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‘Stranger Things’ For The Win: IFC’s ‘Documentary Now’ Directors Reveal Their Emmy Ballot Picks

Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono, whose show is up for best variety sketch series, share their Emmy choices (yes, they voted for themselves).

Stranger Things

“Stranger Things”


If “Stranger Things” wins the top Emmy prize on Sunday night, the directors of IFC’s “Documentary Now” think they know why. Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono, whose critically acclaimed series is competing in the outstanding variety sketch series race, said they chose “Stranger Things” as this year’s best drama because of the show’s “sheer originality.”

The Netflix 1980s thriller is currently considered the frontrunner in the category, with Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and NBC’s “This Is Us” in the hunt. When IndieWire recently revealed the anonymous Emmy picks of several other TV writers and producers, “Handmaid’s Tale” was the overwhelming favorite. “Stranger Things” is a bit of an unusual contender for the top prize, but the recent wins for “Game of Thrones” prove that TV Academy voters are open to honoring genre shows.

Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Rhys Thomas and Alex BuonoIFC 'Documentary Now!' Panel at the TCA Summer Press Tour, Day 4, Los Angeles, USA - 31 Jul 2016

Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono, “Documentary Now”


Thomas and Buono agreed to drop the anonymity and attach their names to their Emmy picks on the eve of this year’s primetime ceremony. (No surprise, they like “Documentary Now” in the sketch category, and even suggest writing in their boss Seth Meyers for the talk race.) Here are their choices, along with their comments.

Drama Series

“Better Call Saul” (AMC)
“The Crown” (Netflix)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
“House of Cards” (Netflix)
☒“Stranger Things” (Netflix)
“This Is Us” (NBC)
“Westworld” (HBO)

Really tough category to pick but “Stranger Things” was such a fun take on a retro-sci-fi aesthetic, it edges out the others by sheer originality and such a fresh cast.

ATLANTA "The Big Bang” Episode 101 (Airs Tuesday, September 6, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Keith Standfield as Darius, Donald Glover as Earnest Marks, Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred Miles. CR: Guy D'Alema/FX


Guy D'Alema/FX

Comedy Series

☒“Atlanta” (FX)
“black-ish” (ABC)
“Master of None” (Netflix)
“Modern Family” (ABC)
“Silicon Valley” (HBO)
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
“Veep” (HBO)

“Master Of None” is a very close second place but “Atlanta” was such a tour de force of original storytelling and visual style. Sorry to all of our “Veep” friends but let’s face it, you’ve won so much that the awards must just be kind of meaningless at this point, right?

Limited Series

“Big Little Lies” (HBO)
“Fargo” (FX)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (FX)
“Genius” (National Geographic)
☒“The Night Of” (HBO)

A contentious category for us: Rhys feels very strongly about “Big Little Lies,” citing “everything about it,” while Alex is leaning into “The Night Of” because it’s such stone cold gripping, terrifying, what’s-gonna-happen-next television. Ultimately Alex won the coin toss.

The Handmaid's Tale -- "Late" Episode 103 -- Offred visits Janine’s baby with Serena Joy and remembers the early days of the revolution before Gilead. Ofglen faces a difficult challenge. Offred (Elisabeth Moss), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

Elisabeth Moss in “The Handmaid’s Tale”

George Kraychyk/Hulu

Lead Actress In A Drama Series

Viola Davis, “How to Get Away With Murder”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
☒Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

More than any other performance this season, Elisabeth Moss carries the tortured weight of the entire series in those haunted close ups.

Lead Actor In A Drama Series

Sterling K Brown, “This Is Us”
Anthony Hopkins, “Westworld”
☒Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Milo Ventimiglia, “This Is Us”

Odenkirk’s “James McGill / Saul Goodman” continues to be one of the most fascinating – and funniest — characters on television.

Lead Actress In A Comedy Series

Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”
Allison Janney, “Mom”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
☒Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black- ish”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

Yeesh – what a hard choice – but we gotta concede something to the “Veep” trophy club and pull for the amazing Julia Louis-Dreyfus setting the record with six straight wins.

Lead Actor In A Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Zach Galifianakis, “Baskets”
☒Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

Donald Glover has such charisma on screen – it was fascinating to see just how much his character could get away with and still be so damn likable.

Fargo Season 3 Episode 10 finale Carrie Coon

Carrie Coon in “Fargo”

Chris Large/FX

Lead Actress In A Limited Series Or A Movie

☒Carrie Coon, “Fargo”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
☒Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Jessica Lange, “Feud”
Susan Sarandon, “Feud”
Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”

We don’t quite agree on this one: Alex is all about Carrie Coon for her perfect balance of such a tricky tone and by rising to the challenge of her Marge Gunderson ancestor. Rhys favors the subtlety of Nicole Kidman’s anguish. It’s becoming apparent that Alex didn’t watch “Big Little Lies.”

Lead Actor In A Limited Series Or A Movie

Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock”
Robert De Niro, “The Wizard of Lies”
☒Ewan McGregor, “Fargo”
Geoffrey Rush, “Genius”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”

Bit of a debate in this camp between Ewan McGregor’s Jekyll-and-Hyde turn as two dramatically different brothers and John Turturro’s passionate, under-dog defense attorney.

Courtesy of Netflix

Supporting Actor In A Drama Series

John Lithgow (“The Crown”)
Jonathan Banks (“Better Call Saul”)
Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland”)
Michael Kelly (“House of Cards”)
☒David Harbour (“Stranger Things”)
Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”)
Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”)

What’s not to love about David Harbour? He seems lovely.

Supporting Actress In A Drama Series

Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Uzo Aduba (“Orange Is the New Black”)
Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”)
Chrissy Metz (“This Is Us”)
☒Thandie Newton (“Westworld”)

Within a massively high-concept story world, Thandie Newton somehow made us forget all of that and just focus on her personal story every second she was on screen.

Louie Anderson, “Baskets”

Colleen Hayes/FX

Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series

Alec Baldwin (“Saturday Night Live”)
☒Louie Anderson (“Baskets”)
Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”)
Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)
Tony Hale (“Veep”)
Matt Walsh (“Veep”)

Louis Anderson’s “Christine” is one of the best and most believable characters on television, never mind the gender-bending part of it.

Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series

☒Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”)
Vanessa Bayer (“Saturday Night Live”)
Leslie Jones (“Saturday Night Live”)
Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”)
Judith Light (“Transparent”)
Kathryn Hahn (“Transparent”)

Okay – we’re a little biased but nothing is funnier or a more satisfying burn than Kate McKinnon doing Kellyanne Conway.

Supporting Actor In A Limited Series Or Movie

Bill Camp (“The Night Of”)
Alfred Molina (“Feud: Bette and Joan”)
Alexander Skarsgård (“Big Little Lies”)
☒David Thewlis (“Fargo”)
Stanley Tucci (“Feud: Bette and Joan”)
Michael K. Williams (“The Night Of”)

David Thewlis is the best villain of the year with his terrifying (and grotesque) performance.

Supporting Actress In A Limited Series Or Movie

Judy Davis (“Feud: Bette and Joan”)
Laura Dern (“Big Little Lies”)
Jackie Hoffman (“Feud: Bette and Joan”)
Regina King (“American Crime”)
Michelle Pfeiffer (“The Wizard of Lies”)
☒Shailene Woodley (“Big Little Lies”)

Having no awareness of the politics surrounding this category, and strong enthusiasm for “Big Little Lies,” it’s between Dern and Woodley for us. Dern was outstanding but Woodley anchored the show’s universe in such a nuanced manner, she has to take it.

Reality Competition Program

“The Amazing Race” (CBS)
“America Ninja Warrior” (NBC)
☒“Project Runway” (Lifetime)
☒“RuPaul’s Drag Race” (VH1)

“Top Chef” (Bravo)
“The Voice” (NBC)

Tie: Alex says, “If you’re not fascinated by the magic and artistry of ‘Project Runway,’ that just means you haven’t watched enough of it.” Rhys says, “If you’re not fascinated by the magic and artistry of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ that just means you haven’t watched enough of it.”

Seth Meyers

Lloyd Bishop/NBC

Variety Talk Series

“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS)
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” (ABC)
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO)
“The Late Late Show with James Corden” (CBS)
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (CBS)
“Real Time with Bill Maher” (HBO)

Write-in: “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (NBC). Seriously people: Seth’s show is the smartest, sharpest show on the air.

Variety Sketch Series

“Billy On The Street” (TruTV)
☒“Documentary Now!” (IFC)
“Drunk History” (Comedy Central)
“Portlandia” (IFC)
“Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
“Tracey Ullman’s Show” (HBO)

Someone else said this to us: “Hands down the most well crafted, thoughtful, and labor intensive niche comedy in television history. It’s a travesty that we’re only seeing it in this category. Where are Bill and Fred’s acting nominations? Production design? Costume? DIRECTING!?! COME ON!” They actually shouted that last bit at us.

Television Movie

☒“Black Mirror: San Junipero” (Netflix)
“Dolly Parton’s Christmas Of Many Colors: Circle Of Love” (NBC)
“The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks” (HBO)
“Sherlock: The Lying Detective (Masterpiece)” (PBS)
“The Wizard Of Lies” (HBO)

“San Junipero” is a masterpiece of original storytelling.

Writing For A Comedy Series

☒Donald Glover (“Atlanta”)
Stephen Glover (“Atlanta”)
Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe (“Master of None”)
Alec Berg (“Silicon Valley”)
Billy Kimball (“Veep”)
David Mandel (“Veep”)

Glover’s “B.A.N.” episode was one of the funniest and most politically-charged, on-point episodes of anything this year.

Writing For A Drama Series

Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields (“The Americans”)
☒Gordon Smith (“Better Call Saul”)
Peter Morgan (“The Crown”)
Bruce Miller (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
The Duffer Brothers (“Stranger Things”)
Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (“Westworld”)

Hard to compare a pilot (“Stranger Things,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”) to a deeper series episode, but Gordon Smith’s “Chicanery” episode of “Better Call Saul” is a master class of character writing.

Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in "Black Mirror."

Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Black Mirror: San Junipero.”

David Dettmann/Netflix

Writing For A Limited Series, TV Movie or Dramatic Special

David E. Kelley (“Big Little Lies”)
☒Charlie Brooker (“Black Mirror: San Junipero”)
Noah Hawley (“Fargo”)
Ryan Murphy (“Feud: Bette and Joan”)
Jaffe Cohen, Michael Zam and Ryan Murphy (“Feud: Bette and Joan”)
Richard Price and Steven Zaillian (“The Night Of”)

Yes, we’re suckers for “Black Mirror” in general and “San Junipero” combined Brooker’s always fascinating glimpse into the near future with such an emotionally satisfying story.

Directing For A Comedy Series

☒Donald Glover (“Atlanta”)
Jamie Babbit (“Silicon Valley”)
Mike Judge (“Silicon Valley”)
Morgan Sackett (“Veep”)
David Mandel (“Veep”)
Dale Stern (“Veep”)

We have a personal soft spot for Dale Stern’s episode of “Veep” (Dale, we still love you), but we gotta go with Donald Glover for the boldness of his “B.A.N.” episode of “Atlanta”.

Directing For A Drama Series

Vince Gilligan (“Better Call Saul”)
Stephen Daldry (“The Crown”)
☒Reed Morano (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Kate Dennis (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Lesli Linka Glatter (“Homeland”)
☒The Duffer Brothers (“Stranger Things”)
Jonathan Nolan (“Westworld”)

Another horse race for us between Reed Morano’s ominous, stylish vision and the Duffer Brothers’ clever, nostalgic thriller.

Directing For A Limited Series, TV Movie or Dramatic Special

☒Jean-Marc Vallee (“Big Little Lies”)
Noah Hawley (“Fargo”)
Ryan Murphy (“Feud: Bette & Joan”)
Ron Howard (“Genius”)
James Marsh (“The Night Of”)
☒Steve Zaillian (“The Night Of”)

Another split category for us. Both delivered incredibly singular visions which really marked a new high point for cinematic television. We’d be happy with either.

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