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Emmy Underdogs Worthy of Recognition From the TV Academy

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.

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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