Emmy voters, don’t overlook these award-worthy performances

Lori Petty in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.’’
Lori Petty in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.’’

We’re currently in the two-week period during which Emmy voters pick the nominees for shows that aired between June 1, 2016, to May 30, 2017. And I plan to bombard you with my predictions in the near future, before the nominated names and titles are announced on July 13.

But in the meantime, here are a few performers I’d love to see taken under serious consideration. I’m not bothering with the obvious ones — Sterling K. Brown of “This Is Us,” or David Thewlis of “Fargo,” or Jeffrey Tambor of “Transparent,” or Nicole Kidman of “Big Little Lies” — because they’re already likely to get nods. The actors I’ve chosen are in danger of falling under the radar.

Lori Petty, “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix) Season five of “Orange Is the New Black,” released earlier this month, is a not-hot mess. But season four is eligible for this year’s Emmys, and those episodes turned out well. I was particularly fascinated and moved by Petty’s turn as Lolly Whitehill, a delusional inmate with short bleached hair and big black glasses. Prior to season four, Lolly for the most part provided comic relief. But as we learned more about her — she was a journalist before mental illness took over — she became one of the show’s most poignant characters. Petty was heartbreaking.


Jeannie Berlin, “The Night Of” (HBO) What a remarkable turn as Helen Weiss, the hard-nosed but weary DA who tried to prove Naz guilty of murder. Berlin was in charge of every scene she was in, not least of all during the finale when she tried to talk Naz into a corner on the stand. Her performance, both measured and intense, was riveting, as she deployed her pauses with the same savagery as her rhetoric.

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Yvonne Orji, “Insecure” (HBO) I have a feeling voters will take note of “Insecure” star Issa Rae, who is so winning in the wise comedy about the black female experience outside of TV’s stereotypes. But I hope they don’t forget about Orji. As Issa’s best friend, she gave us a memorable portrait of a strong corporate attorney who is surprisingly needy when it comes to men. Watching her trying to survive the contradictions of dating was both affecting and amusing.

Travis Fimmel, “Vikings” (History) I’ve said it many times before: Don’t forget Fimmel. He turned Ragnar Lothbrok into a fascinatingly complex leader and an expert at keeping his foes — and, often, his family — off balance. With his laconic style, his ironic grins, and his piercing eye contact, Fimmel was in command of the entire show, even as Ragnar’s powers diminished. The reason for yet another reminder? It will be Fimmel’s last year in contention, since his character died a rather difficult death. Snakes were involved.

Alexander Skarsgard, “Big Little Lies” (HBO) I’m assuming Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Laura Dern will get some deserved acknowledgement for their work in this seductive murder mystery. But I hope voters don’t overlook Skarsgard, who was thoroughly creepy as Kidman’s abusive husband. Every time he was on screen, I tensely waited for him to start picking at her. I hate the whole “brave performance” cliché, but it takes some degree of daring to be so profoundly and realistically dislikable. The Emmys have a history of looking away from disturbing performances — I still get huffy when I remember how Khandi Alexander was ignored for her unsettling work in “The Corner.” I hope Skarsgard doesn’t fall victim to that kind of shortsightedness.

Kate Walsh, “13 Reasons Why” (Netflix) The two young leads, Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford, were extraordinary, and I’m hoping the controversy around the teen-suicide-themed drama doesn’t make voters shy away. Walsh, too, really ought to get a nod for her work as the mother of the girl who killed herself. By turns grief-stricken, angry, and desperate for information, she was an emotional lightning rod. “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” didn’t prepare me for the depth of her performance here.


Pamela Adlon, “Better Things” (FX) This was one of the year’s best comedies, and that’s largely due to Adlon’s powerhouse performance as the single working mother of three girls. She deals with sexism and ageism in her work as an actress and she faces bullying by her kids, but she always prevails with a mix of cynicism, profanity, humor, and resilience. It’s an endlessly winning and wise performance.

Ann Dowd, “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu) If voters ignore Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovski, who help lift this dystopian nightmare into must-see television, I will have a tirade or two to share with you later in the summer. I’m hoping voters will also pay tribute to Dowd’s performance with a nomination. As Aunt Lydia, who trains fertile women to become handmaids, she is an unnerving figure, forcefully leading her charges to rape and having eyes removed — but always as if she’s carrying out God’s work. Dowd brings a powerful ambiguity to a character who could easily be a straight-ahead villain.

D’Arcy Carden, “The Good Place” NBC This happy little sitcom was a treat. And when UCB veteran Carden made her appearances as Janet, the Siri-like artificial creature who appears out of nowhere and delivers information about the Good Place, the show always got a little funnier. She made the most of her character’s limited facial expressions, her inability to judge, and her textbook emotional knowledge, showing Janet pretending to have human traits. And then there was the time Janet got married.

Zach Woods, “Silicon Valley” (HBO) He hasn’t been nominated yet, which is a shame. Woods is the heart and soul of “Silicon Valley” as the adorably selfless and ever-apologizing Jared. He is the mother figure of the incubator gang, tenderly nurturing the guys and forever trying to keep the peace. What I love best about Woods’s performance is its lack of irony; you never feel him winking at the audience, baiting us to laugh at Jared. He’s just pure ego-less-ness.

Some other performances to consider: Benito Martinez in “American Crime” (ABC), Ellen Barkin in “Animal Kingdom” (TNT), Samantha Morton in “Harlots” (Hulu), and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag” (Amazon).

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.