Emmys 2019: EW picks the dark-horse contenders who deserve nominations
In the era of peak TV, there are so many series and performers worthy of awards attention that it can get a bit… overwhelming.
And for all the probable Emmys frontrunners — looking at you, Game of Thrones, This Is Us, Veep, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — there are just as many, if not more, shows and performances that just don’t get the attention they deserve.
Here, EW has compiled a wish list of the dark-horse contenders we’d like to see recognized when Emmy nominations are announced July 16.
The Good Fight
Both of EW’s TV critics named it the show of 2019 so far. What else do you need? Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald serenading you with “Raspberry Beret”? Oh wait, they already did that — and oh so much more — in the insightful and near-apocalyptic third season, which dug even deeper into our current crisis-filled time. —Chancellor Agard
Legends of Tomorrow
Name another show that includes a murderous unicorn, a Bollywood musical number set in Regency-era England, and a demonic nipple. You probably can’t, because there’s nothing else like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which retained the title of TV’s best superhero show in its wild fourth season. The thing about Legends, though, is that it’s not just insane for insanity’s sake (although that’s definitely the case sometimes): The insanity is almost always tied to whatever the titular time-traveling heroes are going through emotionally, most often their insecurities, which makes its weird antics incredibly poignant. —C.A.
Whimsical and emotionally dangerous, the Syfy drama’s fourth season continued to tell a profound story about growing up, and all the joys and horrors that come with it. —C.A.
Sorry, Stranger Things, but Narcos is Netflix’s most addictive original series. After two seasons focused on the rise of Pablo Escobar and the magnetic performance of Wagner Moura as the infamous drug lord, Narcos shifted to another Colombian cartel for season 3, before electing for a more drastic change when the series was reborn in November as Narcos: Mexico. Armed with a new setting and new stars (Michael Peña, Diego Luna), Narcos moved north and somehow managed to become even more gripping. And much of that can be tied to Peña’s turn as a doomed DEA agent, an emotionally compelling good guy the original incarnation had been missing. —Derek Lawrence
Based on Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name, YOU presented a different look at a serial killer, one that took viewers inside the mind of Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), thereby presenting them with the reasoning for his actions. By never shying away from Joe’s dark side, the show’s freshman season unraveled a beautifully paced modern-day thriller about what people do for love… and what is acceptable to do for love. —Samantha Highfill
If you haven’t been watching this show — which is basically “Curb Your Enthusiasm with a female lead minus the cringe humor” — then we’re sorry for you. Andrea Savage stars as a Los Angeles-based comedy writer who is struggling through life like the rest of us. From parenthood to death to professional drama to fighting with your spouse over that one piece of their clothing you can’t stand, there’s nothing this sophomore show couldn’t make funny. —Patrick Gomez
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Seriously, what does It’s Always Sunny need to do to get nominated for an Emmy? Write an episode titled “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award”? Check. Become the longest-running live-action comedy in TV history? Check. Have a main character come out of the closet to his imprisoned father via a mesmerizing, five-minute contemporary-dance number? Check. And it was that showstopping dance number from Rob McElhenney’s Mac in the season 13 finale that alone should earn It’s Always Sunny, the beloved underdog show that could, it’s first major Emmy nomination. —D.L.
The Other Two
What happens when your younger brother becomes Justin Bieber? That’s the gist of this comic delight created by Saturday Night Live writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider. The half-hour comedy works as a sharp sendup of millennial ennui via siblings Brooke (Heléne Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver). But it’s the series’ unexpected emotional wallop, particularly in Molly Shannon’s excellent turn as widowed matriarch Pat, that makes Two one to watch. —Tim Stack
Months after EW anointed the show “the year’s best new comedy,” the superiority of Comedy Central’s sly, sweet sitcom is still undeniable — and not for any lack of worthy competition. Star-making performances and mastery of pop culture notwithstanding, it boils down to how creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider clearly struck a nerve with their depiction of wayward millennials: The show’s brother-sister duo Brooke and Cary were always intent on ending their aimlessness, but their little brother becoming a YouTube sensation only sends their anxieties to their extremities and, in turn, makes the pair’s tragicomic struggle all the more relatable as they desperately try to latch onto something constant before their youth slips away entirely. —Marc Snetiker
We can give you more than two reasons why The Other Two should be nominated for Best Comedy: ChaseDreams’ (Case Walker) iconic hit “My Brother’s Gay and That’s Okay”; Streeter’s (Ken Marino) repeated incompetence, especially when he hires a 70-year-old woman as the stand-in for his 13-year-old client; and Cary’s (Drew Tarver) bartending gig from hell on Watch What Happens Live. We could go on, but how about you just go watch this gem instead? —D.L.
[Editor’s note: EW really liked The Other Two.]
What started as basically a scripted version of The Simple Life has grown into one of the most heartwarming, gut-busting shows on TV. With the talents of Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy on full display, the series (and the entire cast) should have been on Emmy voters’ radar for years, but watching spoiled David (Dan Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy) grow over season 5 brought the show to new heights this year. —P.G.
You’re the Worst
The last few years has been a renaissance of sorts for the rom-com. And as much as people want to point to films like Set It Up and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the rom-com was also thriving on television in the form of You’re the Worst, which wrapped earlier this year after five seasons of Sunday Fundays and Trash Juice. And while season 5 gave Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) their own version of a happy ending, it wasn’t an easy road to get there, from Gretchen’s continued battle with depression to a killer bachelor/bachelorette party. So, with this being your last chance to reward the cult comedy, don’t be the worst, Emmy voters. —D.L.
Best Actor — Drama
Penn Badgley, YOU
As Joe Goldberg, the book enthusiast with a dark side, Badgley was at once YOU’s protagonist and antagonist. With every episode, he delicately balanced Joe’s charm with his violent tendencies, somehow creating a character who was both heartbreaking and terrifying. —S.H.
Paul Giamatti, Billions
There are two very different scenes in Billions season 4 that showcase why Giamatti’s performance as Chuck Rhoades is Emmy-worthy. The first was his surprising confession to the world that he and his wife engage in BDSM. The second was also shocking, but in a hilarious way, as he launched into a passionate tirade entirely in Italian. Nomina quest’uomo! Which Google Translate tells me is Italian for “Nominate this man!” —D.L.
Jason Ralph, The Magicians
In his final season on the show, Ralph did a tremendous job of conveying just how much Quentin had grown and changed, revealing new layers to a character who finally accepted he was not the hero of this story. By the time Quentin stepped into the afterlife, you felt like he had gone on an intense and moving journey that did change him. —C.A.
Jeremy Strong, Succession
“Entitled trust-fund finance bro” is a hell of an archetype to make endearing, let alone when the mythos of the Murdochs looms behind it as a primary source of Succession’s inspiration. But on a show where every character is effectively awful, Strong turns CEO aspirant Kendall Roy into an antihero worth rooting for. He oscillates between a wickedly funny vulgarity (the kind that made Entourage’s Ari a dreamy douchebag icon) and glad-I’m-not-him family and marital trauma, bringing a precarious balance of extremes to the role and, in turn, transforming Kendall’s status as heir apparent from a factual term of lineage to the actual truth viewers believe. (At least, those who aren’t on Team Geri.) —M.S.
Best Actor — Comedy
Timothy Olyphant, Santa Clarita Diet
When you think Timothy Olyphant, you think dramatic lead TV actor who looks good in a cowboy hat. And as great as Olyphant was on Deadwood and Justified, here’s a little secret: He’s goddamn hilarious. For years he’s been trying to tell you, whether it was in The Girl Next Door or The Grinder. But with his three-season run on Santa Clarita Diet, Olyphant truly got to spread his comedic wings as Joel, a suburban real estate agent who will do anything for his wife, even after she becomes a zombie. With Santa Clarita recently being canceled, let’s hope creatives (and Emmy voters) remember that Olyphant can be more than a traditional leading man — he can be a wacky comedy leading man too. —D.L.
Drew Tarver, The Other Two
Impeccable comic timing! Dramatic gravitas infusing sitcom trajectories! Great hair! If Comedy Central’s early-2019 drop The Other Two set the tone for the year in comedy, Tarver’s astonishing anchor performance as a gay actor stuck in neutral (opposite a perfectly matched Heléne Yorke as his equally stunted sister) offers a universal and impossible-to-ignore benchmark for this season’s leading-man debuts. —M.S.
Best Actor — Limited Series or Movie
Stephen Dorff, True Detective
Going into True Detective season 3, the series’ long-awaited new installment appeared to be a solo vehicle for Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. But as with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in season 1, the most interesting part of True Detective became the relationship between the main partners, with Stephen Dorff quickly showing he was capable of rising to Ali’s level. Dorff especially shined when the action jumped to a third timeline in 2015 as a mentally deteriorated Wayne Hays (Ali) and lonely Roland West (Dorff) reunited to finally solve the case that had changed their lives forever. —D.L.
Best Actress — Drama
Bre-Z, All American
All Americanwas the surprisingly deep and touching broadcast series of the 2018-19 season, and at the drama’s heart was Bre-Z’s Coop. From coping with the death of her gang leader mentor to being kicked out of her home after coming out as a lesbian, the rapper-turned-actress (Empire) continued to surprise through the CW series’ freshman year. —P.G.
Sarah Snook, Succession
Snook plays Succession’s Siobhan “Shiv” Roy — the only daughter among a nasty, unlikable brood all vying to take control of their aging Rupert Murdoch-esque father’s empire — with a crackling, dangerous edge that makes clear she’s the obvious best pick for the job, if perhaps never the most likely. There’s no honor among wolves, or siblings, but when Shiv sets her sights on a new job, or a new side piece, even her badly behaved brothers know to get out of her way. Somehow in this family of deeply awful rich white people, Snook manages to make her character seem not just human but almost…endearing. —Shana Krochmal
Best Actress — Comedy
Aya Cash, You’re the Worst
Over five seasons of the FXX comedy, Cash proved to anything but the worst. As funny as she could be, her character Gretchen’s battle with depression displayed both the show and Cash’s range. While that story line wasn’t as central to the fifth and final season, the hints were still there and Cash continued to nail the delicate balance. Now excuse me while I go eat some pancakes and cry. —D.L.
Minnie Driver, Speechless
Veep and Game of Thrones aren’t the only swan songs to celebrate this Emmys season: ABC’s Speechless ended its three-season run as heartfelt and hilarious as it began. And at the center of the family comedy was Minnie Driver, whose Maya DiMeo sang, danced, and spiraled out of control in ways that should earn her a spot among the Hall of Great TV Moms. —P.G.
Kaitlin Olson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
For 13 seasons, Olson has been turning in one of TV’s best comedic performances as Sweet Dee, the gang’s lone female, who is often the target of their verbal abuse. But this past season, Olson and the recurring Always Sunny actresses got their own spotlight episode with “The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot.” Watching Dee get blackout drunk on an all-female flight to the Women’s March once again proved that Olson and Always Sunny are still throwing their fastball. —D.L.
Emmy Rossum, Shameless
How Rossum has yet to be nominated for an Emmy is baffling. I mean, besides her incredible performance as Fiona Gallagher, her name is frickin’ Emmy! C’mon, it’s a layup! And while Rossum has proven year in and year out to be Emmy-worthy, she turned in perhaps her best performance yet in her Shameless swan song. After nine seasons, Rossum said goodbye to the show that put her on the map, but not before finding new shades of Fiona amid the character’s life falling apart. Fiona got a happy ending, and now it’s time for the Emmys to do the same for Emmy. —D.L.
Andrea Savage, I’m Sorry
Larry David. Garry Shandling. Jerry Seinfeld. The list of comedians who have been critically lauded for playing heightened versions of themselves is long and accolade-laden. Well, guys, it’s time to add Andrea Savage, who stars on TruTV’s I’m Sorry as a character who is far more likable than any of those that are aforementioned, to the list. —P.G.
Heléne Yorke, The Other Two
The undersung alum of Masters of Sex nails the tragicomic truths of millennial plight in her stellar performance as The Other Two’s big sister in big stasis, Brooke. Sharing effortless chemistry with onscreen siblings Drew Tarver and Case Walker (and bringing a remarkably different sororal nuance to each), Yorke struts and stumbles her way through the series’ sitcom facades with an uncanny, never-unappreciated realness — a ferociously confident Odysseus drinking her way through a five-borough odyssey, just looking for a place to call home. —M.S.
Best Actress — Limited Series or Movie
Emma Stone, Maniac
Don’t let the passage of time — nor the passages of critics — detract from one of the most interesting performances of the year. While Netflix’s Maniac waded through more than its share of WTF territory, Stone’s trajectory from misery to mindfulness proved itself to be a powerful little feat of resonance, a true hidden gem of a performance that cut through the candy colors of the show’s heightened psychoses and brought something tremendously, impactfully human to the high-concept series. —M.S.
Best Supporting Actress — Drama
Gillian Anderson, Sex Education
Rare is the television territory where Anderson gets to leap around with comic abandon. Perhaps that’s why she tore through the opportunities for outrageous deliveries playing a teenager’s true nightmare: a sex-positive therapist and inquisitive smother mother. If Jean Milburn had no boundaries, it only meant that Anderson didn’t either — and she clearly had a ball. —M.S.
Summer Bishil, The Magicians
Seven words: Watch the musical episode, then you’ll know. —C.A.
Gwendoline Christie, Game of Thrones
In any season, Christie’s peerless Brienne of Tarth would deserve no lack of decoration (be it by the king or the TV academy), but in a particularly weak final season, Brienne bolstered her usual incandescence with a standout knighting sequence that laced a touching, lingering note into the completion of her character’s arc. Christie’s calibrated levels of catharsis in Brienne’s big “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” moment — blazing, shining, and beautiful — marked one of the few bright spots in Game of Thrones’ farewell. —M.S.
Diane Guerrero, Doom Patrol
I wish more people were watching Doom Patrol, because it’s trying some really interesting things. Even amid the show’s colorful chaos and weird performances, Guerrero stands out for playing a character with 64 different personalities. She distinguishes them and makes the character’s mental health struggle very sympathetic despite the outlandishness of it. —Christian Holub
Dina Shihabi, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
As the wife of a terror group leader, Dina Shahibi’s Hanin had to decide between betraying her husband and leaving her son behind or finding a better life for her daughters — facing off with her husband’s henchmen and U.S. operatives with equal vulnerability and conviction. You’d have to search far and wide to find a character who had as harrowing a journey this past season. —P.G.
Best Supporting Actress — Comedy
Yael Grobglas, Jane the Virgin
Forget Team Michael or Team Rafael — Jane and Petra is now the most important ship for Jane the Virgin fans. This is quite the surprising development considering the Petra we were first introduced to. But the former cheater, criminal, and schemer has experienced one of TV’s great turnarounds, and much of that is due to the performance of Yael Grobglas, who turned Petra from someone we loved to hate to someone we just plain love. —D.L.
Marin Hinkle, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Rachel Brosnahan, Tony Shalhoub, and Alex Borstein have all gotten awards attention for their work on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but Marin Hinkle, as Mama Maisel, deserves to join in on the fun. I mean, her midlife-crisis move to Paris kicked off the entire second season, for Pete’s sake! —P.G.
Jameela Jamil, The Good Place
While Tahani deserves an award for setting Drake and Ruth Bader Ginsberg up, Jamil equally deserves one for her portrayal of our favorite celebrity name-dropper. In fact, she’s so good as Tahani that just by proximity Larry Hemsworth has made a big leap in the Hemsworth rankings (sorry, not sorry, Luke). —D.L.
Best Supporting Actor — Drama
Kieran Culkin, Succession
The greatest gift of Succession’s idiotic heir Roman Roy is not in the character’s ridiculous behavior or unrepeatable zingers, but in the spotlight it’s shined on Culkin and the fine acting work he’s been turning in for a decade and a half. As Roman, Culkin skillfully decides how much light and darkness filter through Roman’s many cracks, and in doing so he creates a compelling character who feels, like Culkin’s career itself, as if we’ve only just scratched the surface. —M.S.
Best Supporting Actor — Comedy
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Nominated for his delightfully dead-dry work as Capt. Raymond Holt in the first three seasons, Braugher was not recognized for his next two seasons of impeccable work for no discernible reason. It’s time to return him rightfully to the nominee podium, as his bons mots and imperious quirks age like a fine Beaujolais in a Burgundy glass. Plus, he looks great in a “pineapple slut” T-shirt. —Dan Snierson
Anthony Carrigan, Barry
You know a character and a performance are working when the original plan to kill off said character is scrapped, and instead they become a crucial part of their series. That’s exactly what happened on Barry, thanks to Carrigan’s scene-stealing performance as the surprisingly tender Chechnyan mobster NoHo Hank in season 1. This meant a promotion for Carrigan, with Hank virtually becoming the lead of the criminal side of the show, while still bringing laughs and also showing that he can be straight cold-blooded, as demonstrated in a chilling confrontation with (Barry Hader). —D.L.
Barry won big last year, with trophies for Bill Hader and Henry Winkler, but Carrigan’s performance has been overshadowed because of that. He leveled up quite a bit this season, as he’s had way more to do and killed it. (In particular I loved the Thomas Friedman dream and his opening monologue of the season.) Even people who aren’t as hot on season 2 as me agree that Hank is a delight this time around. —C.H.
Ken Marino, The Other Two
Marino kind of deserves to be on the awards radar solely for pulling off the name Streeter Peters. But name aside, Marino was arguably the funniest part of The Other Two as a dedicated yet terrible music manager who just so happens to consider his 13-year-old client to be a father figure to him. —D.L.
Reid Scott, Veep
Throughout Veep’s memorable run, the show and many of its stars have been showered with Emmy love. And while we could sit here and rightfully justify why every Veep cast member deserves awards recognition, it’s especially true for Scott, who for seven seasons personified the charming D.C. douchebag. Between Dan facing his own political mortality and being hilariously paired up with Richard (Sam Richardson), Veep’s final season earned Scott’s place on your ballot. —D.L.
Timothy Simons, Veep
Simons has scored for seven seasons as spitefully ignorant political climber and wannabe dude-bro Jonah Ryan, but in the unforgiving comedy’s final season, he truly shined as the dim bulb with misplaced aggression whose political ascent was as damning of America as it was entrancing. —D.S.
Jeremy Allen White, Shameless
White has always been a standout on Shameless as Lip, the genius who can’t quite escape where he comes from. But with Emmy Rossum’s impending departure, Shameless season 9 had the task of saying goodbye to its star and preparing for a new era, which essentially meant preparing White to be the new co-lead alongside William H. Macy. And White demonstrated that he was more than up to the task, all as Lip navigated life as a recovering alcoholic, soon-to-be father, and concerned brother. —D.L.