Emmy Awards: 18 Underappreciated Shows That Deserve a Vote

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Courtesy of Starz/HBO/Lifetime/NBC

Emmy Awards voting has never been more complicated, with more series than ever vying for those coveted few slots in 2016. And while the usual suspects will naturally get attention, it’s those hidden gems that tend to get buried in the stacks of “For Your Consideration” mailers. To cut through the clutter, Variety’s TV team has selected a few favorites that we think deserve your vote.

“Baskets,” FX

Starring Zach Galifianakis as “non-identical” twins Chip and Dale, Louie Anderson as their Costco obsessed mother, Christine, and 47-year-old acting novice Martha Kelly as the romantic lead, Martha, FX’s “Baskets” is not like any other comedy, or show, on television. The funny-sad serialized storytelling of showrunner Jonathan Krisel takes all of these characters on unexpected journeys full of emotional discoveries, pratfalls, bittersweet self-reflection and fart jokes. It’s completely silly, completely serious and completely wonderful. — Geoff Berkshire

“Blunt Talk,” Starz

A comedy that blends elements of “Network” and P.D. Wodehouse’s Jeeves novels is a good idea, if not one that’s easy to execute. But in the hands of “Bored to Death” creator Jonathan Ames, and with Patrick Stewart starring as the emotionally unhinged, chemically dependent newsman Walter Blunt, the Starz series manages to be both darker and funnier than almost anything else that Emmy voters will watch this season. — Daniel Holloway

“Bob’s Burgers,” Fox

If Emmy voters ever get over their anti-animation bias, they first need to give “The Simpsons” a best comedy award for all those years of snubs. Then they need to give one to “Bob’s Burgers” for being TV’s best-written family comedy, something it’s been since it premiered five years ago and still is today. — Daniel Holloway

“BoJack Horseman,” Netflix

The animated original from the streaming platform is one of the hardest sells to a new viewer in the business—a man who is also a horse, a cat voiced by Amy Sedaris, and Hollywood that goes by “Hollywoo,” after someone knocked over the “D” and they never bothered to get it fixed. Showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg and production designer Lisa Hanawalt have created a Technicolor dreamscape of the industry that is both surreally beautiful and existentially terrifying. This past second season elevated the comedy to one of the more emotionally moving shows on TV, anchored by vocal performances by Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Sedaris. — Sonia Saraiya

“Carmichael Show,” NBC

This sitcom, named after star and co-creator Jerrod Carmichael, is deceptively brilliant. At first, with its homey multi-cam set and family-oriented humor, “The Carmichael Show” feels like a sitcom you could fall asleep to. But the conversations within will make you sit up straight — politics, race, and culture clash, discussed with incredible, refreshing candor. Comedy veterans Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier are at the top of their game as Jerrod’s completely ridiculous and completely recognizable parents. — Sonia Saraiya

Catastrophe,” Amazon

It’s the best unromantic comedy on TV. No, there’s nothing glamorous about the marriage between Rob and Sharon, whose romance dates back to an ill-fated one-night stand. They don’t gloss over the complicated messiness of their lives, and that, frankly, is what makes it so brilliant. They fight, they bicker — and his mother is played by Carrie Fisher. Enough said. The only thing wrong with “Catastrophe” is that there are simply not enough episodes. — Debra Birnbaum

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” The CW

Aside from being blisteringly creative and laugh-out-loud funny (not always the case with TV “comedies”), this incisive musical confection also ventures where many shows fear to tread in its unflinching examination of mental illness, body image and insecurity. Rachel Bloom’s titular protagonist, Rebecca Bunch, is often unlikable, selfish and self-destructive — a feminist antihero whose foibles make her achingly relatable and infinitely more loveable in a TV landscape which is still all too eager to put female characters in neat little boxes. Life is messy, and there’s no character messier – or more real – than Rebecca; just listen to her sing self-loathing power ballad “You Stupid Bitch” if you need further proof. — Laura Prudom

“Deutschland 83,” Sundance

Just when it seemed impossible to put a fresh spin on the Cold War thriller genre, “Deutschland 83” arrived last summer to tell the story from the POV of an earnest East German soldier. The series offers a chilling depiction of how close the world was enduring a nuclear skirmish among superpowers in the early 1980s, based on nothing more than misinformation and misperceptions on both sides. Jonas Nay delivers a star-making performance as a new Stasi recruit who struggles to do the right thing after he goes undercover on the other side of the Berlin Wall. — Cynthia Littleton

“The Goldbergs,” ABC

This retro-com set in “1980-something” spent its third season turning a potential catastrophe into new triumph. Sean Giambrone, the young actor who plays a prepubescent Adam Goldberg, is clearly getting older. Rather than try to force the kid to stay stuck in a timeless stage a la Steve Urkel, producers used his growth spurt to their advantage, telling new coming-of-age stories that invoked such old icons as “Risky Business” and Milli Vanilli that, rather than being germane to a particular decade, are quite timeless. — Brian Steinberg

Gotham,” Fox

Producers took a hot mess of characters and put them on a boil in this dark drama’s second season, moving away from the kooky case-of-the-week plots that hindered the first season and playing up instead a serialized story. “Gotham” served up more of Robin Lord Taylor as Penguin, while giving comic-book casuals and die-hards a like a peek at lesser-known villains like Dr. Hugo Strange. Mr. Freeze, Cornelius Stirk and, most notably, James Frain as the unstoppable Theo Galavan. Lead Ben McKenzie showed new gravitas as the moody antics of “Gotham” and a surplus of baddies made viewers crave even more the first appearance of Bruce Wayne as Batman. — Brian Steinberg

“Happy Valley,” Netflix

If you haven’t seen “Happy Valley,” your next engrossing binge awaits you. Sarah Lancashire is spectacular, haunting and yet down-to-earth as a cop trying to keep the peace in her small community. Her efforts to muddle through problems big and small, and to keep her broken family from spinning into chaos, are unfailingly engaging. “Happy Valley’s” six-episode seasons pack a lot into their short runs, but every twist and every challenging moment is earned and intelligently rendered. This U.K. import is one the best dramas around, and it’s right there on Netflix. What are you waiting for? — Maureen Ryan

Lady Dynamite,” Netflix

Maria Bamford’s sensational star turn on Netflix’s “Lady Dynamite,” created by Pam Brady and “Arrested Development” maestro Mitch Hurwitz, is winning over new fans every day. Just check Twitter, and you’re guaranteed to find the latest endorsement from some superstar of comedy. Packed with the same whip-smart, self-referential, and frequently surreal humor that “Arrested” perfected, and buoyed by Bamford’s revelatory work (Emmy’s comedy actress category may be crowded this year, but it won’t be complete without her), “Lady Dynamite” more than lives up to its name. — Geoff Berkshire

The Leftovers,” HBO

Boldly defying any notion of a sophomore slump, creator Damon Lindelof (along with Tom Perrotta) delivered just the opposite — a dazzling, thought-provoking creative resurgence. By  transplanting the storytelling (and the production) to a new location, a town which mysteriously didn’t suffer any losses during the Departure, he was able to delve even deeper into powerful, resonant themes of loss and catharsis. And it all built up to some of the most talked-about episodes of the season, from the eight-page face-off between Regina King and Carrie Coon, to Justin Theroux’s is-it-or-isn’t-it dream sequence in “International Assassin.” Emmy voters, these are “Leftovers” well worth savoring. — Debra Birnbaum

Outlander,” Starz

Those who dismiss Ron Moore’s genre-blending time-travel drama as a frivolous bodice-ripper do so at their peril; beyond its bloody battles and political intrigue, “Outlander” has quickly established itself as one of the most emotionally honest explorations of human relationships on television today, delving into thorny moral quagmires and exploring the shattering consequences of sexual assault against the captivating backdrop of 18th century Scotland and beyond. Anchored by powerhouse performances from Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies, this historical drama frequently manages to deliver something new. — Laura Prudom

“The Path,” Hulu

The drama revolving around a new-wave religious movement (or cult by any other name) takes a big swing at weighty topics like the nature of faith and the meaning of religious rituals. It also tells a twisty-turny story about some very complicated people, thanks to terrific performances from stars Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy and a strong supporting cast. It would be a shame if Emmy voters didn’t see the light on this thoughtful series. — Cynthia Littleton

Rectify,” Sundance Channel

Last season, no drama was more finely crafted or moving than “Rectify.” This thoughtful saga has done such a spectacular job of deepening its characters and their relationship that every conversation and every difficult silence was fascinating. Compassionate, empathic and even dryly witty at times, “Rectify” is every bit as outstanding as you’ve heard. And if you haven’t heard of it, you should, er, rectify that situation immediately. — Maureen Ryan

UnReal,” Lifetime

The reality category has never recognized “The Bachelor,” but Lifetime’s scripted version of a dating show certainly deserves some Emmy love. The scathing drama put two female anti-heroes at the forefront of television (the fantastically talented Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby), and co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, along with co-creator Marti Noxon, has helmed her first series to become a breakout critical darling of the season. Whether you love or hate reality shows, it’s hard not to love-to-hate the dark reality behind the camera. — Elizabeth Wagmeister

“Younger,” TV Land

Darren Star made 30-somethings sexy with “Sex and the City,” and now he’s done it again with the 40-something crowd. The adorably charming Sutton Foster shines as a single mother posing as a 20-something trying to succeed in the publishing world alongside co-stars Hilary Duff and the hilarious Miriam Shor and Debi Mazar, who never fail to provide perfect one-liners. While “Younger” is based on a lie, the truth is that this comedy is a fresh of breath air in the all-too-crowded TV landscape. — Elizabeth Wagmeister

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  1. Debra Koscierzynski says:

    Outlander has proved itself over and over again. What’s the matter with those people who decide who gets a nomination ? They should all be replaced … Who’s lining their pockets to ignor the phanominal writing , costuming, remarkable actors, etc? I can’t believe this !! Are you people blind ?

  2. too insular and political

  3. Linda says:

    You forgot Bates Motel. That show is so underrated. Talk about emotional charge and amazing performances, you need to see Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore portray Norma and Norman Bates. It is in my opinion, the greatest drama on television now.

    It takes my breath away how year-after-year it escapes Emmy’s attention.

    I have NO reason to watch the Emmys this year.

  4. Another disappointing list! Where are “n.c.i.s.,” “The Walking Dead,” “Wentworth,” and “Thirteen?” Talk about Underappreciated Shows That Deserve a Vote! Mark Harmon has been on the number 1 show in the world and never nominated really makes a mockery of the Emmys.

    • bthomas says:

      N.C.I.S. ????!!! You’ve got to be kidding, the most one-dimensional show ever!!! Wentworth is an amazing show it deserves to be recognized.

  5. Carter says:

    Great list. I watch about half of the shows mentioned. I hope they survive.

  6. T m says:

    The Middle has been overlooked for way too long! Great writing,, great acting!! Luv this show!!!

  7. Teri Morgan says:

    You need to really take a good hard look at Sam Heughan from Outlander as best actor in a drama series. Not only does he bring stellar acting chops with an intensity rarely seen on television, but let’s look at what other actors are being asked to do for their roles.
    Sam has had to learn two languages, learn to ride a horse well, wield a sword well, act in some of the most grueling of locations with all of the weather it brings (Scotland in the middle of Winter, and shoots for up to 11 months at a time), He does his own stunts, and has been asked to deliver performances dealing with some of the most sensitive subjects in society today like (rape, torture, still birth, sex, PTSD and many others) while maintaining a strong Highlander’s accent and being a progressive thinking man of the 18th Century in several not so comfortable costumes.
    It is time that the voters of the academy take into consideration more than just amazing acting (which Sam continues to demonstrate episode after episode,) Please look at what the actor is willing to do and to sacrifice for that role. Those actors are tomorrow’s future in movies and television. (Emmy’s should be based on talent, dedication and commitment to the role.) I truly wonder how many of the other contenders could be as great an actor as Sam is with all these other factors involved in their roles.

  8. robinhelene says:

    For 11 seasons now, Supernatural has been treated like a despised red-headed stepchild who is kept hidden in the attic. No love, no kudos, no awards. Seriously, it’s time this excellent show got the recognition it deserves. Love, Robin

  9. Virginia says:

    Orphan Black deserves a nod. You forget that many of the main female characters are being played by the same person. (And finding out thete are other clones). A story about finding out you’re a clone and all that goes into finding the who, why and how.

  10. Myra says:

    In my opinion penny dreadful also deserves an Emmy
    Its one of the best shows on TV,sadly no one acknowledges it

  11. I tried to get into BoJack and Outlander and just couldn’t make it past the 2nd episodes. The writing just didn’t seem engaging to me. I totally agree with you about Bob’s Burgers but my favorite series of the past year is “Sense 8” on Netflix. I was surprised at how much I liked it. It was fresh, original, engaging, and it looked expensive. Beautifully shot. Can’t wait for season 2.

    Bloodline was great as well.

  12. joyce L bourgeois says:

    Outlander and the incredible actors Sam Heugheson,Catriona Balfe, Tobias Menzies is rivitting, sensual,historical and scotland the place we all want to be……..
    personally i think Outlander is so very good it makes other shows/series look decrepid.
    put these actors & Outlander up against any show hollywood produces and Outlander comes out the winner!!!!

  13. mingyar says:

    younger deserves all the nominations possible

  14. Kate Baird says:

    Outlander deserves nominations for not only the actors, but the directors/producers/writers, as well as the costume designer/set designer. This is an amazingly good show and is overdue to have its quality recognized!

  15. Amber says:

    Bates motel deserves a nod. Freddie Highmore is excellent

  16. Miranda says:

    The Americans yo! And Eva Green’s singular performance in Penny Dreadful.

  17. Bea says:

    Penny Dreadful. That is all.

  18. James says:

    Out of all of them shows I have watched just 2 and I wasn’t impressed. I guess that makes me out of touch.

  19. Name says:

    Variety what is this? Listing shows of the few pilots you watched? Since the other explanation is hiring random housewives as editors’ staff, which is nothing wrong about, yet not what readers expect from this reviewer. Want to become a BigBrother magazine? Hope it’s just some unfortunate misunderstanding.

  20. THE LEFTOVERS was the best show with the best writing and the best acting last season. So obviously it will get nothing… just like THE WIRE, because there were too many good black actors on it.

  21. Maria Foss says:

    You left off “12 Monkeys”! Even if you don’t follow the series, I dare you… I DARE you… not to watch Episode 8 of Season 2 “Lullabye” and not appreciate the quality of its script, acting and overall themes. (I also dare you not to cry!)

  22. NO CONTINUUM, NO CREDIBILITY. End of discussion.

  23. Bill Diamond says:

    The continual snub of ABC’s “The Middle” is a head-scratcher.

  24. initeveryday says:

    The seemingly never ending snub to “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” baffles. It’s brilliantly written and acted. True that it should be watched from Season 1/Episode 1 to fully appreciate but few comedy shows reward long time viewers like this one does.

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