Daniel Fienberg: The 10 Nominees I'll Be Rooting Hardest For at the Emmys

6:00 AM 8/31/2016

by Daniel Fienberg

From the leading lady of 'The Americans' to the DP on 'The Man in the High Castle' to a cross-dressing supporting player on 'Baskets,' THR's TV critic picks the people he most ardently wants to see grab the gold.


The 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards will be handed out on September 10 and 11 (the "creative arts" ceremony, perplexingly spread out over two parts) and September 18 (the actual ABC telecast hosted by Jimmy Kimmel), and I'll be taking a rooting interest in every category because, like most TV viewers, I have preferences and I take them personally.

But here are 10 nominees I'll be rooting for especially enthusiastically on the various Emmy nights. I intentionally left out winners that I expect are no-brainers. I don't need to stress out rooting for Sarah Paulson and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, because they'll be just fine. Some of these are longshots, some are probably favorites, but if the 2016 Emmys want me looking back with fond memories, at least a few of them had better win.

  • James Hawkinson, 'The Man in the High Castle'

    Outstanding cinematography for a single-camera series

    Liane Hentscher

    The pilot of Amazon's The Man in the High Castle is a beautiful piece of hyperstylization, thrusting viewers into a familiar-yet-foreign alt history in which the Axis Powers won World War II. It's a breathtaking pastiche of styles from noir to art deco, like nothing else on TV. But if I'm being honest, I want James Hawkinson to win here because his lack of recognition for three seasons shooting NBC's Hannibal is an Emmy oversight of tragi-comic proportions. Hawkinson should have ended the Hannibal run with three cinematography Emmy wins. Instead, he received zero nominations. Criminal. Sometimes, make-goods are the only way to right a wrong.

  • "Settle For Me," 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'

    Outstanding original music and lyrics

    Scott Everett White/The CW

    How did "Settle For Me" end up being the one Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song nominated in this category? I don't know. It's a great song and Santino Fontana's performance of it is glorious, but I'd have gone with "JAP Battle" or, just to keep things simple, "West Covina." And if "Dick in a Box" can win awards, why not a song called "Heavy Boobs"? It's all about preferences, because the songs by Adam Schlesinger, Rachel Bloom and Jack Dolgen are so consistently the highlight of one of last year's best new network shows. The CW doesn't get much Emmy love. This feels like a great place to give it love. Instead, expect Emmy voters to honor the noble intentions of The Hunting Ground and Diane Warren's heavy (and unremarkable, outside of its associated aspirations) "'Til It Happens To You" over Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's clever levity.

  • Courtney B. Vance, 'The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story'

    Outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie

    Courtesy of Prashant Gupta/FX

    This category became open for my affections to take over once Emmy voters decided that Cuba Gooding Jr.'s total lack of interest in how O.J. Simpson actually looked, walked and talked was more interesting than Patrick Wilson's nuanced and complex decency in Fargo. In Johnnie Cochran, Courtney B. Vance had a character who could have been played at the loudest volume imaginable and he still wouldn't have been any more larger-than-life than the man himself. Instead, Vance humanized Cochran's theatrics, playing the largesse to the hilt and also showing the smart, fierce, spotlight-loving lawyer and husband behind those moments. Cumberbatch and Elba are both category frauds — they're ongoing series that had limited seasons, darn it — and Bryan Cranston doesn't need another darned Emmy or another trophy for this role.

  • Keri Russell, 'The Americans'

    Outstanding lead actress in a drama series

    Nicole Rivelli/FX

    I could have filled half of the slots on this list with categories in which I'll be rooting for The Americans, but if The Americans won in all the categories it deserves to, it critics would no longer be able to feel superior in our love of The Americans and what would be the point in that? It's a tribute to how great Keri Russell is on The Americans — Elizabeth's kitchen staredown with Paige from this season is worth all available awards — that I'll be rooting for the Felicity veteran in a category that's pretty remarkable. Cookie Lyon remains one of TV's most entertaining characters. Tatiana Maslany is a multi-faceted marvel. Viola Davis nails everything her erratic show lets her do. But this year, which saw Elizabeth do worse and more conflicted and conflicting things than ever before, should be Russell's year.

  • Louie Anderson, 'Baskets'

    Outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series

    Ben Cohen/FX

    How Louie Anderson managed to get a nomination for the little-watched, fiercely esoteric Baskets is a minor miracle. It's a weird and intentionally off-putting little clown comedy that I happen to love. And I happen to love it in large part because Anderson took a piece of casting that could have been a stunt and made it into an asset that went far deeper than the initial joke. Other than the over-awarded Ty Burrell, there's no wrong choice in this category, but watching Anderson navigate his way around an Easter buffet as Christine Baskets is seeing a totally new talent at work, not a guy who has been a famous stand-up for decades.

  • Laurie Metcalf, 'Horace and Pete'

    Outstanding guest actress in a drama series

    Courtesy of LouisCK.net

    Of all the Emmys I'm rooting for, this is probably the one for which any other result will make me angriest, because as great as the other five actresses here are, Laurie Metcalf's Horace and Pete appearance — basically the camera holding her in close-up as she delivers a story that's sad, disturbing, sexy and strange — is what this category should be all about. It's a performance that defines the boundless potential of Louis C.K.'s self-distributed experiment, a theatrical monologue given an intimacy that no audience attending a play would ever get. I was astounded she got a nomination at all, but having been nominated, Metcalf has to win. It's the best single hour of TV acting from any actor or actress, comedy or drama, this year.

  • Anthony Mendez, 'Jane the Virgin'

    Outstanding narrator

    Greg Gayne/The CW

    Come on! What are we even talking about here? I could listen to Keith David and David Attenborough talk for hours and, thanks to their many volumes of narrating work over the years, I have. Adrien Brody has an Oscar and that's cool. And Laurence Fishburne is the only Roots actor to earn an individual nomination and I give that extra weight. But just one of these narrators simultaneously steers and navigates their respective projects while also giving an in-character performance that's 100 percent vocal and that's Anthony Mendez. The other four guys here are narrators, but Mendez is THE Narrator.

  • 'Fargo'

    Outstanding limited series

    Courtesy of FX

    I'm prepared to let The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story have basically every other award in the limited series category. I already said I'm rooting for Courtney B. Vance and I didn't even mention rooting for Sarah Paulson because her win is so inevitable (and deserved). Provided Sterling K. Brown wins for supporting instead of John Travolta, I can get behind something close to a sweep for Ryan Murphy's new anthology-starter, which I also expect will win for writing, directing, editing, catering and whatever prize we give for making certain parts of the Kardashian clan seem human. But I preferred the second season of Fargo to almost anything else on TV last year and the idea of Fargo getting shut out entirely is sad to me. My head says that Jean Smart is probably Fargo's best bet to slip in and snag a notable trophy and I'd be happy with that, but I'd be happier with a Fargo win for best in category.

  • Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, 'Catastrophe'

    Outstanding writing for a comedy series

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    Because of staggered premiere scheduling, Catastrophe has now aired two seasons on Amazon, but this nomination was specifically for the show's pilot, which wasn't the comedy's best episode, but introduced its tart brand of humor. Basically, I'm sure Veep will win its share of Emmys and I'll be rooting for Master of None and Aziz Ansari to win something for something, but this is the one place Catastrophe can get recognition and this is exactly the sort of underwatched treasure that could benefit from that notice.

  • 'Full Frontal with Samantha Bee'

    Outstanding writing for a variety series

    Courtesy of TBS

    You blew it on this one, Emmy voters. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee has emerged as one of the most vital sources for hilarious political vitriol this election season, but it was left out of the outstanding variety talk series category. This would be a consolation prize, but it would still be a visible and deserving consolation prize that could open the door for bigger nominations next year.