The 2016 Emmy Nominations are out, and while the list isn’t without disappointments — no performers from Orange is the New Black were nominated, Girls didn’t get any love despite a stellar fifth season, and ugh already with the love for Game of Thrones and Modern Family — overall, the nominations reflect the embarrassment of riches that is the television industry in 2016.You’ve got until the ceremony on Sunday, September 18 to catch up on all this good stuff, and to help narrow your focus, we’ve compiled a (very biased) list of the 20 most deserving nominations.
Matthew Rhys (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama, The Americans)
Finally. Finally. Rhys has always been excellent as tortured Russian spy Philip Jennings (as is his co-star and now wife, Keri Russell, also nominated), but the show’s fourth season cemented the Welsh actor as one of the strongest, most nuanced performers working in TV today.
black-ish (Comedy Series)
Not because it’s a network comedy created by a black man with a nearly all-black cast (that’s good, too!), but because it’s line-for-line one of the funniest shows at a time when comedy on TV is dominating drama.
Courtney B. Vance (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, The People vs. O.J. Simpson)
As the bombastic Johnnie Cochran, Vance took a character who would be — and has been — very easy to caricature and made him a living, breathing, and sympathetic person.
Sterling K. Brown (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, The People vs. O.J. Simpson)
Brown’s character, prosecutor Chris Darden, was in many ways the lynchpin of this excellent series, a man caught between two worlds and scorned by both. Brown played the anger, frustration, and sorrow of that conflict beautifully.
Sarah Paulson (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, The People vs. O.J. Simpson)
The performance that made everyone feel guilty about making fun of Marcia Clark’s goddamn hair for the past 20 years.
Laurie Metcalf (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Getting On; Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, Horace and Pete)
Laurie Metcalf gave the performance of the year on Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete — seriously, just watch it; words aren’t enough — and also managed to fit in another season of cringe-inducing hilarity as geriatric doctor Jenna James on Getting On. (And she was also nominated for a third Emmy, for a guest spot on The Big Bang Theory that I must cop to not having seen.)
Niecy Nash (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, Getting On)
Getting On may look like a cold, bleak show, but if you look closely it radiates warmth. As Didi Ortley, a nurse in the geriatric ward in which the show is set, Nash is the dark comedy’s beating heart.
Louie Anderson (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, Baskets)
It’s not every day you see a character in drag on TV, let alone a subtle one. Anderson’s work on this series has been rightly lauded as one of the most understated, complex, and vulnerable performances of the year.
Judith Light (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, Transparent)
How many actors pushing 70 would agree to a scene in which their transgender ex-husband finger-bangs them in the bathtub? Not only that, but together with her co-star, Jeffery Tambor (also nominated), the fearless Judith Light even made it look hot.
Constance Zimmer (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, UnREAL)
It’s rather appropriate that this longtime working actress has finally been nominated for her first Emmy for playing a character, Quinn King, who’s also a TV veteran — a job that’s left her more than a little jaded and disillusioned. Zimmer expertly plays the bitterness of losing hard-earned opportunities to whiny man-babies without sacrificing vulnerability.
The Knick (Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, Steven Soderbergh)
This one’s a bit of a “duh,” but c’mon — the directing on this series is just such a treat for the eyes, even if you don’t have a degree in film studies. Soderbergh directed all twenty episodes of the two-season show, a remarkable feat of stamina and organizational skill. Soderbergh made what could have a been a compelling enough series about old-timey doctors into a visually scrumptious feast.
Outlander (Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period Program)
Those Paris scenes, tho!
Lemonade (Outstanding Production Design for a Variety, Nonfiction, Event, or Award Special)
I had a lot of friends who snarked about this album but whom I suspected did not actually watch the film version. They’re missing out, because aside from the catchy-as-hell tunes and the political and social resonances of Lemonade, it was absolutely, bone-chillingly, hauntingly beautiful to look at. Beyoncé may not have been personally responsible for the production design, but the woman can put together a team.
Anthony Mendez (Outstanding Narrator, Jane the Virgin)
Talk about an outstanding narrator! Mendez’s cheeky, ironic, meta-narration on Jane the Virgin is the glue that holds this delightfully chaotic show together.
Veep (Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series)
Orange is the New Black (Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series)
Orange is the New Black is home to one of the best ensembles on TV. The show is full of veteran actors playing unexpected roles (Lori Petty, Kate Mulgrew) and a whole whack of previously unknown performers — like Emmy-winning Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Selenis Leyva, and Yael Stone — who have done eye-opening work.
The People vs. O.J. Simpson (Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie or Special)
Second only to Game of Thrones in nominations this year (it earned 22 to GoT’s 23), The People vs. O.J. Simpson was so staggeringly well cast I have to keep reminding myself that these are actors playing real people.
Roots (Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie or Special)
Roots cannot have been an easy job for the players. I can’t imagine it’s any actor’s dream to re-enact the experience of slavery, but a cast of mostly under-the-radar actors — including Babs Olusanmokun, Regé-Jean Page, Malachi Kirby, and the wonderful (if better-known) Anika Noni Rose — gave tender, unflinching performances that brought this horrific period in history to life for a new generation of viewer.
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series)
No other TV show — let alone late-night show — has managed to speak so urgently about the 2016 election campaign, and with such satisfyingly blustering rage, than TBS’s Full Frontal. The writing staff deserves this nomination, not just for the show itself but the aggressive Twitter campaign they’ve launched against the political insanity that’s coming to define this very strange year. Full Frontal is the show we didn’t know we needed this year.
Empire (Outstanding Costumes for a Contemporary Series, Limited Series or Movie)