Television Academy voters have a habit of voting back in the same old, same old every year. Once a show gets an Emmy nomination, the chances are good that it will repeat. But every year a few newcomers stand out — and with the streaming services bulking up their offerings, more newcomers are in the hunt for a nomination.
There are plenty of returning shows that have been snubbed by Emmy voters over the years and still deserve a shot. But on the eve of this year’s Primetime Emmys nomination announcement, IndieWire staffers picked a handful of freshman entries that they’ll be looking for on Thursday when this year’s categories are announced.
Some on this list are likely contenders, while others are long shots; and, of course, this being the age of Peak TV, there are even more (like “Killing Eve”) that should probably be on this list as well. But here are a few to watch:
courtesy of Netflix
Nick Kroll’s Netflix series was a sweet surprise when it debuted last September, which is an odd thing to say about a show featuring adolescent sex fantasies where a young boy impregnates his pillow and a so-called “Hormone Monster” decapitates Garrison Keillor. Yet the animated series used its crude honesty to find fresh insights within multiple coming-of-age stories. It made sure to include and respect the women’s perspective, as well, which immediately elevates the show above so many other teenage stories about sex (so often told from the male P.O.V.), but “Big Mouth” also provided audiences with the inspired voices of Maya Rudolph. As the Hormone Monstress, Rudolph’s full-bodied swagger and self-assured mood swings made Jessi’s disruptive influencer an unforgettable creation. She’s the yin to the Hormone Monster’s yang, and Rudolph and Kroll’s sparring matches were enlivened by their own clear passions for their characters. It would be great to see “Big Mouth” get any recognition from the TV Academy, including outstanding animated program, but there’s extra cause for celebration if Rudolph gets singled out for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance. —Ben Travers
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Too often the critical assessment of this show is that it’s “The Wire”-lite, when in reality it is a completely different type of series. “The Chi” is not a zoomed-out look at the failures of urban institutions, but rather creator Lena Waithe has reclaimed the narrative of her hometown, the southside of Chicago, from the media and tells the story of the people from the inside. Her tapestry of characters whose lives interweave creates a seamless and rich story of a shared humanity, that doesn’t sugarcoat harsh realities, but offers the familiarity of characters we grow to know intimately. While some are looking for a show like “The Chi” to offer answers, Waithe and her writing staff have created a celebration of the black spirit.
Beyond the writing, Rick Famuyiwa deserves recognition for setting the show’s unique tone in directing the pilot. Famuyiwa found a looseness and vibrancy in capturing the south side that perfectly matched Waithe’s vision. The entire cast is phenomenal, but it’s Robert Altman-like structure makes it difficult to isolate individuals for awards recognition. It’s for that reason, and many others, that casting director Carmen Cuba is extremely worthy of an Emmy. —Chris O’Falt
There is a special magic to Nicole Byer as a host — it doesn’t matter what she’s doing on screen, she always seems to be having the goddamn time of her life. This makes her basically the perfect host for any reality show, and without a doubt she’s the key to what makes the odd Netflix competition series “Nailed It!”, in which amateur bakers attempt complicated recipes to various degrees of success, so watchable. Good-natured, authentic, savvy, hilarious, and a genuine people person who seems capable of engaging with literally anyone, Byer’s talents are undeniable, and honestly, it seems like an inevitability that she’ll inevitably find herself nominated for Best Reality Show Host at some point. Will “Nailed It!” be the show that makes it happen for her? Honestly, feels like a long shot, but few deserve it more. —Liz Shannon Miller
Turns out we needed “Queer Eye” back in our lives — now, more than ever. The original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was a phenomenon 15 years ago, and it had appeared that the format had run its course. Dusting off the show, in a sea of reboots, seemed a bit cynical at first. But that cynicism went straight out the window once the new “Queer Eye” debuted earlier this year on Netflix.
The new edition managed to spread its message of inclusiveness and uplift to a wider range of people via the show’s home base in Georgia, and there’s rarely a dry eye by the end of each episode. The new Fab Five was also expertly cast, including Antoni Porowski (Food & Wine), Bobby Berk (Interior Design), Karamo Brown (Culture), Jonathan Van Ness (Grooming), and Tan France (Fashion). At a time when hate appears to be on the rise, original “Queer Eye” creator David Collins and his team are offering a message of hope, empathy, and self-growth. There are quite a few people in Washington right now who could use a lesson from the Fab Five.
The original series won a Primetime Emmy in 2004 for outstanding reality show; the sequel deserves to be considered in the structured reality show category. —Michael Schneider
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“The Sinner” was a revelation last summer as the sleeper hit that showed Jessica Biel in a whole new, murderous light. Based on the novel by Petra Hammesfahr, the series sets forth the mystery of why young mom Cora Tannetti (Biel) would stab a complete stranger to death one sunny day at the beach. While everyone is willing to convict her after her confession, one man can’t shake the idea that there is far more to the story. Det. Harry Ambrose knows she had demons because of he harbors his own dark compulsions.
Bill Pullman plays the tenacious detective with an intriguing restraint. The veteran actor may have previously been known for his more wholesome roles in “Independence Day” or “While You Were Sleeping,” but here, he’s anything but forthcoming. On one hand, Pullman is able to give depth to the man with secrets as dense as his beard. On the other hand, he gives Ambrose just enough of a pained twinkle in his eye to acknowledge life’s twisted sense of humor. One must laugh or else cry, and the complexity that Pullman brings to the character is fascinating as it is confounding. It’s no wonder that “The Sinner” will be extended – from limited series to anthology series – with the grim detective as the one common element next season. —Hanh Nguyen
In the chilly climes of the upper reaches of the Arctic, with ten episodes of closely observed conversations and quiet, observant storytelling, “The Terror” might not be the kind of series that makes for an Emmys shoo-in. Even with the impeccable period detail and gorgeous expanses of rocky terrain just beyond the reach of the Northwest Passage, the stunning craftsmanship behind this AMC limited series is much harder to condense to a simple reel of the season’s greatest hits. It’s the kind of show that rewards full immersion.
When the force that threatens the Franklin expedition finally reveals itself, it’s another feat of design. Blending the physical and digital with a keen precision, “The Terror” seamlessly weaves together the human and the not-so-human. And the men and women who make up the ensemble do an incredible amount of work to help ground this tale in something recognizable, even as the supernatural encroaches. Whether it’s the complex inner turmoil of officers like Jared Harris’ Captain Crozier or the gentle perseverance of those further down the hierarchy like Paul Ready’s Dr. Goodsir, “The Terror” is a feast of both performance and craft. The Academy would be wise to salute its efforts. —Steve Greene
Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Ryan Eggold (“New Amsterdam”) will announce this year’s major category Emmy nominees, along with Television Academy Chairman and CEO Hayma Washington and President and COO Maury McIntyre, on Thursday, July 12, at 8:25 a.m. PT.