I love television right now. There’s so much great stuff on, from network to cable to streaming that doing an Emmy wishlist is both fun and frustrating.. The kind of stuff I watch never gets nominated so this is my way to show some love to what I think is some of the best work in television.
So without further ado…
Outstanding Drama Series
- All American
- Black Lightning
- David Makes Man
- The Good Fight
- Queen Sugar
- This Is Us
All American, Black Lightning, and David Makes Man are redefining blackness on television in ways that are deeply moving and fascinating, which means that the world largely ignores them for flashier, trendier Black shows. Power closed out a stellar run as the most popular show in Black America, Queen Sugar continues to deepen the characters and widen the aperture on the world of the show, and This Is Us manages to astound deep into its run. Other than The Good Fight, Succession and This Is Us, none of these brilliant shows has a chance at a nomination. This is both an indictment of the Emmys itself and a recognition of just how many great shows are out there.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
- Penn Badgely, You
- Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
- Daniel Ezra, All American
- Omari Hardwick, Power
- Justin Hartley, This Is Us
- Akili McDowell, David Makes Man
- Billy Porter, Pose
- Jeremy Strong, Succession
For me, this is the strongest category on my list. I love these performances so much. Penn Badgely and Omari Hardwick manage to be charming and never let us lose sight of how awful their characters are – a difficult, tricky balance. Sterling K. Brown continues to make us love Randall even as we learn that he’s not as perfect as we had thought. Meanwhile, Justin Hartley has stepped up to be – along with Mandy Moore – the most consistently revelatory performer on This Is Us. Jeremy Strong, Daniel Ezra and Akili McDowell are doing some of the most open-hearted, vulnerable work on television. McDowell, in particular, is playing three versions of David in an astonishingly fluid way that is truly remarkable.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
- Christine Baranski, The Good Fight
- Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars
- Merle Dandridge, Greenleaf
- Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Queen Sugar
- Mandy Moore, This Is Us
- Naturi Naughton, Power
- MJ Rodriguez, Pose
- Zendaya, Euphoria
Zendaya is brilliant and the only reason to watch Euphoria, a deeply stupid and mean-spirited show that critics like presumably to seem hipper than they are. Mandy Moore, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and Naturi Naughton have been phenomenal from day one and manage to be surprising and wondrous every single time they are on screen. Merle Dandridge and Christine Baranski have tricky jobs as the center of shows that walk a tonal tightrope that astounds, Kristen Bell can play Veronica Mars in her sleep and yet she still manages to be delightfully surprising in the role, and MJ Rodriguez is the heart and soul of Pose, a show that was messily ambitious in its second season.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
- Jordan Bolger, David Makes Man
- Dyllón Burnside, Pose
- Trai Byers, Empire
- Jordan Calloway, Black Lightning
- Enrico Colantoni, Veronica Mars
- Kieran Culkin, Succession
- Nathaniel Logan McIntyre, David Makes Man
- Carlos Valdes, The Flash
Carlos Valdes is still a beautiful open heart that makes watching these weaker seasons of The Flash worthwhile – no small task. Trai Byers has been the best thing about Empire since its disastrous second season (give or take a scene-stealing revelatory Phylicia Rashad) and his tour-de-force performance this winter was easily the most compelling element of the show’s final season. Jordan Calloway is similarly doing tremendous work playing two roles beautifully on Black Lightning, Dyllón Burnside was so moving at the center of the most important storyline of Pose’s second season, Jordan Bolger took the archetype of the sensitive teen drug dealer and made it something wholly new, and Nathaniel Logan McIntyre did wonders as an abused boy who said more with a look and posture than most actors do with line readings. Enrico Colantoni has always been the heart of Veronica Mars and that was never more true in the latest season. Kieran Culkin will get a nomination (and could even win) and it will be well-deserved.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
- Bre-Z, All-American
- Cush Jumbo, The Good Fight
- Chyler Leigh, Supergirl
- Tina Lifford, Queen Sugar
- China Anne McClain, Black Lightning
- Indya Moore, Pose
- Sarah Snook, Succession
- Susan Kelechi Watson, This Is Us
Indya Moore is a star. You can’t turn away from Angel and her storyline in Season 2 damn near broke me. Cush Jumbo, Chyler Leigh, and Susan Kelechi Watson are the epitome of character actors who make everyone around them better. Their shows would not work without them. Sarah Snook and Bre-Z are arguably lead actors on their respective shows, but no matter how you categorize them they are amazing. China Anne McClain has been the most fun actor to watch on Black Lightning from day one managing to avoid all of the traps most young actors fall into when playing moody, insolent teens. Tina Lifford did wondrous work this past season as she dealt with a past that came back to haunt her.
Outstanding Comedy Series
- Dear White People
- The Good Place
- Jane the Virgin
- Never Have I Ever
- On My Block
- Sex Education
Insecure went from a buzzy show of the zeitgeist to a masterwork of emotional depth and insight in its most recent season. Sex Education, Never Have I Ever, and On My Block remind me just how awful high school was – and that’s the best compliment I can pay them. On My Block, in particular, is a lovely show with magical realist elements and a dynamite cast with not a single weak link. Dear White People’s satire is always a welcome presence and Grown-ish continues to blossom as it smartly moves more solidly into an ensemble show. The Good Place and Jane the Virgin ended perfect shows with lovely final seasons (which is why they are my number 1 and 2 shows of the 2010s).
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
- Justin Baldoni, Jane The Virgin
- Asa Butterfield, Sex Education
- Ted Danson, The Good Place
- John Goodman, The Conners
- DeRon Horton, Dear White People
- Trevor Jackson, Grown-ish
I remain irritated that Justin Baldoni and DeRon Horton have never even been part of an Emmy conversation, let alone nominated. Horton, in particular, is doing some of the most complex character work of anyone on television. Trevor Jackson is the rare matinee idol type who is at his best playing his beauty as incidental. He’s a goofy, befuddled mess on Grown-ish and it’s a delight. John Goodman is a legend holding The Conners together through sheer force of will and talent, Ted Danson has never been better than he is in The Good Place, and few actors can make bumbling insecurity as toxic (and yet compelling) as Asa Butterfield.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
- Kristen Bell, The Good Place
- Sierra Capri, On My Block
- Sarah Gilbert, The Conners
- Justina Machado, One Day at a Time
- Issa Rae, Insecure
- Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Never Have I Ever
- Gina Rodriguez, Jane The Virgin
- Tracee Ellis Ross. Black-ish
Issa Rae leveled up as a comic actor in Insecure’s latest season, and she did it without having her frequent scene partner, Yvonne Orji. Sierra Capri and Maitreyi Ramakrisnan are newbies who anchor their shows like pros. Kristen Bell, Gina Rodriguez, and Tracee Ellis Ross are national treasures who make everything look easier than it is. Sarah Gilbert’s Darlene has always been the most interesting character Roseanne created and it’s almost entirely due to Gilbert’s work. And Justina Machado has been amazing for damn near 20 years in everything from one episode of Angel to recurring roles on shows as diverse as Six Feet Under and Jane the Virgin, gets the lead role of a lifetime and Emmys still ignore her. It’s a damn crime!
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
- Jaime Camil, Jane the Virgin
- Ncuti Gatwa, Sex Education
- Brett Gray, On My Block
- William Jackson Harper, The Good Place
- Manny Jacinto, The Good Place
- Marcus Scribner, Black-ish
Marcus Scribner, Brett Gray, and Jamie Camil are classic scene stealers who can make playing broad seem anything but. William Jackson Harper is both straight man and the most insanely comic weirdo on The Good Place. Manny Jacinto plays dumb both effectively and charmingly, which is among the hardest things to do. And I’m never not utterly moved by Ncuti Gatwa, who can play comedy and pathos with the best of ‘em.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
- Halle Bailey, Grown-ish
- D’arcy Carden, The Good Place
- Jessica Maria Garcia, On My Block
- Jameela Jamil, The Good Place
- Marsai Martin, Black-ish
- Rita Moreno, One Day at a Time
- Yvonne Orji, Insecure
Halle Bailey is, hands down, the best thing about Grown-ish. She’s basically a grown-up Diane Johnson, but Bailey plays it with a flippancy that is all her own. Speaking of which, Marsai Martin is finding new colors to Diane as she ages that both deepen and broaden who we know her to be. Yvonne Orji leaned in to all of Molly’s worst qualities and yet we still understand and empathize with her. Rita Moreno and Jessica Maria Garcia steal scenes, chew scenery, and yet we understand exactly what drives them. D’arcy Carden deservedly gets a lot of love for her work on The Good Place, but it’s Jameela Jamil who’s the show’s secret weapon. Her arc over the show’s four seasons was the most fully realized and heartwarming.
Outstanding Performance by a Guest Actor/Actress in a Drama Series/Comedy Series
- Wayne Brady, Black Lightning
- Laurence Fishburne, Black-ish
- David Alan Grier, Queen Sugar
- Angelica Ross, Pose
- Natasha Rothwell, Insecure
- Maya Rudolph, The Good Place
- Kendrick Sampson, Insecure
I combined guest performances because there really are only a handful that stood out for me. As Gravedigger on Black Lightning, Wayne Brady continues to show that he’s so much more than we ever thought he was. Ditto David Alan Grier who played sublimated menace wonderfully. Natasha Rothwell, Laurence Fishburne, and Maya Rudolph play specific roles on their respective shows, but they manage to suggest a whole life outside of that role that makes their presence that much more powerful. Angelica Ross was mostly wasted on Pose, but her farewell episode was a wonderful showcase for why she should have stuck around longer. Being the other guy who is arguably the better man but likely will not win out is really hard to play. Kendrick Sampson never looks like a chump or a fool and makes a good case for why Lawrence shouldn’t be endgame.
A few final thoughts on some other categories where I just don’t watch enough content to do full lists:
Limited Series Categories
Watchmen is going to win everything it’s up for in the Limited Series Categories — and it should because it’s the most ambitious and successfully realized show in every way of the year. But it would be wrong for me to not show some specific love to Yahya Abdul-Mateen for his work on the show. He should also get nominated for his supporting role in the buzziest Black Mirror episode, Striking Vipers.
Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington will be nominated for Little Fires Everywhere and that’s all good because they are always terrific performers. But Megan Stott and Lexi Underwood were the revelations as Izzy and Pearl.
Aunjanue Ellis deserves it for The Clark Sisters movie. The movie itself was not very good, but her performance made it eminently watchable.
I remain utterly perplexed by the lack of nominations for Arrow’s stunt work, which is the best stunt work on a genre show I’ve ever seen.
Queen Sugar is the best looking show on television and it has been since it’s very first episode. No Black actor has ever looked as good as they do on that show.
That’s it. Who’s on your list?