The Emmys have been getting better in recent years, with winners like Tatiana Maslany and Rami Malek being welcome and deserved surprises, but the Academy’s frustrating history of repeat nominees and winners has made it hard for deserving performances and series to make their mark. No awards show is ever going to be perfect, especially the Emmys when you consider just how many options there are to choose from each year, but it’s never not heartbreaking when you realize the likes of Kristen Bell, Carrie Coon, Michael K. Williams and more all went unnoticed for iconic TV performances.
With the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards airing this Sunday, IndieWire looks back at the 20 best performances that went unrecognized by the Television Academy over the last 17 years. The group is made up of actors both comedic and dramatic, in roles ranging from lead to supporting, but they’re all united in their greatness. In fact, many will stand the test of time longer than some Emmy winners. Check out the full list below.
Kristen Bell, “Veronica Mars”
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It’s rare that a show, a character, and a star are so sympatico that to imagine one element without the other two would be impossible. But the WB drama (back before it was the CW) lived or died on the back of Kristen Bell, and ended up thriving. Bell brought together the personas of hard-boiled detective and vulnerable teenage girl in a way that felt totally authentic and real. We saw every episode of “Veronica Mars” through her eyes, and the show soared because of it. If the Emmys were based on recognizing the importance of a stellar performance to the show’s existence, Bell would have three trophies on her mantel.
Carrie Coon, “The Leftovers”
The fact that none of the principal actors from HBO’s “The Leftovers” ever earned a nomination over the show’s three seasons will forever be one of the biggest Emmy oversights of the 21st century. Everyone should have been nominated, from Justin Theroux to Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Scott Glenn, and Regina King, but no one more so than the impeccable Carrie Coon. Theroux’s Kevin Garvey may have been the main character, but the show was ultimately defined by Nora Durst, a guilt-ridden realist who somehow learned to love again and believe in a higher power. Coon was given so many heart-shattering moments and nailed every single one of them. She brought us into the core of Nora’s despair and made her suffering feel so palpable it was hard to watch at times. That Emmy voters didn’t give her a nomination after episodes like “Guest,” Lens” and the series finale, “The Book of Nora,” is so criminal we’re not sure we can forgive them. Nora Durst going unnoticed by the Emmys is an eternal heartbreaker, but we’ll take comfort in Coon’s nomination for “Fargo” as a consolation.
Loretta Devine, “The Carmichael Show”
Loretta Devine won the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series thanks to her role as Adele Webber on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but any one of the three seasons of “The Carmichael Show” deserved to bring her another trophy. Jerrod Carmichael’s NBC sitcom never had the viewership to breakout out of its acclaimed little bubble, which meant soulfully funny performances like Devine’s went unnoticed at the Emmys. As Jerrod’s often hysterical mother Cynthia, Devine subverted the traditional sitcom mother role and turned in a performance shaded with a kind of maternal realism most broadcast sitcoms would never dare to explore. Her character was not the all-pleasing homemaker or even the always-pleasant support system. The show revealed the character was dealing with bouts of depression, brought on by years of devoting herself to playing mom for every member of the family, and it’s here where Devine could turn on a dime and break your heart. She could play selfish and misunderstanding but in ways that were always sympathetic for her character. Cynthia was a much tougher role than many viewers thought, but Devine made it all feel effortless.
Lauren Graham, “Gilmore Girls”
It’s hard to imagine that a show as prolific and beloved as “Gilmore Girls” only won a single Emmy, and that it was for Best Makeup. How is that possible? One of the biggest oversights is obviously Lauren Graham, who gave the joyous rhythms of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s one-of-a-kind dialogue an infectious, emotional punch and made every quote soar. Graham was the beating heart of “Gilmore Girls.” She knew exactly how to turn what could’ve been too-cutesy quirk into real vulnerable truths (every storyline with her mother is the perfect example). Actors who do the exact same thing with Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue are constantly given one statue after another, even Jeff Daniels for the divisive series “The Newsroom,” so it’s a particular shame Sherman-Palladino’s ensemble never got their due for pulling off a similar kind of challenge.
Eva Green, “Penny Dreadful”
Genre shows don’t always have the best luck at the Emmys, so it’s not surprising John Logan’s “Penny Dreadful” got shut out over its three seasons on Showtime. And yet, Eva Green was giving such a larger-than-life, no-holds-barred, bat-shit-crazy performance that it will forever be upsetting she wasn’t able to cross over and earn a Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series nomination. Green ripped into the heart and soul of Vanessa Ives, a powerful clairvoyant and medium whose depression left her notably vulnerable to the possession of dark spirits. Green earned notable praise for her trips to the dark side, be it a horrifying Season 1 seance or her extended visits with a psychoanalyst in Season 3. The actress’ full-bodied work in these scenes was astounding, as she pushed her body to the extreme in order to express a full battle between good and evil exploding in her subconscious. Green was fearless, and deserved the Emmys’ respect.
Tony Hale, “Arrested Development”
It might feel odd for Tony Hale to be on this list, given that he has since gone on to rack up five Emmy nominations and two Emmy wins for his work on HBO’s “Veep.” But the weird nuances of his performance over three seasons of “Arrested Development” as Buster Bluth might have loosened the proverbial pickle jar for him, in retrospect. Hale is a fascinating character actor in so many respects, so it’s just too bad that his first real breakout role didn’t end up making the Academy notice the comedy powerhouse brewing in the wings.
Riley Keough, “The Girlfriend Experience”
Every performer on this list had multiple seasons to develop their characters and make a case for why they deserved Emmy recognition. Riley Keough only had 13 episodes, but she absolutely knocked her character arc out of the park and then some. What series creators Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz asked Keough to do was no easy feat. Her character, Christine, is the kind of challenging and strong-willed female protagonist that television audiences rarely see. Christine’s work as a private escort doesn’t devalue her or shame her; in fact, it does just the opposite. Keough lets her character become invigorated and self-fulfilled by her new life, and the complexity within the character comes from the deterioration of her old life and her willingness to let it all burn down. In Keough’s hands, Christine is a enigmatic and transfixing presence caught between two wildly different worlds. One gives her purpose, the other forces her to play by society’s rules. Watching Keough shatter the line and cross over is as enthralling as TV performances get.