Emmy voting began this week and as you’re reading this, Television Academy members are probably dutifully checking off the usual suspects — many deserving (Elisabeth Moss, Tracee Ellis Ross), others (Bill Maher) not so much — until voting closes June 25.
This era of Peak TV offers so many choices, splintering Emmy voting and often leading to name brands being nominated over worthier contenders. The academy’s size — 23,000-plus members — also tends to result in more conservative selections. You may have doubled over in laughter watching David Lynch’s brilliant comic acting turn in “Twin Peaks,” but that reaction probably isn’t shared by enough voters to result in a nomination.
So, who should academy members be taking to their hearts as they vote? Let’s go through some key categories, offering programs and actors — some previously nominated, others criminally overlooked — that shouldn’t slip through the cracks.
Comedy series: “The Good Place”
Emmy voters deserve to find themselves in purgatory if they don’t find some way to reward this NBC comedy that explores community, theology and ethics with sly, surreal humor that isn’t above the occasional fart joke. The show built on its rug-pulling Season 1 finale with a batch of episodes that were unpredictable, entertaining and thoughtful in the ways they explored just how hard it is to be a decent human being. That “The Good Place” firmly believes that virtue is not only possible but also necessary makes it one of the more radical series on television and an essential antidote to these modern times.
Drama series: “Killing Eve”
With five first-year drama shows nominated last year and “Game of Thrones” returning and “The Americans” departing with a richly rewarding final season, there’s not much room here for newcomers. But I’d gladly switch out the confounding “Westworld” for BBC America’s twisted and weird “Killing Eve,” which started out looking like a spy series and turned into a love story between a female assassin (Jodie Comer) and the MI5 officer (Sandra Oh) tracking her. The show’s gender reversals have been satisfying but the greatness of “Killing Eve” lies in the surprising ways it has developed its two main characters. The unsettling last moments of its season finale suggest that creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge is just getting started. Emmy voters would do well to reward it right out of the gate.
Lead actress, comedy: Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Adlon’s acting nomination for playing Sam, the hard-working mom on her FX series “Better Things,” provided one of last year’s best Emmy surprises. Adlon was every bit as good during the show’s second season, but since it aired last fall, I’m a little fearful she’s going to be overlooked. That can’t happen. Adlon deserves a nomination for this season’s “No, Jeff, No” scene alone, a master class in comic timing and inflection during which she shuts down a male friend (Greg Comer) who seriously misreads Sam’s signals and tries to kiss her. (In his defense, the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” was playing in the background. That’s some serious extenuating circumstances.)
Lead actor, comedy: John Goodman, “Roseanne”
Hundreds of people lost their jobs after ABC canceled “Roseanne” following Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet. On a far less significant scale, the cancellation may have cost Goodman and Laurie Metcalf the Emmy nominations they had in the bag. (Between them, they earned 11 during the show’s original run, with Metcalf winning three times.) That’d be a shame, because Goodman was excellent playing the beleaguered Dan Conner, an exhausted man no longer certain he can provide for his family. The desperation Goodman conveyed in the season finale was heartrending. He shouldn’t be snubbed because of Barr’s carelessness.
Lead actress, drama: Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”
Moss won this Emmy last year. Do you remember who won the year before? C’mon! Maslany’s 2016 win for “Orphan Black” produced massive waves of joy and happiness … but, yes, it does feel like it happened a long time ago. Partly, it’s because Maslany wasn’t eligible last year, as the fifth and final season of “Orphan Black” dropped too late for Emmy consideration. Partly, it’s because that fifth and final season began running more than a year ago. But Maslany, a nominee for three of her show’s four eligible seasons, remained as brilliant as ever in a run of final episodes showcasing her ability to inhabit a host of wildly different characters. She deserves an appropriate Emmy sendoff.
Lead actor, drama: J.K. Simmons, “Counterpart”
Am I a sucker for actors playing multiple roles on TV shows? Yes. Was that a rhetorical question? Of course. Starz’s underappreciated “Counterpart” gave us the gift of two Simmons characters occupying parallel dimensions. In one, he’s a low-level pencil pusher; in the other, he’s a ruthless spy. The beauty of Simmons’ work lies in the incisive ways he connects the two disparate men. Yes, he won the Oscar for “Whiplash,” but “Counterpart” really is Simmons’ crowning achievement.
Supporting actress, comedy: Zazie Beetz, “Atlanta”
Donald Glover and Brian Tyree Henry picked up much-deserved Emmy nominations last year, and Beetz should have been there with them. The actress, arguably the best thing in “Deadpool 2,” owns a couple of showcase episodes this season, both superbly directed by Amy Seimetz. One takes place during a New Year’s Eve party at Drake’s mansion; the other revolves around a Germanic festival celebration, which provides Berlin-born Beetz the opportunity to show off her fluency in German. Both entries are Emmy-worthy proclamations of Beetz’s talent and provide a necessary counterpoint on this mostly male-driven show.
Supporting actor, comedy: Henry Winkler, “Barry”
The HBO series delivered a fabulous first season, shuttling effortlessly between deadpan comedy and astute character study. (Once again: Being a decent human takes work. And sometimes, good intentions are not enough.) Emmy nominations for comedy series and star Bill Hader seem fairly assured, but the supporting actor category is packed, leaving Winkler’s chances in doubt. If you’ve seen “Barry,” you probably share my dismay at the prospect of his perfect turn as acting teacher Gene Cousineau — a character both commanding and pathetic, hilarious and tragic — going unrewarded. I can’t think of another performance that filled me with as much joy as Winkler’s work on “Barry.” Don’t be a Potsie, Emmy voters. Seriously.
Supporting actress, drama: Yvonne Strahovski, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
The women of “The Handmaid’s Tale” could fill out this slate on their own. Ann Dowd, playing devoted, authoritarian monster Aunt Lydia won last year, and guest actress winner Alexis Bledel has shifted to this category for the show’s second season. But special attention must be paid to Strahovski, who has pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of engendering sympathy for Serena Joy Waterford, architect of Gilead and imposer of much, much misery. Or maybe it isn’t so much sympathy as a growing desire to see Serena face her complicity and make amends. Or maybe suffer some consequences. It’s all very, very complicated, a testament to Strahovski’s nuanced work. She’s had quite the season.
Supporting actor, drama: Noah Emmerich, “The Americans”