It’s time for the TV-industry folks to start deciding who should be nominated for an Emmy. The nominating process began on Monday and runs through June 26, with the nominations to be announced on July 13. During this time, all the networks mount campaigns to remind voters of the possibilities (best of luck to you, Scorpion!). So now’s the time for me to do some of my own campaigning for performers I think deserve to be nominated. We all know that high-visibility shows such as Modern Family, Big Little Lies, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Stranger Things will probably get multiple nominations. Therefore, my enthusiastic suggestions below are for people who are in danger of being overlooked by Emmy voters. Are some of these long shots, or in some cases completely unrealistic picks? Sure! But we all have to dream of, and work for, an ideal Emmy ballot, don’t we?
Brian Tyree Henry in Atlanta: Henry’s languid-voiced, heavy-lidded rapper and dope-smoker Alfred — rap name: Paper Boi — is one of the year’s most indelible characters: a young man playing a role in his own life, a bristling, intelligent fellow who contrasts himself with his cousin, Earn, played by creator-star Donald Glover. Where Earn is tense and always hustling, Alfred assumes his Paper Boi identity to keep people off balance and at arm’s length. There is a core of shrewdness to this character, and the way Henry plays him, that deserve close attention.
Carrie Fisher in Catastrophe: You could say that agitating for an Emmy nod for a performance that lasted a few minutes in one episode is more a sentimental than a serious gesture, but consider that Margo Martindale won an Emmy two years for The Americans for doing the acting equivalent of clearing her throat eloquently in one episode — and let me emphasize I had no problem with that at all. And therefore, I put forward the late Fisher, who lit up the fine Sharon Horgan-Rob Delaney sitcom on Amazon Prime with one final blast of acerbic bluntness and loving tenderness.
Andrea Martin and John Michael Higgins in Great News: It’s rare to find excellent roles and performances in a network sitcom these days, but rookie Great News had at least two of them. While Andrea Martin would probably be slotted into the supporting-actress category, she’s really giving a star, lead performance as a meddling mother working as an intern at her daughter’s workplace. Martin gives a tightly wound yet free and easy performance that’s a delight. Higgins, as the workplace’s stuffy TV anchor, is also terrific, giving us the first fresh variation on Ted Knight’s Ted Baxter since The Mary Tyler Moore Show left the air.
Carrie Coon in The Leftovers: It’s one of the baffling flaws of Noah Hawley’s Fargo this season that the show hasn’t given Carrie Coon the showcase her smart-cop character merits. By contrast, Coon was given all she could likely handle by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta in the superb final season of The Leftovers. As half of the show’s central relationship, Coon imbued Norah with a flinty, tough surface that was only a hard shield against the piercing romance and loss she suffered with Justin Theroux’s Kevin.
Ron Cephas Jones in This Is Us: Delivering the most subtle performance in a show that doesn’t often prize subtlety, Jones — who played the terminally ill, redemption-seeking father of star Sterling K. Brown — takes care to keep William free of easy pity. The character is supposed to have the soul and abilities of an artist (specifically, a musician), but Jones also makes sure we understand that William is also a man with a spine of steel.
Riz Ahmed in The Night Of: Doesn’t it already seem as though this prestige-quality HBO miniseries aired about three years ago? Such is the misfortune to be caught in the midst of peak TV, or the Platinum Age of TV, or whatever we’re calling too much TV these days. As a young man accused of a brutal crime he said he didn’t commit, Ahmed brought a gravity to his portrayal while allowing himself opportunities to reveal the young man’s panic, despair, and simmering rage.
Vera Farmiga in Bates Motel: In its final season, Bates consigned Farmiga’s Norma Bates to a kind of living death: she’s murdered by her son Norman (Freddie Highmore), who stuffs her like one of his birds, perpetually staring with glassy-eyed beauty. But Farmiga came alive in Norman’s imagination, acting out with frequently wild humor, sarcasm, reckless abandon, and malicious intent. Farmiga always made Norma someone you’d follow anywhere, just to see her do the unexpected.
Amanda Peet in Brockmire: I rooted for Peet to be nominated last year for HBO’s terribly underrated sitcom Togetherness, and she deserves recognition this year in IFC’s Brockmire. Playing the owner of a small, pathetic baseball team in the Rust Belt, she made sure that her character, Jules, stood her ground against the alcoholic manipulations of Hank Azaria’s booth announcer Jim Brockmire. Peet’s lanky authority has rarely been deployed so effectively.
Gillian Jacobs in Love: I said it last season and I’ll say it again: Jacobs is giving a great performance here in the woefully undercelebrated Netflix romantic comedy Love. As Mickey, she has been bold in creating a character whose neediness, insecurity, and volcanic temper goes against all the current niceties of how female protagonists “should” be.
Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza in Legion: Where Stevens was meticulous in his low-key intensity in Noah Hawley’s extravagantly imaginative take on Marvel Comics-heroics, Plaza was daringly florid as the show’s most slippery Big Bad. This was a role that could easily have gone over the top, but Plaza — who more than proved she could do a lot more than maintain the comic poker face she wore in Parks and Recreation — gave her performance a theatrical flair.
Two Neglected Network Sitcom Women: Zoe Lister-Jones in Life In Pieces and Kristen Bell in The Good Place: Lister-Jones got a good response to Band Aid, the recent indie film she wrote, directed, and stars in; but it’s likely her role in this ensemble sitcom paid the bills. Life In Pieces — you don’t watch it? It’s on CBS — stars Lister-Jones as the tart-tongued wife of Colin Hanks, and every time she’s on camera, she commands her scenes with a firm clarity that cuts through the haze of punchlines. Bell is more front and center in NBC’s The Good Place, which finished its first season as a cult-favorite-in-the-making. Playing a dreadful sinner sent by mistake to the heavenly Good Place (or at least, that’s how the season started out), Bell cleverly led viewers to look at her usual wide-eyed charm in a new way — as a gateway to rude naughtiness and wily mischief.
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