Sword of Trust
A likable throwback to the kind of rambling, character-driven 1990s indie comedies that the U.S. film industry barely releases to theaters anymore.
Good morning, Emmy voters. By now, you should have received your ballot to pick the elite of one of the best TV seasons in the history of the medium. It’s up to you to decide if the Academy plays it safe this year and merely invites the same old guests to the party or takes some true risks in their 2017 Emmy nominations. Major category by major category, I’m here to break down what this TV critic would vote for if given the chance, and hopefully guide the way to a few nominees you may not have considered, but should.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Consider this: if Clinton had won the election, a major Emmy category would probably be different. While I sometimes felt that Alec Baldwin's take on Donald Trump got repetitive (and failed to top the craziness of the actual President), his nomination is one of the few this year that feels like it could recognize a true cultural moment.
As for the rest, voters will likely consider Louie Anderson for “Baskets,” Tituss Burgess for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and Ty Burrell for the far-over-the-hill “Modern Family,” and it’s certainly possible to make worse choices but those wouldn’t be mine. It’s virtually guaranteed that Tony Hale will pop up again here for “Veep”—and give Baldwin the most heat to steal the actual trophy—but who else should compete?
Here’s where you should start to get used to my love for one of the best comedies of the decade, FX’s "Atlanta." And I particularly adore the very different comic energies brought to the supporting cast by Bryan Tyree Henry and Lakeith Stanfield. If you have to pick one, go with Henry, but why choose?
Baldwin, Hale, Henry, Stanfield. That leaves two spots. The ensemble of FOX’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” remains one of the most underrated in comedy and I’m fine with Andre Braugher basically repping the whole crew (although I would LOVE if Terry Crews somehow popped up here instead). Finally, remember one of the breakthrough performances of ’16-’17, the fantastic William Jackson Harper of NBC’s ambitious “The Good Place.” As one of the few truly good people on the show, he was an excellent straight man for Ted Danson and Kristen Bell.
Alec Baldwin, “Saturday Night Live”
Andre Braugher, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
William Jackson Harper, “The Good Place"
Bryan Tyree Henry, “Atlanta”
Lakeith Stanfield, “Atlanta”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
With Allison Janney moving to Lead Actress for “Mom” and “Modern Family” almost entirely out of the conversation here, this category has become surprisingly unpredictable. Play it safe again and go with favorites like Mayim Bialik or take some risks? You know what I’m gonna say to that.
Anna Chlumsky and last year’s winner Kate McKinnon seem almost guaranteed for “Veep” and “Saturday Night Live,” respectively, and they deserve their inevitable nominations. In fact, I’ll be fine when either of them win. But we have to fill out with four more nominees.
Why not dig a little deeper? Two TV veterans made fantastic comebacks in 2016-2017: Andrea Martin on the tragically under-seen “Great News,” a new NBC comedy with echoes of “30 Rock” if Liz Lemon’s mother was a major character, and the timeless Rita Moreno on Netflix’s smart Latino reboot of “One Day at a Time.” They’d both make fantastic choices. Filling out with the excellent Jane Krakowski and Judith Light seem like fine selections even if this category is disappointingly thin for the past season. Let’s find some better supporting parts for actresses in comedy next year.
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Jane Krakowski, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Judith Light, “Transparent”
Andrea Martin, “Great News”
Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”
Rita Moreno, “One Day at a Time”
BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Comedy has been an actress-driven genre for a few years now (think Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) but the male category has gotten more competitive recently, and more interesting. Some of the “usual suspects” deserve to return here, including the groundbreaking work by Jeffrey Tambor, the consistently entertaining performance by Anthony Anderson, and the actually improving centerpiece turn from Thomas Middleditch, who arguably had his best season. I’d also encourage the Academy to reconsider someone they nominated for his first season, the fearless Will Forte for FOX’s “Last Man on Earth” instead of a safer but more likely pick such as William H. Macy for “Shameless.”
That leaves two spots for the pair that I hope lead the “who will win” conversation here, two men who don’t just drive their individual programs but define them as creators—Donald Glover for the brilliant “Atlanta” and Aziz Ansari for “Master of None.” If there’s any justice, the question of the winner will come down to this unbelievably talented duo.
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Will Forte, “Last Man on Earth”
Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
Thomas Middleditch, “Silicon Valley”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”
BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
While Best Actor has been thin, Best Actress continues to be the most impressively deep category in comedy. That's the case even with shows you may not first consider as being Emmy-worthy, like ABC’s underrated slate of comedies driven by actresses like Patricia Heaton (“The Middle”), Wendi McClendon-Covey (“The Goldbergs”) and Minnie Driver (“Speechless”). Tracee Ellis Ross seems the likely representative from ABC to make the cut here for “Black-ish,” and she’s certainly not a bad choice, but just misses the cut for a season that I felt was a little down from the previous two.
The wealth of actress runner-ups stretches to cable and streaming services as well with Aya Cash just missing my ballot for the first time for “You’re the Worst,” and Ellie Kemper and Lily Tomlin deserving consideration for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Grace and Frankie,” respectively. And while I couldn’t include her, I could see wanting to take the final chance to nominate Lena Dunham for “Girls” or stretching a ballot to include the fearless work of Phoebe Waller-Bridge on Amazon’s “Fleabag.”
You’re probably stunned that those are all runner-ups and not in my top six. Me too. But stick with me.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has to get a spot for her continued brilliance on “Veep,” which has already earned a place on any list of the best comedy performances of all time. Much as I lauded Glover and Ansari for the voices they brought to their shows, Issa Rae should get a nod here for how much she defined the excellent first season of HBO’s “Insecure.” While it’s mostly an ensemble show, Logan Browning stands out on the truly great Netflix series “Dear White People” and would be a great representative for the entire cast. That leaves three spots that could go to any combination of my runner-ups and I’d be happy, but let me offer some unexpected alternatives: the acerbic perfection of Kaitlin Olson on FOX’s “The Mick,” and two women helping raise NBC back to its former pedestal as a home for smart comedy: Kristen Bell and the woefully underrated America Ferrera, who also, like Browning, represents an excellent ensemble overall.
Kristen Bell, “The Good Place”
Logan Browning, “Dear White People”
America Ferrera, “Superstore”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Kaitlin Olson, “The Mick”
Issa Rae, “Insecure”
While network TV comedy is doing much better than network TV drama, it’s still difficult to squeeze any of them into this category. The best choices you could make if you want network representation are “Black-ish,” “The Goldbergs,” “The Good Place” and “Superstore,” but they all miss my cut. As for streaming, you’ll probably want to vote for “Transparent” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” but both shows were down this year and there are better options.
Let’s start at the top. The two best comedies on TV over the last year were FX’s “Atlanta” and Netflix’s “Master of None.” Both demand nominations. HBO’s power hour of “Silicon Valley” and “Veep” might have been a tick down from their great previous seasons but are still consistent enough to land spots. That leaves three. Sure, you could play it safe and go with predictable laughers like “Modern Family” or “The Big Bang Theory” or you could embrace the future of television, acknowledging brilliant writing and representations of diversity in ways that TV has so often failed to do. Take the more groundbreaking road.
“Dear White People”
“Master of None”
“You’re the Worst”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
This category has been thick for a couple decades now but 2016-17 produced one of the longest shortlists yet for viable candidates. What’s going to be most interesting in all of the dramatic series categories is seeing what programs fill the voids left by “Downton Abbey,” “The Good Wife,” and, most of all, “Game of Thrones,” which didn’t air over the last television year. It should allow for some interesting, unexpected nominees.
First, the runner-ups, which includes a few names who have made a dent in this category before, including Jonathan Banks & Giancarlo Esposito for “Better Call Saul,” Michael Kelly for “House of Cards,” and Jon Voight for “Ray Donovan,” all great actors who would make obvious choices in less-crowded years. Who’s a better choice?
While Banks & Esposito just miss my cut, Michael McKean demands recognition for his work on AMC’s best program. And while I don’t love the show as much as I suspect Emmy voters will this summer, John Lithgow’s work on “The Crown” is undeniably captivating. Those likely nominees would be on my ballot alongside the great Jeffrey Wright for HBO’s “Westworld.”
My other three choices could be deemed less likely to be nominated but no less deserving. First, there’s the last chance to nominate Chris Eccleston for his raw work on the past year’s best television program, “The Leftovers.” His final scene in the final episode alone merits a nomination, much less the genius that was his character-specific episode, “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World” (inspired by our own Matt Zoller Seitz). The least likely nominee in this entire feature may be Clayne Crawford for his heartbreaking work on “Rectify,” but I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t include him. Finally, there’s the captivating performance by Asia Kate Dillon, who identifies with the pronoun they but has been included in Supporting Actor after an exchange with the Academy. Dillon’s work on “Billions” brought an entirely different energy to a very testosterone-heavy show and reinvigorated everyone around them. It’s a stunning performance. And just imagine the speech if they win.
Clayne Crawford, “Rectify”
Asia Kate Dillon, “Billions”
Chris Eccleston, “The Leftovers”
John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Michael McKean, “Better Call Saul”
Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
In the many years that I’ve been doing this, I find myself most often frustrated by this category, probably because the overrated ladies of “Downton Abbey” dominated it for so many years. Still, there are so many ways that the Academy could really get it right this year. The field is heavier than ever and could include predictable choices like Maura Tierney for “The Affair” and Uzo Aduba for “Orange is the New Black”—both fine choices but not great ones—or they could take some risks and dig a little deeper.
I suspect both Winona Ryder and Ann Dowd to get some votes here, for “Stranger Things” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” respectively, and I’ll be satisfied with either even if they’re just-misses for me. Similarly, if you want to cite Vera Farmiga’s great work on “Bates Motel,” moved to supporting from lead this past season, I won’t be unhappy, but there are better choices.
One of the most captivating performances of 2016-17 came from a young lady who screams future star in the way that a young Jodie Foster or Kate Winslet did when they came on the scene: Millie Bobby Brown and her show-stealing work on “Stranger Things.” She’s a no-duh nomination. I also don’t expect voters to be able to ignore the incredible work by Thandie Newton on “Westworld.” On a tech- and twist-heavy show, Newton had the biggest arc (and should arguably be in lead).
That leaves four spots. Rhea Seahorn had her best season to date on “Better Call Saul” and I’ll be legitimately angry if she gets snubbed. I expect a full-ballot snub for Sundance’s devastating “Rectify” but my hope is that Abigail Spencer sneaks in here. That leaves us with two spots. Emily Browning’s “return” in the fourth episode of Starz’s “American Gods” made for one of the most memorable hours of television so far this year. And finally there’s the increasingly impressive Aubrey Plaza, who practically stole FX’s “Legion” in every scene in which she memorably appeared. It’s an unforgettable performance.
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
Emily Browning, “American Gods”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Aubrey Plaza, “Legion”
Rhea Seahorn, “Better Call Saul”
Abigail Spencer, “Rectify”
BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
How strong is Best Actor this year? My initial short list had 16 people on it from 15 different shows from 10 different networks. Only six make the final list. My #7-12 choices could win in lesser years. Those would be:
What a crew, and I suspect you’ll ignore me and nominate a few of those well-deserving gentlemen. But before you fill out all six spots, let me make a strong case for two candidates that I worry won’t make the cut, and won’t get another chance to either. First, Freddie Highmore surpassed all expectations at the beginning of “Bates Motel,” delivering a performance in the final season of A&E’s show that was easily one of the best of the year. My only concern is that not enough people saw it. Enough people probably saw Justin Theroux’s work on “The Leftovers,” but I worry the crowd here will edge him out. Don’t let that happen.
That leaves four spots. I suspect Matthew Rhys and Bob Odenkirk will repeat here, and they deserve to do so, even if this past season of “The Americans” was arguably the weakest yet for the FX drama. One of the final two spots should go to a man familiar to the Academy but not yet for his current series, Damian Lewis, who had his best season of television since the first year of “Homeland,” reinvigorated by a stronger second season of “Billions” in terms of writing and ensemble. Finally, let’s go for a surprise choice and cite the increasingly excellent work by a TV veteran who has quietly developed one of the more interesting characters on any streaming drama, Titus Welliver as the title character on “Bosch.”
Freddie Highmore, “Bates Motel”
Damian Lewis, “Billions”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Justin Theroux, “The Leftovers”
Titus Welliver, “Bosch”
BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
History will look back on the 2017 version of this category as one of the strongest in years. Unlike a lot of these categories, all six nominees from last season are eligible again, although I would only invite a few to the same party as better choices premiered in the ’16-17 season. My 2016 nominees who would now be runner-ups include winner Tatiana Maslany, Claire Danes, Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson. While this season of “The Americans” was down, Keri Russell’s work remains consistently great, and Robin Wright has been the best thing about “House of Cards” since the day it premiered, so they’re both back in on my ballot.
Russell & Wright leaves four spots open, two that I would give to actresses exiting stage left while the other pair enter stage right. The newbies first. Evan Rachel Wood found a way to make her android character more human than the actual people on HBO’s “Westworld” and she deserves a nod. A much-darker vision of the future was anchored by Elisabeth Moss on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I’ll actually be stunned if she’s not nominated and she could lead the conversation to win, especially when people are reminded that she never took home a trophy for “Mad Men,” which is just ridiculous.
Two spots remain for two memorable performances heading into the sunset. First, you should take the last chance to nominate Eva Green’s fearless work on “Penny Dreadful.” Then you should go back and watch Carrie Coon’s arc on the final season of “The Leftovers,” particularly in the series finale. It’s my favorite performance in any category this year.
Carrie Coon, “The Leftovers”
Eva Green, “Penny Dreadful”
Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”
BEST DRAMATIC SERIES
As you can tell from the categories above, this is a remarkably tight category for the 2016-17 season. One of the most striking elements of this year’s shortlist is the diversity of outlets. There have been years in which it was all HBO and AMC, but that’s not the case this year as Starz, Hulu, Sundance, and Netflix could easily be invited to the party. The three most likely Netflix nominees all miss my cut: “The Crown,” “House of Cards” and "Stranger Things." I suspect voters will embrace the success of “This is Us” but there are better choices there too, and I hope “Legion” ticks up just a bit next year to make my list. All of those would make solid choices but there are better ones …
The seven shows below represent the remarkable strength of the last twelve months of television, coming from six different networks and an array of styles and genres. You couldn’t pick a stronger slate of nominees than this:
“Better Call Saul”
“The Handmaid’s Tale”
We’re already thousands of words in and the movie/mini-series categories get too repetitive to break down one at a time. Most of all, don’t sleep on the incredible ensembles of “Fargo,” “Big Little Lies,” “The Night of,” “American Crime,” and “Feud: Bette and Joan.” They should all be multiple nominees. Category by category, followed by my picks for the best guest turns of ’16-17 (go Alexis):
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MOVIE/MINI-SERIES
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MOVIE/MINI-SERIES
BEST ACTOR IN A MOVIE/MINI-SERIES
BEST ACTRESS IN A MOVIE/MINI-SERIES
Carrie Coon, “Fargo”
Bryce Dallas Howard, “Black Mirror: Nosedive”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Jessica Lange, “Feud: Bette & Joan”
Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”
“Big Little Lies”
“The Night Of”
“The Young Pope”
“Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
“Looking: The Movie”
“Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
“The Wizard of Lies”
GUEST ACTOR, COMEDY
GUEST ACTOR, DRAMA
GUEST ACTRESS, COMEDY
GUEST ACTRESS, DRAMA
A video essay about Mortal Engines, as part of Scout Tafoya's ongoing video essay series on maligned masterpieces.
This is the most purely entertaining season of Stranger Things to date.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...