DANIEL FIENBERG Emmy voters enjoy a good juggernaut. Two years ago, you had Succession, Schitt’s Creek and Watchmen thoroughly dominate the list of winners. Last year, even though Hacks snuck in with a couple of surprising and thoroughly not-surprising wins — all hail Jean Smart — The Crown, Ted Lasso and The Queen’s Gambit had big nights.
Maybe I’m being naive, but this year feels much more wide-open, even if both Ted Lasso and Succession are back and probably the favorites again.
Let’s start on the drama side: Succession is back I don’t think either of us would be shocked or offended if TV’s most viciously funny saga of corporate family dysfunction had another big night, including another possible win for Jeremy Strong, but that is what should happen, and do you anticipate a night of actual surprises?
ANGIE HAN For me, the recurring theme across several of the drama categories is going to be my inability to decide between Better Call Saul and Succession.
Jeremy Strong spent the past season of Succession plumbing new depths of darkness, ironically by showing us Kendall at his (sort of) happiest and most obnoxious — but does that performance really deserve the award over Bob Odenkirk’s decade-long and so far Emmy-free run as Jimmy, Saul and Gene? (And where does that leave Squid Game‘s Lee Jung-jae, another of my favorite starring turns from last year?) I couldn’t be happier for Rhea Seehorn’s long-overdue, well-deserved nomination, but hasn’t Sarah Snook done prizeworthy work this season, too? And which Succession actor do I root for in the categories stuffed to the brim with them, like best supporting actor? At least I know who I’m pulling for in best actress: YellowjacketsMelanie Lynskey as the hilarious, heartbreaking, low-key terrifying Shauna.
Ultimately, I think I’ll be rooting for Better Call Saul wherever I can, because it’s an odd sort of underdog: It’s been nominated for 46 Emmys over its lifetime, with zero wins to show for it so far. But as anyone who’s ever had the temerity to go up against Logan Roy can attest, he and his family put up a hell of a fight. Are you going to be the person to stand up against Waystar Royco’s awards season dominance, Dan?
FIENBERG It’s very strange when the underdog is the acclaimed spinoff to a show that won outstanding drama series twice, but the 0-for-46 Emmy record for Better Call Saul borders on utter madness. I’m still leaning towards Succession overall, if only to combat the recent bias caused by how good the freshly completed second half of the Better Call Saul final season has been.
It would be satisfying if the first Saul Emmy win came for Seehorn, so long every TV critic’s unfulfilled cause célèbre. Seehorn deserves to win for the latest chapter in what has become the tragic saga of Kim Wexler, and even if you feel that Better Call Saul Nearly doubling as Kim’s story means that she should have been a lead, the same is also true of Julia Garner, whose status as the protagonist of the final Ozark season is beyond dispute.
Odenkirk is nearing that stage of Steve Carell The Office and Hugh Laurie in House Where it’s going to be a travesty if the series ends without him winning an Emmy, so he’s got two shots to reach the Kyle Chandler/Matthew Rhys/Jon Hamm stage of under-the-wire winner. It isn’t that Strong didn’t have a spectacular season as well — “Too Much Birthday” is one of my favorite acting showcases in recent years — but a standing ovation for Odenkirk would be so satisfying.
Speaking of outpourings of affection, Lynskey has become America’s TV sweetheart and I couldn’t be happier for her, a purely emotional preference over Zendaya and Laura Linney, both great in shows I don’t like. I’m leaning with affection among supporting actors, too, and I want Emmy voters to conspire to let John Turturro and Christopher Walken, or maybe their characters Irving and Burt, share a win.
If it comes to voting with your heart, can anything top Ted Lasso for you in the comedy fields?
HAN Yes, in fact, several things can. If possibly too many of my picks came down to Succession or Better Call Saul in the drama field, comedy’s where I feel like spreading the love all over the place — especially after Ted Lasso seemed to take over in 2021.
Give it up for The Flight Attendant‘s Kaley Cuoco, whose perfectly over-the-top performance veers from glee to terror, depression, anger and every shade in between without missing a step! And for the whole Abbott Elementary team but maybe especially Janelle James, whose obnoxious Principal Ava had me in stitches basically every time she opened her mouth!
I still question the categorization of this latest season of Barry as a comedy, but not the worthiness of Henry Winkler’s work as the increasingly tormented Gene. Or, for that matter, Bill Hader’s as Barry, who stretches himself to the ugliest limits of even his own self-justifications — though I also wouldn’t mind seeing either of the Martins get some applause for the lovely, odd Only Murders in the Building. Oh, and while we’re here, I am going to throw some of my critical weight behind the doomed campaign to get What We Do in the Shadows some love, even though it doesn’t bode well that none of the (extremely funny!) cast clinched nominations.
And even after all that, I’m left feeling like I owe an apology to all the other shows I didn’t name. Maybe you have a bit more clarity of preference than I do here, Dan?
FIENBERG If you want to swap Barry into drama and Succession into comedy, it would let me unequivocally side with Better Call Saul in all of the drama categories and give Succession a clean comedy sweep. But it’s too late for that.
Can we just say that the lead actress in a comedy category is especially brutal? This is Issa Rae’s last chance to get recognition for Insecure, a show that deserved better. Quinta Brunson is the fresh new voice, Jean Smart is the unimpeachable legend and Kaley Cuoco got to play five different versions of herself on The Flight Attendant this season (plus, Rachel Brosnahan is very good). If pressed — and what is this conversation but forcing choices upon us — I’m going with Elle Fanning, whose turn as Catherine the Great, spending most of this past season tremendously pregnant, is quite marvelous and the show needs more love.
I could go with Fanning’s co-star Nicholas Hoult for comedy actor, but Bill Hader was too good this season, especially in terrifying scenes with Sarah Goldberg, who deserved a nomination.
The supporting fields are just too strong. Any answer I give today, I’ll change it by next week. If you’re taking Janelle James, I’m taking Sheryl Lee Ralph, a national treasure deserving of a coronation of this type. And I’ll go with Tyler James Williams for supporting actor — the combination of deadpan and goofy dancing is priceless — which lets me lean toward Barry, which was still hilarious even if it went down many dark paths in its third season, overall. Honestly, my favorite comedy of this nomination group isn’t even in the comedy category. It’s up for limited series against several of my least favorite nominees of the year. What do you like in that field?
HAN Judging by the supporting acting names, Emmy voters liked it The White Lotus as much as I did; the hard part is singling out individual stars. Especially when so many of them brought out the best in each other: Jennifer Coolidge’s alternately tender, pitiable and repulsive turn as Tanya against Natasha Rothwell’s Belinda swallowing her hopes and hurt; Murray Bartlett and Jake Lacy bringing out the best in each other (and the worst in Armand and Shane) by needling all of each other’s sorest spots.
Elsewhere, Margaret Qualley’s heart-on-her-sleeve performance in Maid Couldn’t be more different from Amanda Seyfried’s blank-void one in The Dropout, but I’m torn on which I prefer. I’m going to give my preference to Himesh Patel because Station Eleven‘s excellent cast didn’t get any attention otherwise, but Andrew Garfield held Under the Banner of Heaven together by knowing exactly when to go big and when to draw back.
Let me guess — The White Lotus is the comedy you so cryptically alluded to earlier?
FIENBERG It is, though parts of The Dropout and Pam & Tommy are subversively hilarious and parts of Inventing Anna are very unintentionally funny — and how did that get nominated for stuff ahead of Station Eleven, anyway? for me The White LotusCoolidge and Bartlett are easy picks.
The leads are much harder. Michael Keaton, a lock to win, is the best part of Dopesick, an ideologically righteous and narratively shoddy series, but I wish there were a best duo category for Oscar Isaac and the cruelly ignored Jessica Chastain. I’m inclined to agree with you that either Qualley or Seyfried would be a worthy winner, but let me quickly mention Lily James, who somehow managed to give a wholly sympathetic and layered performance operating through layers of latex more successfully than the usually brilliant Sarah Paulson did in her rubber-encased role.
HAN Agreed, but as ever, the Emmy voters are gonna do what the Emmy voters are gonna do. There’s only one prediction I feel 100 percent confident in, and it’s this: Whether it’s out of shock, disappointment or (hopefully) sweet, sweet vindication, I look forward to yelling at my TV a whole lot come Monday, September 12.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.