If I got to pick the Emmy nominees for comedy and limited series
Last week, I wrote about owning the world and getting to choose my fantasy Emmy nominees in the drama categories. Here are my comedy and limited-series selections, again made without any consideration of the Television Academy’s often irrational habits. I’m not trying to predict which nominations the Academy will announce on Tuesday, July 16, so much as force my own illusions and delusions onto you.
“Better Things,” FX
“The Good Place,” NBC
“The Other Two,” Comedy Central
“Russian Doll,” Netflix
“High Maintenance,” HBO
This category is packed with goodness, and I couldn’t fit a number of my favorite series, any of which could have made the cut on a different day.
“Russian Doll” was a surprisingly affecting sci-fi story of a deeply cynical woman in need of a life lesson — one she learns only after dying, like, a thousand times. “Fleabag” went about the same arc in a different way, as our literate, lonely heroine found love, albeit impossible love. It has been great to watch Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s series catch on this year, after its overlooked first season.
“The Good Place” is my happy place, as the premise changes with amusing frequency, keeping the warm ensemble on their toes. The fact that it will end after its next, fourth season, is typical of the show’s smart choices. “Veep” had a last season worthy of everything that came before it, and the finale was uncompromising.
“Better Things” keeps getting better, as Pamela Adlon gives us an intimate look into a multigenerational, all-female family. Few shows are able to infuse small moments with such import. “The Other Two” is a winning go at the absurdities of today’s teen fame machine, with lots of tragic banter between the two envious siblings who did not become stars. Being fame-adjacent has its challenges.
I know, I know. “High Maintenance” is one of my more far-flung choices, but I think it’s a great series whose many vignettes of life in New York add up to something broad and beautiful. It’s a collection of stories that only seem random.
I’d also consider: Hulu’s “Shrill,” about weight and women in American culture; Ricky Gervais’s Netflix series about grief and despair called “After Life”; Hulu’s “PEN15,” a sweet, knowing look back at adolescence in the year 2000; the final season of Amazon’s “Catastrophe”; and FX’s Staten Island-set vampire spoof “What We Do in the Shadows.” By the way, despite my affection for HBO’s “Barry” and its actors, I found season two disappointing. I wanted more humor, more acting-class scenes, and more Henry Winkler being funny.
BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY
Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag”
Natasha Lyonne, “Russian Doll”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Aidy Bryant, “Shrill”
Emmy Rossum, “Shameless”
I’ve been pushing Rossum for years, fruitlessly but no less passionately. She was brilliant in her final season on “Shameless,” even when the script let her down. This is the last opportunity for her to be recognized for her heartfelt, authentic work carrying the show.
Lyonne teetered powerfully between brash and broken, leading us on a surreal journey through long-suppressed grief. She’s pretty funny on “Russian Doll,” but in a poignantly self-destructive way.
Adlon was as loving and empowered as ever, adapting as her character’s daughters grew up and away. Bryant brought some strong bitter to her usual sweet persona, as a woman comfortable with her weight — even while those around her were not. Waller-Bridge found a way to be clever and flippant and yet moving in her loneliness.
And then there’s Louis-Dreyfus, who has gone from strength to strength in her career, topping everything with her Selina Meyer. Selina has been a TV politician — and a non-maternal mother — for the ages.
I’d also consider: Maya Rudolph was poignant as her character went on a journey of self-awareness in “Forever.” Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, adults playing 13-year-olds, made “PEN15” so much richer than the elongated comedy sketch it could have been. In “What We Do in the Shadows,” Natasia Demetriou is twisted fun as the vampire obsessed with a mortal man.
BEST ACTOR, COMEDY
Ted Danson, “The Good Place”
Sacha Baron Cohen, “Who Is America?”
Michael Douglas, “The Kominsky Method”
Ricky Gervais, “After Life”
Matt Berry, “What We Do in the Shadows”
Kayvan Novak, “What We Do in the Shadows”
Drew Tarver, “The Other Two”
I am somewhat perversely obsessed with “What We Do in the Shadows,” which some of my friends have rejected as they might a bad pun. The three leads are endlessly funny to me, and so I have created a tie between the two men, Berry and Novak, both of whom are undead treasures.
Danson is perfectly lovable as the leader (of sorts) of the pack. Despite his many years on sitcoms, he never phones it in, and his lunacy on “The Good Place” is always inspired. Likewise, Douglas brings experience and ease to his turn as an aging Hollywood guy, making each prostate joke fare far better than it should.
As a widower whose grief turns him into a nihilistic grumbler, Gervais gave a definitively dark comic performance. Tarver was eminently relatable as the struggling actor whose young brother effortlessly found fame (and wrote a song called “My Brother’s Gay”).
There were problems with Showtime’s “Who Is America?” as it quickly ran out of good material. But Cohen was consistently hysterical, and controlled, too, since he never broke character despite the absurd situations.
I’d also consider: Scott Ryan was a revelation in FX’s “Mr Inbetween,” bringing new life to the hit-man-with-heart trope. Likewise Bill Hader in “Barry,” who managed to be lovable, even when he flashed his killer’s eyes.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY
Olivia Colman, “Fleabag”
D’Arcy Carden, “The Good Place”
Molly Shannon, “The Other Two”
Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”
Lolly Adefope, “Shrill”
Sarah Goldberg, “Barry”
Oscar winner Colman was endlessly amusing as the passive-aggressive stepmother. Her every reaction is based on envy, insecurity, and, somewhere deep down, perhaps, love. Shannon was kooky goodness, Carden was digitized brilliance, Adefope was the best best friend, McKinnon is amazing, and Goldberg was all narcissistic energy coupled with denial.
I’d also consider: Julia Sweeney, the mixed-up mom on “Shrill,” and Juliette Lewis, the only funny thing about HBO’s “Camping.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY
Timothy Simons, “Veep”
Anthony Carrigan, “Barry”
Charlie Barnett, “Russian Doll”
Andre Braugher, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Jeremy Allen White, “Shameless”
Andrew Scott, “Fleabag”
I’ve been receiving threats about my obligation to include Scott, the “sexy priest” who did an unusual dance with Fleabag. No problem; I’d already planned to mention his great humanity as a weary man at yet another crossroad.
Barnett was calm as the guy going through the same rigors as Lyonne’s character, complete with an undercurrent of pathology as he suppressed his self-esteem and pride. Carrigan killed as Chechan gangster Noho Hank, Braugher has perfected his perfectionist character, and White continued to shine as a young man in the middle of a seasons-long transformation. And Simons? The guy has stood out in a cast filled with brilliance for years now.
I’d also consider: Alan Arkin, so effectively grumpy on “The Kominsky Method.”
“Escape at Dannemora,” Showtime
“Sharp Objects,” HBO
“A Very English Scandal,” Amazon
“When They See Us,” Netflix
This category has gotten remarkably competitive in this decade, and no less so this year. Four of my choices are true stories adapted with an eye for character depth and context — the acutely psychological “Escape,” the comically human “Scandal,” the horror-filled “Chernobyl,” and the nightmarish “When They See Us.”
And two are strong literary adaptations — “Sharp Objects,” about wounded daughters, and “Catch-22,” about wounds and war. I’m not sure a voter could go wrong here.
I’d also consider: “Fosse/Verdon,” FX’s psychodramatic look at a troubled creative relationship.
LEAD ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Amy Adams, “Sharp Objects”
Patricia Arquette, “Escape at Dannemora”
Isabelle Huppert, “The Romanoffs: House of Special Purpose”
Olivia Cooke, “Vanity Fair”
Michelle Williams, “Fosse/Verdon”
Marthe Keller, “The Romanoffs: The Violet Hour”
Ultimately, I was disappointed by Amazon’s anthology series “The Romanoffs,” Matthew Weiner’s followup to “Mad Men.” But two performances, by Huppert and Keller, elevated their respective episodes. As Becky Sharpe, a woman scheming to improve her station, Cooke was compelling. Arquette and Adams went there and back, and Williams managed to perfectly balance the smiles with the pain.
LEAD ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Christopher Abbott, “Catch-22”
Benicio del Toro, “Escape at Dannemora”
Hugh Grant, “A Very English Scandal”
Sam Rockwell, “Fosse/Verdon”
Jared Harris, “Chernobyl”
Mahershala Ali, “True Detective”
Abbott brought heart, del Toro brought deep creepiness, and Rockwell brought torment. Harris was inner-directed pain, Grant was outer-directed pain, and Ali was both, as a man at three critical points in his life.