Though it took some time, the nominations for the Emmy Awards over the last few years have finally started to reflect the beautiful variety of Peak TV, embracing series that are not always just the most popular and most visible. That’s not always the case though, and there are sure to be plenty of snubs and surprises when it comes to the 2019 nominees (which will be announced on July 16th). So in the spirit of celebrating the great television of late 2018 into 2019, we’ve come up with one wish list pick for each major category.
The following nominee hopefuls are programs or individuals that we felt truly stood out, but also, are under-the-radar choices. They aren’t the only series or actors who are deserving of the nod, but we did want to specifically highlight a few that, regardless of how Emmy voters feel about them, deserve your attention.
Best Drama Series: Counterpart
This may sadly be the last opportunity for me to stump for Counterpart, the excellent Starz supernatural spy series that ended this year with its second season (and don’t let that keep you from catching up—the finale was satisfying as a series finale as well). Despite the fact that the show is smart, strange, compelling, and outstandingly acted, it remained a niche watch. It’s an Emmy longshot for sure, but the series—which stars J.K. Simmons playing dopplegangers who become trapped on each other’s parallel worlds—deserves that recognition. It should have been nominated for a slew of awards for its first season, but complicated, slow-burn series on premium networks (that aren’t HBO) find it hard to get noticed. A Counterpart nomination would be a move in the right direction towards honoring series that are indicative of the best (in writing, production, acting, and overall world building) that TV can be. —Allison Keene (Photo Courtesy of Starz)
Best Actor in a Drama Series: Mark McKenna, Wayne
It’s not impossible that a YouTube Original Series will someday grab an Emmy nomination, but even if that day comes sooner than any of us might be anticipating, whatever series does manage to break through won’t be one about a couple of dirtbag teens from the Boston suburbs making their John Wickian way down the Eastern seaboard on the back of a dinky motorcycle. This is a shame, as Shawn Simmons’ Wayne is the exact kind of provocatively violent, highly stylized teen series that HBO is trying to make hit with Euphoria, and lead actor Mark McKenna (Sing Street) is doing as much arrestingly exquisite, tensely constrained work as the central broken character in his series as Zendaya is doing in hers. For all that only a fraction of Emmy voters will have seen him doing this work, McKenna’s Wayne is nevertheless a heartbreaking wonder, exploding your heart into a million pieces even as he acts like he’s got an emotional range smaller than a butterfly’s wingspan, and even as he’s beating (or being beaten by) half the world into a bloody pulp. This is the kind of work the Emmys love to highlight, but since it’s coming out of a teen series on YouTube, we’re not holding our breath. We’d just be happy to see McKenna bring his gentle bruiser of a teen hero back for a second season. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo Courtesy of YouTube Premium)
Best Actress in a Drama Series: Suranne Jones, Gentleman Jack
There are only a few actors who can so command a series that you cannot imagine your TV life before them. Suranne Jones in HBO’s Gentleman Jack is such a one, playing the incredibly witty, talented, seductive and bold Anne Lister. Jones imbues her character with such a winning combination of charm and warmth that to know her is to not just love her but to become a little obsessed with her. Anne strides boldly into our lives—winking, knowing, playful, righteous—with a unique story (based on real-life diaries) augmented by Jones’ complete dominance in the role. It is the east, and Jones is the sun. But Anne is also sometimes overwhelmed, vulnerable and deeply hurt, making us realize she is, in fact, a mortal among us. Ultimately, when Jones brings us into her confidence as Anne, the experience is exhilarating. Emmy voters, do the right thing. —Allison Keene (Photo Courtesy of HBO)
Best Comedy Series: Speechless
Just like JJ (Micah Fowler), the protagonist at the center of ABC’s charming, insightful and hilarious comedy, Speechless defied the odds. In a landscape dominated by dragons and zombies, a TV series about a family whose oldest son has cerebral palsy shouldn’t have lasted for three seasons. But not only did it last, it thrived. The DiMeo family, with Maya (Minnie Driver, in a career-best role) as its fearless matriarch, represented not just a loving family with a special needs son, but all families who want what’s best for their children and won’t let any obstacles get in their way. The show may have served to educate the viewer and broaden our collective perspectives of what it’s like for those living with special needs and the reality for those who love them, but Speechless never felt pedantic. Watching it never felt like work. Instead it was a weekly uproarious escape.
In its third, and unfortunately final season, the show truly blossomed as it set the stage for JJ to leave home and set off for college. Network TV doesn’t get a lot of attention these days. The #SaveSpeechless campaign never really took off and it’s highly unlikely the show will be saved the way One Day at a Time was (another show I would love to see get an Emmy nod). And certainly, the Television Academy seems to leaning more into the cooler cable shows so it’s very likely that this comedic gem, on its last possible chance for a nomination, will be overlooked again. But not without me a-d—v-advocating for it.—Amy Amatangelo (Photo Courtesy of ABC)
Best Actress in a Comedy Series: Yael Grobglas, Jane the Virgin
Gina Rodriguez may be the beating heart of Jane the Virgin—and she absolutely had better clinch an Outstanding Lead Actress nom for her history-making seven-minute monologue in this season’s premiere—but for our money, Jane the Virgin has only been as strong as it has been for the last two seasons because of the counterbalance Rodriguez’s Jane has found in Yael Grobglas’s sharply tender portrayal of Jane’s enemy-turned-sister, Petra Solano. Ruthless, sharp-tongued and always impeccably styled, Petra has long been one of the series’ best secret weapons. As she has been allowed to break free of the constraints put upon her character by the Jane-Raf-Petra Love Triangle of the show’s earlier seasons, however, and as she’s been given not only the opportunity to develop genuine friendships with both Jane and Rafael (Justin Baldoni), but also to get to know herself better through her surprise romance with JR (Rosario Dawson), Petra—and by extension, Grobglas—has been able to blossom into the kind of comedic powerhouse we not only love to see pop up on screen, but whose happy ending we can sincerely root for. In this Golden Age of television comedy, not even that may be enough to secure someone an Emmy nomination, but that won’t stop us from shouting from the rooftops: Yael Grobglas is GREAT —Alexis Gunderson (Photo Courtesy of The CW)
Best Actor in a Comedy Series: William Zabka, Cobra Kai
Back in the olden days—say five years ago—it could be that even if you never watched a particular television series, you would have at the very least heard of it. But now when I mention Cobra Kai to people, I’m greeted with the same blank stare my daughter gives me when I ask her where her soccer cleats are. What’s that you say? There’s a TV series based on The Karate Kid that revisits Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny (William Zabka) more than 30 years after the original movie? Yes, indeed there is. And get ready for me to blow your mind. The show is on its second season on YouTube Premium and has already been renewed for a third. Because Cobra Kai is so far under the radar, I fear the Television Academy may have missed Zabka’s nuanced and downright fantastic performance. With an effortless grace, Zabka balances humor and Johnny’s great one-liners with the struggles of a man for whom life hasn’t worked out the way he planned.
Johnny is a walking anachronism who doesn’t understand computers or social media but Zabka never allows him to become a cliché or a one-note joke. Cobra Kai is at once an homage to the past (check out those great 80’s era slow motion montages) and an innovative, fresh take on a beloved classic. Rooted in the past but always looking forward. Zabka embodies all of that and everything else great about the show. Without him the show wouldn’t work. As I said back in April when Cobra Kai returned for Season Two, if he doesn’t get an Emmy nomination next Tuesday, it might be time to sweep the leg of the Television Academy.—Amy Amatangelo (Photo Courtesy of YouTube Premium)
Best Miniseries: Vanity Fair
When we reviewed Amazon Prime Video’s Vanity Fair at the end of 2018, we called it a venomous, lavish delight, and we firmly stand by that description. There have been too many excellent limited series in the past year—When They See Us, Good Omens, Chernobyl, just to name a few—to expect this poisonous fluffball of literary adaptation to get a nod, but just because we expect it to fall short doesn’t mean we aren’t equally ready to be disappointed. Olivia Cooke’s purring glee as Miss Becky Sharp, Johnny Flynn’s achingly earnest passion as Dobbin, Michael Palin’s acidity as Thackeray’s carnival barker, all of it tied together in a prickly, un-self-serious bow by showrunner Gwyneth Hughes—it all makes for a bonbon of a series, and one we hope continues to find an audience even in the likely absence of an Emmys nomination boost. — Alexis Gunderson (Photo Courtesy of Amazon Prime)