If the ballot of this year’s Emmy Awards seems different, there’s good reason. With a few shows like Game of Thrones ineligible for nominations this year, and others failing to gain recognition from voters, a large and exciting crop of first-time nominees are taking a bit of the spotlight. From genre shows to actors raking in nods in multiple categories and a surprising number of nominees from NBC’s This Is Us, here’s your guide to the Emmys’ freshman class of 2017.
Outstanding Drama Series
The Handmaid’s Tale
Timing is everything and few shows prove that better than Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The streaming adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian drama felt eerily relevant when it dropped earlier this year. Watching women being stripped of their rights and forced to serve a patriarchal society struck a nerve with a lot of viewers, but the show isn’t on this list simply because of the zeitgeist. Some stellar performances by its cast and a rich story have earned the drama nomination this year.
Stranger Things was poised to be the internet’s favorite show when it debuted last year. It had all of the right ingredients: cool kids, ’80s nostalgia, fantasy board games, a bit of sci-fi, and a girl who could make bullies literally wet themselves with her mind. That the Emmy’s have recognized the genre series is a bit more surprising but we’re not complaining.
The Crown is everything a classic Emmy nominated show should be: a luxuriously shot, dialogue-heavy period piece about British royalty. It was an expensive undertaking for Netflix but by the awards chatter it’s getting, that gamble seems to have paid off. That’s not surprising since watching Claire Foy navigate the political rivalries and romance of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign is juicy stuff. Tasteful, but juicy.
This Is Us
NBC has been looking for a series to fill the void left by past performers like Parenthood and the network struck gold with the family drama This Is Us. The first season of the show followed the lives of three siblings weaved through the stories of the past and present and it had a knack for making us cry week after week. Apparently Emmy voters don’t mind stocking up on Kleenex because they’ve shown the series a lot of love this year.
With HBO’s fantasy juggernaut Game of Thrones ending soon, the network seems to have found a capable replacement in its sci-fi thriller Westworld. The show imagines an amusement park where guests can interact with life-like AI’s. Besides posing some tough existential questions and generating scores of fan theories, the series gave us a more sophisticated, philosophical take on a genre often overlooked by the awards crowd.
Outstanding Comedy Series
Atlanta is the only comedy repping the freshman class this year, but don’t be surprised if it steals hardware from old-timers like Modern Family and Veep. The FX series from Donald Glover was an instant favorite among critics and it’s been praised for its originality, smart humor, and realistic portrayal of struggling artists trying to make it in the rap game.
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
Claire Foy: The Crown
It’s not easy being queen and it’s definitely not easy playing one on TV. Claire Foy delivered a certain vulnerability in her portrayal of a young Queen Elizabeth II and, considering the show itself is practically Emmy bait, she may be the one to beat this year. There’s a reason Foy’s already brought home a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for her performance on the show; an Emmy doesn’t seem too much of a stretch.
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
Milo Ventimiglia: This Is Us
Milo Ventimiglia is doing what he does best on This Is Us – making audiences swoon. The guy has a gift for making fans fall in love with him – he’s been working on it ever since his Gilmore Girls days – but he’s elevated his game on the NBC drama. Ventimiglia plays the Pearson family patriarch and besides giving us all dad goals, the actor also brought some serious emotion to his portrayal of a man trying to do right by his family.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Ann Dowd: The Handmaid’s Tale
Ann Dowd is not a character actress but she’s still scary as hell in The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s so nice to finally see the versatile thespian getting her due, especially for her performance as Aunt Lydia, a strict, unforgiving mistress to the poor women forced to serve in Gilead.
Millie Bobby Brown: Stranger Things
Sometimes, all you need to win an Emmy is a look. If so, Millie Bobby Brown’s got this on lock. Her character Eleven had just a handful of words on the first season of Stranger Things but her shaved head, supernatural abilities, and pure love for Eggos left its mark.
Chrissy Metz: This Is Us
No character felt more relatable on This Is Us than Kate Pearson, and that’s all due to the brilliance of actress Chrissy Metz. Watching Kate struggle with her weight, her self-image, and her father’s death this season was both painful and cathartic for fans and the work the actress has done to promote inclusivity and body acceptance through her role on the show is just more reason to pay attention to her at the Emmys this year.
Thandie Newton: Westworld
Thandie Newton gave new meaning to the term “badass” on Westworld as Maeve, a host and madam who eventually discovers free will by the season’s end. Maeve was abused, tortured, and used as a plaything for most of her time on the show but when she finally woke up, the destruction she wrought on the park was more than satisfying.
Samira Wiley: The Handmaid’s Tale
Samira Wiley traded her prison orange for robes of red on The Handmaid’s Tale. The actress played Moira, Offred’s best friend, on the first season of the show. Rebellious and free-spirited, Moira refused to be subjugated, ultimately helping her friend fight back against Gilead and escaping to freedom. Was she tough? Sure, but what made Wiley’s performance stand out was the vulnerability she brought to the role.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
David Harbour: Stranger Things
If your town is suddenly attacked by paranormal creatures, David Harbour is the guy you should call. The actor brought Sheriff Jim Hopper to life on Stranger Things and his character, though broken by the death of his daughter and suffering with alcoholism, was one of the only things that made sense on the show.
Ron Cephas Jones: This Is Us
One of the most heartbreaking storylines on This Is Us involved Ron Cephas Jones, which is probably why his gut-wrenching performance as Randall Pearson’s biological dad William was nominated for an Emmy this year. Watching Randall and William reconnect only to say goodbye to each other when William’s cancer ended up taking his life exercised all of our tear ducts. It might also be the thing that give Jones his first Emmy statue.
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Alexis Bledel: The Handmaid’s Tale
It’s hard to believe Alexis Bledel’s turn as the revolutionary handmaid Ofglen on The Handmaid’s Tale marks the first time the actress has been noticed by the Emmys. She spent seven years doing good work on Gilmore Girls but her performance as a college professor punished for her sexuality and forced into servitude by men in power gives more meaning to her nomination this year. Ofglen was made to watch her partner hang, genitally mutilated, and psychologically abused by her captors and still she resisted. Give Bledel the damn Emmy now.
Ann Dowd: The Leftovers
Dowd gets another nomination for her performance as Patti Levin in HBO’s final season of The Leftovers. The show itself didn’t get much Emmy love so it’s nice to see Dowd earning a second nod for playing a manipulative cult leader returned from the dead to haunt Justin Theroux. Seriously, between this show and her performance as Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale, I wouldn’t want to get on Dowd’s bad side.
Shannon Purser: Stranger Things
Shannon Purser didn’t last long on Stranger Things – her character disappeared in the Upside Down early in the season – but an Emmy nomination seems like reasonable #JusticeForBarb.
Alison Wright: The Americans
An Emmy nomination is a good enough reason not to feel sorry for Poor Martha anymore. Alison Wright who plays Martha, an FBI secretary who made the mistake of falling for a Soviet spy and was swiftly shipped to Russia in season four of The Americans, is coming off a big year and enjoying some much deserved attention for her silent, subtle portrayal of a woman whose life has been stripped from her.
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
BD Wong: Mr. Robot
You might recognize B.D. Wong from his role on Gotham or his turn in Jurassic World but you probably won’t recognize him for the performance he’s nominated for at this year’s Emmys. Wong completely transformed himself to play the mysterious whiterose, a transgender hacker who heads up the notorious Dark Army on Mr. Robot. Here’s hoping the Emmys took note.
Brian Tyree Henry: This Is Us
Brian Tyree Henry gave the core cast a run for their money in the Kleenex department when he guested on a pivotal episode of This Is Us. Henry played Ricky, William’s long lost cousin. The two had a rocky relationship, one that came to a heart wrenching close when William paid his family member one final visit. Henry showed plenty of emotion and some serious vocal chops when he performed an original song on the show.
Gerald McRaney: This Is Us
No one made a bigger impact in the first episode of This Is Us than Gerald McRaney. The veteran actor played Dr. K, the man tasked with delivering the Pearson triplets and giving Milo Ventimiglia some age-old wisdom after one of the babies was stillborn. McRaney is being nominated for his performance in an episode later in the season when his tragic back story was revealed but honestly, all of his time on the show deserves notice.
Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series
Donald Glover: Atlanta
Donald Glover is often hailed as a modern day renaissance man and for good reason. The guy can do it all. His Atlanta has been proven to be a crowd pleaser and it’s only fair that his portrayal of Earn, a struggling college dropout trying to get his cousin’s rap career off the ground, should get some love too.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Kathryn Hahn: Transparent
The fact that Kathryn Hahn can play Rabbi Raquel Fein, a religious woman pressured into seducing her synagogue’s new cantor, and make her character’s ill-timed meltdown poignant and hilarious is reason enough to give Hahn an Emmy. The fact that it’s taken this long to recognize her brilliant work is reason enough to burn the entire awards show to the ground.
Vanessa Bayer: Saturday Night Live
With Vanessa Bayer saying goodbye to Saturday Night Live this year, it’s only fitting she finally earn her first Emmy for the work she’s put in on the show. And we mean work. She’s being nominated for her final performance which saw her playing weather girl Dawn Lazarus on “Weekend Update,” a 1940s movie star with embarrassing flatulence, and a woman on a Jurassic Park theme ride.
Leslie Jones: Saturday Night Live
It took three seasons and plenty of Game of Thrones live-tweeting but Leslie Jones is finally being recognized by Emmy voters. (Okay, her Game of Thrones recaps have nothing to do with her nomination but they should be required reading.) In the episode submitted for consideration, Jones plays Black Jeopardy against Tom Hanks’ character, a Trump supporter before ranting on “Weekend Update” about her real-life social media hack by followers of racist Breitbart troll Milo Yiannopoulos.
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Becky Ann Baker: Girls
Dealing with narcissistic privileged millennials is hard. Just ask Becky Ann Baker. The actress plays Loreen, Hannah’s tormented mother on Girls. Besides listening to her daughter proclaim to be the voice of a generation for six seasons, Loreen’s also accidentally overdosed on medical marijuana and learned that her daughter is pregnant with a virtual stranger’s baby. If Baker doesn’t get an Emmy, she at least deserves a stiff drink.
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
Riz Ahmed: Girls
Riz Ahmed was the sexy, carefree surf instructor every downtrodden New York City girl wants to have a summer fling with in Montauk. Ahmed’s performance as a positive-thinking surf bro who ends up impregnating Hannah then revealing he’s already in a relationship was relatable and hilarious and quintessentially Girls.
Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series or a Television Movie
Carrie Coon: Fargo
It’s downright shameful that Carrie Coon didn’t earn a nod for her incredible work in The Leftovers this season, but being noticed for her equally brilliant work in Fargo is consolation enough. Coon fully inhabited the character of Gloria Burgle a police chief trying to sort through mysteries in her hometown and understand the hold technology has on the world. Her trip to very foreign, very urban LA was the highlight of the season. Here’s hoping Emmy voters thought so too.
Reese Witherspoon: Big Little Lies
Her turn as Madeline Mackenzie, resident Queen Bee of a glitzy seaside community in California, on HBO’s Big Little Lies was peak Reese Witherspoon. Playing an alpha female devoted to her children, struggling in her marriage, and fighting for the welfare of her friends made Witherspoon relatable and fun as hell to watch.
Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series or a Television Movie
Robert De Niro: The Wizard of Lies
Robert De Niro has two Oscars under his belt. He’s widely regarded as one of the greatest actors in history. It’s important to recap that because his turn as Bernie Madoff, the crook who schemed half of Manhattan out of millions, marks his first Emmy nod. The Wizard of Wall Street’s crimes earned him a 150 year prison sentence but De Niro’s stoic, unyielding portrayal of the power player focuses more on his relationship with his family – and his personal life is even more dysfunctional than his professional one.
Riz Ahmed: The Night Of
Riz Ahmed earned his second Emmy nomination by inhabiting a very different character from the one he played on Girls. As Naz, a naïve young man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, Ahmed totally transformed himself to give audiences a glimpse of the reality of our justice system and what it can do to people.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Television Movie
Shailene Woodley: Big Little Lies
Shailene Woodley’s character in Big Little Lies went through hell and back over the course of the show’s first season. As a young, single mother trying to create a new life for her son in a fancy California neighborhood, Woodley was a fish out of water. Woodley brought raw emotion to the character, adding nuance to her portrayal of a sexual assault victim yearning to move past her trauma.
Jackie Hoffman: Feud: Bette and Joan
The relationship at the heart of Feud might have been between two aging actresses battling each other for a bit of the spotlight but another bond as equally interesting existed between Joan Crawford and her assistant Mamacita. Jackie Hoffman brought the stern, comedic character to life and her interactions with Jessica Lange provided some fun, lighthearted moments.
Michelle Pfeiffer: The Wizard of Lies
As gratifying as it is to see Michelle Pfeiffer on TV again, it’s even more exciting to see her getting recognition from the Emmys for the first time for her complex, emotionally tortured portrayal of Bernie Madoff’s wife. Pfeiffer perfectly embodies a Manhattan socialite so far removed from her husband’s misdealings that she’s taken by surprise when he’s eventually convicted of fraud.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Television Movie
David Thewlis: Fargo
Watching the most recent season of Fargo, it’s easy to see why David Thewlis had such a damn good time playing the show’s big bad, an English businessman named Varga. Between gaslighting Ewan McGregor and delving deep into his character’s muddled past, one that includes bouts with bulimia, Thewlis had more than enough material to cut his decaying teeth on this season and the voters took notice.
Bill Camp: The Night Of
As the weary, disheveled Detective Box in HBO’s The Night Of, Bill Camp perfectly embodied the audience’s obsession with discovering the truth behind the crime Riz Ahmed’s character allegedly committed. Poised for retirement and already hating every second of it, Box was a man thrust into an impossible situation, trying to uncover the truth about a crime the rest of his colleagues had decidedly “solved.” His dogged determination was one of the more intriguing aspects of the show and it’s nice to see Camp noticed for his efforts.
Alexander Skarsgård: Big Little Lies
Alexander Skarsgård is used to playing the hunky love interest on HBO shows – reference, True Blood – but his role as Perry Wright, a successful businessman, loving husband, and doting father who secretly harbors a serious anger problem and a desire to torture the women in his life was decidedly less sexy. Skarsgård showed his impressive range, switching from devoted and affectionate to vengeful and abusive with a single word. His performance is terrifying and difficult to watch, so of course it’s getting Emmy recognition.