If I got to pick the Emmy nominees for drama
If I suddenly owned the world, I’d quickly turn my attention to this year’s Emmys, which is, of course, what every new owner of the world would do. And here are the nominees I’d choose for the drama categories (my comedy and limited series picks come next week).
Alas, the Television Academy has its own ideas, and those will be announced on July 16. By the way, remember that a number of shows that generally lure Emmy voters will not be eligible this year, including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Crown,” “Westworld,” “The Americans,” “Stranger Things,” and “Homeland.”
“This Is Us,” NBC
“Sex Education,” Netflix
“My Brilliant Friend,” HBO
“Gentleman Jack,” HBO
“Game of Thrones,” HBO
“Pose” is certainly flawed, with its occasional reliance on tired tropes about underdogs. But it makes the world of 1980s ballroom culture and its families of choice moving and fascinating, and the acting — mostly by trans women — is phenomenal. I’d be happy if it won.
Likewise “Billions,” which changed up the story line — Axe and Rhoades are now in sync, Taylor is a major force — and had its best season yet. Whoever decided to drop the nonbinary Taylor into the show’s cauldron of macho deal-making deserves a special Emmy.
“Gentleman Jack,” from Sally Wainwright of “Happy Valley” and “Last Tango in Halifax,” has been overlooked by many potential fans, despite the period excellence that led a British reviewer to call it “Queer Bronte.” (You could also call it “Queer Poldark.”) For all its 19th-century trappings, the show has a modern streak as it looks into the real life of a gender-bending lesbian.
“Sex Education” — a comedy-drama hybrid, an increasingly popular nonbinary category that the Emmys has yet to deal with — is a teen-sex series with great heart. “My Brilliant Friend” is a gorgeous adaptation of Elena Ferrante, with fresh performances by young unknowns and a story about two smart women in a world of men that is both universal and specific. It’s transporting and wise.
“This Is Us,” ah “This Is Us.” The network drama is nothing if not emotionally manipulative. Yet I deeply admire its expertly structured story lines, as it jumps among time frames. “Homecoming” is an artful (check out this shot) and creepy “Manchurian Candidate”-like thriller that doubled as an allegory about war and the military. And “Game of Thrones” wasn’t at it best, but still, it rose above the pack.
I’d also consider: “Lodge 49,” AMC’s bittersweet portrait of siblings looking for transformation
LEAD ACTRESS, DRAMA
Mj Rodriguez, “Pose”
Elizabeth Olsen, “Sorry for Your Loss”
Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”
Julia Roberts, “Homecoming”
Sonya Cassidy, “Lodge 49”
Suranne Jones, “Gentleman Jack”
I’d hand the statue over to Jones without hesitation. She brings life to a historical figure — a landowner living openly as a lesbian in the early 19th century — and she drives “Gentleman Jack” forward. Jones’s Anne Lister is a fully dimensional woman with a quick mind, a ton of confidence, an unwillingness to be pigeonholed, and a heart that’s intact despite its many breaks.
Comer makes the many nonsensical plot points in the second season of “Killing Eve” work, with her dry humor and willful perversity. She rises above the show’s mediocrity. Rodriquez was a revelation as a devoted mother to her family of choice, dealing with HIV and the throng of divas who surround her on “Pose.”
Roberts fiercely swallowed every bite of that dosed gnocchi in “Homecoming,” and in the process she expanded her potential as a dramatic actress. She riffed off of her America’s Sweetheart past, with effective results. Olsen brought unexpected facets to her role as a grieving widow in Facebook Watch’s “Sorry for Your Loss,” a long list of emotions including anger, evasion, irony, regret, relief, and revision.
And Cassidy was endlessly poignant as a grieving, overburdened sister in “Lodge 49.” She was the perfect complement to Wyatt Russell’s mellow dude, a caretaker beginning to realize that no one is taking care of her.
I’d also consider: Toni Collette as the therapist exploring an open marriage in Netflix’s “Wanderlust,” Laura Linney as the wife ascendant on Netflix’s “Ozark,” and Margherita Mazzucco as the academically ambitious teen Elena in “My Brilliant Friend.”
LEAD ACTOR, DRAMA
Billy Porter, “Pose”
Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
Brian Cox, “Succession”
Brent Jennings, “Lodge 49”
Asa Butterfield, “Sex Education”
Paul Giamatti, “Billions”
Porter is the pulse of “Pose,” and his MC-ing is magical, even if he strains in the dramatic scenes. Those long sequences set in the ballroom, with Porter reigning over all, make for killer TV.
Cox presides over “Succession” with perfectly crooked justice. He plays his kids off one another skillfully, with malice in his eyes — but awareness, too, that his is a weak and unreliable brood. He’s more of a supporting actor — HBO has submitted him (and Jeremy Strong) in the lead category — but his shadow is everywhere on the show.
Netflix is submitting “Sex Education” as a drama, even though it tips more into comedy. Either way, Butterfield is a charmer, the nervous, blocked son of a sex therapist. He carries the show beautifully, with just enough innocence to make it all work.
In case we thought we fully knew Randall on “This Is Us,” Brown beautifully brought out the inherent sexism in his sensitive modern man. Anyone who watched “Lodge 49” was lucky enough to watch Jennings do moral acrobatics expertly and likably. And it’s easy to take Giamatti’s bluster for granted at this point – but watch him closely on “Billions.” He’s nonetheless spectacular in every scene.
I’d also consider: J.K. Simmons as two men in Starz’s “Counterpart,” Stephan James as the unaware analysand in “Homecoming,” and Wyatt Russell as the surfer dude looking for self-empowerment in alchemy in “Lodge 49.”
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA
Indya Moore, “Pose”
Dominique Jackson, “Pose”
Gillian Anderson, “Sex Education”
Maura Tierney, “The Affair”
Susan Kelechi Watson, “This Is Us”
Mary J. Blige, “The Umbrella Academy”
As the sex-therapist mother with boundary issues, Anderson’s comic timing is a thing of beauty, and so are her more poignant moments. As always, Tierney was the true star of Showtime’s “The Affair.” Moore and Jackson were touching as trans women involved with troubled men on “Pose.” Jackson’s enunciations may be excessive, but they are perfectly so, for a diva with a flair for the dramatic. Watson matched Sterling K. Brown beat for beat on “This Is Us” and gave us a bittersweet glimpse of her character’s lost dreams on a show that tends to obsess over The Big Three. And Blige was a total kick; she was the able comic engine in a Netflix show that mostly qualifies as a drama.
By the way, I’ve been a huge fan of the “Game of Thrones” supporting actresses in the past, notably Sophie Turner and Lena Headey, but none of them had quite enough time to shine this season — especially Headey.
SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA
Bobby Cannavale, “Homecoming”
Asia Kate Dillon, “Billions”
Matthew Macfadyen, “Succession”
Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
Christian Brassington, “Poldark”
Laurence Fox, “Victoria”
Cannavale’s bullying businessman was the embodiment of corporate greed on “Homecoming.” (His Bluetooth should get a nod, too.) Macfadyen brought comedy and pathos as the fool fighting not to be at the bottom of the “Succession” litter. Dillon blew me away once again in “Billions,” as we learned more about their background. It’s a performance for the ages. Dinklage has gone from strength to strength on “Game of Thrones” as the little man with the big heart. I watch PBS’s “Poldark” for the rampant prettiness and old-school heroism, but I couldn’t get enough of Brassington as the perverse, evil Reverend Whitworth; he is very effectively repugnant. I watch PBS’s “Victoria” for the prettiness, too, but I was impressed by Fox’s turn as Lord Palmerston, whose motives he kept artfully hidden.