Each summer, just before the Emmy nominations are announced, I experience a surge of optimism that this will be the year the TV Academy wises up to the series, performers, writers and directors that have made the medium one of the preeminent art forms of our age. And each year, that optimism is dashed on nominations morning, as voters turn out to have gone once again with the expected, the perennial, the boring, the safe. Though there were a few happy developments of the unexpected variety, this year’s nominations were, in the main, no different. (It was pretty ugly, if I’m being honest.) I break down my 10 biggest surprises and snubs below:
Snub: Carrie Coon, The Leftovers
Category: Lead Actress (Drama Series)
As I feared when I filed my mock Emmy nominations ballot last month, the TV Academy now finds itself in the same position it did with The Wire: It has ignored, almost entirely, one of the finest dramas of the decade. (Ann Dowd nabbed a nomination for her guest turn in “The Most Powerful Man in the World and His Identical Twin Brother.”) With respect to the series’ writers and directors, and to her fellow cast members Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccelston and Justin Theroux, the most egregious omission is Carrie Coon—who’ll at least be at the Emmys come September, thanks to her nominated performance in Fargo. As the darkly funny, frequently playful, awfully sexy, ferociously intelligent, utterly heartbreaking, and ultimately breathtaking Nora Durst, Coon turned in one of the most remarkable performances in the recent history of the medium, and the Emmys’ failure to acknowledge her and the series alike will go down as one of its greatest embarrassments.
Surprise: Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Category: Lead Actress (Comedy Series)
A surprise, and a pleasant one: Adlon’s freshman comedy flew under the radar last fall, overshadowed by its FX counterpart Atlanta, and I must admit that I saw her as a long shot when I made my predictions yesterday. Still, Adlon’s Sam Fox is the equal of her superb writing and direction, the center of the familial maelstrom that comes in the first season’s most brilliant sequence: She resembles the “Superman” of Laurie Anderson’s song, so formidable to the casual observer that it’s easy to forget she doesn’t have it all figured out, either.
Snub: The Americans
Category: Drama Series
After a season that left even longtime fans of FX’s Cold War-set series impatient for action—13 episodes, as my own reviews noted again and again, that pushed The Americans further along in its five-year evolution from mission-of-the-week spy thriller into searing family drama—I can’t say I’m terribly shocked to see it go unacknowledged again, after being nominated in this category last year. But it’s disheartening to see its exquisite subtleties passed over in favor of, say, the manipulative melodrama of This Is Us, or (worse yet) the manipulative anticlimaxes of HBO’s dreadful Westworld. I’m going to take solace the in nominations for co-creators Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields (Writing), Keri Russell (Lead Actress), Matthew Rhys (Lead Actor) and especially Alison Wright (Guest Actress), then keep my fingers crossed that Emmy voters come to their Outstanding Drama Series senses next year.
Surprise: Kathryn Hahn, Transparent
Category: Supporting Actress (Comedy)
Rabbi Raquel is, in certain respects, the linchpin that holds Transparent together, the empathic—if not exactly neutral—observer of the Pfeffermans’ manifold foibles. In Hahn’s hands, though, Raquel’s ongoing search for meaning and comfort in an often coldhearted world assumes the same urgent energy as Chris Krauss’ desire in I Love Dick: With collaborator Jill Soloway, Hahn creates not a reflection of the Pfeffermans’ constant fight for self, but a refraction of it sturdy enough to merit her own stories of struggle, and pain, and hope. Cheers to Emmy voters for recognizing Hahn, long one of our most expressive performers. It’s about time.
Snub: The Good Place
Category: Comedy Series
In their nostalgia for the glory days of the network sitcom, Emmy voters have settled upon the tiresome Modern Family (and, until recently, The Big Bang Theory) as somehow deserving of praise year in, year out. Though I was pleased to see its ABC sibling, Kenya Barris’ confident, incisive black-ish, in the final seven, it’s troubling to think of the other broadcast comedies that might have nabbed its slot: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fresh Off the Boat, Speechless and, most frustratingly, NBC’s The Good Place, the most cleverly constructed half-hour to appear on the peacock since the heyday of 30 Rock, Community and Parks and Recreation. I’m still reeling from that last-minute twist—and from D’Arcy Carden’s Bad Janet—but this hilarious, surprisingly philosophical send-up of the afterlife seems to have left the TV Academy flat-footed.
Surprise: Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Category: Lead Actor (Drama)
I’ll admit, I have a thing for Milo Ventimiglia’s mustachioed father figure—you only need peruse the photos I chose to run with our episodic reviews of This is Us to see that. Even with the series’ long coattails, however, the late, lamented Jack Pearson seemed unlikely to earn Ventimiglia a nomination in the same category as the frontrunner, co-star Sterling K. Brown. (The series also landed expected nods for Drama Series and supporting actress Chrissy Metz.) It just goes to show just how powerful that now-rare phenomenon—the breakout broadcast drama—really is to Emmy voters. The Crown and Westworld will have their work cut out for them if they’re to take home the top prize come autumn.
Snub: Issa Rae, Insecure
Category: Writing for a Comedy Series
Overlook Rae for Lead Actress (Comedy)? Sure, I can buy that—the MVP of Insecure is Yvonne Orji as Issa’s best friend, Molly. (It’s harder to buy, of course, when two of the slots went to another forgettable season of Grace and Frankie, and a third to five-time defending champion Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Veep.) Ignore Insecure for Outstanding Comedy Series? Fine—as I noted on my mock Emmy ballot, I had enough worthy titles on my shortlist to fill the field three times over. But for Rae and the series to be shut out for writing as well—when pilot episode, “Insecure as F—,” carved out the comedy’s identity so brilliantly, and the Season One finale, “Broken as F—,” so precisely elaborated an undercurrent of regret—suggests that the TV Academy was asleep at the switch. I’m pissed as f—.
Surprise: Zach Galifianakis, Baskets
Category: Lead Actor (Comedy)
Galifianakis’ performance in Baskets (as twin brothers Chip and Dale, no less) had gone curiously unsung by critics, fans and awards groups alike—perhaps the tone of the series was too off-kilter, the subject matter too minor key. Which means the actor’s nomination here, along with that of co-star (and last year’s winner) Louie Anderson for Supporting Actor (Comedy), is both something of a surprise and, one hopes, encouragement to those laggards still sleeping on Baskets, which is (secretly) one of the most ambitious comedies on TV.
Snub: Michael McKean, Better Call Saul
Category: Supporting Actor (Drama)
It’s unfair to call this a “snub,” perhaps—Rita Moreno’s lack of a nomination for Netflix’s terrific One Day at a Time surprised me a whole helluva lot more—but in the interest of balance, I went with McKean’s extraordinary performance as the fastidious, difficult, holier-than-thou attorney Charles “Chuck” McGill, whose relationship with his con man brother, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk), has become one of the most impressive portraits of a sibling relationship on TV. It’s painful to see McKean, at once so affecting and so frustrating that he forces us to see the world through Jimmy’s eyes as much as Chuck’s, go unheralded when he and Rhea Seehorn (also snubbed) bring such life to AMC’s artful Breaking Bad prequel.
Surprise: House of Cards
Category: Best Drama
I’m biased, I know: I reviewed both The Americans and The Leftovers this spring. But for this threadbare treatment of political intrigue, led by the smarmiest performance on TV, to beat out the two best shows on TV isn’t just a shame. It’s an indictment. Do better, Emmy voters! Do better.