“Snubbed” is an imperfect term for the series and performers whose Emmy campaigns conclude Thursday morning—voters intend no disdain, to be sure—but it does capture the feeling of the TV Academy’s annual nominations. Alongside the usual suspects and pleasant surprises, there are inevitably a few disappointments, longtime favorites that lose out and freshman sensations that fail to break through. For those of us on the Emmy beat, in fact, lamenting the Academy’s selections and, yes, “snubs” is as much a rite of passage as celebrating the honorees.
The list below is far from exhaustive. For one thing, it largely excludes series that appear to be on the bubble; I’m not ready to give up on Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) in the Outstanding Lead Actress (Comedy) race, or on “The Americans” in the Outstanding Drama Series category, though both might well end up on the outside looking in. After four months assessing and advocating, these seven items are Emmy predictions—I’d be truly shocked, though happily so, if any landed a nomination—but they’re also an attempt at consolation: Highlights from the past 12 months in television that deserve to be described as “outstanding,” whether the Academy deigns to do so or not.
1. Supporting Actress (Drama)
Despite the strong work sure to be nominated here, including Lena Headey’s commanding Cersei Lannister (“Game of Thrones”), the under-the-radar candidates for Outstanding Supporting Actress (Drama) could fill a field of their own. From Miranda Otto (“Homeland”), Holly Taylor (“The Americans”), and Rhea Seehorn (“Better Call Saul”) to the women of “The Leftovers” (Amy Brenneman, Ann Dowd, Regina King, and Liv Tyler; Carrie Coon is competing in Lead Actress), those likely to be left without a nomination are among the medium’s most talented performers, extending the emotional reach of their respective series in every conceivable direction. Indeed, one indication of the depth of the ranks is another name we’re unlikely to hear Thursday morning: Alison Wright, whose extraordinary turn on “The Americans” might well be the finest performance on television.
2. “The Girlfriend Experience”
In the Outstanding Limited Series race, Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan’s sharp-edged, shape-shifting portrait of a high-end call girl (Emmy-worthy Riley Keough, in an enigmatic, perfectly controlled performance) is sui generis, with half-hour installments and no clear narrative or political thrust. But if Starz’s serial reimagining of Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 independent is too laconic, too Spartan, to win over Emmy voters, it nonetheless demands to be seen: “The Girlfriend Experience,” like an afternoon dalliance, is as mesmerizing, and as fleeting, as a mirage.
3. Michaela Watkins, “Casual”
With “Casual,” Watkins—once underutilized by “Saturday Night Live,” and a reliable character actor in film and TV ever since—has found the meaty role she deserves, though an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress (Comedy) doesn’t appear to be in the cards. As Valerie, a Los Angeles therapist navigating work, motherhood, and her halting attempts at dating in the aftermath of a divorce, Watkins treads the line between awkward and confident, stumbling off balance again and again. But her most exceptional feat, alongside co-star Tommy Dewey is to create a tender, gently funny portrait of kinship that matches the series’ general affect: Like Watkins’ brilliance, “Casual” feels familiar, but the execution here is especially sublime.
4. “Hannibal” and “The Knick”
One transforms the crime drama into a memory palace, its images of death as composed as a Renaissance painting; the other tosses the viewer headlong into its historical setting, elbow deep in the bloody viscera of a surgical hospital in early 20th century New York. But Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal” and Steven Soderbergh’s “The Knick” are both visionary leaps forward in the form of “the writer’s medium” that is television, earning in spades the adjective “cinematic.” Neither can compete with the more accessible narrative fireworks of “Game of Thrones” or “House of Cards,” but to expect them to do so is to misunderstand them. Where the contenders for Outstanding Drama Series seem written in prose, “Hannibal” and “The Knick” are pure poetry.
5. Connor Jessup and Joey Pollari, “American Crime”
As the two central figures of creator John Ridley’s limited series—the second season of which deals with allegations of rape at a private high school in Indianapolis—Jessup and Pollari (both submitted in Supporting Actor) ground the stirring, wide-ranging drama in intimate moments. Filmed, it seems, almost entirely in close-up, “American Crime” relies on their acute sense of strict rules and reckless desires to propel the narrative forward, and both actors deliver performances more than equal to their older co-stars.
6. “You’re the Worst”
As Indiewire TV critic Ben Travers predicts, “You’re the Worst” is only a threat for a Comedy Series nomination “in a perfect world”—the very sort of world that the series’ gorgeous, surprising second season knows to be impossible. A brilliant long con, in which Gretchen (the excellent Aya Cash) finds herself in depression’s “emotional black hole,” the otherwise caustic humor of “You’re the Worst” becomes nuanced and unexpectedly delicate, capped by a bottle episode, “LCD Soundsystem,” that counts among the past year’s very best.
7. Aden Young, “Rectify”
Austere and prayerful, the rhythm of “Rectify” is often more reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s fiction than it is of TV, and it may be this challenge to narrative tradition that’s left it without a single nomination in three seasons. At the center of the series’ sterling ensemble is Aden Young, an actor of such simple grace he’s almost otherworldly. As Daniel Holden, a death row inmate released after two decades when his conviction is vacated, Young rarely raises his voice much higher than a whisper, and yet his every word is resonant—with fear, with doubt, with the hope of redemption. It’s a performance so subtle, so compassionate, compared to the frontrunners in the Outstanding Lead Actor (Drama) race that it might be another art form altogether.