With hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of shows being produced through broadcast, cable, and streaming in recent years, it can be a little difficult to keep up with the TV world. Even the most plugged in of viewer can find projects slipping past them, which gives more weight to the cultural gatekeepers that are awards bodies and critics – entities whose very existence boils down to pointing audiences toward the cream of the crop. Paying attention to every outlet attempting to get into original scripted content, or trying to figure out which of the avalanche of shows premiering each month you want to invest your time into, can be overwhelming, so having these guidelines can give you a starting point in which to dive into the world of TV by acting as something of a Cliff’s Notes version of the medium’s zenith in their respective year.
And yet, for as much as awards and critics do, the fact remains that they can’t watch it all, so quality content oftentimes slips through the cracks. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to comb through the recently released Emmy ballots and select ten hopefuls that I would love to see make the cut on nomination day. Of course, these aren’t the only ten potential nominees that I’m rooting for, but they’re projects or actors that I think deserve extra consideration when it comes to award season. Given my lack of expertise in the technical categories (e.g. cinematography, sound, costumes, etc.), I stuck to the program, acting, writing, and directing categories; I also deliberately highlighted ten different shows, all of whom are award underdogs in some form or fashion, in an attempt at spreading the attention as far as I could. Additionally, after reading through these 10 nominees and why I think they should be selected, click over to the next page to see the full list of who I think should be nominated (and win) at the Emmys this year.
Outstanding Children’s Program: Andi Mack
While Disney’s ambition was first noticed in Girl Meets World, the Boy Meets World spinoff that was deeper and had more to say than anyone might’ve anticipated, it was this spring’s Andi Mack that demonstrated just how much the network formerly responsible for dogs that blogged and secret pop stars could do. From Lizzie McGuire creator Terri Minsky, Andi Mack is a warm, deeply sensitive family dramedy that centers on middle schooler Andi, who learns that the woman she thought was her mother is actually her grandmother and that her wild child older sister is actually her mother. It’s a premise that could easily become outlandish and lose the emotional through line, but Andi Mack operates with its heart first, never condescends toward its audience, and leans into how the inherent identity issues that come with middle school intersect with Andi’s special circumstances and how the search for self is never truly over.
Outstanding Comedy Series: Man Seeking Woman
For its first two seasons, Man Seeking Woman applied its wry, surrealistic sensibilities to how terrible getting over a heartbreak and dealing with a crush can be. Anchored by a strong visual component that sought to literalize relationship metaphors and capitalize on the extreme emotions that dating produces, both seasons were quite strong on their own, with the second season winding up in my year-end Top 10, but it was the third and final season that was the show’s creative zenith. It was the first time Man Seeking Woman got to work within the confines of a committed relationship and as such, it got to mine emotionally deeper material that showcased a narrative maturity that was quite becoming. Ratcheting up its sweetness as it delved into the flaws that plagued the romantic lives of Josh and new girlfriend Lucy, Man Seeking Woman ended its run by underlining its optimistic view of love and showing that sometimes all you need is someone willing to go into battle right beside you.
Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series: Quarry – “nước chảy đá mòn” (Greg Yaitanes)
For the majority of its run, Cinemax drama Quarry was a beautifully still, internal story of Mac, a PTSD suffering Marine returning home to find himself shunned by his community and out of options in which to support his family, punctuated by periods of pulpy, startling violence. Once Mac becomes a hit man in order to make ends meet, he quickly becomes entangled in a world he doesn’t understand and has to fight his way out if he and his wife Joni have any hope of survival. But it was series finale “nước chảy đá mòn” that set the series above and beyond almost anything else on television by showcasing the Vietnamese massacre that set his whole post-war journey into motion. Nearly 10 minutes of tense, uninterrupted brutality, the shootout that changed Mac Conway’s life forever was seemingly cut out of a great big screen war epic, eschewing almost all dialogue for brilliantly choreographed action sequences that make the realities of war as apparent as possible through the television medium. That sustained (and somewhat overwhelming) violence is made even more powerful when set against how relatively little carnage a show about a hit man actually contained and especially the show’s closing sequence, a serene depiction of a man finding a little light in a world filled with darkness.
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Uma Thurman – Imposters
As written, Imposters fixer Lenny Cohen is a fearsome entity who values efficiency and toeing the company line above all else. She’s simultaneously off her rocker and the smartest person in the room, a cold-blooded killer one second away from snapping at any moment and a bemused loner whose sense of comfort with violence and intolerance of bullshit keep her presence lighter than you’d expect. It’s a fine line for any actor to walk, having to be this intimidating figure without fully crossing the line into antagonist, but the character wouldn’t feel complete without Uma Thurman bringing a special brand of off-kilter electricity to her portrayal of Lenny that makes her feel like an unusual (and impressively distinct). Thurman’s never wavering (and, at times, scary) intensity gives Lenny’s directness and inability to sugarcoat a more jagged edge, while she always makes sure Lenny knows what type of show she’s in, as there’s an undercurrent of pitch black humor throughout all of the character’s screen time. Though Cohen was only in a few episodes of the Bravo dramedy, her impact was instantaneous and permeated through the entire season, all thanks to the controlled, subtly sinister performance of Thurman.
Outstanding Limited Series: Channel Zero: Candle Cove
Though there are plenty of shows on television with horror elements, there might not be anything more genuinely unnerving than Syfy anthology Channel Zero. With a first season based on the Kris Straub’s creepypasta of the same name, Channel Zero: Candle Cove follows a child psychologist who returns to his hometown to investigate the disappearance of his twin brother and a slew of other children in the 1980s and how that connects to a television show that aired at the same time. A viscerally disorienting and ultimately twisted tale of collective memory, the cyclical nature of childhood trauma, and the power of television set within a small Ohio community, Channel Zero is psychological horror done right, an internally-based nightmarescape that uses unique visuals and dynamic sound design to get at easily relatable childhood fears. With a weighty, almost smothering atmosphere and a strong use of a trope (murderous children) that can sometimes read more camp than terror, Channel Zero is proof that Syfy can absolutely hang with the HBOs and FXs of the world.
Outstanding TV Movie: Looking: The Movie
In a perfect world, Looking: The Movie wouldn’t exist, as HBO dramedy Looking would be fresh off an acclaimed fourth season and thus in no need of a feature-length series ender. Unfortunately, though, Looking was cancelled after two short seasons and given Looking: The Movie as a way of tying up loose ends and providing closure for the show’s small but dedicated fan base. Of course, Looking was always more about the joy and importance of found families than anything plot-y, so the movie functions more as a quiet, contemplative goodbye to the show’s characters, something of an examination of the transition from the carefree breeziness of your 20s into your 30s, a time when most people want to become a bit more settled. It’s that theme of personal growth that permeates the movie and while it’s moving to see each character’s grudging individual acceptance of responsibility, commitment, and adulthood, and it’s tough to not feel your heart swell at the deeply romantic ending, the main practice that Looking: The Movie preaches is surrounding yourself with enough like-minded people that make becoming an adult not quite as terrible.
Outstanding Variety Talk Series: Throwing Shade
Late night television has come under fire in recent years for being primarily composed of straight white guys, most of whom are named Jimmy. Luckily, there are still a few shows who try to shake up the formula and highlight different perspectives on the awful world in which we live, with my personal favorite being TV Land’s insanely intelligent (and unbelievably necessary) Throwing Shade. Based on the podcast of the same name and hosted by Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi, Throwing Shade focuses on issues that impact women and the LGBTQ community and mixes sketch comedy with Weekend Update-style banter, all to great effect. It’s a colorful, energetic take on the world at large, distinct in both perspective and approach, hinged on undeniable chemistry between Safi and Gibson, who manage to be great friends while keeping the show from becoming too inside joke-y. Rather, it’s as if the two funniest people in the office who’ve been friends for years invite you out for brunch and spend the entire time gabbing with you about everything from tampons to government regulation, shady members of Congress, and conversion therapy.
Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series: Rectify – “A House Divided” (Ray McKinnon)
The elegant final season premiere of Rectify is all about being confronted with the possibility of progress and realizing just how much your past hinders you from moving forward. Taking place solely in Nashville, the episode chronicles Daniel’s first steps toward independence after being banished from Paulie and how 20 years on Death Row stunted the way he relates to other people. Daniel wants to reach out to others and find someone to relate to, to feel the type of interpersonal connection that was denied to him for so long, but a part of him is still trapped as the teenager who was locked in a cage at an important stage in his development. It’s a frustrating place to be emotionally, being on the cusp of making something of your life and not being able to fully capitalize on it, and “A House Divided” devastatingly captures the impact isolation can have on a person’s sense of self and how trauma can perpetuate itself for years to come.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series: Benito Martinez – American Crime
For three seasons, American Crime was a haven of towering performances that ornamented stories of racially motivated murder, teenage sexual assault, and human trafficking to gut wrenching effect. One of its best and most affecting, though, was one of its quietest, as Benito Martinez’s portrayal of a soft-spoken Mexican father looking for his missing son on an industrial farm in North Carolina didn’t have a tremendous amount of dialogue, be it English or Spanish. Instead, it was a performance that relied on the heavy sadness that emanated from Martinez whenever he was on screen, on this sense of desperation and hope, guilt and gradually slipping optimism that Martinez was able to convey almost solely through his eyes. The further the storyline progressed, the more you got to see this fairly controlled character struggle to keep it all together and emerge from this journey without losing himself in the process, all of which Martinez was able to convey with a world weary empathy.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Billie Piper – Penny Dreadful
Lily Frankenstein tore through the third season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful on a mission for vengeance, as her memories of life as Irish prostitute Brona Croft fueled her righteous anger toward men. While it was a marvel to watch Billie Piper’s seductively sinister take on a woman embracing her power and attempting to build the army necessary to (literally) topple the 19th century patriarchy, it was her performance in the show’s final episode that was one of the highlights of the past year in TV. Pinned down by Victor Frankenstein, the man who was responsible for her resurrection in the first place, and threatened with the loss of her memories as Brona, Lily gave a monologue dripping with the sadness, guilt, and self-hatred of a mother responsible for the loss of her child. Though she might regret what happened to little Sarah, that regret was hers and hers alone.