Emmys 2017: Who Will and Should Win in the Comedy-Series Races?

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Donald Glover and Zazie Beetz in Atlanta. Photo: FX Networks.

The 69th Emmy Awards air Sunday, September 17, and all this week, Vulture TV columnist Jen Chaney and New York Magazine TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz are breaking down the major categories. What will win? What actually should win? That’s what we’re here to determine.

Today’s focus: Comedy. (Read the picks for Limited and Variety series here and here.)

Outstanding Comedy

Atlanta (FX Networks)
Black-ish (ABC)
Master of None (Netflix)
Modern Family (ABC)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Veep (HBO)

The Emmy should go to: Atlanta 
Not long before the debut of this half-hour show about working-class people of color on the fringes of Atlanta’s entertainment scene, creator-star Donald Glover described it as “Twin Peaks with rappers.” It sounded like a joke, but he meant it, and the series delivered big time, building moments of surrealism and satire around a backbone of super-dry observational humor, much of it in the vein of a deadpan ’80s indie comedy like Stranger Than Paradise. This one is probably too tough a nut for Emmy voters to crack, though.

The Emmy will go to: Modern Family again
Or Veep, which would be a vastly less annoying choice, but still predictable. Master of NoneSilicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Black-ish would all be preferable; that most of these contenders come from streaming and cable networks, in a category that was once dominated by broadcast, speaks to the extraordinary creative vitality of the half-hour show right now — thanks mainly to cable and streaming. If I were going to bank on an upset, I’d go with Master of None.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy

Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX Networks)
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish (ABC)
William H. Macy, Shameless (Showtime)
Zach Galifianakis, Baskets (FX Networks)
Aziz Ansari, Master of None (Netflix)
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent (Amazon)

The Emmy should go to: Donald Glover
Glover gave one of the most fascinatingly internalized and reactive lead performances I’ve seen in a half-hour series. It takes great confidence, skill, and charisma to dial it down as low as he does, cede most of the colorful bits in a given scene to others, and still claim our focus.

Anthony Anderson on Black-ish would be my second choice. Week in and week out, he gives a heartfelt, blustering performance that channels Jackie Gleason, Homer Simpson, and sometimes Albert Brooks. He’s never funnier than when his character is going berserk while insisting he’s got things under control.

The Emmy will go to: Jeffrey Tambor again
He’s fantastic, don’t get me wrong — but I bet even he knows that the Emmys sometimes get stuck in a reflex cycle and have trouble getting out of it.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy

Pamela Adlon, Better Things (FX Networks)
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
Allison Janney, Mom (CBS)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish (ABC)
Lily Tomlin, Gracie and Frankie (Netflix)

The Emmy should go to: Pamela Adlon
She’s been a versatile character actress for decades now, in both live-action and animated series, but nothing she’s done could’ve prepared us for the depth and subtlety of her performance as, well, a version of herself, though it’s never a good idea to underrate a performance drawn from lived experience — it’s one thing to tell stories on a podcast or TV talk show and quite another to do it in visual fiction. Anybody who’s been a parent, single or in a unit, can appreciate the rawness of the world being presented through her eyes.

The Emmy will go to: Julia Louis-Dreyfus again
Though it would be great if Janney sneaked in and took it; her work on Mom has been phenomenal from the start, but she outdid herself this year.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Louie Anderson, Baskets (FX Networks)
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Tony Hale, Veep (HBO)
Ty Burrell, Modern Family (ABC)
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Matt Walsh, Veep (HBO)

The Emmy should go to: Tituss Burgess
There has never been a character like this on TV, with this particular energy, portrayed by a man of such varied and exceptional talents.

The Emmy will go to: Alec Baldwin
Because it’s brilliantly malicious, and because if Baldwin wins, Trump will go bananas.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Judith Light, Transparent (Amazon)
Vanessa Bayer, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Kathryn Hahn, Transparent (Amazon)

The Emmy should go to: Judith Light
A subtle performance in a life-size role of a type that’s all too easy to underestimate.

The Emmy will go to: Kate McKinnon again
Mainly because of the way her appearances as Hillary Clinton channeled the frustration, then rage, then depression of her supporters, women in particular. Impersonation as therapy.

Outstanding Direction in a Comedy

Atlanta (FX Networks), Donald Glover, “B.A.N.”
Silicon Valley (HBO), Jamie Babbit, “Intellectual Property.”
Silicon Valley (HBO), Mike Judge, “Server Error”
Veep (HBO), Morgan Sackett, “Blurb”
Veep (HBO), David Mandel, “Groundbreaking”
Veep (HBO), Dale Stern, “Justice”

The Emmy should go to: Glover for “B.A.N.” (see below for details on that episode)
Or one of the Silicon Valley guys (the direction on the latter was consistently impeccable throughout the season that’s being considered).

The Emmy will go to: Somebody from Veep
It will be deserved.

Outstanding Writing in a Comedy

Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX Networks), “B.A.N.”
Stephen Glover, Atlanta (FX Networks), “Streets on Lock”
Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe, Master of None (Netflix), “Thanksgiving”
Alec Berg, Silicon Valley (HBO), “Success Failure”
Billy Kimball, Veep (HBO), “Georgia”
David Mandel, Veep (HBO), “Groundbreaking”

The Emmy should go to: One of the Glovers for Atlanta
My heart probably belongs to “B.A.N.,” an experimental episode visualizing a Charlie Rose–type talk show broadcast by an alternate-universe version of BET because it threw a structural wrench into the narrative gears of the show’s first season on purpose, a David Chase–level instance of letting the audience know who’s boss.

The Emmy will go to: Billy Kimball or David Mandel for Veep
At a time when reality is routinely weirder than anything on Veep, the show has done a heroic job trying to keep pace.

Emmys 2017: Who Will and Should Win in the Comedy Races?