The 25 Most Pleasant Emmy Surprises, Ranked

3:53 PM 7/15/2016

by Tim Goodman

THR's chief television critic continues to feel the good vibes of a shockingly spot-on Emmy nomination year.

Bokeem Woodbine in "Fargo"
Bokeem Woodbine in "Fargo"
Courtesy of Chris Large/FX

Because I absolutely had to, after sitting around in shock for so long following Thursday's on-point Emmy nominations, I give you this: The 25 most pleasant Emmy surprises, ranked.

  1. 25

    Lip Sync Battle

    Structured Reality Series


    Sometimes you just need a simple show that's always entertaining. A lovely diversion gets noticed.

  2. 24

    Kirsten Dunst

    Lead Acress, Limited Series (Fargo)

    You never know with Fargo and its staggeringly good casting who will get noticed or snubbed – they could all get in or really deserving folks like Patrick Wilson and Ted Danson could inexplicably get left out. Happy that Dunst got noticed.

  3. 23

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

    Original Music and Lyrics, Choreography, Main Title Theme Music

    Scott Everett White/The CW

    It should probably get everything, but let's start here. No, seriously, even with the Golden Globes attention, it was thought that Emmy voters would continue to ignore all things CW, especially this one.

  4. 22

    Triumph's Election Special 2016

    Writing, Variety Special

    Courtesy of Hulu

    Filthy cigar-smoking dog gets Emmy notice!

  5. 21

    Full Frontal With Samantha Bee

    Writing, Variety Series

    Ali Goldstein/TBS

    It should have been nominated for more than just writing (like Catastrophe) but that could come next year. In the meantime, the writing was searing and took no prisoners. Smart, funny, through the skull.

  6. 20

    Making a Murderer

    Documentary or Non-Fiction Series

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Well, when you mesmerize a nation when they least expect it, you deserve an Emmy nomination. To repeat a theme – it doesn't mean that will happen.

  7. 19

    Olivia Colman

    Supporting Actress, Limited Series (The Night Manager)

    Courtesy of Mitch Jenkins/The Ink Factory/AMC​

    She's just the best, now isn't she? So talented.

  8. 18

    Melora Hardin

    Guest Actress, Comedy Series (Transparent)

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios; Michael Boardman/WireImage

    I love this pick because it's such a "whoa" moment – the kind that thankfully happened with regularity on Thursday. Hardin has been magnetic as the polarizing Tammy on this great series. But look at her competition – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (SNL co-hosts), Amy Schumer, Laurie Metcalf, Melissa McCarthy and Christine Baranski – and you realize, happily, how inspired this was from Emmy voters.

  9. 17

    Ellie Kemper

    Lead Actress, Comedy Series (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

    She arguably should have been nominated last year but – shocker – that could be said about most people on this list. Again, these are pleasant surprises because there's never been any guarantees with the Emmys.

  10. 16

    Thomas Middleditch

    Lead Actor, Comedy Series (Silicon Valley)

    Frank Masi/HBO

    Hilarious series and an excellently deep cast that finally gets noticed.

  11. 15

    Courtney B. Vance

    Lead Actor, Limited Series (The People v. O.J. Simpson)

    Courtesy of Prashant Gupta/FX

    This is one of those "damn right" picks. The only problem is the Emmys have a history of not doing what's so obvious to others. As with a lot of superb actors on this list, it's shockingly his first nomination.

  12. 14

    Laurie Metcalf

    Lead Actress in a Comedy (Getting On), Guest Actress in a Drama (Horace and Pete), Guest Actress in a Comedy (The Big Bang Theory)

    Any actor would be proud of that. Everybody else should as well.

  13. 13

    Tracee Ellis Ross

    Lead Actress, Comedy (Black-ish)

    Ron Tom/ABC

    Not just a worthy pick on a funny, rising series, but another positive indication that the diversity issue is getting addressed (a person of color was nominated in all lead categories this year).

  14. 12

    Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

    Variety Talk Series

    File this under both "shocker" and "inspired." Absolutely did not see this coming, but Crackle's online series with Jerry Seinfeld is a lot of fun.

  15. 11


    Writing, Comedy Series

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    One day – maybe a year from now? – this brilliant Amazon series could be nominated for best comedy. But it'll get this writing nom – another small but significant indication voters were awake.

  16. 10

    Sterling K. Brown

    Supporting Actor, Limited Series (The People v. O.J. Simpson)

    Ray Mickshaw/FX

    He's phenomenal for starters, but the odds were stacked in a heavily competitive category. Again, one of those picks critics wish for but don't really expect.

  17. 9

    Horace and Pete

    Guest Actress in a Drama (Laurie Metcalf)


    Look, this is a shocker no matter how you figure it (and yes, lots of people wanted more nominations). But this is precisely the kind of show the Television Academy usually ignored for, well, ever. It's a self-financed web series. To get an Emmy nomination – including guest actress for Laurie Metcalf – is astounding. This is Emmy voters at their best and most aware.

  18. 8

    Aziz Ansari

    Lead Actor, Comedy (Master of None)

    Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

    A nice surprise to go along with his emergence from character actor (for laughs) to multifaceted lead. Ansari has a disarming ability to be likable no matter what's coming out of his mouth.

  19. 7

    Louie Anderson

    Supporting Actor, Comedy (Baskets)

    FX Network/Photofest

    In all honesty, I thought this was the longest of long shots. At least Fargo's Bokeem Woodbine was in a critically acclaimed, popular series. Baskets is much further under the radar, masking one of the best casting decisions in ages and one of the most enjoyable, spot-on performances. Anderson, as Christine Baskets, is a revelation.

  20. 6

    Bokeem Woodbine

    Supporting Actor, Limited Series (Fargo)

    Courtesy of Chris Large/FX

    He absolutely commanded the screen the moment he appears. Equal parts funny and dangerous, his character was the X factor in another great Fargo season and Woodbine, in a super competitive year, was one of those actors you desperately wanted nominated but feared the odds were less than zero.

  21. 5

    Rami Malek

    Lead Actor (Mr. Robot)

    USA Network

    Without his performance, this series just doesn't work the same way. At all. A fantastic actor.

  22. 4

    Mr. Robot

    Drama Series

    Peter Kramer/USA Network

    The best drama category is musty and needed major remodeling, so it was nice to see this freshman surprise break in with The Americans.

  23. 3

    Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell

    Lead Acting (The Americans)

    Courtesy of FX

    See No. 1. It was so long overdue and that made the happy factor rise exponentially. Excellent actors with a real chance of winning.

  24. 2

    Master of None

    Comedy Series

    Courtesy of Netflix

    This was a hoped-for surprise – but there are tons of those at Emmy nomination time that never come true. A lovely series from Netflix that allowed Aziz Ansari to blossom and make something unique.

  25. 1

    The Americans

    Drama Series

    Ali Goldstein/FX

    I'm not sure a series that had been overlooked in its first three seasons has ever risen from the dead/ignored and garnered a best drama nomination. It's unheard of. This is your Emmy miracle.