2018 Emmy nominations: EW picks the 50 dark-horse contenders who deserve attention
No, this isn't a BoJack Horseman joke — though that show is on this list.
There are so many series and performers worthy of accolades this Emmys season, but for every Viola Davis and Modern Family, there are dozens of shows and actors who never seem to get the attention they deserve. Here, EW has compiled a list of more under-the-radar suggestions for voters to consider this nominations season.
For more TV talk, check out EW critic Kristen Baldwin, editor at large Lynette Rice, and editor in chief Henry Goldblatt's new, witty podcast about the Emmy Awards, Chasing Emmy. (Subscribe now via Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.)
Best Drama: The Bold Type (Freeform)
The Bold Type was a breath of fresh air when it premiered last summer. It was charming, fun, and breezy, but it never felt shallow because it dug into several topical issues. However, what really made the series standout was the delightful chemistry between the show’s three leads, Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee, and Meghann Fahy.
Best Drama: Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
A show doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to be less than five years old to earn a rightful place in the hearts and minds of Emmy voters. That’s why it’s high time the Academy give rightful attention to how Shondaland has managed to keep Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital as intoxicating and drama-filled since the day Meredith Grey pulled on her first pair of scrubs in 2005.
Best Drama: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
The beautiful final season of AMC's criminally underrated tech drama encapsulated everything that made this show great. In season 4, the show drilled down on how failure can help people grow, and used its setting, the early days of the internet, to offer one last powerful statement on the importance of relationships: Connecting with others is hard, but worth it. Crafting a final season is hard, but Halt stuck its landing and gave us a series finale for the ages.
Best Drama: Kingdom (Audience)
With its final 10 episodes, the gritty MMA drama delivered heartbreaking family drama of the highest quality, culminating when Nate (Nick Jonas) came out to his father, Alvey (Frank Grillo) and moments later, was killed. In its final moments, it's safe to say Kingdom landed a knockout punch.
Best Drama: Riverdale (The CW)
Perfecting a primetime soap opera is an art unto itself, and one that Riverdale wildly swings for the fences with each week. Where else will you find a show that simultaneously references 1950s Americana, the Archie Comics, film noir, lush Douglas Sirk melodrama, and HP Lovecraft in the course of a season? A pulsing, over-the-top look at the dark underbelly of the veneer of the perfect American town, Riverdale is always A LOT – and we wish that much muchness could get some awards love. (That musical episode alone deserves some serious hardware.)
Best Comedy: BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
In season 4, the best TV show about a talking horse continued to make an argument for itself as the best TV show, period. A seasonlong arc about California gubernatorial election was outrageously funny (Go, Jessica Biel, go!) And then came a stunning dementia-themed episode, collapsing a whole life story into 25 moving minutes.
Best Comedy: Dear White People (Netflix)
In its second season, the Netflix series mined racial tensions at the fictional Winchester University—race baiting, gun violence, abortion—for conflict, yes, but humor, too. Each episode is told from the POV one character and like Lost, it’s great to see how stories intersect, diverge and conflict. Dear All People, you should be watching this gem.
Best Comedy: The Good Place (NBC)
No comedy’s second season earned a bigger cultural bump this year than Michael Schur’s immorally brilliant rumination on ethics on NBC. With a dream of an ensemble cast and the most enviable network writers’ room in the business, Schur somehow sparks viewers to engage in more self-reflection after 22 minutes of laugh-out-loud dialogue than most prestige dramas do after entire seasons. It’s not just the smartest show on TV, but the only one that fills your soul while also totally roasting you for having one.
Best Comedy: Superstore (NBC)
“Clean up on aisle Emmys!” would be the very, very stupid headline we wish we could write had NBC’s diverse sitcom ever gotten its proper love over the years. Technically speaking, Justin Spitzer’s Walmart-spoofing comedy is led by sensational America Ferrera and Ben Feldman, but what sets Superstore apart is its true ensemble of three-dimensional characters, who give pathos to hot-topic storylines that offer the single best social commentary on network television right now. Plus, there’s seemingly unending hilarity in the throwaway interstitial gags littered throughout the goofy yet genius series.
Best Comedy: Younger (TV Land)
Watching Younger is like eating a bag of potato chips: you don’t even realize you’re doing it, but by the time you look up, you’ve made it through the entire four-season long bag. Younger is a heightened but famously accurate glimpse behind the curtain of book publishing, and with bubbly, well-dressed characters that love each other, at the end of the day it’s a salve against all of the misery in the outside world, a perfect bubble of chunky necklaces and double-entendres.
Best Drama Lead Actress: Kerry Bishé - Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
When Halt and Catch Fire premiered, it appeared to be yet another show featuring a male anti-hero at the center. But quickly Kerry Bishe and Mackenzie Davis pushed their way to the front, becoming the two unquestioned leads by the series’ conclusion. Bishe took Donna Clark from a mom working to support her husband’s dreams to a kickass mogul who would even compete with her own teenage daughter. And Halt’s final season may have been Bishe’s best work, giving the actress so many interesting dynamics and emotions to play, between the death of Donna’s ex-husband and reconnecting with her “last and best partner.” Speaking of Cameron…
Best Drama Lead Actress: Mackenzie Davis - Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
It’s almost impossible to separate Bishe and Davis. While their characters had romantic relationships with the male leads, Donna and Cameron is the relationship that the audience was really shipping. That held true in the final season with Cameron and Joe splitting for good just as she and Donna reunited for what we assume is a game-changing idea. And whether it was her tender moments with Bos or her final extended scene with Donna, Davis, who stars in the next Terminator film, showed why she’s on the road to movie stardom.
Best Drama Lead Actress: Téa Leoni - Madam Secretary (CBS)
Leoni has always portrayed her titular character with a poise and strength that everyone wishes was more common in Washington. But, after a solid fourth season, it was revealed that fans will be seeing Leoni's character stretching her political goodwill to its furthest extent as she runs for the highest office in all the land. Madam President?
Best Drama Lead Actress: Lili Reinhart - Riverdale (The CW)
Riverdale’s Nancy Drew with a secret dark side was pushed to her limits this season, and Lili Reinhart rose to every challenge. Whether she was asked to deliver a questionable striptease for a biker gang or cope with the truth that her father is a serial killer, Reinhart nailed the demands of her role with deft emotion and the Betty Cooper spunk we love. Episodes 4 and 5 found Betty pushed to her breaking point, manipulated by the Black Hood to push away all of her loved ones – offering Reinhart fodder to deliver emotionally intense sequences that elevated her work to a new level. Betty Cooper is a deceptively difficult role – the girl-next-door who contains multitudes – and Reinhart consistently brings her to life with complexity and compassion.
Best Drama Lead Actress: Retta - Good Girls (NBC)
As Ruby, an embattled waitress who reluctantly breaks bad with her friends to make ends meet, Retta delivers a performance both hilarious and heartbreaking. Sure, comedic scenes are familiar territory for the Parks and Recreation alum, but the actress was just as comfortable playing the trio’s moral compass and handling some of the series’ darkest moments.
Best Drama Lead Actress: Krysten Ritter - Marvel's Jessica Jones (Netflix)
On paper — comic book paper, to be precise — Jessica Jones may not seem like the most likeable person, and that's probably on purpose. But somehow Ritter makes her superpowered investigator someone you want to be friends with... and fear.
Best Comedy Lead Actress: Logan Browning - Dear White People (Netflix)
The underheralded star of the year’s most underheralded series, Dear White People, Browning’s Sam is headstrong, whip-smart and delivers the best monologues this side of Olivia Pope. Her range is outstanding, whether Sam is reeling from an online troll or mourning her recently-deceased dad.
Best Comedy Lead Actress: Aya Cash - You're The Worst (FXX)
Gretchen, Cash’s mercurial Cool Girl character, could have been the angry jilted ex of the critically acclaimed comedy’s fourth season. Instead, the actress imbued her with a genuine, cathartic need—for compassion, for love—that deftly explored why she engaged in as much destructive behavior as she did. See, she’s not so bad after all.
Best Comedy Lead Actress: Sutton Foster - Younger (TV Land)
What would Younger be without the endlessly talented Sutton Foster? She anchors the show, charging through whip-smart, lightning-fast dialogue like she’s been doing it since she was born. In Foster’s hands, Liza is completely grounded: funny, but never over-the-top campy in a show that threatens camp at every turn.
Best Comedy Lead Actress: Emmy Rossum - Shameless (Showtime)
Few TV performances over the past decade have as unjustly looked-over as Emmy Rossum’s in Shameless. True, the show’s Emmy category-straddling hasn’t been ideal for her searingly dramatic performance as Fiona Gallagher (it competes as a comedy), but the actress continued to bring her A-game in the show’s eighth (!) season, in a poignant arc about Fiona vying — and struggling — to start all over. It’s never too late!
Best Comedy Lead Actress: Constance Wu - Fresh Off the Boat (ABC)
In the latest season of Fresh Off the Boat, Stephen King dealt with something even scarier than his books: Jessica Huang. As the ABC sitcom’s matriarch, Wu has continued to somehow give us the mom we’d all want and the mom we’d all be intimidated to have. Plus, with Crazy Rich Asians set for release, she’s about to become a movie star and there’s nothing TV loves more than a movie star.
Best Drama Lead Actor: Omari Hardwick - Power (Starz)
As drug kingpin-turned-club owner James “Ghost” St. Patrick, Hardwick is no stranger to showcasing his tough and frightening side. But in season 4, the shocking death of Ghost’s teenage daughter sent the character and actor down an emotional road that proved that Hardwick (and Power) deserve more awards love.
Best Drama Lead Actor: Dylan Minnette - 13 Reasons Why (Netflix)
Poor Dylan Minnette. After a grueling first season of 13 Reasons Why in which he deals with the tremendous guilt of Clay’s role in Hannah Baker’s death, the second season puts him through the ringer once again as his character deals with a suicidal girlfriend, tracing clues of more sexual assaults and hallucinating the ghost of Hannah. Few shows deal with teenage sex, drugs and trauma in the realistic way that 13 Reasons Why has earned both criticism and praise for, and Minnette grounds season two with his raw anger, vulnerability and sadness as the kids of Liberty High try to move on with their life after Hannah’s death.
Best Drama Lead Actor: Cillian Murphy - Peaky Blinders (Netflix)
At this point, Peaky Blinders feels destined to a legacy of being endlessly discovered by TV fans who heard how binge-able the British series was, yet never gave a fair chance to the show while it was on. And yet the series—a singularly suspenseful thrill ride chasing the tails of the bloody, bawdy street gangs of England—would not be the same without its lead, gang boss Tommy Shelby. Murphy plays the head Peaky Blinder as equal parts charismatic and cryptic, a jaw-dropping marvel of a character who is never less than worthy of your allegiance, even when you know he’s hiding all sorts of secrets behind those villainous baby-blues.
Best Drama Lead Actor: Cress Williams - Black Lightning (The CW)
In his long overdue graduation from clutch supporting player (Beverly Hills 90210, ER, Living Single, Grey’s Anatomy, Hart of Dixie, Friday Night Lights) to leading man, Williams proved his electric touch, stepping into the supersuit of Black Lightning with a veteran’s grace, displaying strength and vulnerability in equal measure.
Best Comedy Lead Actor: Hank Azaria - Brockmire (IFC)
Given his epic repertoire of amazing and memorable characters on film and television—from Herman’s Head to Heat to Huff — it is truly saying something that the deeply damaged, wildly funny, and possibly beyond redemption baseball commentator Brockmire may be the best performance The Simpsons veteran has ever given.
Best Comedy Lead Actor: Chris Geere - You're the Worst (FXX)
It seems fun playing a bad person—Chris Geere’s role on You’re The Worst is to be, by definition, the worst. But Geere plays the layers behind Jimmy Shive-Overly’s narcissism: the insecurities and heartbreak that lurk beneath his cocky exterior. This season has forced Geere to play Jimmy with more nuance than ever, putting the “love” in “guy we love to hate.”
Best Comedy Lead Actor: Alex Lawther - The End of the F***ing World (Netflix)
End of the F****** World was one of the most surprisingly delightful shows on Netflix, thanks in no small part to the masterful work done by Alex Lawther in the role of the psychopathic James, who accompanies Alyssa on a road trip with the plan to murder her along the way. At just 23 years old, Lawther has already built an impressive resume (he played Tibby in the recent Howards End, and the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game) but James is by far his most technically impressive character: cold, distant, calculating, and, in the end, heartbreakingly human.
Best Comedy Lead Actor: Tom Everett Scott - I'm Sorry (TruTV)
Scott, known for his recurring roles in 13 Reasons Why and Southland, elevates the “nice guy” role to ridiculously charming heights here. In I’m Sorry, he’s the simple and easy-going lawyer to Andrea Savage’s sharp and wiry writer. The contrast could make for blandly familiar viewing, were Scott not so damn affable — and were his chemistry with Savage not so effortless, funny, and subtly sexy.
Best Comedy Lead Actor: William Zabka - Cobra Kai (YouTube Red)
Admittedly, it sounds like a joke. Former 80s teen movie villain heads to TV — or, more accurately, YouTube — to play a grown-up version of his most famous on-screen jerk. But in the Karate Kid sequel Cobra Kai, William Zabka pulls off quite the magic trick, transforming cliché high school bully Johnny Lawrence into an unlikely, and entertainingly unlikable, leading man. As the grown-up Johnny fights to rebuild his life and dignity through the martial arts of his teen glory days, Zabka instills his character with a relatable midlife malaise, while also bringing comic bluster to ludicrous lines like “We do not allow weakness in this dojo!” Johnny may no longer be the big man on campus, but thanks to Zabka’s performance, we know he’s actually a big softie at heart.
Best Drama Supporting Actress: Cush Jumbo - The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
It can’t be easy starring opposite the great Christine Baranski, but Jumbo is nonetheless terrific as the fearless and gutsy attorney Lucca Quinn – who got to show off her comedic chops this season after becoming pregnant by a man she has no intention to marry.