Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: Who is the one performer deserving of an Emmy but has never been nominated?
(Of all time. This is open to any actors on canceled TV shows also, not just current contenders.)
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
It’s Justin Theroux. It’s Eva Green. It’s Aya Cash. It’s Nick Offerman. It’s Constance Wu. It’s any number of singular, stand-out performances infuriatingly ignored over the course of multiple seasons. Each of these actors played the same role for three or more seasons in “The Leftovers,” “Penny Dreadful,” “You’re the Worst,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” respectively, and the TV Academy’s refusal to acknowledge their top-tier evocations is maddening.
But it’s also Lauren Graham, Adam Scott, Courteney Cox, Wendell Pierce, and Jonathan Tucker, all of whom have made an indelible mark on the medium over multiple award-worthy roles. Graham deserved the gold for “Gilmore Girls” and “Parenthood”; Scott for “Party Down” and “Parks and Recreation”; Cox for “Friends” and “Cougar Town”; Pierce for “The Wire” and “Treme”; Tucker for “The Black Donnellys” and “Kingdom” — and he could still snag a nod for “Kingdom,” setting the world right-side up again. All this is to say there is no one performer who deserves a nomination more than their peers who haven’t; there are boatloads, and the TV Academy needs to get better at recognizing the wide array of talent on display each and every year instead of sticking in their lanes and nominating the same shows over and over again.
But really, you know, it’s all about Keri Russell. I mean, come on. She’s been nominated, what, twice? That’s practically nothing when you realize how she should be spending her weekends repeatedly fixing the mantle above her cozy cottage fireplace because it can’t hold the weight of her six goddamn Emmys. I’m sorry. I know this is off-topic. It just had to be said.
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
Two nom ommissions chafe me the most: Nick Offerman for his iconic character Ron Swanson in “Parks and Recreation” and Eva Green for her turn as the haunting and haunted Vanessa Ives in “Penny Dreadful” for Showtime. Never prouder to be a voting member and part of the Television Critics Association Award for giving Offerman the 2011 Individual Achievement in Comedy awards. Swanson is such an enduringly hilarious character.
At least we got Green nominated for her turn in “Penny” back to back in the BTJA Critics’ Choice Awards in 2015 and 2016. Her work was breathtaking and exemplary for this white-knuckler TV series, and she should have at the very least earned an Emmy nom.
Marisa Roffman (@marisaroffman), Give Me My Remote
THE FACT THAT JOHN NOBLE HAS NEVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR AN EMMY IS A CRIME. (Just imagine me yelling this. I have yelled this.) Noble’s work on “Fringe” was stunning, as viewers saw not only two versions of his character Walter (Walter/Walternate) in two separate universes, but they also saw him spanning many decades — and displaying every emotion possible. Whether he was broken, badass, both, or downright giddy, John Noble was a freaking marvel on “Fringe.” And the fact that he was never acknowledged for his work remains a freaking shame.
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
So the way I see it, this question as phrased to us has two major complicating factors: First, that they’re deserving of the Emmy, which is to say WINNING. To me, that means you have to be able to go and see who the top two or three nominated actors were in that category in any given year and say that this actor wasn’t just worthy of a nomination in that field, but that a reasonable, dispassionate argument could be made that they also should have won. The second being the “has never been nominated” part, which doesn’t specify whether they got a nomination for a role unrelated to the one they deserved to win for. Carrie Coon would, of course, be the poster woman for this, because she absolutely fulfills the first complicating factor, deserving both a nomination and win for “The Leftovers,” but receiving neither. However, she received a nomination for “Fargo.” So she’s out. Recency bias is definitely holding me back here, but my two runners-up would be Katey Sagal — surely worthy of winning for the second “Sons of Anarchy” season and yet somehow never nominated for that or “Married with Children” or even for vocal work on “Futurama,” which is bizarre — and Michael McKean, who has four decades of scene-stealing performances without nominations and could have won last year for “Better Call Saul.”
I’d have been fine with either of those two answers, but I’m sticking with the two recent performances that came to my mind first, performances that are polar opposites. Aden Young spent four seasons on “Rectify” giving a quiet performance of tiny details, of internal torment and external confusion, and it’s a performance that I’d put up against the very best male lead work of the Peak TV era, the Cranstons or Hamms or Chandlers. No nominations and, equally baffling, no subsequent career explosion. And nobody would ever call Eva Green’s work in “Penny Dreadful” quiet, but as externalized performative anguish goes, it doesn’t get much better than Green’s zany and committed performance, which I’d call “operatic” in the best possible way. If you made me choose only one, it would be Green, if only because her lack of recognition is more baffling to me. For all of its critical love, nobody watched “Rectify” and nobody had ever heard of Young. But “Penny Dreadful” was much more visible, earning several handfuls of technical Emmy nods over its three seasons, and Eva Green came into the show with a visible movie pedigree. She even earned a Golden Globe nomination. She arrived just as the lead actress in a drama category was ascending to a position as the Emmy ballot’s most packed, but she should have been in the conversation to win, not just be nominated, every year.
Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider
I can’t narrow it down to one, so: every single person involved in “Rectify.” Everyone.
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Rolling Stone
The phrasing of this question made it trickier than I was expecting, since many of the all-time great Emmy snubs involved people who were nominated at least once (Ian McShane for “Deadwood”), if not repeatedly (Martin Sheen for “West Wing,” Amy Poehler for “Parks and Rec,” Hugh Laurie for “House,” Steve Carell for “The Office,” etc.) Even Jackie Gleason, perhaps the most egregious example of an iconic TV star without an Emmy, got five nominations. (And the one year “The Honeymooners” was eligible, Gleason lost to Phil Silvers, who otherwise would be Emmy-less himself.)
I thought about the cast of “The Wire,” since the Emmys long ignored that show, but Idris Elba and Michael Kenneth Williams have multiple nominations for roles other than Stringer and Omar, and I don’t know that I’d automatically point to other actors from the show (maybe Michael B. Jordan, who’s also done great work on “Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights”) where they would have been my clear Emmy winner if nominated. So my pick is Poehler’s indomitable “Parks and Rec” co-star Nick Offerman, who turned Ron Effing Swanson into one of the great sitcom characters of all time with his utter commitment to the absurd, deadpan minimalism of the part, and didn’t even get a nomination in either of the two years when the Academy nominated the show for Outstanding Comedy Series. When he eats, it is the food that is scared, and when he is snubbed, it is the voters who should feel shame.
Tim Surette (@timsurette), TV.com
Since 2005, Kaitlin Olson has been kicking ass as “Sweet Dee” Reynolds on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but apparently Emmy voters didn’t know that. The Lead Actress in a Comedy category has had a tough time filling out its nominees since good roles for women in comedy are few and far between, leaving us with multiple nominations for actresses in half-hour dramedies such as Lena Dunham and Mary-Louise Parker or familiar names just to pad the ballot, which makes Olson’s absence even more frustrating. Olson is doing pure comedy and doing it great; her mix of comedic timing, rubber-faced acting and physical comedy has made her the funniest woman on TV not named Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the last 10-plus years. No one else could play a funnier, drunken bird lady than she does. You’d think 12 seasons would be enough to get “Sunny” the awards attention it deserves starting with Olson, but nope.
Eric Deggans (@deggans), NPR
As much as I love participating in the TV critics’ surveys, sometimes answering the questions can feel like jumping into a high stakes game of Trivial Pursuit. Like now: wide as my knowledge is about TV, I’m gonna admit scouring Google, Wikipedia and IMDB to figure out this one, because it’s tough to remember sometimes who hasn’t EVER been nominated for any award. That said, when I finally got my Sherlock Holmes on, I was really surprised at what I found.
First pick: Michael McKean. I knew he got the worst snubbing in TV history when Emmy overlooked his amazing arc as Jimmy McGill’s brother Chuck on “Better Call Saul.” But to learn McKean — a guy who has been nominated for an Oscar and won a Grammy – has never been nominated in a career that includes “Laverne and Shirley,” “The X-Files,” “Dream On” and “Saul”? The TV gods are fickle indeed. Second pick: Lauren Graham. Nevermind how much I have crushed on her as a TV fan over the years; how in the world did witty, compelling turns on both the original “Gilmore Girls,” “Parenthood” and Netflix’s “Gilmore Girls” revival not bring television’s queen of snappy banter at least one nomination? Third pick: Constance Wu, the no-nonsense, no-filter mom on ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” who wound up announcing an award to someone else at the 2016 Emmy awards after she was cruelly snubbed as a nominee. Maybe it’s because Wu speaks fearlessly offscreen too – lambasting Hollywood’s limited roles for Asian actors and Casey Affleck’s Oscar nomination amid sexual harassment allegations. But I can’t think of an actress who more richly deserves recognition for serving as a key player in one of TV’s most underrated comedies.
Kaitlin Thomas (@thekaitling), TVGuide.com
I could use this time to complain about how “Better Call Saul’s” Michael McKean was robbed last year, but that would require me to ignore someone I’ve been championing for many years now and the person whose name actually sprung to mind when I first read this question: Jonathan Tucker. There are very few actors who disappear into their roles the way that Tucker does. Each performance is distinctive and unique and so completely thorough that I could probably choose any role from Tucker’s filmography and find endless incredible things to say about him, but I think the best example of Tucker’s work thus far has been on “Kingdom.” I know the MMA-themed series wasn’t watched by many people — you should all feel bad for not watching this amazing show, by the way — but his work as the reckless and brash but emotionally deep Jay Kulina might have just been the performance of a lifetime. Tucker gave everything he had to that role, even famously cutting weight to add authenticity to Jay’s story, which already required him to leave everything on the floor. Still, something tells me this was really just one of many roles that will come to define Tucker over the course of his career, and one day I hope I can stop writing these kinds of captions and write a story about how he finally got the recognition he’s deserved for years.
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
It’s fairly well-known that Lauren Graham, despite turning in an achingly sincere, technically dazzling performance on “Gilmore Girls,” never once received the Emmy nomination she so clearly deserved, either for that show’s seven seasons, or for the Netflix miniseries revival. (She also was never nominated for “Parenthood,” a role I wouldn’t have nominated her for but which you could see the Emmys abruptly using as a sort of make-up nomination.) But did you know the same is also true of Kelly Bishop, who played her mother, Emily? Neither actress has ever received an Emmy nomination, which is just weird to me. And even weirder is that the one “Gilmore Girl” who has gotten an Emmy nom — and won — is Alexis Bledel. Imagine predicting that future back in 2002 or so.
Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), GoldDerby
At this time last year, I’d pick my Emmy hope-diction Michael McKean, and while he’d still apply, I’m gonna go with my longtime Friend Courteney Cox. Everyone knows she was the only “Friends” star never to have been nominated during its run and the Emmys never cared about Cougar Town, but she hasn’t been nominated for anything, not for producing or a voiceover role or a narration or a one-time guest spot somewhere. It’s such cruel rebuff of one of our great, iconic comediennes, and I appreciate Cox getting candid how much the “Friends” snubs hurt and why a nomination now would mean more. If Joey can get nominated for a Soapy, Courteney Cox can get nominated for an Emmy.
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
On our own Steve Greene’s behalf, I’m mentioning Andy Daly because he just said in the office, “The correct answer is Andy Daly,” and I felt like he deserved to be heard. But really, Constance Wu has been doing incredible work on “Fresh Off the Boat” for four seasons now, taking the tropes of her character and developing Jessica into far more than the tough-talking matriarch of the family — from her novel-writing career to her unique bonds with each of her sons to her intense friendships and love for her husband, Wu has ensured that Jessica is someone singular in the realm of television, and the fact that she’s gone unrecognized year after year is just BAD.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “Sharp Objects” (five votes)
Other contenders: “The Handmaid’s Tale” (four votes), “GLOW,” “Hannah Gadsby: Nanette,” “Somebody Feed Phil” (one vote each)
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.