Dear Emmy Voters, you have a deadline approaching and a duty to do what’s right for quality television. You have been tasked with picking the best of the 2017-18 season from the small screen, and we know that the obligation gets more overwhelming every year. For decades, all you had to worry about was the big networks. It was bad enough when HBO made things more complicated, but then streaming services multiplied the possibilities in ways that can make your eyes bloodshot from everything you’re expected to watch. FX alone sent out a mailing that included access to every episode from every season of their current programs. Who’s got time? Well, this humble TV critic has already watched a great deal of television and can offer some smart, unpredictable, worthy choices for your ballot for you. Let me do the work so you can get back to binge-watching the stuff you really like. (Note: “Veep,” “Better Call Saul,” “Master of None,” and “House of Cards” all failed to air eligible seasons, leaving a LOT of room for new blood. This should be fun.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY
As you work your way through this feature my friendly Emmy voter, you will find a number of shows repeating across multiple categories. Shows like “Atlanta,” “The Good Place,” “Westworld,” “Barry,” and “The Americans” are what we could call “party line votes.” Just pop them into multiple categories. For example, while there are a great number of excellent choices you could make in this category to spread the wealth, how could you possibly be expected to choose between Brian Tyree Henry and Lakeith Stanfield? Both bring such different, unforgettable energy to FX’s “Atlanta.” Henry may be the more consistent of the two but Stanfield deserves the nod for “Teddy Perkins” alone. Then there’s “Barry,” a dark, satirical show throughout that benefits greatly from the jolt of different energy given to it by a TV legend in the Fonz, Henry Winkler. Those three are easy calls. The final three are way more difficult. By my count, there are about 15 people worth choosing, and none of them are known for their Donald Trump impression (that got old even before Alec Baldwin won last year). I expect voters will warm to the reboot of “Will & Grace,” but that quartet is just outside the top tier for me. There are at least three people that could pop up from “Arrested Development” (Tony Hale, Michael Cera, Will Arnett), but we may just want to forget that season for this year’s Emmys. Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods had excellent seasons on “Silicon Valley”; John Michael Higgins stole episodes of “Great News”; DeRon Horton shined on “Dear White People”; Walton Goggins should do more work like “Vice Principals”; Louie Anderson’s work on “Baskets” is inspired; Colton Dunn is underappreciated on “Superstore.” All great choices, all just miss for me. At least one of the gentlemen from “The Good Place” has to make the cut and I barely give the edge to William Jackson Harper over Manny Jacinto, but either would work. Andre Braugher continues to shine on every season of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and it would be nice for that show to pop up several times this year to really show FOX the error of their ways and give it a boost for its NBC run. Finally, there’s the unexpectedly poignant work from Marc Maron on “GLOW,” a performance that really knows how to be “supporting” of the excellent cast around it.
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
William Jackson Harper, The Good Place
Bryan Tyree Henry, Atlanta
Marc Maron, GLOW
Lakeith Stanfield, Atlanta
Henry Winkler, Barry
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY
The sad truth is that there’s a lot less depth here than in the male version of this category as so many ensembles are more typically filled out with male comedic actors than female. My main piece of advice would be to break away the “Modern Family” crew and, this year, I think we should look elsewhere than “Saturday Night Live,” which had one of its worst seasons in a very long time and doesn't deserve HALF this category again like last year. Yes, Kate McKinnon is a legend, but let’s think outside of the box. To that end, why not pick a pair of actresses who have been doing excellent supporting work for few seasons now in shows on which other, showier roles often steal focus. I’m thinking of Stefanie Beatriz’s excellent work on “Nine-Nine” and the scene-stealing done by D’Arcy Carden on “The Good Place,” two performers who know how to add that essential ingredient to make a scene work. They’re relatively new performers, but there’s also a legend who deserves to be nominated here, Rita Moreno for her excellent work on “One Day at a Time.” Finally, there are a pair of new performers who, once again, know the perfect balance between supporting their leads and taking the moment for themselves from streaming giants Amazon and Netflix.
BEST ACTOR, COMEDY
For years now, this category has been remarkably slim, especially with so many acclaimed comedies built around female leads (“30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”). It’s still surprisingly shallow, although there are just enough to fill it with quality nominees. The two no-brainers are the men up front for the three best comedies on TV, Ted Danson, Donald Glover and Bill Hader. One of those three men should win (my vote would go to Hader). The other three spots are a little tougher to fill out, with about 7-8 solid choices. In the hope that another nomination will force someone to pick up “The Last Man on Earth” so its story can have a closing act, let’s give Will Forte a third nomination for that show. Tracy Morgan came back with a fury on the very funny TBS show “The Last O.G.” Finally, the second season wasn’t as consistent as the first, but Hank Azaria still made every episode of “Brockmire” worth a look.
Hank Azaria, Brockmire
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Bill Hader, Barry
Tracy Morgan, The Last O.G.
BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY
As mentioned above, this category is thick with great choices. Just consider the runner-ups. None of these shows are quite the same with anyone else in the lead actress role: “The New Girl,” “You’re the Worst,” “Superstore,” “The Last O.G.,” “Great News,” “Mom,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Will & Grace,” “The Mick.” All of those programs are led by talented comediennes who just miss my cut. There are better choices. If you’re reading closely, you can see that “The Good Place” is an every-category pick for this critic, so Kristen Bell drops in here easily, and Rachel Brosnahan is so charismatic and perfect in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” that she singlehandedly makes the show a must-see (I suspect she’ll win). I doubt most Emmy voters remember it but FX’s “Better Things” was one of the best shows of 2018 and Pamela Adlon was the main reason why (and you did nominate her last year). I’d give the final three spots to a trio of very different Netflix comedy performances, all from young actresses who one hopes to see work consistently for a long time to come. Also it would be a nice push to the campaign to get "Everything Sucks!" picked up by another network to nominate the talented Peyton Kennedy, who we truly hope gets a chance to continue the character she built over the first season.
Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Kristen Bell, The Good Place
Alison Brie, GLOW
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Logan Browning, Dear White People
Peyton Kennedy, Everything Sucks!
BEST COMEDY SERIES
There are about a dozen solid choices here, and that doesn’t include “Modern Family” or “The Big Bang Theory.” As for the annual favorites, “Black-ish” is a fine choice, although I think they’re coming off their most inconsistent season to date. Same with “Silicon Valley,” a good show that struggled a bit to figure out what to do this year but could easily bounce back next year. Let’s start at the top. “Atlanta,” “The Good Place” and “Barry” are three of the best shows on television, regardless of genre. It’s filling out the other four spots that’s tricky. Audiences have fallen for Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and while I’m not quite as high on it as some people I can see the charm. “Better Things” made my top ten last year overall, so that’s an obvious choice too. For the final two, I’d go with two shows that deserve more accolades, Netflix’s “Dear White People” and (now) NBC’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” coming off its best season to date. Other solid choices that I would pick as runner-up but could work here: “Black-ish,” "Everything Sucks!," “GLOW,” “The Last Man on Earth,” “The Last O.G.,” “Silicon Valley” and “Superstore.”
Dear White People
The Good Place
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA
This category used to be one of the toughest on the ballot but some changes in categorization this year has made it thinner than usual. Some performers that I would have argued belonged in supporting were placed in lead by their individual networks/programs this year. There’s also the unique case of FX’s “Trust,” which felt all year like a limited series but plans to go on for two more and so lands in drama instead. The two best performances on that show compete against each other in supporting actor, and I’d nominate both Harris Dickinson and Brendan Fraser. Another pair pops up from one of the best ensembles on television in Showtime’s “Billions,” Asia Kate Dillon, who I stumped for last year and who I really hopes makes it this year, and I think it’s time we recognize that David Costabile is a TV gem, a character actor who makes everything he does better. “The Wire,” “Damages,” “Breaking Bad,” and so many others, and he’s carved Wags into one of the most interesting characters on TV. That leaves two spots and, no, I’m not a fan of recent “Game of Thrones,” which you won’t find in any category. Speaking of memorable character actors of the ‘10s like Costabile, “The Americans” wouldn’t be the same without Stan Beeman and Noah Emmerich has never been nominated. Let’s take the last chance to rectify that. There are a few actors from the ensemble of “Westworld” who could pop up here but only one of them anchored one of the most unforgettable hours of TV this year. Give him the edge over Anthony Hopkins or James Marsden, but those certainly wouldn’t make for bad choices either.
David Costabile, Billions
Harris Dickinson, Trust
Asia Kate Dillon, Billions
Noah Emmerich, The Americans
Brendan Fraser, Trust
Zahn McClarnon, Westworld
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA
“The Handmaids Tale” seems likely to appear here a few times and no one loves Ann Dowd more than I do, but let me suggest six alternates just in case you’re looking for something a little different. Most of all, I’d like to make two pleas for shows that could slide under your radar and performances that demand your attention. First, there’s the work by Aubrey Plaza on “Legion,” which is funny, strange, dangerous, and unforgettable. The show wouldn’t be the same without her—she supports the entire vision. Second, there’s the scene-stealing work by Julia Garner on Netflix’s “Ozark.” The great young star of “We Are What We Are” and “The Americans” went head-to-head with Peter Mullan, Laura Linney, and Jason Bateman and produced the most interesting character on the show. More likely to get in is Millie Bobby Brown of “Stranger Things,” and she deserves the nod. Once again, we have to look at the cast of “Westworld” and the best candidate here arguably also gives the best performance on the show: Thandie Newton as the super-host Maeve. For the final two, I’d pick the never-nominated Holly Taylor for “The Americans” and the great Anna Torv from Netflix’s “Mindhunter.” Or any number of people from “Handmaids Tale,” I guess.
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Julia Garner, Ozark
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Aubrey Plaza, Legion
Holly Taylor, The Americans
Anna Torv, Mindhunter
BEST ACTOR, DRAMA
As in most years, this category is the most ridiculously crowded of the year. Every network has a few shows built around male anti-heroes—it’s what has driven Peak TV. Blame Tony Soprano and Walter White. Whatever the reason, this category is an embarrassment of riches. Consider my runner-ups, which includes former nominees and some of my favorite performances of 2017-18, pushed out only by the incredible depth of this category: Sterling K. Brown (“This is Us”), James Franco (“The Deuce”), Jonathan Groff (“Mindhunter”), Damian Lewis (“Billions”), Scoot McNairy (“Halt and Catch Fire”), Liev Schreiber (“Ray Donovan”), Dan Stevens (“Legion”), Donald Sutherland (“Trust”) and Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”). In some cases, above performers are beat out by castmates who simply had more memorable seasons, even if it was just barely so for a few of them: Ed Harris (“Westworld”), Holt McCallany (“Mindhunter”), and Lee Pace (“Halt and Catch Fire”). That leaves three spots that will probably go to more likely candidates like Brown or Schreiber, but let’s get more creative. Jason Bateman did some of the best work of his career on “Ozark,” a show that started slowly but ended strongly. J.K. Simmons gave not one but two great performances in Starz’s “Counterpart” and it would be nice to see him recognized here. Finally, there’s one of the best performances of the ‘10s in any category and it’s really the man who should win: Matthew Rhys for “The Americans.”
Jason Bateman, “Ozark”
Ed Harris, “Westworld”
Holt McCallany, “Mindhunter”
Lee Pace, “Halt and Catch Fire”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
J.K. Simmons, “Counterpart”
BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA
There’s some great work here just waiting to lose to Elisabeth Moss for “The Handmaids Tale.” Seriously, she’s one of the biggest locks of the night to repeat last year and an obvious nominee. Ballots should come with her name pre-printed on it. If there was any justice, those same ballots would have Keri Russell on there too and both ladies from the fabulous “Killing Eve.” For the final two spots, there’s again about 7-8 people fighting for recognition, and that doesn’t even include “This is Us.” I realize that a lot of people have probably jumped ship by now, but trust me when I tell you that Claire Danes did her best work in years on “Homeland.” She missed the cut last year after going a perfect five for five to start the run of “Homeland,” but she should be back on the list this year. That’s one spot left that will probably go to Claire Foy or Evan Rachel Wood, both fine choices, but maybe consider the best thing about HBO’s “The Deuce,” Maggie Gyllenhaal.
BEST DRAMATIC SERIES
Once again, it’s pretty clear to see which shows I consider the best on television by going through the performance categories, so there’s not really much need for commentary here. I will say that this is your last chance to nominate “Halt and Catch Fire” and “The Americans” for the biggest category of the night. You can nominate “This is Us” next year. Don’t miss this chance. “The Handmaids Tale” and “Westworld” are clear choices, and “Killing Eve” is one of the few new programs in 2018 that people are honestly talking about with excitement in their voices. Jump on that bandwagon now, Emmy voters. My final two spots would go to two very different shows but programs that got people talking in 2017-18. Netflix’s “Mindhunter” was a fantastic procedural about the development of serial killer profiling that you may not remember loving as much as you probably did. Finally, I’ve gone back and forth on what this last spot should go to until I realized something: Nothing was as fast-paced and purely entertaining in the ’17-18 season as Showtime’s “Billions.” It’s time to elevate this show to the awards-nominated status it deserves.
Halt and Catch Fire
The Handmaids Tale
BEST LIMITED SERIES AND MOVIE CATEGORIES
There’s so much repetition in these categories and this piece is getting long enough that I’m not going to break them down individually. I’d have to find too many different ways to say that “Twin Peaks” rules. I will say that outside of that program, which should pop up in a few places this year, there are a few series, films, and performances you may have forgotten. Dig into your screener pile and make sure to check out “The Sinner,” “The Terror,” the episodes of “Black Mirror” & “Electric Dreams” submitted, “Godless,” and “Alias Grace”. You won’t regret it. Also don’t forget: Laura Dern times two. Trust me.
BEST LIMITED SERIES
Black Mirror: U.S.S. Callister
Electric Dreams: The Commuter
Electric Dreams: Kill All Others
BEST ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Melrose
Jared Harris, The Terror
Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks
Al Pacino, Paterno
Timothy Spall, Electric Dreams: The Commuter
Jimmy Tatro, American Vandal
BEST ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Jessica Biel, The Sinner
Laura Dern, The Tale
Sarah Gadon, Alias Grace
Regina King, Seven Seconds
Riley Keough, Paterno
Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake: China Girl
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Cody Fern, Assassination of Gianni Versace
Robert Forster, Twin Peaks
Scoot McNairy, Godless
Peter Sarsgaard, The Looming Tower
Jimmi Simpson, Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.
Michael Stuhlbarg, The Looming Tower
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Penelope Cruz, Assassination of Gianni Versace
Laura Dern, Twin Peaks
Nicole Kidman, Top of the Lake: China Girl
Judith Light, Assassination of Gianni Versace
Naomi Watts, Twin Peaks
Meritt Wever, Godless