Emmys 2019: Is This the Year of the Comeback Kid?

With many 2018 contenders now out of the race, nominations could veer toward overlooked talent, including former nominees like Jimmy Fallon who've hustled to get back into top form.
Illustration by: Brandon Loving

In the Peak TV era, performers not Emmy-nominated for their show's first season rarely receive a nomination further into that show's run — most are written off in favor of performers from buzzy newer shows. This year, however, may be different. An unusual number of 2018's nominees aren't eligible to return because their show ended (e.g., The Americans) or wasn't on the air over the past year (e.g., Atlanta, The Crown, The Handmaid's Tale, Homeland, Silicon Valley, Stranger Things and Westworld). And though a few shows that were off the air last year have returned (e.g., House of Cards and Veep), there will still be a lot of vacancies that seem likely to benefit people whose work was previously overlooked.

Take, for instance, best actress in a drama. Five of last year's six nominees are out. Only Killing Eve's Sandra Oh will return — this time alongside co-star Jodie Comer, who must have barely missed a nomination for season one, and already topped Oh to win a BAFTA TV Award for season two. Also, keep a close eye on Christine Baranski for season three of CBS All Access' The Good Fight. The vet has 15 prior noms, six for playing the same character on the show from which The Good Fight was spun off, CBS' The Good Wife. Her biggest hurdle, thus far, was probably unfamiliarity with CBS All Access, but the service's profile has exploded this year thanks to Jordan Peele's reboot of The Twilight Zone. And CBS All Access hired the consultant behind A Star Is Born's Oscar-winning campaign, while Baranski's own reps coaxed the New Yorker to L.A. for cocktails with adoring press April 26.

Other potential comeback kids in the category: Laura Linney for season two of Netflix's Ozark (Emmy-nominated five prior times, winning four, she comes in with two consecutive SAG Award noms) and Mandy Moore for season three of NBC's This Is Us.

Not all categories, however, have openings. All six of 2018's comedy actress nominees are back in contention, and, after a year off, so is Veep's Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Even so, look out for Alison Brie, star of Netflix's GLOW. Its first season attracted 10 noms, including best comedy — in other words, voters really liked it — but Brie missed. Because she had been overlooked for Mad Men and Community, some assumed that voters have a hang-up with her, but it's likelier that she simply hadn't yet broken through the noise to the same extent as those who beat her out — only one of them a fellow rookie (eventual winner Rachel Brosnahan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). For season two, however, Brie already has garnered Golden Globe, Critics' Choice and SAG Award noms, and has been making the press rounds more than last cycle, so she could bump a star from a lower-profile show, perhaps Issa Rae of HBO's Insecure or Pamela Adlon of FX's Better Things.

Other heretofore-bridesmaids making a run in the same category: Kristen Bell for season three of NBC's The Good Place (co-star Ted Danson broke through for season two); Catherine O'Hara for season five of Pop TV's Schitt's Creek (finally finding a following as it heads into its final season); and Phoebe Waller-Bridge for season two of Amazon's Fleabag (her profile has exploded since season one, and her show is getting a big push).

Eligible in other acting categories are a host of additional performers who haven't previously been nominated for their current show but seem poised to be this year: Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner, Better Call Saul's Rhea Seehorn, Ozark's Julia Garner, This Is Us' Susan Kelechi Watson, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's Marin Hinkle, One Day at a Time's Rita Moreno, Barry's Sarah Goldberg, Jane the Virgin's Gina Rodriguez and Veep's Timothy Simons, to name a few.

And then there are those past nominees who fell out of contention but could muscle their way back this year thanks to a strong season and vigorous campaign. Consider the variety talk series category: After two years of struggling to put his Donald Trump hair-tousling faux pas behind him, The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon had a banner season, marking his show's fifth anniversary with a behind-the-scenes special featuring Tina Fey and Ben Stiller, doing a live show in Central Park and taking his act on the road to Puerto Rico. He also made himself more accessible, traveling to L.A. for a May 3 FYC event featuring a Q&A and select interviews.

Even so, Fallon will need to fend off a barrage of others who are trying to break into the jam-packed category — including HBO's Bill Maher, who had a rare miss in 2018 but rebounded with a strong season and two variety specials.

Bottom line? If you're someone longing for Emmy recognition, it truly never is over until your show is, especially this weird year.

This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.