The 70th Emmy Awards air Monday, September 17, and all this week, Vulture TV critic Jen Chaney and New York Magazine TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz are breaking down the major categories with Emmy predictions for variety series, limited series, comedy, and drama. What will win? What actually should win? That’s what we’re here to determine.
Today’s focus: Comedy series.
Outstanding Comedy Series
• Atlanta (FX)
• Barry (HBO)
• Black-ish (ABC)
• GLOW (Netflix)
• The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
• Silicon Valley (HBO)
• Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
With perennial winners Modern Family and Veep not competing in this category — Modern Family because it wasn’t nominated, and Veep because it wasn’t eligible — I recently asked whether Atlanta has a shot at winning outstanding comedy series. Short answer: Yes, it does! But it faces some competition, most notably from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
But before I break down the chances between what I think are the two front-runners, let’s quickly consider the other nominees. Silicon Valley and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have been nominated for every one of their seasons, while Black-ish has been nominated every year since its second season. All delivered solid strings of episodes this past year, but all of them also have arguably been stronger in previous Emmy years. (I do wonder if the fourth season of Black-ish might have elevated its chances if ABC had actually broadcast the jettisoned “Please, Baby, Please” episode. Yes, it’s only one episode. But even a single boundary-pushing, meaningful installment can elevate the perception of a whole season.) GLOW skated between campy fun and dramatic gender study in its first season, but I worry that some Emmy voters might not take it seriously enough, or might think of it — wrongly — as too lightweight to merit a vote. I also think GLOW’s second season was even better than its first, so it may have a better shot at a trophy next year.
Silicon Valley and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have been nominated for every one of their seasons, while Black-ish has been nominated every year since season two. All delivered solid, strings of episodes this past but all of them also have, arguably, been consistently stronger in previous Emmy years. (I do wonder if Black-ish’s fourth season might have elevated its chances if ABC had actually broadcast the jettisoned “Please, Baby, Please” episode. Yes, it’s only one episode. But even a single boundary-pushing, meaningful installment can raise up the perception of a whole season.)
GLOW skated between campy fun and dramatic gender study in its first season, but I worry that some Emmy voters might not take it seriously enough or think (wrongly) that it’s too lightweight to merit a vote. I also think GLOW’s second season was even better than its first, so it may have a better shot at a trophy next year.
That leaves us with three series: newcomers Barry and Mrs. Maisel, and Atlanta, which was nominated last year but lost to Veep. A look at the number of nominations each received — 13 for Barry, 14 for Mrs. Maisel, and 16 for Atlanta — suggests there’s broad voter support for all three. Barry is an intense dark comedy, which is not a bad thing but could turn off some voters. Remember: This is the same group that gave this Emmy to Modern Family for five consecutive years. Voters appreciate shows that say or do something new, but in the original comedy category, they may be inclined to reward something that’s more clearly, straightforwardly funny, with less murder involved.
This is where I think The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has an advantage. With its classic, whiplash Amy Sherman-Palladino wisecracks and the stand-up work done by its main character, Miriam Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), it is a straightforwardly funny series. But like most modern comedies, it also contains moments of drama. Given its period setting, I can see it appealing to older voters. Younger Gilmore Girls fans who believe Sherman-Palladino has an Emmy coming to her after years of being snubbed by the Academy may feel inclined to vote for it. The fact that it’s about a woman proving she’s better at something than a man, and that it’s a comedy created by a woman, may also resonate as the industry continues to reckon with issues related to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
But then there’s Atlanta, one of the boldest shows on television and the one with the most comedy nominations this year. Last year it won two Emmys, for directing (by Donald Glover) and lead acting (also by Glover). The voters clearly have some love for both him and the series, which is truly unlike anything else on television and audacious in its risk-taking. All of that should work in its favor. The fact that it’s a show dominated by people of color both in front of and behind the camera, at a time when Hollywood is under heightened scrutiny about better representation, could also give it an edge with voters who want to prove the industry is making progress on that front, whether it actually is or not.
Honestly, I think this could either break for Maisel or go to Atlanta and I’ve changed my mind about which way it will go about a thousand times. But at this point, here’s what I’m saying.
The Emmy will go to … The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Neither Mrs. Maisel nor Atlanta is a mainstream family sitcom, but the former is the more obviously comedic of the two. And in this category, that matters.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
• Anthony Anderson, Black-ish (ABC)
• Ted Danson, The Good Place (NBC)
• Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
• Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX)
• Bill Hader, Barry (HBO)
• William H. Macy, Shameless (Showtime)
Ted Danson, The Good Place (NBC)
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX)
Bill Hader, Barry (HBO)
William H. Macy, Shameless (Showtime)
This is the fifth time Macy has been nominated for his portrayal of Frank Gallagher on Shameless. He’s wonderful. He never wins. I don’t think he’ll win this year, either.
Anthony Anderson also suffers from William H. Macy Syndrome: This is his fourth nomination for Black-ish, and he’s also never won. This season, the storyline about the near-divorce of Dre and Bow gave him an opportunity to show his dramatic range in addition to Dre’s usual amusing tendency to lose his cool. But like Macy, I suspect he’ll go trophyless once again.
Larry David is acting on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but because he’s playing a facsimile of himself and not bringing anything terribly new to the role in the show’s ninth season, I don’t see him coming out on top here, either.
That brings us to Ted Danson, who has amassed 16 Emmy nominations and two wins, both for Cheers, in his long career. It would be an absolute joy to see him win here, because he attacks his role as Michael on The Good Place with such obvious glee and also because The Good Place was so egregiously robbed of nominations in other categories. It would be great to see the show get something. In any other year, I’d be banging a drum for Danson’s glorious portrayal of a pseudo-demon in a bow tie. But this year, he has two other favorites with which to contend.
One is Bill Hader, whose work on Barry, a series he co-created, is a master class in playing the straight man and revelatory in its understated, inevitable progression toward nervous breakdown. I’ve said his performance was the best acting work by a man on TV this past year, and I still stand by that.
On the other hand: Did you see the “Teddy Perkins” episode of Atlanta? In which Donald Glover goes incognito and plays a fever-dreamy almost-Michael Jackson, managing to make him as tragic and disturbing as the King of Pop himself? Glover’s a quintuple threat of a talent — I think five is the right number, though I’ve honestly lost count — and he’s excellent as Earn as well, as confirmed by the fact that he was rewarded last year with an Emmy for his performance on Atlanta.
The Emmy will go to … Donald Glover. His performance is more than deserving and, as I’ve said repeatedly, Emmy voters do tend to repeat themselves. Jim Parsons has won for The Big Bang Theory three times this decade, and Jeffrey Tambor won two years in a row for Transparent before Glover emerged victorious last year. A second consecutive win for the star of Atlanta seems the most likely outcome on Emmy night.
The Emmy should go to … Bill Hader. As great as Glover is — not to mention Danson — I still think Hader’s performance was the year’s quiet knockout.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
• Pamela Adlon, Better Things (FX)
• Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
• Allison Janney, Mom (CBS)
• Issa Rae, Insecure (HBO)
• Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish (ABC)
• Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Allison Janney, Mom (CBS)
Issa Rae, Insecure (HBO)
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish (ABC)
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
For the first time since 2012, this category doesn’t include Emmys shoo-in Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which should imply that anything could happen. But I still think this Emmy pretty clearly comes down to one person: Rachel Brosnahan.
It’s nice to see Issa Rae, the sparkling-while-struggling center of Insecure, get her first nomination this year, but I am doubtful that Emmy voters will rally behind her during her first time out. There have definitely been exceptions to what I’m about to say, but as a general rule, the actresses who win in the lead category usually star in one of the series nominated for outstanding comedy series. If that rule holds, it eliminates not just Rae, but also Lily Tomlin, Pamela Adlon, and Allison Janney, who won back-to-back Emmys in the supporting actress category in 2014 and 2015, but hasn’t been nominated as a lead for Mom until this year.
That leaves us with Brosnahan and Tracee Ellis Ross, who’s being nominated for the third time for Black-ish and has never won. Like her co-star Anderson, she got to do some really emotional work this season, not only in the episodes about the Johnsons’ split but also as her character dealt with postpartum depression. She was just as good in broader comedic moments, like the ones in “Advance to Go (Collect $200),” when her competitive streak leaked out during a heated game of Monopoly. Were it not for Brosnahan, I’d probably expect this to finally be Ross’s year.
But Brosnahan cannot be ignored. She’s in a series that earned 14 nominations to Black-ish’s five, and as well-written and filled with terrific supporting actors as Mrs. Maisel is, it basically sinks or swims on the strength of Brosnahan’s performance. If she hadn’t pulled off that randy, slightly unhinged, but still brilliant stand-up set in the first episode, the whole show would have crash landed before it even started. But Brosnahan rose to the occasion then and every time after, in a way that announced that she has finally arrived, just like her character.
The Emmy will go to … Rachel Brosnahan. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t.
The Emmy should go to … Rachel Brosnahan. I would love to see a win for Ross or Adlon, who does such consistently wry and lovely work on Better Things. But I can’t deny that this feels like Brosnahan’s year.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
• Louie Anderson, Baskets (FX)
• Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
• Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
• Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta (FX)
• Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
• Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
• Henry Winkler, Barry (HBO)
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta (FX)
Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Henry Winkler, Barry (HBO)
First, let me just say that Baldwin should not be nominated in this category. Not because Baldwin isn’t an enormous talent — he is — but he’s literally making a cameo appearance as Trump on Saturday Night Live, albeit on a pretty regular basis. He’s not being asked, like other SNL nominees, to play a range of different characters week after week, nor is he immersing himself in another human in the same way that other actors on scripted series do. Plus, I think even Baldwin feels like his take on Trump has gotten a little tired. A less celebrated actor who’s consistently hilarious as the same character over an entire season — perhaps Manny Jacinto from The Good Place, that amazing show that voters totally ignored — deserves the nomination instead.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’ll cut right to the chase and say: For God’s sake, just give this thing to Henry Winkler! He’s a riot on Barry as acting teacher Gene Cousineau. He skates from self-absorbed to pretentious to clueless to mean to semi-tragic, sometimes in the space of a single scene, and always comes across as a man who very likely exists in the world. Plus, he’s Henry Fucking Winkler. He has six Emmy nominations and no wins. (He never got one for playing the Fonz on Happy Days, which is a travesty.) He deserves the win for what he does on Barry, and also for how good he’s always been.
I can’t really say that about anyone else in this category. Tony Shalhoub has two Emmys. Louis Anderson has one. Kenan Thompson got nominated for the first time in this category for his impressively enduring work on SNL, which is wonderful, but, as of last weekend, he also has an Emmy, which he received for co-writing the song “Come Back Barack.” Meanwhile, Tituss Burgess has four nominations and no wins (which is unfortunate since he’s sensational on Kimmy Schmidt), and Henry added new layers to Paper Boi on Atlanta this year, but neither has been working in TV for as many decades as Winkler has. I know this is about the performance and not the career, but I think Winkler beats them both by a hair on the former front, too.
The Emmy will go to … Henry Winkler. #JusticeforFonzie
The Emmy should go to … Henry Winkler. Again, #JusticeforFonzie.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
• Zazie Beetz, Atlanta (FX)
• Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
• Aidy Bryant, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
• Betty Gilpin, GLOW (Netflix)
• Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
• Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
• Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne (ABC)
• Megan Mullally, Will & Grace (NBC)
If Roseanne didn’t have its Roseanne Barr problem, I’d say Laurie Metcalf would win here. But regardless of how great Metcalf is, as always, I don’t think anyone’s going to want to touch Roseanne with a ten-foot pole.
Mullally is the only Will & Grace cast member nominated for the series’ revival. She’s still a hoot, but lack of voter support for the series in general makes me think she won’t win. Zazie Beetz is a sturdy, luminous presence in Atlanta, but she rarely get the chance to be purely funny and that may knock her down a few pegs with voters.
Meanwhile, I can’t dismiss Betty Gilpin in GLOW — she’s vulnerable and badass all at once, and a standout in an ensemble filled with fearless women — but I have the same concern about her that I expressed about GLOW in the outstanding series category: Some voters may not single out her performance due to mistakenly thinking of the show as low-brow.
Which leaves Alex Borstein, who gives Susie a perfectly pointed sharp tongue and an open heart in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and three cast members from Saturday Night Live. Borstein is a veteran performer who has rarely gotten this kind of high-profile attention, and that might carry some sway with the Emmy-choosing crowd, especially dues-paying actors who want to elevate one of their own. But SNL feels like a mighty big wall to crash though this year.
Of the SNL performers nominated, I think McKinnon has the best chance because she’s amazing and she’s also won twice before. (Emmy voters — wait, have I said this before? — do tend to repeat themselves.) Leslie Jones is awesome, but I didn’t think the writers gave her as much opportunity as she deserved this season. Aidy Bryant is really versatile and I would be happy to see her win, but I’m just not sure if the voters can break their McKinnon habit.
The Emmy will go to … Kate McKinnon.
The Emmy should go to … Betty Gilpin. Because she took what could come across as a generic soap opera-star type, and then gave her even more soul and depth than what’s on the page. Even if she doesn’t win this year, Gilpin will be back in 2019.
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
• Atlanta, “Fubu,” Donald Glover (FX)
• Atlanta, “Teddy Perkins,” Hiro Murai (FX)
• Barry, “Chapter One: Make Your Mark,” Bill Hader (HBO)
• The Big Bang Theory, “The Bow Tie Asymmetry,” Mike Cendrowski (CBS)
• GLOW, “Pilot,” Jesse Peretz (Netflix)
• The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “Pilot,” Amy Sherman-Palladino (Amazon)
• Silicon Valley, “Initial Coin Offering,” Mike Judge (HBO)
Atlanta, “Teddy Perkins,” Hiro Murai (FX)
Barry, “Chapter One: Make Your Mark,” Bill Hader (HBO)
The Big Bang Theory, “The Bow Tie Asymmetry,” Mike Cendrowski (CBS)
GLOW, “Pilot,” Jesse Peretz (Netflix)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “Pilot,” Amy Sherman-Palladino (Amazon)
Silicon Valley, “Initial Coin Offering,” Mike Judge (HBO)
The Emmy will go to … Hiro Murai. No disrespect to any of the other entries, but I can’t see how this goes to anyone other than Murai for his direction of “Teddy Perkins,” an episode of TV like no other this year.
The Emmy should go to … Hiro Murai.
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
• Atlanta, “Alligator Man,” Donald Glover (FX)
• Atlanta, “Barbershop,” Stefani Robinson (FX)
• Barry, “Chapter One: Make Your Mark,” Alec Berg and Bill Hader (HBO)
• Barry, “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast and Keep Going,” Liz Sarnoff (HBO)
• The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “Pilot,” Amy Sherman-Palladino (Amazon)
• Silicon Valley, “Fifty-One Percent,” Alec Berg (HBO)
Atlanta, “Barbershop,” Stefani Robinson (FX)
Barry, “Chapter One: Make Your Mark,” Alec Berg and Bill Hader (HBO)
Barry, “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast and Keep Going,” Liz Sarnoff (HBO)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “Pilot,” Amy Sherman-Palladino (Amazon)
Silicon Valley, “Fifty-One Percent,” Alec Berg (HBO)
The Emmy will go to … Donald Glover. Atlanta and Barry seem to have the advantage, although Sherman-Palladino certainly does have a way with words. That said, I’m inclined to think the Emmy will go to Donald Glover for “Alligator Man,” the opener of Atlanta Robbin’ Season and an episode that sets up the sense of generational history and pressure Earn will feel compelled to escape in the season finale.
The Emmy should go to … Liz Sarnoff. I have no qualms with “Alligator Man,” to be honest. But just to mix things up, I would vote for Liz Sarnoff and “Chapter Seven” of Barry because that’s the episode where Barry’s acting and hitman lives finally collide. It beautifully synthesizes the show’s themes via tense, spare, and carefully crafted dialogue.