Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Who deserves to win an Emmy this year?

Jharrel Jerome in When They See Us (Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix); Catherine O'Hara in Schitt's Creek (Photo: Pop); Billy Porter in Pose (Photo: Macall Polay/FX); Gwendoline Christie in Game Of Thrones (Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO); Amy Adams in Sharp Objects (Photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO); Sarah Gordon in Barry (Photo: Aaron Epstein/HBO)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards are Sunday, with Game Of Thrones and When They See Us leading all shows with 14 and 11 nominations, respectively. In anticipation of the ceremony, we’re asking:

Of the nominees, who deserves to win an Emmy this year?

Sam Barsanti

Gwendoline Christie deserves an Emmy, and it’s only partially because the fools at HBO only chose to promote some of her more famous Game Of Thrones costars when it was time to submit actors for consideration (forcing her to put up the cash to get a nomination herself). The main reason is that Christie is just awesome, and the scene of Brienne finally becoming a knight—with Christie tearing down her character’s eternally serious demeanor to crack a big, joyous smile at the end—could very well be the best moment of the entire series. Subsequent episodes in the final season undid some of that very good work, but it’s not Game Of Thrones that deserves an Emmy. To quote my good friend Sandor Clegane, it’s Brienne of fucking Tarth. Giving her an Emmy would be a tribute to the years of good, under-appreciated work she put in on Game Of Thrones, and, fine, it would also be a nice conclusion to the story of HBO not getting her nominated in the first place.

Erik Adams

Not to advocate for extending the runtime of a televised award ceremony, but I don’t envy the editor who has to cut Sarah Goldberg’s monologue from Barry’s “The Audition” into something that’ll fit into a nominee montage. The motormouthed soliloquy contains at least a dozen morsels of acting virtuosity that are ripe for plucking out and placing among the clips of this year’s competitive Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy field; anything where she breaks from talking at Barry (Bill Hader) to talking to multiple versions of herself should do. But the rollercoaster of emotion and expression demands to be viewed as a complete piece, Goldberg plowing through the barriers of honesty and fair-play that have kept her character at square one in Hollywood while she simultaneously deals with her happiness for and envy of the untrained, unsklilled boyfriend who’s reading for a real role in a real feature. (“Which is the same as a movie, PS,” she says, in shades of condescension and desperation that have built up to this exact point in the series.) Filmed in a single take, it’s such an obviously showy scene, but who the hell is the Television Academy to turn their noses up at showy? Goldberg’s spotlight moment will be necessarily truncated on the Sunday night, and she’s definitely a long shot against the Amazon blockade of Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and perennials Kate McKinnon and Anna Chlumsky. If it’s not going to win her an Emmy, her work on this season of Barry should at least earn her a reserved spot in this category for many years to come.

Gwen Ihnat

Catherine O’Hara has been amazing for her entire career, ever since her days at SCTV 40 years ago. But I don’t think any of her roles have ever been as riveting as meme-machine Moira Rose on Schitt’s Creek. Her bizarre always-dramatic line delivery, her resplendent wig collection, and her Beetlejuice wardrobe make the former soap star/reluctant matriarch my favorite character on a series where everyone else is in a close tie for second. The formerly prosperous Moira is impossibly vain and self-centered, but good-hearted underneath, appreciative to her devoted husband (O’Hara’s frequent co-star Eugene Levy) and attempting to be supportive for her children, even though she’s usually not sure what that might entail. Whether she’s sloshed and trying to push fruit wine or performing with the local Jazzagals, Moira Rose is one of the greatest characters on TV right now, and it’s high time for O’Hara to be recognized at the Emmys. The whole cast usually cleans up at Canadian awards shows, but after five Schitt’s Creek seasons, O’Hara has finally been nominated (along with the show, and Levy, and her brilliant costume designers), and there’s no one I want to see get a statuette more.

Katie Rife

The Act didn’t produce a whole lot of buzz after its debut on Hulu earlier this year, so I was a bit surprised, and very heartened, to see that both Joey King and Patricia Arquette were nominated for acting Emmys. Credit goes to both actors for keeping what very easily could have turned into a “Margaret White screaming about dirty pillows” situation grounded in pathos and reality. But while Arquette was brilliant as mentally ill scammer Dee Dee Blanchard, it was Joey King who carried much of the show’s emotional weight on her small, hunched shoulders. King was essentially playing two characters—the “sick” Gypsy, speaking in a squeaky baby voice and flinching at the slightest touch, and the “real” Gypsy, wearing colorful cosplay wigs and tentatively exploring the sexuality her mother is so desperately trying to suppress. She also faced a challenge in playing a character who’s so meek that she rarely speaks more than a few words at a time; King rises to this challenge, too, particularly in a long, unbroken tracking shot at the end of the show’s third episode that, as I described it in my initial review, “register[s] a symphony of complex emotions” without a single word. So while King is the youngest of this year’s nominees for Lead Actress In A Limited Series—and is thus unlikely to win, especially up against her Oscar-winning onscreen mom—she’s also the one I would most like to see get the award.

William Hughes

Let’s ignore the fact that the Creative Arts Emmys broke my heart a dozen times already with that debacle over Outstanding Animated Program. (Really, TV Academy voters? You shiv the Adventure Time finale and “Free Churro”?) I’ll still walk away from this year’s ceremony happy as long as one, fairly simple condition is fulfilled: Russian Doll takes home at least one serious award. Now, Outstanding Comedy Series feels like a long shot, if only because the competition there is so full-blast, Golden Age Of Television stiff. Similarly, the idea that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ amazing Veep run won’t get acknowledged with one more Outstanding Lead Actress win raises doubts. But I can absolutely see Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler taking home the win in Outstanding Writing, specifically for the show’s first episode, an equally deft piece of keenly observed character-building and science-fiction mystery that introduces viewers to the linked conundrums of Nadia Vulvokov, and the things that start happening (and happening, and happening) to her on her 36th birthday. Using the mechanics of my favorite kind of time travel story, Russian Doll managed to elevate the form to the highest point it’s hit since Groundhog Day, and the sheer deftness of its emotional storytelling deserves to be highlighted on the biggest possible stage.

Alex McLevy

It genuinely startled me when the nominations were announced, because my favorite HBO miniseries from last year feels like an eternity ago, not something that would just now be getting recognized. But deadlines are deadlines, and since it’s in the mix, I’m more than happy to throw my hat in the ring for an Emmy for Amy Adams in Sharp Objects. I realize this isn’t exactly a bold, outside-the-box choice: Adams is among the most acclaimed actors in the country and has the multiple Oscar nominations to back it up. But I still found her work in the Gillian Flynn adaptation to be a thing of cracked beauty: Exhausted, enraged, and addicted all at once, her turn as Camille Preaker, a journalist coming back to her hometown to investigate the murder of two girls, was moving and mesmerizing. Forget the fact that the actor reportedly drank 20 O’Douls a day to achieve that haggard look (a deeply unpleasant feat that surely deserves some sort of medal in its own right); Adams tore into the soul of a damaged woman and made it look like anything but acting. It’s a powerful and raw performance—statue her already.

Danette Chavez

When They See Us is as tough a watch as they come; the Ava DuVernay-helmed drama follows the lives of the Exonerated Five from the childhood that was stolen from them to the adulthood imperiled by wrongful accusations and malicious prosecution. Jharrel Jerome was the only actor tasked with being there every step of the way, portraying Korey Wise as he’s forced to grow up in prison. Jerome’s transformation is astonishing, not just for how far it goes, but all the subtle ways through which he communicates the passage of time as well as Korey’s trauma. Everyone in this cast is a winner—come Sunday, though, Jerome deserves to walk with his first Emmy.

Shannon Miller

It takes a truly miraculous force to steal a scene on a show like Pose, where every character is an absolute stand-out. Billy Porter, however, has had immeasurable practice over the years commanding a stage. The Tony Award-winning superstar has harnessed some of that Broadway magic in order to fashion Pray Tell into one of the most dynamic figures in television. Porter injects so much vulnerability and honesty into a character that could have easily devolved into a dispensary of one-liners, making Pray Tell the occasional vehicle for some of the series’ gutsiest (and most gutting) moments. Billy Porter is essential, and nothing would make me happier than to see him glide across the stage and claim the Best Lead Actor win he so richly deserves.