Yesterday, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences opened voting for this year's Emmy nominations, including the public release of ballots showing who submitted themselves and in what categories.
That means it's time for my annual thought exercise, where I pretend that I'm an Academy member and try to figure out how I would fill out my ballot in the major categories. The whole thing becomes trickier with each passing year, just because there are so many shows and performances worthy of at least consideration: when I made my first run through the ballot, jotting down contenders in each big category, I wound up with 26 potential Outstanding Comedy Series nominees, for instance. It does give me a sense of how challenging this must be for the actual Emmy voters, especially since most of them have much less time to actually watch TV than I do.
I'm using the same rules as usual:
1)I only consider shows and performances that were submitted. So even if I wanted to put, say, Hugh Dancy on my ballot for his work in the final season of Hannibal, I couldn't, because he only submitted his work on Hulu's The Path.
2)I can't move things into other categories to suit my preference. I can't treat Horace and Pete like a limited series, even though that's clearly what it was, because the Academy let Louis C.K. submit it in the drama categories, and I can't take a largely dramatic half-hour like Transparent or Togetherness out of the comedy categories.
3)I don't consider shows and performances that I didn't watch much, if at all, this season. Based on the last time I was a regular viewer of Penny Dreadful and Orphan Black, for instance, I suspect Eva Green and Tatiana Maslany would both be incredibly strong contenders for the drama lead actress category, but I haven't seen a second of either show's eligible season. Back in the days before Peak TV, it would make me crazy when actors were obviously nominated based on their work from previous seasons, rather than anything they had done in the current year, so I'm not going to make any nominations based on similar assumptions.
Also, because so much of the biggest action this year is in the limited series categories (even sans Horace and Pete), I'm going to make picks there, when usually I've stuck with the comedy and drama fields.
So here we go…
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
Master of None (Netflix)
Review (Comedy Central)
You're the Worst (FX)
As I alluded to above, this was a tough one, especially since there are so many different kinds of “comedy” up for consideration. I could have surrounded Transparent and You're the Worst with a bunch of other half-hours that trended more towards the dramatic this year (say, Casual, Baskets, Togetherness, and Girls), or put on both of the CW's delightful Monday hour-long comedies in Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or loaded up on the resurgent broadcast network comedy scene and paired black-ish with the likes of The Grinder, The Carmichael Show, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Fresh Off the Boat. And I haven't even mentioned Broad City or Lady Dynamite or Catastrophe or Silicon Valley or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or a bunch of others that I'm not happy to not have on my final list. But these six were ultimately the ones that stuck with me the most, in some cases very long after they first aired.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
The Americans (FX)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Happy Valley (Netflix)
Horace and Pete (LouisCK.net)
The Leftovers (HBO)
Because so many great shows like Fargo and American Crime and The People v. O.J. Simpson have gotten themselves categorized as limited series, this wasn't quite as impossible a category to cull down to six choices, even if I changed my mind five different times between including UnREAL, Mr. Robot, or Halt and Catch Fire for that last spot. The Leftovers was my favorite show of last year, and assuming its final season gets bumped to 2017, Horace and Pete and The Americans are the two front-runners to finish atop my best of list for this year. With Mad Men gone, and limited series more competitive, I'm holding out the faintest of hope that Americans can follow the Friday Night Lights pattern and start getting nominated late in its run after being largely ignored early on.
OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES
American Crime (ABC)
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Show Me a Hero (HBO)
What an amazing resurgence for a format the rest of the TV business had all but ceded to HBO for the last decade. All six of these projects were extraordinary in different ways, and any one of them would be a more than deserving winner, though I'm assuming People v. O.J. is going to sweep its way through most of the limited series categories.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Andrew Daly, Review
Chris Geere, You're the Worst
Rob Lowe, The Grinder
Fred Savage, The Grinder
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Some years, I set a rule that I will only nominate one actor per show, but I couldn't choose between the two Grinder leads, who were as perfect a crazy man/straight man pairing as TV has had in quite some time. Anderson and Geere did great work flipping back and forth between silliness and pathos this year (I still choke up thinking about Dre's Obama speech from the black-ish episode about how to talk to your kids about black people being shot by cops), Tambor was once again stunning in a largely dramatic performance (that is, again, eligible here, in a category that isn't Funniest Actor in a Comedy Series), and Daly's absolute commitment to the awfulness of Forrest MacNeil's life made the second Review season even funnier, and darker, than the first.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Steve Buscemi, Horace and Pete
Louis C.K., Horace and Pete
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Justin Theroux, The Leftovers
Horace and Pete was another case of my inability to choose between two actors from the same show, as by the end, C.K.'s work was just as nuanced and devastating as the more experienced Buscemi's. Malek was so riveting that he made a lot of pieces of Mr. Robot work that would have failed utterly in the hands of an even slightly less gifted performer, Theroux's work in the last few Leftovers season 2 episodes left me a wreck, Odenkirk continues to demonstrate surprising depths as a dramatic actor, and it's absurd that Matthew Rhys has yet to be nominated for all he does on Americans.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Bryan Cranston, All the Way
James Franco, 11.22.63
Oscar Isaac, Show Me a Hero
Regé-Jean Page, Roots
Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Patrick Wilson, Fargo
Cranston and Franco both gave tremendous performances in ultimately flawed projects. Isaac somehow made all the exposition and policy wonkery of Show Me a Hero entertaining and tragic, Page and Vance were enormously charismatic as men who were flashy on the outside and deeply pained on the inside, and Patrick Wilson basically turned into Gary Cooper and became the powerful, still center around which all the craziness of Fargo season 2 could orbit.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Aya Cash, You're the Worst
Gillian Jacobs, Love
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Michaela Watkins, Casual
Louis-Drefyus will – deservedly – keep winning this category until either Veep ends or she pulls a Candice Bergen and withdraws herself from consideration. So it almost doesn't matter who gets nominated alongside her. But the other performances I chose were all wonderfully nuanced and complicated as they painted very different portraits of women who are all damaged in some way, and any of them would make an incredibly deserving winner if Louis-Dreyfus were to pull a Larry David and somehow offend everyone in Los Angeles at the same time.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Shiri Appleby, UnREAL
Kerry Bishé, Halt and Catch Fire
Carrie Coon, The Leftovers
Sarah Lancashire, Happy Valley
Krysten Ritter, Jessica Jones
Keri Russell, The Americans
The POV structure of Leftovers season 2 rendered everyone but Theroux a supporting player, but since Coon submitted herself here, I'm picking her, because when she was on screen, she was spectacular. Bishé was the highlight of the much-improved second season of Halt, Lancashire remains indelible on Happy Valley, Ritter lived up to all of my hopes for Jessica Jones, and refer to my Matthew Rhys comment when it comes to his TV spouse. The real surprise of the group is Appleby, who had never suggested the kind of depth and force that her role on UnREAL has allowed her to play.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Kirsten Dunst, Fargo
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Riley Keough, The Girlfriend Experience
Rachel McAdams, True Detective
Sarah Paulson, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Lili Taylor, American Crime
As with the corresponding male category, we've got a couple of performances here (Keough and McAdams) that transcended iffy shows. You could argue that any or all of Dunst, Huffman, and Taylor belong in the supporting field, but they were all wonderful, even if they all understandably seem destined to lose to Paulson.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Louie Anderson, Baskets
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Jaime Camil, Jane the Virgin
Christopher Meloni, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
T.J. Miller, Silicon Valley
Timothy Simons, Veep
Honestly, I could make this an all-Veep category – say, with Simons, Tony Hale, Kevin Dunn, Gary Cole, Sam Richardson, and Matt Walsh (or swap any two of them out for Hugh Laurie and Reid Scott) – and it would be a completely respectable list. Instead, I decided to limit myself to one guy, and the New Hampshire election story has given Simons a chance to shine like never before. As for the others, Braugher is a national treasure, Camil may be playing the most reliable joke machine on television, Meloni stole First Day of Camp the same way he stole the original movie, and Miller got to add some surprising emotion to Erlich Bachman's usual hilarious buffoonery. And Anderson is, like Tambor, giving an almost entirely dramatic performance (and also playing a woman), but in a way that never feels like a gimmick.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Alan Alda, Horace and Pete
Dylan Baker, The Americans
Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
Kevin Carroll, The Leftovers
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Lance Reddick, Bosch
Even if the Academy at large didn't watch Horace and Pete, I expect Alda will be nominated on name recognition alone, and when they see him give the performance of his career, he'll hopefully win. Baker sketched out a complicated and tragic character in the space of 13 episodes, Banks continued finding new gravitas inside Mike Ehrmantraut, Carroll knocked me out as much as his more well-known co-stars, Dinklage remains so much fun that he can even carry a long scene where he's acting against thin air disguised as CGI dragons, and Reddick also did the best work of his career on the largely unheralded Bosch.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Sterling K. Brown, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Ted Danson, Fargo
Connor Jessup, American Crime
Hugh Laurie, The Night Manager
Zahn McClarnon, Fargo
Bokeem Woodbine, Fargo
Unfortunately, I assume John Travolta has one of these spots in the bag. And the only reason Jessup is here and not in the lead category is because he's young and relatively unknown. But this is still one of the most competitive groups in the whole field, and I'd love to see one of the more unheralded actors eligible win it, even though Danson and Laurie were both superb in the kinds of roles they don't usually play.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Loretta Devine, The Carmichael Show
Kether Donohue, You're the Worst
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Amanda Peet, Togetherness
Kristen Schaal, Last Man on Earth
Janney, like Louis-Dreyfus, may have a stranglehold on her category for a while, and she's terrific enough – at both the light and dark parts of Mom – that I can't get too annoyed with it. This is another extremely deep category, which I tried to cover with a variety of different kinds of performances from different kinds of shows. There's Devine playing extremely big – and yet still human enough to be at the center of an episode about clinical depression – on Carmichael (where David Alan Grier would also be a fine nominee on the male side), McKinnon carrying SNL, Donohue and Peet doing a mix of utter silliness and something much messier, and Schaal turning out in time to be the very best part of Last Man. I'd have liked to find room for some of the Transparent actresses or Zosia Mamet or a bunch of others, but you've gotta make choices when you play this game.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Amy Brenneman, The Leftovers
Ann Dowd, The Leftovers
Regina King, The Leftovers
Rhea Seehorn, Better Call Saul
Alison Wright, The Americans
Constance Zimmer, UnREAL
Nope. Not gonna leave out one of the three Leftovers ladies here. (As a past winner, King is the most likely to get an actual nomination.) Seehorn, meanwhile, essentially became co-lead for much of Saul season 2, and was so likable and vulnerable and interesting that it felt like she was adding to Jimmy's story rather than taking away from it. Wright was stronger than ever on Americans, even though Martha was in crisis throughout, and Zimmer was every bit Shiri Appleby's dramatic equal as part of the UnREAL two-hander.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Olivia Colman, The Night Manager
Rachel Keller, Fargo
Regina King, American Crime
Cristin Milioti, Fargo
Anika Noni Rose, Roots
Jean Smart, Fargo
Another category where I went with three from one show, reflecting both the great work of Keller, Milioti, and Smart, but also the relative shallowness of this particular field. King is one of several actors this year who, thanks to the proliferation of limited series and shows with shorter seasons, has a realistic shot at being nominated for two different performances. Colman had a bunch of great moments during The Night Manager (particularly the monologue about why her character was so interested in taking down Hugh Laurie), and Rose was one of the best parts of the outstanding Roots ensemble.
What does everybody else think? What nominations are you most hoping to see?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com