Comedy offerings at this year’s Emmys are an embarrassment of riches. If each and every category doubled the eligible number of shows that could be nominated, there still wouldn’t be enough room for all the worthy contenders, so making tough decisions is a given for all TV Academy voters.
IndieWire is here to help. As we did with drama already, TV Awards Editor Libby Hill and TV Critic Ben Travers have selected an ideal ballot of more-than-worthy contenders from the 108 comedy programs and 1,000-plus performers submitted.
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. (That said, don’t forget Julia Louis Dreyfus — she’s only absent below because her presence should be a given.) Perhaps these 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 before the voting deadline on June 24 at 10 p.m. PT. The ballot may be big and the ads may be overwhelming, but voting is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
Best Comedy Series
- “Better Things”
- “Broad City”
- “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”
- “The Other Two”
- “Russian Doll”
Ben Travers: Listen, this could’ve gone in many, many different directions, but it came down to what’s undeniable. Pamela Adlon’s “Better Things” is clicking on all cylinders, “Broad City” ended beautifully, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” remains one of the most criminally overlooked comedies in Emmy history. Each had standout seasons barring all else, standing toe-to-toe with the elite creative offerings across genres. TV comedies have never been better, and neither have these programs.
Libby Hill: It’s strange how often television finds a way to balance itself. For the dearth of exceptional drama series, comedy categories are absolutely stacked to the point where it’s impossible to know whether to place dark horses on the ballot or dark horses to the dark horses. I suspect we landed somewhere in between. Regular IndieWire readers won’t be surprised to hear that Amazon’s “Fleabag” is an absolute must-see as far as Emmy voting goes, as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s problem child stumbles her way towards catharsis. Neck-in-neck with the U.K. import is Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” which offered up its own spin on a woman grappling with self-improvement, with brilliant results. And not to be overlooked is Comedy Central’s “The Other Two,” an uproarious family comedy that’s goofy charm proves it a worthy successor to “Broad City.”
Best Actress in a Comedy Series
- Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
- Aidy Bryant, “Shrill”
- Aya Cash, “You’re the Worst”
- Amy Sedaris, “At Home with Amy Sedaris”
- Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag”
- Michaela Watkins, “Casual”
LH: Working theory: Women are good, actually, and very funny. Actress is another overstuffed category that leaves me weeping for the ridiculously talented women left off the list. Personally, I looked to pick women whose shows would not be possible without their presence at its center. Both Pamela Adlon and Phoebe Waller-Bridge created their shows from the ground up, with each not only writing every episode but starring in a story that is wholly their own. Sam Fox could be no one other than Adlon and the same can be said of Waller-Bridge’s tragicomic Fleabag. Similarly, while Hulu’s “Shrill” could work with someone other than Aidy Bryant fronting it, there’s no question it would be a lesser series. Bryant melds together a delicate balance of unassuming and unpredictable that both draws viewers in and leaves them anxious for more.
BT: Love these picks, and feel similarly about my own. Aya Cash has been pure gold as Gretchen on “You’re the Worst,” moving assuredly between magnificent hijinks and dark turns of the soul. Michaela Watkins elevated “Casual” each and every season, bringing an observant wit and resonant pathos to the ever-seeking psychiatrist. And Amy Sedaris, well, she puts it all on the field. It’s redundant to say no one else could star in “At Home with Amy Sedaris,” but no one could pull off such a potent mix of sketch silliness and earnest love of crafting. There are so many more women worth honoring, but start here, voters.
David Russell / HBO
Best Actor in a Comedy Series
- Jim Carrey, “Kidding”
- Ted Danson, “The Good Place”
- Bill Hader, “Barry”
- Sam Richardson, “Detroiters”
- Ben Sinclair, “High Maintenance”
- Ramy Youssef, “Ramy”
BT: In many ways, this was Sam Richardson’s year. He starred in and/or stole scenes during three separate shows, as a dependable and dynamic series regular on “Veep,” “Champaign, ILL,” and “Detroiters.” It’s that final one, though, that was nearest and dearest to Richardson’s heart, and the canceled Comedy Central series co-created by Richardson and friend Tim Robinson also offered both a deserved opportunity to show off their range. Meanwhile, there’s Ramy Youssef playing a version of himself in the Hulu comedy, “Ramy,” but he does so with a loose charm and down-to-earth authenticity that guides the series so well. Finally, Jim Carrey gives his kid-friendly TV persona on Showtime’s dark comedy “Kidding” the believable edge needed to draw viewers into its pitch-black conversations. He’s believably sweet when he’s working one-on-one with kids (or one-on-one-million when he’s talking to them through the TV), yet once Carrey’s host snaps, it’s clear his inner darkness has been lurking all along.
LH: The selections here are all over the map, but here’s how I see it. Bill Hader is a lock for “Barry,” if not to win, than surely to get nominated, yet his performance as the reformed-ish hitman is so magnetic that it felt physically impossible to leave him off the list. Ted Danson’s work on “The Good Place” is as lovely as ever, and potentially easy to overlook in a crowded category. But I really want to highlight Ben Sinclair from HBO’s “High Maintenance.” Sinclair’s nameless marijuana deliveryman is a portrait of low-key empathy often missing in our day-to-day lives that leaves you looking for those journeymen who visit the edges of your life each day, intersecting briefly, only to spin off in their own predetermined orbit. It’s chill.
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
- Lolly Adefope, “Shrill”
- D’Arcy Carden, “The Good Place”
- Sian Clifford, “Fleabag”
- Betty Gilpin, “GLOW”
- Rita Moreno, “One Day at a Time”
- Paula Pell, “A.P. Bio”
LH: Despite loads of talented options, for my money there is only one truly acceptable choice for supporting actress in a comedy series and that is one D’Arcy Carden, who has an episode in the third season of “The Good Place” so remarkable, so astonishing, and so delightful that I find myself thinking about it most days. But there are lots of other great people, too, including Sian Clifford, the perfect “Fleabag” foil and so often the voice of grudging, unreasonable reason. Plus, though the show is canceled – for now? – Rita Moreno’s work on “One Day at a Time” deserves to be put in the sitcom pantheon and it’s ridiculous the Television Academy has yet to recognize it.
BT: These supporting players all stepped up in a big way during their respective seasons — so much so they could almost carry shows of their own. Now that “A.P. Bio” has been sadly canceled, Paula Pell may have to do just that — good thing she showed once again just how capable she is, stealing scenes on a regular basis in Season 2 and playing wonderfully off Patton Oswalt’s principal. Then there’s Lolly Adefope, who does so much with so little time in the six-episode first season of “Shrill.” Betty Gilpin, meanwhile, is given quite a bit of meat to chew on during her wild arc on “GLOW,” and she guides Debbie through each step with humanity and grace. She’s convincing at every turn, on every flip, and even with that exaggerated Southern stage accent — let’s keep her in the mix this year.
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
- Marc Maron, “GLOW”
- James Marsden, “Dead to Me”
- Rob McElhenney, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”
- Stephen Root, “Barry”
- Nico Santos, “Superstore”
- Timothy Simons, “Veep”
BT: If “Westworld” had come out this year, perhaps James Marsden would’ve gotten more attention for his arresting, against-type turn on “Dead to Me.” His turn as a superficial asshole is such an about-face from his stoic, hero-type in the HBO drama, and while “Dead to Me” is structured more as a drama than a comedy, this is the ballot we’ve been dealt. Meanwhile, Rob McElhenney knocked our socks off in the “Sunny” finale, dancing into our hearts like Mac had never done before. And then there’s Timothy Simons on “Veep” — how has he not been nominated yet? The fierce belief he brings to Jonah’s infantile politico is outstanding on its own, not to mention the rhythm he has with the rest of the cast and vehement energy he adds to each insult. Give it up, TV Academy.
LH: Admittedly, the role of the cantankerous director of an all-women’s wrestling show seems tailor-made for Marc Maron, but that’s still no reason for Maron to be as good as he is on “GLOW.” After a season of nailing all of the vaguely misogynist insults, Season 2 saw Maron elevate his game and reveal a tenderness heretofore unseen in his performance. On “Superstore,” Nico Santos was tasked with playing an impossible role, one of a slightly vapid, image-conscious retail worker who consistently delivers in hilarious fashion, while also illustrating the plight of undocumented workers currently toiling in America. The series delivers on the promise of the narrative, in no small part thanks to Santos’ portrayal. Also, this may sound completely random to you, but were you aware that veteran comedic genius Stephen Root has never won an Emmy? Nay, has never been nominated for an Emmy. Assuming that this is all some kind of gross oversight or clerical error, let me now make the case for finally recognizing Root’s long career full of good work by advocating for his performance on “Barry.” Root has mastered both the menace and the dark hilarity required to serve as Barry’s foil and fully embodies the darker angels of our nature.
Best Directing in a Comedy Series
- Pamela Adlon, “Better Things” (Episode 12, “Shake the Cocktail”)
- Bill Hader, “Barry” (Episode 5, “ronny/lily”)
- Leslye Headlund, “Russian Doll” (Episode 1, “Nothing In This World Is Easy”)
- Michel Gondry, “Kidding” (Episode 10, “Some Day”)
- Shaka King, “Shrill” (Episode 4, “Pool”)
- Morgan Sackett, “The Good Place” (Episode 9, “Janet(s)”)
LH: It is celebrated film director Leslye Headlund who sets the visual tone for the whole of “Russian Doll,” the inventive comedy that deserves all the awards it can get, and it’s Headlund who deserves a nomination for her stellar direction of the show’s pilot episode. Meanwhile, on “Shrill,” Shaka King brought an intoxicating allure to the episode “Pool,” featuring dozens of beautiful bodies not typically depicted on television, enjoying a pool party like so many florid mermaids. And Morgan Sackett helmed a mind-bending episode of “The Good Place” unlike anything else in the last season of television and should be lauded accordingly.
BT: Adlon, Adlon, Adlon, Adlon, Adlon — listen, “Better Things” deserves every nomination it qualifies for (and a few more), but if Adlon isn’t up for director come the morning of July 16, there’s something deeply wrong with the Academy. I love the mix of magical whimsy and harrowing reality Gondry brings to “Kidding,” as well as Bill Hader’s comedic insights into framing all the long takes and slow pans in “ronny/lily,” but everyone at “Better Things” would give up their own accolades if it meant their leader got a nod for directing every single episode of Season 3 (and Season 2, for that matter) with empathy, creativity, and emotional resonance. Please voters, make it happen.
Best Writing in a Comedy Series
- Pamela Adlon, “Better Things” (Episode 12, “Shake the Cocktail”)
- Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, “Catastrophe” (Episode 6, “Episode 6”)
- Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag” (Episode 1, “Episode 1”)
- Justin Spitzer, “Superstore” (Episode 22, “Employee Appreciation Day”)
- Shauna McGarry, “Tuca & Bertie” (Episode 9, “The Jelly Lakes”)
- Stephen Falk, “You’re the Worst” (Episode 13, “Pancakes”)
BT: Ah, the writing category — where animated series get to compete alongside their live-action comedy brethren, and for good reason. “Tuca & Bertie” is filled with award-worthy episodes, but Shauna McGarry’s penultimate Season 1 entry, “Jelly Lakes,” blends the show’s bright, off-the-wall humor with its intimate character development. It’s right up there with the year’s best, alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s heralded dinner party “Fleabag” premiere and Stephen Falk’s surprising, genre-stretching series finale to “You’re the Worst.”
LH: Speaking of finales for exquisite shows centered on flawed relationships, “Catastrophe” ended its fourth season on the bittersweet, yet hopeful note that Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan struck so well over the years, a fitting end for one of the finest comedies in recent memory. “Superstore” creator Justin Spitzer penned the Season 4 finale for the series, his last serving as the show’s showrunner, and in the process crafted an audacious episode balancing the weight of capitalism, the battle for worker organization, and the struggle of immigration, all the while making something equal parts funny and fraught. And IndieWire favorite Pamela Adlon proved why she’s one of the best in the business with the third season finale for “Better Things,” wherein Sam must learn to let go and hope against hope that the people she loves – and who love her – will bear her up.
Tomorrow’s Emmy Dream Ballot will focus on this year’s limited series nominees.