Here’s What the 2017 Emmys Race Should Look Like
It’s that time of the year again when we begin to take stock of the best TV of the year and put our heads together to predict who will take home the gold come awards night. On Thursday, the TV Academy will announce their selections for the 2017 Emmys. We already know the usual suspects will pop up, from Julia Louis-Dreyfus to Modern Family and House of Cards, but what about the new series and the underdogs?
To celebrate the shows and the performances we loved most for the 2016 – 2017 TV season, and spotlight those who often get pushed to the margins when the Academy favorites snag up the spots, we’ve chosen our picks for what the 2017 Emmy nominations should look like. TV editor Kevin Fitzpatrick and senior editor Erin Oliver Whitney decided on a list of the star performers and shows that they can only hope show up in Thursday’s nominations. Without Games of Thrones and Downton Abbey in contention this year, that left a handful of spots open to newcomers, and underappreciated critical darlings.
So our predictions might not end up being totally right, but if the Academy knows quality TV, this is what the 2017 Emmy nominations will look like:
Outstanding Comedy Series
Dear White People
I Love Dick
Master of None
Just for a moment, let’s imagine Modern Family, Veep, and Silicon Valley took a baskseat this year; look at the new series that would shine. Dear White People rode the line between comedy and drama with piercing dissections of racism across a series of vignettes, and featured one of the most vital TV episodes of the year, notably directed by Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins. Atlanta tackled the struggle for recognition in the hip-hop scene and reminded us why we need more Donald Glover on our screens, while Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Issa Rae emerged as two of the boldest and sharpest voices in comedy with Fleabag and Insecure, respectively. Jill Soloway gave us the strongest season of Transparent yet, one that finally highlighted the talents of its supporting cast and trans actors, while Soloway also gave Kathryn Hahn the fiery leading role she’s long deserved in the unapologetically feminist I Love Dick. And that isn’t to forget the delectable second season of Master of None, which found Aziz Ansari’s Dev gobbling up pasta and navigating new romance.
The Emmys are nothing if not consistent with certain categories; moving from an endless comedy cycle of Modern Family wins to more recent awards for the last two seasons of Veep. As I thought of our Best TV of 2017 (So Far) list, 2017 feels like an opportunity for new series to dominate the field, and certainly unique offerings like Atlanta, Dear White People or I Love Dick are worthy of early recognition. I was surprised to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag among the eligible choices (and it seems just like the singular talent to recognize), so who’s to say 2017 won’t bring us some comedy upsets? If nothing else, this’d be the time to give Master of None its due.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy
Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Kathryn Hahn, I Love Dick
Issa Rae, Insecure
Logan Browning, Dear White People
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag
How often do you see a single mother as unfiltered and hilarious on the small screen as Pamela Adlon’s is in Better Things, a young black woman spitting freestyles in the mirror while navigating a stale relationship like Issa Rae in Insecure, or a feminist consumed by her voracious sexual appetite for a man like Hahn in I Love Dick? Not too often, making this one of the strongest years for lead actresses in comedies. It’s a tough but exciting category, especially with Logan Browning, who hopped into the role of Sam White with confidence, vigor, and ease in Dear White People.
Oh boy. Did we once again stack the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series with newbies? Look, I’m all for throwing it to Julia Louis-Dreyfus again (there were a lot of different Selinas this year), and I’ll always stan for Rachel Bloom, but it might be time to throw nominations to some overdue talent like Better Things’ Pamela Adlon or I Love Dick’s Kathryn Hahn, both of which got to play different extremes of the female sex drive. I’m also in for Issa Rae or Phoebe Waller-Bridge, both of whom serve as auteurs of their respective series.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Zazie Beetz, Atlanta
Roberta Colindrez, I Love Dick
Kathryn Hahn, Transparent
Judith Light, Transparent
Claudia O’Doherty, Love
Lena Waithe, Master of None
Oh, you thought the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy was tough? Check out this one. The third season of Transparent elevated both Kathryn Hahn and Judith Light to MVP status – the former for Rabbi Raquel’s crisis of faith, which shaped the season’s religious themes, and the latter for a showstopping Alanis Morissette cover. Both Roberta Colindrez and Lena Waithe brought nuance to their portraits of queer women of color, Colindrez mixing confident swagger and introverted sensitivity with Devon, and Denise’s outstanding coming-out episode (which Waithe co-wrote) on Master of None. And Claudia O’Doherty and Zazie Beetz both brought rich notes of humor to their shows, whether through mediating mushroom trips on Love or extracting baby urine for a drug test on Atlanta.
Jill Soloway could own half this category, between the plethora of Transparent and I Love Dick entries. Not only that, but the addition of Dick star Roberta Colindrez had us thinking that there was no reason to choose between queer characters of color like Lena Waithe’s Master of None pal Denise, who in limited Season 2 screentime brought us the wonderful decade-spanning “Thanksgiving” come-out. It left a few personal favorites like the women of Brooklyn Nine-Nine out in the cold, but it also enabled us to keep a few younger breakouts, like Claudio O’Doherty’s Love-ly scene stealer.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Andy Daly, Review
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Jeffrey Tambor might be both the obvious choice for Emmy voters this year, or entirely disregarded after winning two years in a row, and yet his work on Transparent is still one of my favorite elements of the series. Tambor’s slowly taken a backseat as the show’s grown into a wonderful ensemble piece, but when Maura is onscreen, Tambor delicately balances the confusing vortex of joyous relief and agonizing disappointment she experiences, attempting to define her transition by in own terms. But it’s also impossible to deny the sheer delight of Aziz Ansari’s Dev, who brings fresh sprigs of humor and humility to his hopeless romantic on Master of None this year. And on Atlanta Glover’s Earn is the kind of authentic character who’s rarely a lead in a series, quiet and introspective, but endlessly hungry to prove himself.
Perhaps one of my favorite award show jokes saw Master of None’s Aziz Ansari prepping for the Golden Globe nominee montage with a “Losing to Jeffrey Tambor With Dignity” book, even if Gael García Bernal took home the award. I don’t know if Tambor elevated Transparent Season 3 any more than usual; I’d love to see nods for Ted Danson’s exasperated and ultimately malicious Good Place turn, or Daly’s hilariously tragic Review ending. It might be a young man’s game, so Ansari and Glover seem like good guesses too.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Desmin Borges, You’re The Worst
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Walton Goggins, Vice Principals
Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta
Andrew Rannells, Girls
Eric Wareheim, Master of None
The final season of Girls went out with the slow whimper of a deflating balloon, but it did give Andrew Rannells a wide range of emotions to play with as Elijah. His blunt humor and charisma was fresher than ever, and it was particularly good to see Elijah, who began as a gay best friend stereotype, grow into one of the (and maybe the) series’ most mature character. Eric Wareheim’s mix of tender goofiness was especially touching this season on Master of None, as Arnold entered the world of online dating, and Brian Tyree Henry shined as Paper Boi on Atlanta (though Lakeith Stanfield’s Darius, and his many stoner asides, was our runner-up). And I’ll admit, I’m not caught up on Kimmy Schmidt, but Burgess has my vote for that Lemonade parody alone.
This category was murder. From Brooklyn Nine-Nine to SNL’s Alec Baldwin, there must have been 20 or so supporting males that deserve a nomination; worse when you consider how many belong to the same series. In our efforts to keep things on an even keel, we chose entries like Atlanta’s Bryan Tyree Henry over Lakeith Stanfield, and Andrew Rannells over Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky. I’d like to see Girls’ final season recognized somehow, just as Desmin Borges’ You’re The Worst performance might be the one to break through this year. And good grief, I’d nominate Walton Goggins for anything, but Vice Principals was an exceptional showcase for his blend of comedy and menace.
Outstanding Drama Series
The Handmaid’s Tale
Orange Is the New Black
Without Game of Thrones in contention this year, there’s more room to admire the newer, quirkier shows from this year. Noah Hawley found a way to make an X-Men series feel uniquely original and accessible with dazzling visuals, while Westworld twisted our minds deeper down the labyrinth of fan theory-dom. Hulu’s adaptation of the Margaret Atwood classic was horrifically relevant and too gorgeously shot to look away from, while the Wachowskis got their wackiest and most philosophical in the under-celebrated Sense8. Orange Is the New Black dipped its toes deeper into the drama side of the pool in Season 4 and the Duffer Brothers hooked us with one of the most addictive TV seasons in ages. And if that wasn’t enough, Damon Lindelof completed his contemplative, anti-mystery box series with boldness and delicate poetry in the brilliant final season of The Leftovers.
Weirdly enough, I felt like I was coming up short of interesting choices for the top honor, with Game of Thrones sitting the year out and a few others having off-years. The Leftovers remains a pipe dream – moreso than newer breakouts like Legion or The Handmaid’s Tale – and we deliberately excluded some likely shoo-ins like The Crown (which might as well be made of Emmy gold). Orange Is the New Black certainly had a stronger year than usual with a bit less camp and that gut-punch of a final two episodes, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that more well-rounded newbies like Stranger Things or Westworld get a nod.
Outstanding Lead Actress Drama Series
Carrie Coon, The Leftovers
Clare Foy, The Crown
Eva Green, Penny Dreadful
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Claire Foy may be the clear frontrunner following her sweep at the Golden Globes, but this year is overflowing with plenty of worthy competitors. I’d love to see some recognition for Carrie Coon, who emerged as one of the most pivotal players of The Leftovers in Season 2, but the final season was hers and hers alone. She closed out Nora’s story with fierce conviction and quiet poignancy, delivering a final monologue that we’ll be talking about for years to come. Meanwhile, Evan Rachel Wood did some A+ work fine tuning the slightest of facial expressions and gestures as the Westworld host, and Elisabeth Moss continues to show her scene-stealing dramatic talents in The Handmaid’s Tale.
This one seemed relatively easy to whittle down as mix of likely candidates and personal favorites. Coon probably has better chances as a Fargo nominee for Limited Series, especially with The Crown favorite Claire Foy and Mad Men darling Moss turning even more heads in The Handmaid’s Tale. Green is likely a long shot as well, given Penny Dreadful just made the cut for early 2017 eligibility, but is this Claire Underwood’s year? Surely that’s one President the TV academy would much rather salute.
Outstanding Supporting Actress Drama Series
Amy Brenneman, The Leftovers
Danielle Brooks, Orange Is the New Black
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Aubrey Plaza, Legion
Winona Ryder, Stranger Things
Samira Wiley, Orange Is the New Black
If you thought the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama race was stuffed to the gills, check out this one. Winona Ryder’s melodramatic outbursts were one of the highlights of Stranger Things, while Aubrey Plaza’s was delicious in the role of the Yellow Eyed-Demon. Thandie Newton’s Maeve slowly grew into one of the most fascinating characters on Westworld, and Amy Brenneman did some of her most heartfelt work yet on The Leftovers. And on OINTB, it became impossible to choose between Samira Wiley and Danielle Brooks, the series’ funniest duo who got to up their dramatic game in Season 4’s devastating final episodes.
The fact that Orange Season 4 will compete over Season 5 let us double up on Samira Wiley and Danielle Brooks’ powerhouse final episodes for Poussey and Taystee, while still leaving room for a deserving breakout like Aubrey Plaza, or some strong work from Winona Ryder as a mother desperately clinging to Stranger Things that might keep her lost son alive. Once again, the field’s wide open without Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey or Maisie Williams, so hopefully Plaza’s gender-fluid and vaudevillian psychic big bad doesn’t go unnoticed.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Justin Theroux, The Leftovers
Dan Stevens, Legion
Rupert Friend, Homeland
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld
Wagner Moura, Narcos
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
There’s a handful of great leading men in the Drama realm this season, from Anthony Hopkins’ Westworld founder to Dan Stevens’ mental institution patient-turned-all-powerful-mutant in Legion, to Bob Odenkirk’s con man, who’s fascinating to watch evolve into the character we knew and loved in Breaking Bad. But personally, I’m just ready for the TV Academy to give The Leftovers the awards praise it’s long deserved, especially for Justin Theroux. The comedic actor has flexed his dramatic muscles (and real life ones) over three seasons as Kevin Garvey, a tormented cop-turned-sorta-prophet. He gave such an astoundingly powerful performance this year you could hardly believe this is the same guy who wrote Tropic Thunder and played a dreadlocked DJ in Zoolander.
More and more, I find myself wondering how the Academy weighs performances from stars and shows they won’t have the chance to nominate again. This’d be the last year to recognize Justin Theroux’s messianic Leftovers work; Wagner Moura, Anthony Hopkins, and Rupert Friend have all left their respective series behind too. Friend in particular put in a lot of work to capture the many sides of Peter Quinn, while Wagner got to play the more doomed, pathetic final days of Pablo Escobar. Hopkins feels like more of a lock, though I wouldn’t be surprised by some predictable Emmy mainstays like Liev Schreiber, Kevin Spacey, or Kyle Chandler (another last chance for Bloodline).
Outstanding Supporting Actor Drama Series
Asia Kate Dillon, Billions
Christopher Eccleston, The Leftovers
John Lithgow, The Crown
Michael McKean, Better Call Saul
Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Sense8
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld
With no Game of Thrones stars to fill this category this year, we’re tossing in some unexpected favorites, like Miguel Ángel Silvestre, whose Mexican action star had one of the most touching moments on Sense8 this season when he came out as gay. Jeffrey Wright brought a curiosity and patience to Bernard that provided a great entry point for the audience to the twisty realm of Westworld. And Asia Kate Dillon made headlines and history as the first nonbinary actor to play a nonbinary character on TV. They could become the first person to make history for gender nonconforming people at the Emmys this year, and thus begin paving a path towards a more inclusive awards system.
Like the supporting men of comedy, this category was packed to the gills with heartbreaking choices; all the more reason to discuss one in particular. Gender nonbinary Billions star Asia Kate Dillon opted to submit themselves in the male category, and it’s certainly on the Academy to entertain how its awards can better reflect changing gender norms. As to the cis-male nominees, the absence of Game of Thrones again opens up a few slots (that any number of Westworld stars might end up filling), while Better Call Saul’s Michael McKean made this a devastating season. The Leftovers offers several choices, but – as always – Christopher Eccleston’s mix of existential suffering and black comedy may put him in serious contention this year – if The Crown doesn’t have everyone’s prestige-sense tingling.
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