilliance of Maggie Siff’s performance on “Billions.” She gave the best turn of the year on a show sold through the star power of Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. It would be criminal to ignore her. Then again, the Academy has committed the crime of ignoring Abigail Spencer’s work on “Rectify” for years. Correct that oversight. It’s also time to realize what Alison Wright has brought to “The Americans” over four seasons, and she was never better than in the last one. Thinking outside the box, I actually found Carly Chaikin’s performance on “Mr. Robot” more fascinating than Christian Slater’s. He may be a more likely supporting nominee, but take a look at what Chaikin did, especially in the revelatory final episodes. Edie Falco is incapable of delivering a bad performance, and she grounded “Horace and Pete” in fascinating ways. Finally, there’s Rhea Seehorn’s work on “Better Call Saul,” taking a relatively thin character from season one and making her essential in season two. How many of “my six” get nominated? Probably only one. Maybe two. I’ll be ecstatic with three.
Carly Chaikin, “Mr. Robot”
Edie Falco, “Horace and Pete”
Rhea Seehorn, “Better Call Saul”
Maggie Siff, “Billions”
Abigail Spencer, “Rectify”
Alison Wright, “The Americans”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Now, it’s getting tough. Again, the Emmys probably go with shows I don’t really watch or support like “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones,” although I’m fine with the annual inclusion of Peter Dinklage. The nomination ballots probably come with his name pre-printed on them.
Who are the worthy runner-ups? Dylan Baker and Noah Emmerich were both phenomenal on “The Americans” this season; Michael Kelly gives arguably the best performance on “House of Cards” every season, but felt a bit wasted in this one; John Leguizamo found the perfect level of menace on a disappointing season of “Bloodline”; Christian Slater is likely for “Mr. Robot,” although I found Martin Wallström more fascinating; Nestor Carbonell had his best season of “Bates Motel” to date; finally, consider David Tennant for “Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” even if he just barely misses my cut.
Who joins Mr. Dinklage? The two supporting stars of “Better Call Saul” are likely nominees and both equally deserving. That leaves three spots. Perhaps more unlikely than anyone in this feature—and I definitely suggest some outside-of-the-box nominees in a few places—I’d love voters to consider Toby Huss for “Halt and Catch Fire,” an actor who took an underwritten part in season one and made him one of the most fascinating characters in season two, stealing the show from its leading men on multiple occasions. I’m not huge on “single episode nominees” but it’s still largely how the system works and, with that in mind, you can’t ignore what Christopher Eccleston did in the fifth episode of the second season of “The Leftovers.” Finally, there’s a legend. Alan Alda subverted his own likable persona as the deeply unlikable Uncle Pete on Louis CK’s fascinating online drama and delivered one of the most impressive performances of his career.
BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
I expect “Downton Abbey,” “The Good Wife” and “Orange is the New Black” to dominate here, but I’m either not caught up or not a fan. Perhaps you’re in the same boat and looking for an alternative? Let me guide the way.
Past nominees Robin Wright (“House of Cards”) and Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”) are understandable choices, although neither show is what it once was. Michelle Monaghan is doing excellent work on Hulu’s “The Path,” but the show needs more time to develop. If you’re looking to streaming services, Krysten Ritter anchors “Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” but I think there’s a better superhero performance in what Melissa Benoist brings to “Supergirl.” She would be a fun choice, showing viewers that performance isn’t all about who has the most intensely serious arcs that season. Speaking of intensity, few performances over the last three years were as fearless as Eva Green’s on “Penny Dreadful,” and with the show ending last week, this is your last chance to recognize it. I love that the female protagonists dominated “Halt and Catch Fire” this season, but there’s just not enough space for both Kerry Bishé and Mackenzie Davis. Pick at least one, though. Again, the Emmys are at least still somewhat based on single-episode performances and Carrie Coon had an amazing one on “The Leftovers.” Vera Farmiga has been here before. So, you thought her worthy at one point, and she just delivered her best performance in the history of “Bates Motel,” finding the nuance and joy in a doomed character. Finally, there’s the most egregious snub over the last several years—Keri Russell on “The Americans.” She should be in the conversation to win, much less be nominated.
Melissa Benoist, “Supergirl”
Carrie Coon, “The Leftovers”
Mackenzie Davis, “Halt and Catch Fire”
Vera Farmiga, “Bates Motel”
Eva Green, “Penny Dreadful”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
For years, best actor in a drama was as a race between Bryan Cranston for “Breaking Bad” and Jon Hamm for “Mad Men.” That era is over, opening the door to, well, over a dozen people. Seriously, this category has never been this intense, with a solid 17 nominees that would satisfy me. Look at this very solid six:
That would be a better selection of drama actors than we’ve had in most Emmy years, and yet they’re all runner-ups for me for 2015-16. As the world of Peak TV continues to get more and more crowded, it is getting loaded with high quality best actor performances. To the above list, I would add Louis CK on “Horace and Pete,” Paul Giamatti on “Billions,” Freddie Highmore on “Bates Motel,” Lee Pace on “Halt and Catch Fire,” and Liev Schreiber on “Ray Donovan.” All of them just miss for me.
To whom? Let’s start at the top. The best two performances of ’15-16 in any category, for me, go to Justin Theroux on “The Leftovers” and Matthew Rhys on “The Americans.” Given the intensity of this category, it’s likely both miss out. Don’t let that happen. A more-likely nominee is the deserving Rami Malek for “Mr. Robot,” a show that simply doesn’t work at all without the haunted acting turn at its center. If you like “Mr. Robot,” Emmy voters, you have to nominate Malek. Speaking of show-defining performances, Mads Mikkelsen’s work on “Hannibal” redefined one of the most legendary villains of all time, and this is your last chance to recognize that fact. That leaves two spots. One goes to Bob Odenkirk, who has distinguished the tone of AMC’s brilliant “Better Call Saul,” and one goes to a man who I knew would make this feature the minute I saw him make his first entrance on “Horace and Pete”—Steve Buscemi’s performance on Louis CK’s drama is a master class in character, almost more interesting when he’s not speaking than when he is. It’s that lived-in and detailed.
Steve Buscemi, “Horace and Pete”
Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”
Mads Mikkelsen, “Hannibal”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Justin Theroux, “The Leftovers”
While I’ve mentioned a few dozen dramas above, many of the best performances of 2016 came on programs that I think are just a beat or two away from greatness. “Mr. Robot,” “The Path,” “Billions”—these are shows I would be happy to see nominated for Best Drama but that I think will be even more deserving 12 months from now. And Netflix's major players here this year, including "House of Cards" and "Bloodline," all felt just a tier or two below the best.
The two best dramas of 2016 to date, and they’re unlikely to be toppled in the second half of the year, are FX’s “The Americans” and AMC’s “Better Call Saul.” I know it’s a pipe dream given their lack of commercial profile and airdates that go back to last summer, but AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” and NBC’s “Hannibal” were close to perfect last year (for more thoughts on why, read this). HBO’s “The Leftovers” may be the most ambitious drama on television, and a better choice than “Game of Thrones,” a show I like and admire but haven’t put in the top tier of TV since season two. Finally, there’s the program that really has the chance to redefine television by not being on it—Louis CK released “Horace and Pete” on his own website, entirely cutting out the network system, and it’s a fascinating piece of art that calls back to the old days when TV often looked more like theater. Nominating it would show creators like CK that the Academy rewards the risk takers.
“Better Call Saul”
“Halt and Catch Fire”
“Horace and Pete”
LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE
One of the most fascinating trends in the last few years has been the move by creators to the concept of the limited series, fueled both by HBO’s “True Detective” and the work of Ryan Murphy on “American Horror Story.” There was an incredible amount of quality in this arena in 2015-16. The entire ensembles of FX’s “Fargo” and “The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story” deserve some degree of consideration while ABC’s “American Crime,” HBO’s “Show Me a Hero,” and HBO’s “All the Way” would be considered locks in most normal years to win multiple awards. These are categories for which the Academy has had to stretch in recent years but that are so overloaded with quality this year that deserving nominees will be snubbed. Having said that, they’re still working from such a limited pool that I’m not going to go through them category by category like above (it would just be a lot of different ways to praise the same shows). Let me just make special pleas for those that I think you might miss. I find it doubtful that people like Sarah Paulson, Kirsten Dunst, Bryan Cranston, and Tom Hiddleston will miss out, but please consider the delicate performance by Connor Jessup on “American Crime”, the mesmerizing work by Bokeem Woodbine on “Fargo,” the heartbreaking nuance of Cristin Milioti also on “Fargo,” and, yes, even a performance from the much-maligned second season of “True Detective.”
BEST LIMITED SERIES
“The Night Manager”
“The People v. OJ Simpson”
“Show Me a Hero”
BEST TV MOVIE
“All the Way”
“Sherlock: The Abominable Bride”
“A Very Murray Christmas”
BEST ACTOR, MOVIE/MINI-SERIES
Bryan Cranston, “All the Way”
Tom Hiddleston, “The Night Manager”
Timothy Hutton, “American Crime”
Oscar Isaac, “Show Me a Hero”
Courtney B. Vance, “The People v. OJ Simpson”
Patrick Wilson, “Fargo”
BEST ACTRESS, MOVIE/MINI-SERIES
Kirsten Dunst, “Fargo”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
Riley Keough, “The Girlfriend Experience”
Rachel McAdams, “True Detective”
Sarah Paulson, “The People v. OJ Simpson”
Lili Taylor, “American Crime”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, MOVIE/MINI-SERIES
Sterling K. Brown, “The People v. OJ Simpson”
Connor Jessup, “American Crime”
Hugh Laurie, “The Night Manager”
Jesse Plemons, “Fargo”
John Travolta, “The People v. OJ Simpson”
Bokeem Woodbine, “Fargo”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, MOVIE/MINI-SERIES
Olivia Colman, “The Night Manager”
Catherine Keener, “Show Me a Hero”
Regina King, “American Crime”
Cristin Milioti, “Fargo”
Winona Ryder, “Show Me a Hero”
Jean Smart, “Fargo”