These Underrated TV Performances Deserve Emmys Love This Year


It’s that time of year again, when we get mad that our favorite television show was snubbed, but seriously, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family again? The 68th Primetime Emmy Awards nominees will be announced tomorrow morning by Anthony Anderson and Lauren Graham. Expect to hear HBO’s Game of Thrones, which won Outstanding Drama Series last year, in practically every non-comedy category. Rightly so! It was a wonderful season, but predicting Lena Headey will receive an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series nomination is as obviously pointless as it is pointlessly obvious. Same with Kevin Spacey for House of Cards, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Veep.

Let’s shake things up. Two Uproxx writers, Brian Grubb and Josh Kurp, picked the 10 men and women (and one Mail Robot) they hope to see acknowledged by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences tomorrow, and again in September. No one listed below was nominated last year, and they’re not presumed frontrunners this year (hence, no Rami Malek, who’s going to get some Emmy love for his superb work on Mr. Robot), but they deserve to be.

We begin with Brian’s picks.

Aya Cash (You’re the Worst), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

This Emmy probably already has “Julia Louis-Dreyfus” engraved on it, which is fine and deserved and maybe she needs one more to stage an all-Emmy reenactment of Game of Thrones in her garage, but let’s not forget the work Aya Cash did on You’re the Worst this season. It’s hard to make clinical depression funny. Sometimes they didn’t even try. Her performance stretched across the entire spectrum from goofy to sad to, uh, really sad. It’s almost unfair to even include it in the comedy category, because it was so much more than hitting a mark and delivering a joke. We might need a third category one day to appropriately honor performances like this. Comedy, Drama, and Kinda Funny, But Also Serious or Kinda Serious, But Also Funny.

We can work on the name.

Andy Daly (Review), Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series is a stacked category, with last year’s winner Jeffrey Tambor and Critics’ Choice winner Aziz Ansari as probably the odds-on favorite to win. But I’m not talking about winning. Not yet, at least. I’m talking about a nomination. Just a little recognition. A tip of the cap, if you will. I think Andy Daly has earned that much for his performance on Review.

If you haven’t seen Review yet, first of all, shame on you, but more importantly, you’re missing one of the great character studies on television. Daly has taken his Forrest MacNeil from a family man with a TV show to a raging, orgy-attending, cult-starting, roided-up divorced madman who has burned down multiple homes, literally and figuratively. It’s as impressive as anything any dramatic actor has done with a character this season, and it’s funny. Lord Almighty, is it funny. And it’s coming to an end soon. The time has come to toss my man a nomination. It’s only right.

But then again, I’m biased, because it’s long been my position that the Emmys should recognize performances that feature heartbreak over the death of an imaginary friend named Clovers.

Lamorne Morris (New Girl), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

It’s weird for a show to suddenly get good again after hitting a bit of a creative lull, but New Girl pulled it off this season. There were two primary reasons: One, bringing in Megan Fox during Zooey Deschanel’s hiatus injected new life into the story in a short burst, kind of turning things on their heads a bit; and two, they finally figured out what to do with Winston.

Let me be even clearer: Lamorne Morris was a damn delight this season. His character had always come off a little rudderless, existing mainly to talk to or do things with whichever of Schmidt or Nick needed him more at the time. Now he’s got a purpose, and a job, and a girlfriend, and his own storylines. And he’s still got time to go full-on Prank Sinatra. Big shouts to Lamorne.

Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Better Call Saul made the leap from good to great in season two, to the point that “Is Better Call Saul better than Breaking Bad?” isn’t a totally ridiculous conversation to start having. Rhea Seehorn was a big reason for that. Playing the love interest of a troubled main character can sometimes be tricky because the audience wants to see the main character do lots of cool devious stuff and his love interest wants him to, like, not. Even when these requests are perfectly reasonable, it can lead to tension (Skylar White, Carmella Soprano, etc.).

Seehorn’s Kim Wexler has been threading that needle, though, thanks in large part to a strong performance and creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould giving her some nice chunks of meat to tear into. (She got a montage!) We know at some point Kim and Jimmy will have a falling out (or some other reason to split up), because we’ve seen Breaking Bad and she ain’t in it. But until then, let’s appreciate her doing some really great work.

John Travolta (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Calling Travolta’s performance “underrated” is a little insane because it was all anyone talked about for weeks at a time this spring, but work with me here. It was underrated, kind of, in that it might have secretly been a little brilliant, and not just the hammy mess we all thought it was at first. I discussed this particular theory a while back, so rather than re-hashing it all here again, I’ll just drop in this GIF of him doing a thumbs up. I think it sums up my points nicely.

And now, Josh’s picks.

Shoukath Ansari (Master of None), Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Let’s give it up for Aziz Ansari’s real life parents, Shoukath and Fatima. Despite their slim IMDb profile, they stole the show on Netflix’s breakout semi-biographical comedy. What they lack in on-screen experience, they more than make up for in charisma and seamless chemistry that can only come with, y’know, being married and giving birth to the show’s star. The slight Emmy nod belongs to Shoukath, though, because of something he told Aziz (also, this billboard). “Tonight after we did Colbert together,” the Parks and Recreation star wrote on Instagram last year, [Shoukath] said: ‘This is all fun and I liked acting in the show, but I really just did it so I could spend more time with you.’ I almost instantly collapsed into tears at the thought of how much this person cares about me and took care of me and gave me everything to give me the amazing life I have.” C’mon, Emmys, have a heart.

I’ve already started a petition to have the Ansaris host in 2017.

Timothy Simons (Veep), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

If the comedy Avengers were to ever assemble, they would look a lot like the cast of Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is obviously a national treasure and, as noted by Brian above, she’ll likely win her approximately 47th Emmy. Matt Walsh founded Upright Citizens Brigade, and Tony Hale starred in Arrested Development, so they’re legends. Anna Chlumsky had the best meltdown on a show known for its big blow-outs. And no one delivers a drier, funnier line than Gary Cole. But this Armando Iannucci-less season belonged to New Hampshire’s finest mentally impaired Frankenstein’s monster, Jonah Ryan.

Is it because of this brilliant line? (Yes.)

I’m still laughing. Timothy Simons has been hearing insults about the way he looks since day one. Dude could use a win. And a hug.

Bokeem Woodbine (Fargo), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Need a reminder why Bokeem Woodbine deserves an Emmy? Here you go.

Woodbine gives the kind of smooth-talking performance on Fargo that’s impossible to ignore. Kansas City enforcer Mike Milligan has an electric, offbeat energy attached to him. He’s funny, but danger; clever, but stubborn. Monologues are typically an excuse for a writer to show off, but they’re a treat when delivered by Woodbine, with his eerily calm, car salesman-who-might-slit-your-throat demeanor. The only thing bad about Fargo season two is that Milligan can’t be around for season three.

Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

On paper, Jessica Huang doesn’t sound like much. She’s an overbearing Taiwanese mother… and you’re already thinking “Tiger Mom.” But the Fresh Off the Boat matriarch pops on-screen thanks to Constance Wu, who takes what could be a one-dimensional caricature, and makes her warm, and funny, and caring. In a greatly improved season two, Jessica also became more of a distinct character — she was given a career, a best friend, and an obsession in Melrose Place. In Wu’s words, Jessica and Fresh Off the Boat as a whole are “defying stereotypes.” Now it’s time for the Emmys to defy expectations, and spread the Lead Comedy Actress wealth to someone who isn’t JLD.

Literally anyone (The Americans), literally any category

Mr. Robot came out of nowhere (USA) and shocked everyone with how good it was. Better Call Saul rose from “pretty good” to “nearly as excellent as Breaking Bad.” Game of Thrones had arguably its best season yet. But The Americans, the perpetually ignored The Americans (except by people on Twitter who loudly proclaim it the finest show on TV), had one of the best seasons of the decade? Of the 2000s? Of prestige drama history? Take your pick. Point is, The Americans is wonderful, yet FX’s spy series has only won a single Emmy: Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, for Character Actress Margo Martindale. This is “Amy Poehler never winning for Parks and Recreation“-level ridiculous. Things need to change. I don’t care who the acting award goes to — terrifying Keri Russell, perpetually exhausted Matthew Rhys, wise-beyond-her-years Holly Taylor, poor Alison Wright, ever helpful Mail Robot — give The Americans something, anything, everything.