With this year’s (largely remote) Emmy Awards less than a week away, we’ve already devoted so much ink to the top nominees that we decided to devote our last viewing guide before the ceremony to the titles we wish the TV Academy had recognized more — from overlooked anthologies and short-form experiments to prestigious miniseries that just didn’t seem to land with voters.
And before you write in about our use of the word “snubbed,” we fully admit that we’re applying it rather loosely: A number of series here received nominations in categories honored at the Creative Arts Emmys, and at least one, “The Morning Show,” had a pretty big Primetime Emmys haul — just not the richly deserved nomination we wanted to see most.
Whatever their final tally, we’re just not ready to stop recommending these worthy programs. So if you need some Emmy counter-programming this week, the seven TV shows below are the place to start:
The Emmy Awards are in three weeks — plenty of time to binge what you may have missed. The Times TV team has these seven recommendations to get you started.
“Joe Pera Talks With You”
This delicately rendered, cartoon-length live-action series from Adult Swim is a beacon of light out of a brand better known for dark weirdness. (All the Emmy nominations in its short-form category have gone to the heavy capitalized Quibi, or web extras attached to big-name series.) Joe Pera plays Joe Pera, a middle-school choir teacher in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Socially awkward with a sense of social obligation, sensitive to the natural and man-made worlds; unworldly yet not unsophisticated, honest in all things (“I follow rules because I am afraid of jail”), he is an adult and a child in the best ways. Although Joe speaks to the camera and is full of facts (how sugar was originally sold in loafs, the history of female lighthouse keepers in Michigan), this is not a mockumentary. Formally elegant and casually naturalistic at once, the show looks beautiful, because that is how Joe sees the world. It is sad and sweet (“If only there were a book titled ‘How to Connect With Other Men in Their 30s,’ I would read the whole thing and then be the life of the party”), but sweeter than sad; when things don’t go as you expect, it’s usually because they go better. In a small, yet efficient way, it’s also a community portrait, a little like David Byrne’s “True Stories,” without the archness, and a quietly gripping love story. Most Season 2 episodes are currently available on Adult Swim’s website, but the series streams in its entirety over HBO Max. — Robert Lloyd
This immigrant anthology series from Apple TV+ is a charming, poignant collection of assimilation stories about dreamers, doers and underdogs who all came here from someplace else. There’s the homesick Nigerian economics grad student in Oklahoma who finds solace in the cowboy lore of the Old West; the Indian spelling-bee whiz kid who’s left to run his parents’ Utah motel when they’re locked out of the country due to visa issues; and the daughter of an undocumented housekeeper who conquers the elite world of varsity squash. Inspired by a collection of true stories featured in Epic Magazine, the half-hour drama series, helmed by Lee Eisenberg, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon and Alan Yang, is one of a handful of great immigrant shows (such as Netflix’s comedy “Never Have I Ever”) that you won’t find among this year’s nominees. — Lorraine Ali
“The Morning Show”
While I am very happy about the Apple TV+ series’ eight nominations, a ninth should’ve recognized the great Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The entire season hinges on her performance as a news producer who is coerced into sex by a famed anchor (Steve Carell). Though early episodes show Carell’s character attempting to defend his name — a plight with which the audience might even side at times — a later installment that recounts this assault puts the viewer in that Las Vegas hotel room with him. They become subject to his strategic charm, insidious maneuvers and ultimate abuse of power. With a level of nuance rarely seen in other fictionalized #MeToo storylines, Mbatha-Raw illustrates just how violating and harmful those encounters are, in the moment and long afterward. In the end, it is the particular devastation of her character arc that ultimately pushes those played by Jennifer Aniston, Mark Duplass and Billy Crudup into action. These three actors, along with Carell and Martin Short, nabbed nominations for their performance. Yet they are rooted in Mbatha-Raw’s portrayal, left unacknowledged by the TV Academy. — Ashley Lee
“Never Have I Ever”
I’m ashamed to admit that I only very recently binged “Never Have I Ever,” and I have to believe that the only reason this coming-of-age comedy was not recognized in any Emmy category is because too many members of the TV Academy just hadn’t watched it yet. Co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, “Never Have I Ever” follows Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an Indian American high school sophomore trying to navigate romance, rivalries, friendships and her social status, all while refusing to process her grief over the sudden death of her father. Devi is temperamental, stubborn and plenty self-centered — as can be expected of any teenager — but it’s her clashes with her mother as they are both trying to adjust to their new reality that particularly resonates. — Tracy Brown
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Maybe it premiered too early in the year. Maybe the subject matter was too gruesome — an investigation into the grisly killing of a child that leaves the residents of a poor town bewildered and devastated. Or maybe there are just too many darn Stephen King adaptations on the big and small screen to keep up with. But it’s still hard to fathom how the TV Academy passed over HBO’s creepy series, which had one of the most intriguing (and scariest) supernatural mysteries of the year, not to mention some of the year’s best performances, including Ben Mendelsohn as a detective investigating the homicide while still torn apart by his own unspeakable family tragedy.
The biggest mystery is the snub of Cynthia Erivo’s performance as private investigator Holly Gibney, whose eccentricities and awkward personality were accompanied by a super-brilliant mind and instincts. Erivo’s turn was an overlooked masterpiece during what was a big year for her thanks to her Oscar-nominated portrayal of Harriet Tubman in “Harriet.” Jason Bateman was the only nominee for “The Outsider,” and that was in the guest actor category. — Greg Braxton
“The Plot Against America”
Despite its uncomfortably relevant themes, this limited series, adapted by David Simon and Ed Burns from Philip Roth’s novel, was nearly completely overlooked by the Emmys, receiving just a single nomination, for Martin Ahlgren’s cinematography. The TV Academy has always been a little lukewarm when it comes to the work of Simon — “The Wire” got a whopping two writing nominations and zero wins over five seasons, while the excellent “Show Me a Hero,” about the fight over a public housing project in suburban New York, was completely snubbed.
Whatever the reasons for its exclusion , “The Plot Against America” deserves more attention from viewers. In this chilling work of alternate history, famed aviator and Nazi apologist Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940, keeps the United States out of World War II and enables Hitler to continue his conquest of Europe unimpeded. The Levins, a working-class Jewish family in Newark led by Bess (Zoe Kazan) and her hot-tempered husband (Morgan Spector), watch these events with horror — particularly as Bess’ sister, Evelyn (Winona Ryder), gets involved with a rabbi who supports Lindbergh.
Like much of Simon’s work, “The Plot Against America” is initially slow, devoted to establishing a world through quietly observed social realism rather than in-your-face action. But once Lindbergh lands in the White House and upends the lives of the Levins and their Jewish community, the series moves with disorienting speed. It is difficult to miss the many implied parallels between present circumstances and this story of creeping fascism under a celebrity president swept into office on an isolationist message of “America First.” But what really makes it all worth watching is Kazan’s quietly ferocious performance as a housewife horrified by the surge of anti-Semitism in her country — and even her own family. Fair warning: The finale, which includes an election set amid a national crisis, is likely to give you preemptive panic attacks about November. But then, what doesn’t these days? — Meredith Blake
“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”
It can be hard finding anything to sing about these days, but this musical dramedy can bring a dose of joy — even while making you weep. Created by Austin Winsberg (“Jake in Progress”), the series stars Jane Levy as Zoey Clarke, a computer coder who develops the ability to hear the thoughts and emotions of the people around her — her family, friends, co-workers, even strangers — through the performance of popular songs. Over the course of the first season, Zoey finds herself in a love triangle while climbing up the work ladder and dealing with her father’s grave illness — storylines powered by an amazing soundtrack, with renditions of songs like Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live?” and John Legend’s “All of Me” performed by Levy and the rest of the cast, which includes Skylar Astin, John Clarence Stewart, Alex Newall, Lauren Graham, Mary Steenburgen and Peter Gallagher. Since only one season has aired — with another on the way once COVID-19-delayed production resumes — there’s some time for you to find 12 hours to catch up on available episodes. And be prepared: The final musical number of the season, filmed in one impressive shot, will have you singing and curling into the fetal position... so clear off your couch. — Yvonne Villarreal