Is an unruly ballot giving you headaches? Are all those FYC ads making your head spin? Do you find yourself worried you’re forgetting a beloved performance lost in the shuffle, or a favorite show that debuted a million years ago?
Take a breath. Emmy season is insane, and never more so than when it’s time to vote for the 2019 nominations. But IndieWire is here to help. After going through the 165 drama series on the ballot, as well as the 1,000-plus submitted performers and writers in the drama categories, TV Awards Editor Libby Hill and TV Critic Ben Travers have selected an ideal ballot of more-than-worthy contenders.
While there’s no way to represent all the excellent would-be Emmy nominees out there, the list below highlights critical voices in the TV industry and cuts out the riffraff so you have a clear picture of the best options. Perhaps the selections will remind you of a few series you missed, or encourage you to give an actor a second look. No matter what, it’s a much more streamlined ballot than the one offered by the TV Academy.
So read on, think carefully, and please: Don’t forget these candidates when you vote – the deadline is June 24 at 10 p.m. The ballot may be big and the ads may be overwhelming, but voting is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
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Best Drama Series
- “Better Call Saul”
- “The Deuce”
- “The First”
- “Sorry For Your Loss”
Ben Travers: “Game of Thrones” scared off a lot of perennial contenders, from “The Handmaid’s Tale” to “The Crown,” making 2019 a critical opportunity for some also-rans to break into a typically crowded race. A David Simon series has never been nominated for Best Drama, so “The Deuce” snagging a slot for its outstanding second season would not only be a smart pick, but a long overdue honor for one of TV’s greatest writers. Meanwhile, “Homecoming” deserves a slot because it’s an incredibly well-executed half-hour series, illustrating how a tight 30-minute format can actually help keep steady tension and bolster creativity at the same time. Oh, and “The First”? Beau Willimon’s Hulu original is the best canceled series competing. It’s just a shame it’s not on the ballot in more categories.
Libby Hill: The paucity of greatness in the final season of a certain dragon/incest series allows voters to pivot to celebrating some of those other shows that have been unceremoniously shoved out of the drama series spotlight in recent years. Case in point: AMC’s “Better Call Saul.” With quiet consistency fueled by the narrative engine of a perpetually ticking clock, “Saul” belongs to a rare class of sequel that dares to challenge its predecessor — in this case, “Breaking Bad” — for quality. Of course, if your tastes run more revolutionary, then FX’s “Pose” is for you. Giving us a window into a world that television is only beginning to explore, the show creates a new spin on the family drama that’s fresh and familiar at once. Plus, the lewks are out of control. Another freshman drama making its own mark, albeit on a much smaller scale, is Facebook Watch’s “Sorry For Your Loss.” The Elizabeth Olsen vehicle mucks about in the difficult business of living, with looking at death and depression and grief with clear eyes.
Best Actress in a Drama Series
- Christine Baranski, “The Good Fight”
- Toni Collette, “Wanderlust”
- Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”
- Suranne Jones, “Gentleman Jack”
- Elizabeth Olsen, “Sorry For Your Loss”
- Julia Roberts, “Homecoming”
LH: Yeah, I said it. Julia Roberts deserves an Emmy nomination. Though it seems impossible to think that voters might leave her off their ballot given the sheer name recognition, it’s worth stating for the record that in “Homecoming” Roberts brings the best version of her nervy big-screen energy, not by shrinking it, but by concentrating it to great effect. In “Sorry For Your Loss,” another nomination-worthy performance from Elizabeth Olsen hearkens back to her indie film roots as a young widow. The series lives and dies on Olsen’s wrenching, but ultimately hopeful, depiction of real and lasting grief. Meanwhile, there’s Christine Baranski on CBS All Access’ “The Good Fight,” taking a character she’s started on “The Good Wife” 10 years ago and with each passing year discovers new layers and notes to play, like the ultimate jazz actress.
BT: Thank you for choosing Roberts — who’s right up there for the very best of the year, barring categories — as it freed me up to talk about Suranne Freaking Jones. “Gentleman Jack” is a series that’s grown on me, but Jones has been stellar from the jump. Commanding, subtle, and charismatic, she’s a force of a lead who carries the HBO drama on her back. Arguably, the same could be said for Jodie Comer, who — despite the always excellent Sandra Oh by her side — got the lion’s share of the work in Season 2. Finally, Toni Collette’s Netflix series debuted too early for “Wanderlust” to make a big mark on the Emmys, but here’s hoping the actress’ moment continues long enough to earn an Emmy nod.
Best Actor in a Drama Series
- Michael Dorman, “Patriot”
- Damson Idris, “Snowfall”
- Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
- Billy Porter, “Pose”
- Jason Ralph, “The Magicians”
- J.K. Simmons, “Counterpoint”
BT: OK, so the characters played by Michael Dorman and Billy Porter couldn’t be more different — one is a quiet, introspective, folksy assassin and the other drops ferocious insults during drag balls and delivers poignant, heartfelt speeches to his friends. But they’re both magnetic, as Dorman draws you in with his stoic silence and Porter delights you to no ends each of the many words falling out of his mouth. Damson Idris, meanwhile, has mastered the American accent of South Central Los Angeles — he’s from London — while growing his once-soft entrepreneur into an authentically threatening kingpin.
LH: You can’t deny Bob Odenkirk’s comedy credentials – co-creating “Mr. Show,” writing for “Saturday Night Live” – and all of that makes the actor’s journey as Saul Goodman née Jimmy McGill so cutting. Forever the clown, Odenkirk makes the Shakespearean tragedy of his character that much more visceral. And sometimes the best performances on TV come from those shows unable to find their audience. So it goes with J.K. Simmons and “Counterpoint,” where the decorated thespian found understated nuance in his turn as two iterations of the same character. As for Jason Ralph on “The Magicians,” occasionally an actor will be turning in a sedate performance for years, building to a grand crescendo that’s beauty is only revealed in retrospect. So it was for Ralph this year.
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
- Carrie Coon, “The Sinner”
- Dominique Fishback, “The Deuce”
- Indya Moore, “Pose”
- Rhea Seehorn, “Better Call Saul”
- Susan Kelechi Watson, “This Is Us”
- Maisie Williams, “Game of Thrones”
LH: I did it. I broke the “Game of Thrones” seal. And why not? For whatever failures the final season of “Thrones” had, none of them had anything to do with Williams’ sterling performance as Arya Stark. Consider this an award for a collection of work if you must, but she’s the true (Night)Kingslayer. (I’m so sorry.) Meanwhile, because some shows often hog all the supporting actor/actress nominations, Rhea Seehorn has never been nominated for “Better Call Saul,” which is appalling, given that the series would not work without her steely, but not unyielding, presence. And on “Pose,” Indya Moore delivers a sweet and soulful performance while displaying secret reserves of strength in a breakout turn.
BT: Oh my gosh, Libby, I cannot go along with this “Game of Thrones” support unless the words “Lena” and “Headey” are involved, but I respect your argument. In turn, I hope you respect my pushes for “The Deuce” — Dominique Fishback had a helluva year — “The Sinner” — in which Carrie Coon kept us guessing, gasping, and even crying throughout Season 2 — and “This Is Us.” Yes, “This Is Us,” an awards hog much like “Game of Thrones,” but I’m hoping against hope the TV Academy sees fit to reward the best actor of Season 3, Ms. Watson.
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
- David Costabile, “Billions”
- Kieran Culkin, “Succession”
- Asia Kate Dillon, “Billions”
- Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
- Matthew Macfadyen, “Succession”
- David Pasquesi, “Lodge 49”
BT: “Lodge 49” is a tricky nut to crack, but those who caught AMC’s vibe did so because master improviser Dave Pasquesi read the room — or, the lodge, really — and brought a peculiar, inviting, and always personal tone to his scenes. And while he embodied the world around him, David Costabile demands everything shift to his point-of-view. Wags is a fan favorite because of Costabile’s spirited turn, specific elocution, and savvy turns of phrase — almost the exact opposite of Matthew Macfadyen in “Succession,” whose jovial yet nervous stumbling through big business is as endearing as a puppy dog. Even when he’s barking at Greg (Nicholas Braun, also award-worthy), it’s hard to stay mad at ol’ Tom.
LH: Again with the “Game of Thrones,” and say what you will about the series, it gave the world a performance for the ages in Peter Dinklage and that persisted into the final season. Beyond Dinklage it would appear that we’ve set up a battle of the “Billions” and a “Succession” scrap of its own. While Asia Kate Dillon doesn’t have the showiest role on the series, their work as Taylor Mason is quietly revelatory, and offers an incisive counterpoint to a show that could easily drown in its own toxic masculinity. Kieran Culkin on “Succession” is perhaps the exact opposite of that, but to great effect. An unrepentant asshole, Roman Roy is a product of his toxic family, but it’s Culkin’s work that makes him endlessly appealing, leaving audiences begging for more.
BT: Oh my gosh, the double “Billions” bill — and seconds for “Succession” — have to happen. Great picks.
Hilary B Gayle/SMPSP
Best Directing in a Drama Series
- Susanna White, “The Deuce” (Episode 6, “We’re All Beasts”)
- Miguel Sapochnik, “Game of Thrones” (Episode 3, “The Long Night”)
- Daina Reid, “The Handmaid’s Tale (Episode 11, “Holly”)
- Sam Esmail, “Homecoming” (Episode 8, “Protocol”)
- Zal Batmanglij, “The OA Part II” (Episode 1, “Angel of Death”)
- Ryan Murphy, “Pose” (Episode 1, “Pilot”)
LH: This category is everything I love and hate about the Emmys rolled into one. Take Miguel Sapochnik, whose direction of “Game of Thrones” was always among the highlights of the series. Sapochnik directed two episodes of the final season, one of which is arguably the best-looking episode of the entire series (“The Bells”) and another which took a very long time to film (“The Long Night”). Sapochnik should be nominated regardless, but he submitted the wrong episode. Why not choose an episode where voters can see — literally see — your work? Also at play in this category is the brilliance of a hanging episode. “The Handmaid’s Tale” had three episodes from last season eligible for individual nominations, meaning that Episode 11 of Season 2, in which June (Elisabeth Moss) gives birth in a deserted house is eligible — and worthy — of your love. Also in play is Ryan Murphy’s elegant direction of the “Pose” pilot, serving as a deft entry point for the rich universe waiting inside the ballroom.
BT: Murphy definitely upped his directing game for “Pose,” and I’m just as frustrated over this ballot. Deniz Gamze Ergüven deserves so much love for her direction on “The First,” and yet neither of the “Mustang” director’s episodes are even on the ballot. Still, Sam Esmail has to, he just has to get a nomination for his spellbinding, Hitchcockian direction of “Homecoming” (especially given Episode 8 is the frame-expanding payoff of a season’s worth of vertical set-up), and Susanna White deserves all the accolades for how she captured a character (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Candy) directing, guerrilla-style, through the dirty, magnificent streets of ’70s NYC. Finally, “The OA” doesn’t really get enough credit for its visual compositions, which can be as ethereal as a fairy tale and grounded as a gritty indie flick, sometimes at the same time. Zal Batmanglij’s direction elevates the insanity and reality of Netflix’s sci-fi series, so let’s throw some love toward the oft-ignored genre, eh?
Best Writing in a Drama Series
- Brian Koppelman and David Levien, “Billions” (Episode 7, “Infinite Game”)
- Justin Marks and Maegan Houang, “Counterpart” (Episode 6, “Twin Cities”)
- Francesca Sloane, “The First” (Episode 5, “Two Portraits”)
- Bruce Miller and Kira Snyder, “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Episode 11, “Holly”)
- Liza Johnson, “Room 104” (Episode 3, “Swipe Right”)
- Kit Steinkellner, “Sorry For Your Loss” (Episode 1, “One Fun Thing”)
BT: Two of my picks are canceled, and the other is jumping categories. Justin Marks’ Starz drama “Counterpart” reached new creative heights by traveling back in time to see how the two universes were created, while “The First” also took a trip into the past to better define two of its key female characters. Both are awe-inspiring for different reasons (“Twin Cities” is big-picture imagination while “Two Portraits” is piercingly intimate), and then there’s “Room 104,” which blows the roof off the place with rapping Michael Shannon. These are TV dramas that speak to the scope and possibility of the genre, and it’s exciting to see these writers go in so many different directions — and succeed.
LH: So many of the best journeys on television are singular, but expanded in such a way that they feel universal. In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a woman flashes back to how very different the birth of her first child was, in the midst of delivering her second child, alone, in an unrecognizable country run by a misogynistic regime. In “Sorry For Your Loss,” a woman struggles to keep living now that her life as she once knew it is gone. But what makes TV magic is its verisimilitude, so sometimes what makes for a great story looks like “Billions,” where people come together in order to tear each other apart and the audience is left covered in metaphorical blood and cheering the destruction.
Tomorrow’s Emmy Dream Ballot will focus on this year’s comedy nominees.