Here’s What the 2016 Emmy Race Should Look Like (We Hope)
That time of year is upon us again, as this coming Thursday, July 14 sees the announcement of the 2016 Emmy Awards nominations, in a field that seems tougher by each year. Favorites like Game of Thrones hit new levels of spectacle this year, while newcomers like UnREAL and Mr. Robot could split the nominations wide open.
Ahead of Thursday’s big announcement, ScreenCrush’s Erin Whitney and Kevin Fitzpatrick combed through an exhaustive list of candidates to pick out some of the strongest contenders (cough, Veep) among the major ten categories, including both cult shows in desperate need of recognition, and some newcomers the Academy would be crazy (or Crazy) not to acknowledge.
With that in mind, here’s what we hope the 2016 Emmy Awards will look like:
Outstanding Comedy Series
- Broad City
- Master of None
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
- You’re The Worst
Erin: Since the Academy expanded the Series categories to seven nominees, more space has opened up for newcomers and underdogs to get recognized (or just anything that’s not Modern Family, please and thank you). Besides the comedy crown jewel Veep, there’s the sharp and insightful humor of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, the zeitgeisty Broad City, and the non-stop laughs of adults reprising younger versions of their characters in Wet Hot American Summer. And then there’s Transparent, which tackled the darker shades of personal journeys and familial relationships in its latest season.
Kevin: For me, the better comedies of 2015 and 2016 explored dark subject matter as often as busting guts. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and You’re The Worst tackled issues of mental health, while Veep and Wet Hot American Summer highlighted incredible ensembles at the very apex of their game. Even Broad City tempered its New York weirdness with a bit more heart, while shows like Master of None got to trade in some of the same quirky tone, while still plumbing a vastly different perspective from an overlooked talent like Aziz Ansari.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
- Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
- Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Jay Duplass, Transparent
- T.J. Miller, Silicon Valley
- Paul Rudd, Wet Hot American Summer
- Timothy Simons, Veep
Erin: Burgess made this season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as blissful as ever with his episode of show tunes and another of his one-woman geisha show. Jay Duplass’ Josh blossomed into a more complicated (if at times frustrating) character in Transparent’s second season. And Paul Rudd’s obnoxious idiot Andy had some of the best moments in Netflix’s Wet Hot prequel series, somehow making 20 seconds of scoffing the funniest thing ever. (But let’s be honest, Christopher Meloni’s Gene totally stole the show.)
Kevin: Wet Hot American Summer could easily upend this entire category, as could the men from Veep, but Paul Rudd and Timothy Simons certainly feel like worth contenders, the latter for playing so unhinged in his bid for Congress. Tituss Burgess should have the award on lock, though Andre Braugher been a deserving contender for two years now, and it wouldn’t go seem outside the box to recognize T.J. Miller or Jay Duplass’ more humble work this year.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
- Anna Chlumsky, Veep
- Kether Donohue, You’re the Worst
- Ana Gasteyer, Lady Dynamite
- Carol Kane, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Judith Light, Transparent
- Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Erin: Trying to get through Kate McKinnon’s “Close Encounters” sketch without even the tiniest giggle (Ryan Gosling couldn’t), or just one Lady Dynamite scene with Ana Gasteyer’s Karen Grisham without laughing out loud. You probably won’t, and that’s because both women are comedy goldmines. For different slices of comedy this year, there’s also Carol Kane’s Lillian waging a war against gentrification in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Judith Light’s narcissistic Shelly, who hilariously, though upsettingly, makes her son’s emotional announcement all about herself at a family dinner on Transparent.
Kevin: There’s never a bad time to talk about Kate McKinnon, and the SNL great had a banner year long before strapping on a proton pack. Elsewhere, it’d seem criminal not to recognize supporting female players this side of You’re the Worst’s Kether Donohue or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Carol Kane, while Judith Light did some essential work at the heart of Transparent Season 2.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
- Maria Bamford, Lady Dynamite
- Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
- Abbi Jacobson, Broad City
- Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
- Lily Tomlin, Grace & Frankie
Erin: The Academy needs to make even more changes to accurately recognize all the fantastic women in comedy this year; one statue isn’t enough. This year, Abbi Jacobson (slightly) surpassed Ilana Glazer as the Broad City MVP — Abbi’s violent competitive streak in “Game Over” and her Mrs. Doubtfire remake are worthy of acclaim alone. Ellie Kemper’s Kimmy was as infectious as ever, proving that we could still enjoy following the former cult member through her New York City adventures, and Maria Bamford managed to blend surrealist humor with commentary on mental illness, women in TV, and dating in her brilliant and nutty Lady Dynamite.
Kevin: It’s refreshing how well this category covers different career stages, from the insanely talented Rachel Bloom to Maria Bamford layering Lady Dynamite as a meta-journey through her own professional highs and lows. The same pool this year brought us Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson in a drunken slapstick Mrs. Doubtfire, while the surprising heights of Veep Season 5 offer reason enough to keep Julia Louis-Dreyfus in play. I’d love to believe this could be Ellie Kemper’s year, given the deft balance of SPF 1000 sunshine and roller coaster rage-vents, but I have a distinct feeling Dreyfus still has this one locked up.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
- Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
- Aziz Ansari, Master of None
- Bruce Campbell, Ash Vs. Evil Dead
- Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth
- Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
- Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Erin: Aziz Ansari, Jeffrey Tambor, and Anthony Anderson are three actors who’ve managed to incorporate smart and poignant commentary on identity politics into the humor of their respective shows, and most notably in ways that rarely feel forced or pedantic. From an episode about stereotyped Indians on American television to an episode tackles the “N-word” to a season charting the gender journey of a middle-aged trans woman, comedy is so much more than one-liners and cheap laughs this year. Thanks to these actors’ standout performances, this season has been full of thought-provoking character arcs that don’t forget to make us laugh.
Kevin: Network shows made the selections a bit trickier, but certainly Anthony Anderson brought as much heart to weightier episodes of Black-ish as the lighter ones, and Season 2 of Last Man on Earth did wonders for restoring Will Forte’s Phil as an endlessly endearing dunce. Aziz might want to ready the “Losing to Jeffrey Tambor With Dignity” gag once more, and while it’d never happen, I’d love to see an outlier like Bruce Campbell recognized for the insanely memorable swagger of Ash. Vs. Evil Dead. That 10-episode format left a lot of room for those creaking moments of humanity, at least somewhere in the ocean of fake blood.
Outstanding Drama Series
- The Americans
- Better Call Saul
- Game of Thrones
- The Leftovers
- Mr. Robot
- Orange Is the New Black
Erin: Game of Thrones may be tightening its hold over the Drama category with Mad Men gone, but two of the best dramas on television, The Leftovers and Better Call Saul, had exceptionally strong sophomore seasons that I hope the Academy takes notice of. UnReal and Mr. Robot, two unexpected surprises from the summer season may (and should) also pose some competition, while there’s also critical favorite The Americans and the third season of Orange Is the New Black to consider. Honorable mention: It ain’t gonna happen, but one can only dream Sense8, the mind-bogglingly fun and diverse Wachowski series, could get some love.
Kevin: Game of Thrones feels like an easy choice in Season 6, if only for the level of spectacle bolstered this year by narrative streamlining, while The Leftovers similarly deserves a top slot for its own adaptive prowess after using up the original novel. UnREAL and Mr. Robot definitely feel like the kind of uniform breakouts that always seem to turn Academy heads, if ever the Emmys could get over hangups of smaller cable channels. All that said, the ’80s dreamer in me has to know: Is this finally The Americans’ year? With an end date locked in place, there’s no better time to start recognizing the FX drama.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
- Laverne Cox, Orange Is the New Black
- Ann Dowd, The Leftovers
- Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
- Regina King, The Leftovers
- Alison Wright, The Americans
- Constance Zimmer, UnREAL
Erin: Oof, this was a tough one. Is it the 2016 Emmy Awards, or the Too Many Talented Women, Not Enough Awards ceremony? Both Regina King and Ann Dowd of The Leftovers gave the most gut-wrenching performances on TV this year, while Laverne Cox’s Sophia Burset had her most significant narrative yet when facing transphobia from inmates while learning to reconnect with her son. And then there’s the sharp-as-razors Constance Zimmer as the executive producer of UnReal‘s fictional Everlasting, and Lena Headey, who’s Cersei always stands out as the most powerful dramatic player in Thrones.
Kevin: At a certain point, this list started to look like a casting sheet for The Leftovers, forcing Erin and I into some heartbreaking omissions. Honestly, toss a dart at any frame in ten episodes and you’ll find find wonderful moments for Dowd’s ghostly Patti, or King’s Erika Murphy, but Dowd might have a stronger claim with her character’s vulnerable history in “International Assassin.” Alison Wright of The Americans definitely deserves a parting gift for all the colors of naïve terror splashed across Martha’s (likely) final year, and, as Erin said, Laverne Cox too put in some startling (and necessary) work on Orange Season 3, to say nothing of what she submits for Season 4.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
- Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
- Kevin Carroll, The Leftovers
- Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
- Christopher Eccleston, The Leftovers
- Pedro Pascal, Narcos
- Christian Slater, Mr. Robot
Erin: “Is this an Emmy nominations post or a tribute to The Leftovers,” you may be asking. I’m actually not sure anymore, because yes, The Leftovers deserves everything, especially considering Kevin Carroll’s complex portrait of a father and Christopher Eccleston‘s fantastic return as the ever faithful Matt Jamison this season. But hey, I’ll be less subjective and also mention the other great contenders this year, like Christian Slater’s anarchist, Pedro Pascal’s DEA agent and Jonathan Banks’ vigilant Mike Ehrmantraut, who continued to bring a softness to the violent hitman-in-the-making in the second year of Better Call Saul.
Kevin: We had a tougher go of staffing this category than supporting actresses, but still wound up with Leftovers too good to ignore. Like Regina King, Kevin Carroll put in some exceptionally quick work to flesh out the Murphys’ damaged family history, while Eccleston’s combination of manic faith and sacrifice yielded a miraculous, joyful wash of expression at the sight of his braindead wife returning to consciousness. Peter Dinklage and Christian Slater’s work in both Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot felt a little more thankless (though the latter’s cerebral snark gains a lot on re-watch), while Pedro Pascal pulled off a perfect blend of charm and resignation to all of Narcos’ unending corruption.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
- Shiri Appleby, UnREAL
- Carrie Coon, The Leftovers
- Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
- Krysten Ritter, Jessica Jones
- Keri Russell, The Americans
- Robin Wright, House of Cards
Erin: The gender gap in Hollywood is still staggering and problematic, but one look at this year in TV proves there's a good amount of strong, independent female characters whose narratives have far overshadowed their male counterparts. That Robin Wright's Claire Underwood, who spent Season 4 of House of Cards tactfully regaining her power in Frank's absence, Shiri Appleby's Rachel who plays god (and quite an evil one) as a dating reality TV producer, and Carrie Coon's Nora Durst, who attempts to start over with a new family in The Leftovers' Season 2. Oh, and there's also Tatiana Maslany, who, by the way, is still playing eight characters. Honorable mention: Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating, who might just steal the award again come September.
Kevin: The level of female talent this year is staggering, and it’s no wonder so many went after supporting roles, rather than lead. Fixtures like Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood will always have a place, while I’d love to see Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones honored for the harrowing, broken humanity of her title role. Keri Russell got time to shine on The Americans, spotlighting a softer side of Elizabeth Jennings still far removed from Philip’s, while Shiri Appleby helped bring to life one of the more refreshingly honest portrayals of career women to date. Did I mention The Leftovers? I might have mentioned The Leftovers.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
- Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
- Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal
- Wagner Moura, Narcos
- Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
- Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
- Justin Theroux, The Leftovers
Erin: Lead dramatic actor nominations often spotlight patriarchal figures and male characters in domineering positions of power (think Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm, who owned this category for years). With Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood as an exception, this season’s most commendable male performances came from characters in states of psychological crisis (Justin Theroux), an anarchist taking down capitalism (Rami Malek), one with compromised morals (Bob Odenkirk), a cocaine kingpin (Wagner Moura), and a cannibal with a gloriously bloody finale (Mads Mikkelsen).
Kevin: It’s still not too late to turn this into a Wikipedia page for The Leftovers, right? I’ll eat a hat if Justin Theroux isn’t at least nominated for his biblical intensity on Season 2, even if newcomers like Rami Malek or Wagner Moura seem like surer bets. Bob Odenkirk and Kevin Spacey are probably givens as well, though it’d certainly be nice to see Mads Mikkelsen given a nod for Hannibal this year, considering the different colors we got to see on display behind the glass, lover’s scorn for Will and all.