Each year there are a few programs and performers that sit atop the predictions’ list at the Emmys, and this year, even with incumbent comedy champ “Veep” sitting out, that’s no different (see: “The Handmaid’s Tale” in the drama races). However, predictions are not perfect, and there are a number of underrated nominees that could take the trophy Sept. 17 if the Academy voters want to prove they aren’t so predictable. They did it in the nomination-voting round, after all, honoring veteran comedy king Ted Danson for the first time in over two decades, and Sandra Oh, the first actress of Asian descent to see recognition in the lead drama actress category.
Here, Variety’s staff makes a case for some of those nominees.
Given its love for slow, simmering storytelling, it’s not entirely surprising that “The Americans” has only been nominated for drama series twice. But it was nonetheless one of TV’s best shows with stellar performances across the board, and its final season was a masterclass in how to end a story — or, more accurately, many stories — in a way that is both genuinely surprising and completely satisfying.
— Caroline Framke
The window for “Silicon Valley” to seize a best comedy Emmy has likely come and gone. But in season five, “Silicon Valley” proved that the formula that has sustained it for so long holds up and also allowed its characters a win with their new PiperNet product at the end of the season. They broke their perpetual-loser cycle and the show deserves to, too.
— Daniel Holloway
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Over six seasons, Rhys deftly made us fall hard for Philip Jennings. By that climactic finale scene in the garage, Rhys marshaled every ounce of goodwill that his line dancing-loving, EST-attending Philip had with the audience to sell the confession that allowed him to whisk his fractured family to safety (sort of). Emmy voters should cap this career-making performance with a win.
— Cynthia Littleton
Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”
Oh’s tenure on “Grey’s Anatomy” proved she could find the heart beneath the most steely of exteriors. With “Killing Eve,” she proved that she could be wickedly funny, too. The thriller’s cat-and-mouse game would not have worked with lesser actors one-upping each other throughout that deliciously devilish chase. Eve is a character rarely seen on TV, and Oh was more than up to the challenge.
— Debra Birnbaum
Ted Danson, “The Good Place”
Danson is back in the comedy race for the first time since 1993, but he hasn’t missed a step. In his role as the secret demon Michael on NBC’s afterlife series, he mastered the subtlety of manipulation and a cunning cackle. Aided by Danson’s inherent charm, the character was even better when exposing unexpected vulnerabilities as he found his own humanity in season two.
— Danielle Turchiano
Issa Rae, “Insecure”
At work, Rae’s “Insecure” character is confidently attentive; dealing with men, she strives to be coolly approachable. When alone, though, she exhales, relieved to be done with the ruse but disappointed, a bit, at being her neurotic, unsteady old self again. It’s a sharp performance, a wittily played reminder of how the social-media era prompts us all to perform a heightened, happier version of life.
— Daniel D’Addario
Supporting Comedy Actor
Kenan Thompson, “Saturday Night Live”
Thompson has been among the most consistently funny cast members of “Saturday Night Live” not only in his 15 years on the show, but also in its entire history. Yet this marks Thompson’s first acting nom, after keeping audiences rolling with such sketches as “What’s Up With That?” and impressions of pop culture figures including Steve Harvey and LaVar Ball.
— Joe Otterson