×

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. 

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Ballers HBO

    'Ballers' to End After Season 5 on HBO

    “Ballers” is coming to an end after five seasons on HBO. Star and executive producer Dwayne Johnson confirmed the news via an emotional Instagram video. “My heart is full of gratitude to all of you for rocking with us every season. You made us HBO’s highest rated comedy for years and most importantly, you helped [...]

  • Sublime Primetime

    How Emmy-Nominated Writers’ Rooms Keep Politics in Mind

    In a world filled with elections, social movements and national tragedies, how open should the doors of a writers’ room actually be? For some of this year’s Emmy-nominated shows, those doors are wide open. Before the 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on Sept. 22, the Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild Foundation, [...]

  • Disney Villains Series 'Book of Enchantment'

    'Book of Enchantment' Series Based on Iconic Disney Villains Shelved at Disney Plus

    Disney Plus has decided to not move forward with “Book of Enchantment,” a series based on some of Disney’s most iconic villains, Variety has learned from sources. The news comes the day before Disney is set to unveil its streaming service at the biannual D23 convention in Anaheim. The prospective project was based on the [...]

  • ITV STUDIOS PRESENTS VERAFILM 2Pictured: BRENDA

    Brenda Blethyn to Star in New ITV Sitcom 'Kate and Kolo'

    Oscar-nominated Brenda Blethyn is set to star in the new sitcom “Kate and Kolo” for ITV, the U.K. broadcaster announced at the Edinburgh TV Festival. Blethyn takes on the title role of Kate in the comedy alongside theater and film actor Jimmy Akingbola as Kolo. Blethyn is a popular star with ITV audiences after having [...]

  • Sean Spicer Emmys

    Sean Spicer's Casting Explained? Red States Love 'Dancing With the Stars'

    ABC faced backlash this week after casting former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on “Dancing with the Stars.” But that outrage might actually spice up the dancing competition’s dwindling ratings — particularly in Trump Country. “Dancing with the Stars” has faced a relatively alarming decline in ratings over the past two cycles, falling 32% [...]

  • Peppa Pig

    Hasbro Acquires Entertainment One in $4 Billion All-Cash Deal

    Toymaker Hasbro is acquiring studio Entertainment One in an all-cash transaction valued at $4 billion, bringing My Little Pony and Nerf under the same umbrella as “Peppa Pig” and “PJ Masks” and furthering Hasbro’s growth goals in the infant and preschool categories. Hasbro aims to expand its operations in film and TV. Entertainment One’s production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content