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Daniel Fienberg: Last year, an influx of buzzy new shows forced Emmy voters to look innovative, ushering in recognition for the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, Stranger Things, This Is Us and Westworld on the drama side and Atlanta for comedy. This year should see some category turnover as well, with Veep and Master of None leaving a comedy vacuum and Better Call Saul and House of Cards not airing in the eligibility window for drama.
Let’s start with outstanding drama series. Is it going to be as simple as former winner Game of Thrones and departing favorite The Americans sliding in to join the sparkly 2017 freshman class?
Tim Goodman: The short answer is yes if we assume Emmy voters don’t bounce out the other nominees from last season and, as you and I know all too well, it’s best not to assume anything with any awards organization. That said, the Emmys are slightly more predictable and also more accurate (from a position of “are these shows critically deserving?”) than the Golden Globes. The longer answer is that Game of Thrones should be a slam dunk and that’s totally the right move. But I would argue that if Television Academy voters don’t get it right this year with The Americans then it’s a dereliction of duty, plain and simple. I think they’ll do the right thing, but in my mind the right thing extends beyond just having the series nominated; it’s the actors, the writers, the directing — nothing should be off the table for The Americans. As for sparkly new things, the series that’s absolutely deserving of a nod this year is Counterpart on Starz, but I’m not confident that it will break into that group, particularly because I don’t see voters getting rid of This Is Us or Stranger Things.
DF: I’m already saving up a healthy pocket of rage to direct at any category in which The Americans is excluded and I’m even prepared to direct that rage at sacred cows like Game of Thrones, should that be necessary. I would argue that most of the things Westworld does — disorientation of time and space, deep interrogation of what shapes identity, actors who get to play layered and different variations on characters — Counterpart does much better and that Counterpart might not even be the best new show featuring its leading man playing two roles, following HBO’s The Deuce. Among longshots, I’d cast a vote for the heartbreaking, inspiring, perfectly arced final season of Halt and Catch Fire, while I’d love for Emmy voters to give consideration to BBC America’s Killing Eve, with its challenging mixture of oddball comedy, extreme violence and erotic obsession.
I have slightly higher hopes for Killing Eve in the drama lead actress category, where either Sandra Oh or Jodie Comer or both would be worthy players alongside sure-thing nominees like Elisabeth Moss, Keri Russell and Claire Foy. Who do you want to go to bat for in what has reliably become one of the toughest categories on the ballot?
TG: It’s always good to see you enraged, but at least in this instance I’d prefer it not to be because The Americans gets snubbed. I’ll go one further and say I would oust The Handmaid’s Tale as well, if that let in Killing Eve. I know that the very talented people who make all of these fine series wince as we talk about winnowing a strong field, which is why I’ll repeat myself yet again and say it’s stupid that the Emmys doesn’t have 10 nominees per category.
As for the best actress category, yeah, that’s a killer field. I love what Oh and Comer bring to Killing Eve and both are leads. Keri Russell and Moss, for me, are must-haves, like last year. Robin Wright’s absence opens a slot but I would argue that Thandie Newton is a full-on lead and deserves a nod along with Evan Rachel Wood and, further afield, that Morven Christie from The A Word would be a fantastic and deserving choice, as would Laura Linney from Ozark. You, not being the biggest Westworld fan, could easily fill a few slots with suggestions (and will), but what about Maggie Gyllenhaal as the other essential nominee?
DF: Newton and Wood suffer from the same problem that infects Game of Thrones stars when they gun for lead nominations. Emilia Clarke had, by the show’s standards, a busy and eventful season, but in this category she’s out of her depth against Gyllenhaal, Linney or Christine Baranski, whose Trump Derangement arc on The Good Fight was a magnificent portrait of semi-comic unraveling. This is the last chance to recognize Kerry Bishe and Mackenzie Davis, the beating hearts of Halt and Catch Fire, and former winner Tatiana Maslany, always spectacular even if the final Orphan Black season did almost nothing for me. Although she played roughly a quarter the number of characters as Maslany, I’d also urge voters to look at Olivia Williams from Counterpart.
Williams’ Counterpart, um, counterpart, J.K. Simmons, has a better chance of a nomination both because his dual performance as Howard Silk is a symphony of subtle and not-so-subtle character differentiations and because the lead actor category has gaps where Bob Odenkirk, Anthony Hopkins and Kevin Spacey nominations used to be.
TG: The great thing about Williams in Counterpart is that when we first meet her, in a coma, she seems like a side character and then not much else after we learn a tiny bit more about her…then, bam, she’s central to everything. It’s a great build-up and I would love to see her get a nomination, but yes J.K. Simmons is the more likely candidate. And by “more likely” what I really mean is that I will lose my mind and bits of my interior if Simmons isn’t nominated. He and Matthew Rhys are, I think, the front-runners, or should be, for lead actor. Then again, I do love Sterling K. Brown and he’s a force of nature that will be hard to unseat. It’s pretty likely that James Franco also gets a nod, yes? I really and truly believe that Christopher Eccleston from The A Word should absolutely be nominated, even if that pushes the fine work from Lee Ingleby to supporting actor. Others who likely have a better shot include Jason Bateman for Ozark and Jonathan Groff from Netflix’s Mindhunter.
DF: You’re going to be crushed when I tell you that SundanceTV hasn’t submitted The A Word for anything (or, through some peculiarity, it isn’t eligible at all). But maybe Freddie Highmore’s performance as a doctor with autism in The Good Doctor will get some recognition? Yeah, not the same, I know. I wonder if Franco is going to get lost in the shuffle because of the combination of #MeToo allegations and the relatively long period since The Deuce aired. And if we’re listing deserving performers with no chance at recognition, I’d mention Brendan Gleeson’s drunk-yet-gruff authority in Mr. Mercedes, Cress Williams — no I’m not kidding — making the most of playing a broadcast TV superhero at 47 in Black Lightning and either Lee Pace or Scoot McNairy from Halt and Catch Fire, which I’m just going to keep mentioning if we stick to drama, so…
How’s the comedy race looking to you, Tim?
TG: How can I discuss comedies when you’ve gutted me, Dan? Maybe we should just tell people to go watch The A Word and Halt and Catch Fire and call it a day. That’s actually service journalism right there. But, fine, comedies. With Veep and Master of None out of the field, Atlanta would seem to benefit the most, but there are plenty of other contenders (and you know that Amazon’s push for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel isn’t just intended to get Rachel Brosnahan nominated). I think Get Shorty is more drama than comedy but I laughed in every episode, so that’s something. Better Things, Silicon Valley and at least two network comedies will probably be heavy favorites, but most of the ones I’m pulling for have less of a traditional chance. Starting with Acorn’s Detectorists, which is such a gem. Barry could get in, despite the fact that it very clearly becomes a drama, plus SMILF and You’re the Worst. I would love to see the likes of People of Earth get a nod, but that might even be more remote than Detectorists. On the other hand, The End of the F***ing World is not only deserving but not the darkest horse one could dream up. Beyond that, my wish list is filled with other wouldn’t-it-be-great potential nominees like Casual, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Tick.
DF: This category ought to be ready for a complete overhaul. Between the two ineligible shows, the fact that Modern Family is now a cringeworthy melted Madame Tussauds replica of the show that was once an Emmy favorite and down chapters for both Silicon Valley and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, you could have Atlanta and Black-ish, plus four or five newcomers, led by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, GLOW and Barry. This was going to be a category we watched to see if Roseanne was going to be able to ride popularity to a nomination, but then Roseanne Barr went from peripherally racist to indisputably racist on Twitter and I’d now guess Laurie Metcalf is its one and only shot for a posthumous nomination. I really hope a similar souring surrounding producer and writer Louis C.K. doesn’t infect Better Things.
I’d make room for a real longshot or two, like the warm, expert One Day at a Time or the breakout, boundary-pushing second season of Dear White People or the hilariously bleak The End of the F***ing World and I’d also vote for the stars of those three shows — Justina Machado, Logan Browning and Jessica Barden — in a wide open lead actress in a comedy field. Plus, in Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ recuperating absence, somebody new gets to win.
TG: Brosnahan is a slam dunk here, same as Tracee Ellis Ross and Pamela Adlon. I would love to see Frankie Shaw break into this category with SMILF. Same with Issa Rae from Insecure. This might be the year that Aya Cash finally gets her due for all the excellent work on You’re the Worst and don’t count out Jessica Walter getting some love for Arrested Development.
DF: Walter seems like the only plausible Arrested Development star to get nominated, since Jason Bateman probably poisoned his shot with that toxic New York Times interview. Along the same lines, Jeffrey Tambor isn’t even submitted for Transparent so lead actor in a comedy is another category that has a lot of room for new faces. Bill Hader is probably a lock for a nomination and may be the only actor who can dethrone Donald Glover. I’d go to bat for Christopher Meloni’s gonzo turn in Happy, Hank Azaria’s surprisingly textured Brockmire performance and the mustache-driven eccentricities of Dylan McDermott in LA to Vegas, though McDermott would be better suited for a supporting race. Who do you want to go to bat for here? Mackenzie Crook?
TG: Not just Mackenzie Crook for Detectorists but Toby Jones as well. Look, this year represents a chance for Emmy voters to really expand this category because so many returning nominees are either out or, um, shouldn’t be here. Why not put some fresh blood in, like those two or Alex Lawther who did phenomenal work in The End of the F***ing World? And if Epix is entering Get Shorty into the comedy category, then Chris O’Dowd definitely needs a nomination, as does Ray Romano. Or how about circling back to Andy Samberg or Andre Braugher from Brooklyn Nine-Nine? Elsewhere I’d love to see Ted Danson get some overdue recognition (well, you know what I mean) for The Good Place, Chris Geere for You’re the Worst or Ron Livingston for Loudermilk. Lots of worthy people out there.
DF: Do you have a particular dog in the movie/miniseries categories? And do you have any particular confusion or concern that American Vandal has apparently been deemed a miniseries for Emmy consideration? The idea of Jimmy Tatro from American Vandal going head-to-head with Benedict Cumberbatch for Patrick Melrose feels peculiar to me, though it feels good-peculiar, not bad-peculiar. After The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, which is a lock for a pile of nods, voters get to weigh in on projects as different as Godless, Top of the Lake: China Girl, Marvel’s The Defenders and, of course, Twin Peaks, which I know is your Big Little Lies for this year.
TG: The less said about Twin Peaks the better. Maybe the American Vandal entry hints at something completely and wholly different in season two, which is about the only way that could be sustained anyway. Patrick Melrose is very intriguing in this category because I think it could nab a number of awards beyond Benedict Cumberbatch, but it could also get lost behind Howards End, The Looming Tower and even The Terror. But the one I’ll be rooting for is Godless. It was completely unexpected, smart, surprising, entertaining and had numerous excellent performances in a genre weighed down by familiarity. I hope it gets rewarded for all of that.
DF: So to conclude, give me one long-shot nomination you’re rooting for — preferably one we haven’t touched on already — and one inevitable nomination you’re dreading. I don’t want to go too far afield for my long-shot — sorry Susanna Skaggs from Halt and Catch Fire — so I’ll say that it’s time for Holly Taylor to be nominated for The Americans. It’s long past time, actually. As for dread, I’m still angry that Alec Baldwin’s lame Donald Trump impression, which I’m convinced is intentionally dreadful in an effort to goad our president, beat Louie Anderson in Baskets last year and I’m already wary about all of the great supporting actors he’ll squeeze out this year. And you?
TG: The unmentioned longshot that I’m pulling for the hardest probably shouldn’t be a longshot at this point — Noah Emmerich for The Americans. He’s been great from the start. And while I’m loathe to be negative when we’re trying to be positive here (even at the expense of Twin Peaks), I’ve only periodically understood the Saturday Night Live love, given its Mendoza Line batting average on jokes per episode.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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