Emmy Underdogs Worthy of Recognition From the TV Academy

Shows and Actors the Emmys should
Courtesy Showtime

Everybody loves an underdog story. Everywhere you look on the small screen, there are unlikely heroes, Cinderella stories and sagas in which the worthy occasionally vanquish powerful and intimidating foes.

Emmy voters aren’t a monolith, of course, but as a body, at times they can serve as an obstacle to progress. Certain shows and actors who may well be worthy of recognition often continue to be nominated long after they should have ceded their slots to newcomers and to less-hyped performers and programs.

There’s little malice in many of these oversights; it’s a sad truth of the TV industry that those making the shows have precious little time to see everything worthy of consideration, especially as the number of scripted programs has exploded in recent years. Those working long days on set, in executive suites and in production offices don’t have a lot of time to spare for that new niche show or the drama that took a couple seasons to find itself. Even critics find it challenging to keep up, and the secret is, we can’t.

That said, critics do see most of what comes down the pike, and it grieves many of us when some of the best work being done in television is ignored by those who nominate actors and programs for Emmys.

It doesn’t have to be this way: Kyle Chandler won an Emmy for his portrayal of Coach Eric Taylor after the show’s final season aired. Though “Mad Men” was recognized as a series by the TV Academy, year after year, its actors failed to win Emmys, which was an astounding state of affairs, given the top-notch caliber of the cast. However, like Chandler, Jon Hamm picked up an acting award a few months after his show went off the air, and TV fans everywhere were heartened by the long-overdue recognition of the actor’s steadily spectacular work.

In that spirit, here a few names to remember as Emmy season heats up. It’s not too late to recognize these shows and performers, all of whom are the top of their respective games.

“The Americans” has been at or near the top of almost every critic’s year-end best-of-TV list for a couple of years now, for good reason. The moody, atmospheric drama is one of TV’s finest character studies, and it compassionately dissects the divided personal and political loyalties that bedevil a married couple whose bland suburban lives hide their true identities as Soviet spies. The FX show provides suspenseful thrills and exciting cat-and-mouse games as it delves ever deeper into the characters’ impossible dilemmas, and Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys do exceptional work as the core couple, whose love for each other may end up putting their family at grave risk. It’s unlikely to expect a nomination for the show, not when roster of worthy TV dramas deep and grows daily, but I’ll never stop shouting from the rooftops that Russell and Rhys deserve Emmy nominations for their perceptive, meticulous and deeply engaging work.

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Genre shows not named “Game of Thrones” have a tough time getting the attention of Emmy voters, so I don’t expect “Penny Dreadful” to be nominated in the Best Drama category. What would be wonderful is if voters recognized Eva Green’s startling star turn as the Showtime drama’s core character, Vanessa Ives. Though the show’s entire cast is excellent, creator John Logan calls Green his “muse,” and it’s easy to see why. Green is able to deliver a bone-chilling rendition of a woman possessed by the devil in one scene and a mood of resigned, poignant melancholy in another; she toggles between the show’s high melodrama and its subtle character moments with astonishing ease. It’s an incendiary and highly adaptable performance, and Green never merely coasts on her innate charisma. She commits to her character with bold ferocity, and yet she never goes over the top.

Finally, “Jane the Virgin” has consistently delivered two utterly charming and masterfully constructed seasons; it’s time for the Academy to recognize its greatness. The CW comedy mixes telenovela, melodrama, family drama and light comedy in ways that impress anew every week, and it has only gotten stronger and more sure of itself over time. Not only is the show itself worthy of a Best Comedy nod, star Gina Rodriguez deserves all the praise that has been heaped on her for her exceptionally deft and winning performance as the title character. Put simply, she’s a wonder. The rest of the cast is filled with terrific actors as well, but Jaime Camil, who plays Jane’s actor father, Rogelio de la Vega, is worthy of special notice. Camil delivers a deliciously hilarious portrait of a self-involved actor who is nevertheless a sweet, kind, well-intentioned father and friend. Rogelio may be a little ridiculous, but Camil turns what could be a caricature into a warm, believable human being. For the Academy voters to recognize Camil, Rodriguez and the show itself would be a great twist for a show that thrives on them. 

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  1. ribeastie says:

    Eva Green’s performance in general (but especially in A Blade of Grass) has got to be one of the best dramatic performances I have ever seen. It was worthy of an Oscar, let alone an Emmy! I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen as I sat there watching her! Rory Kinnear’s performance was also riveting. It’s crime Eva Green wasn’t recognized by the Emmy’s but I am sure we will all be seeing a lot more of her now.

  2. Stergios says:

    It truly deserves to be considered as flat-out criminal if Eva Green’s awe-inspiring performance as Vanessa Ives in Penny Dreadful is about to be ignored once again. To say she’s worthy not only of being nominated but actually win that award is actually an understatement. I’m beyond happy to see so much praise from Variety for her phenomenal work and reading all those comments and articles constantly since the first episode of the first season about her unique portrayal of such a richly complex character. Vanessa’s part is so ridiculously demanding that any other actress, regardless of how accomplished she is, would have a hard time but the ease with which Eva explores all of her contradictions is just fascinating to watch. Seriously I don’t think I’ve ever seen in my entire life a better female performance in a TV series and God, I’ve seen so damn many series in my life thus far. This is a performance for the ages, one that deserves to sweep every single award possible.

    • sherri w says:

      Eva Green and Rory Kinnear should both be nominated for the Blade of Grass episode alone. Two people in a padded room, boy did they put on an acting clinic. I cried watching that. Eva is the TRUTH.

      • Stergios says:

        She really is. And for sure both her and Rory Kinnear gave their absolute all in A Blade of Grass. Both should be nominated for Emmys and don’t even get me started on Billie Piper’s mesmerizing work.

  3. Not that I disagree about Penny Dreadful. Eva Green, Rory Kinnear and the rest of the cast deserve all the Emmys and more!

    However, I’m sad that an underdog article doesn’t mention Orphan Black, even if Emmys finally gave Tatiana Maslany a nod last year.

  4. thosmoody says:

    Eva Green comments are dead on!!!

  5. Hey says:

    The Americans deserves every award that exists. It’s ridiculous that they haven’t gotten the credit they deserve. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen!!

  6. dee says:

    I love Outlander and its main actors, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies. They are under-rated and I hope one day they will be recognized.

  7. lilakid says:

    Gotham will never get nominated, yet, it is like watching a movie each week, the casting is excellent. Person of Interest has been a great trip, too.

  8. Andrew says:

    Yes, The Americans deserves Emmy noms for both of its leads (and for best drama as well).

  9. Bill Weeden says:

    Russell and Rhys! Yes! Bitvwhatvabout Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore of “Bates Motel”? Genre shows have seldom been better acted.

  10. These are all accurate! Let’s not forget the shows that are on streaming media that are delivering some of the best acting and writing around, such as “Grace and Frankie” (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are extraordinary)! And Kyle Chandler should win again for “Bloodlines”. “Jane the Virgin” is one of my favorite shows!!!

  11. robinhelene says:

    Speaking of CW genre shows, SUPERNATURAL has been overlooked for accolades in every category for 11 seasons. Where are their Emmy awards? Love, Robin

  12. Crowbane says:

    The rich performance put forth by Eva Green in Penny Dreadful stands up as every bit as good as Viola Davis’ work in How to Get Away With Murder and Davis got the win. It’s about time she got recognition for the brave and brilliant work she has done on the show so far.

  13. Frank Visage says:

    Eve Green is amazing. But any awards show recognizing excellence in acting without including Tatiana Maslany is a joke.

  14. tvlover44 says:

    i totally agree with your suggestions, mo – these shows and actors are also some of my very favorites! i would just add rachel bloom and ‘crazy ex-girlfriend’ to the list – that show just got better and better as it went along and ended up being my favorite new series of the 2015-2016 season. brilliant, clever songs and that combination of humor and pathos that hits my sweet spot. bloom’s golden globe was well-deserved.

    and does it go without saying that sarah paulson and sterling k. brown definitely deserve emmys for their incandescent and moving performances in ‘american crime story: the people vs. o.j.’? both were simply mesmerizing.

  15. Shae says:

    YES! to Penny Dreadful! Last week’s episode with Vanessa in the insane asylum was worthy all on it’s own! Amazing acting for both actors! The American’s are excellent too, though I have to admit to not seeing Jane the Virgin. vacuousewastrel you are so so right about Michael Emerson too! Too bad common people can’t vote for these awards, I have a feeling the winners would come out differently in some cases.

  16. A nomination for Michael Emerson on Person of Interest would not be undeserved. He’s always been great in a very understated but effective way, but last night’s episode gave him a lot more to do than usual – anger, grief, despair, confusion, fear, indecision, guilt, arrogance, humility, and more, but all done very low-key. Two big bookending monologues. A great demonstration of his ability to go from loveable to chillingly terrifying in a heartbeat, with only the slightest change in his voice. And all more remarkable when you think how much of his dialogue is delivered solo, to people who aren’t physically n the room to play off.

    I’d probably still give the award to Rhys. But I think a nomination at least would be fair to Emerson, as it’s a better performance than plenty that have been nominated in recent years. I’d certainly take him over anyone on GOT, for instance, as much as I enjoy that show.

  17. YES to all of your suggestions (well, I can’t comment on Russell and Rhys because I haven’t watched The Americans yet (I will, I’m just more in a comedy space right now). Jaime Camil is absolute perfection in a show with a lot of perfectly cast characters.

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