We can’t really claim these are what we think should have been nominated at the Emmys, or should win, since there’s an impossible amount of television to watch in the world. But if we were the only two members of the Television Academy and we could nominate any TV that aired in the most recent television season (from June 2016 to May 2017 — which is why Twin Peaks didn’t sweep), and we only cared about the seven major awards in drama and comedy, this is what you’d get.
We didn’t distinguish between limited series and other drama series, since supposed miniseries get second seasons if they’re popular enough, and regular drama series turn out to be miniseries when they get prematurely cancelled, while modern anthologies are just regular series that replace narrative continuity with thematic continuity (and some don’t even shed their narrative continuity completely, e.g. American Horror Story, Fargo and Black Mirror). Each of us filled out our personal nominees and then selected the winner by consensus, so the winners only came from shows we’d both nominated, but we’ve each picked a personal runner-up regardless of whether the other has seen or nominated it. We also each gave a Special Achievement Award for something not covered in the major categories – Dean gave the award for Drama, and Ciara gave the award for Comedy.
You can see each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of the post.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES – Orange is the New Black
Ciara: “Season four of Orange is the New Black is one of the best seasons of television ever made. It’s weird to think back to its first season, when it was classified as a comedy and its prison setting mostly functioned to make Piper a fish out of water. Orange is the New Black is still funny, of course, but mostly it’s a high-wire balancing act between empathetic human stories and interrogations of structural horror.
Season four is often hard to watch. In the previous season, the prison was bought by a private corporation, and the show is relentless in depicting its effects: union-busting that leads to guards being hired without proper training (many of them army veterans), so-called education programmes actually being forced labour, exploiting the prisoners as cheap labour to sew lingerie, escalations in problems that had always existed in the prison like torture, sexual violence and racial profiling. Death. The events of season four received a lot of pushback, but to me, the tragedy was earned: not shoehorned lessons for the white viewer, but the culmination of everything Orange is the New Black is about.
Orange is the New Black has always been about empathy – about refusing to show anyone as less human. That’s the reason it has continued with its flashback structure this long, to prevent us from imagining anyone as just an inmate (or a guard). But it isn’t set in a world that shares its values. It’s set in our world, horrors and all.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Feud – “If Feud was just a funny, bitchy show, I would have loved it. But it’s also a show with complex and nuanced things to say about sexism and aging and Hollywood, that gets right under its characters’ skins. It’s perfectly casted, well-directed, and made me cry a whole bunch.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: The Young Pope – “You’ve probably heard The Young Pope described as a ‘Vatican satire’, but I don’t think another work of modern popular culture has taken the Vatican and its role in the world so seriously. The Young Pope was the weirdest and most wonderful surprise on TV this year, and much more interested in skewering secular audience expectations than the Holy See.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA – Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul
Ciara: “Bob Odenkirk was always a comedian. On Breaking Bad, his whole schtick was that Saul was a sitcom character who’d wandered into a drama somehow. The best spin-offs are about a shift in perspective – I love the episode of Frasier where Diane shows up, because stuff that is played for laughs on Cheers is deathly serious on Frasier. I thought that a Saul spin-off would change our perspective by being a sitcom, but it turns out he’s not a sitcom character when he’s at the centre of the story. He’s a tragic hero.
Better Call Saul is brilliant, but Bob Odenkirk especially so. In a show where the future is written and nothing matters, Odenkirk makes Jimmy’s faltering steps away from the light into something tense and incredibly sad. His charisma that seemed so easy on Breaking Bad is a desperate shield, protecting him against a brother and a world that looked down on him and couldn’t accept him as he was. Describing a performance as ‘nuanced’ sounds like a meaningless buzzword, but Odenkirk’s performance really is. People talked about Breaking Bad being a story of a moral descent, but Walter White was always evil, he just finally got the opportunity to act on it. Better Call Saul really is a story about a man struggling with morality, and Odenkirk captures the complexities of that in every frame. And he’s really funny.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Dan Stevens as David Haller in Legion – “Legion is such a weird, mind-bending show that it needs a really strong central performance to ground it emotionally, and Stevens does a wonderful job. As David, he not only allows us to feel connected to a character who has such poor sense of self, but to feel more connected to him because of it.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Richard Dormer as Sheriff Dan Anderssen in Fortitude – “How do you play a psychotic cannibal policeman driven mad by a subcutaneous infestation of prehistoric wasps as a complex and credible character? I have no idea, but Richard Dormer pulls it off with one of the most austere, unnerving and darkly funny performances of any modern crime drama.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA – Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis in Feud
Dean: “When Susan Sarandon was cast in Feud, I nearly slipped outside the Earth’s gravitational pull in surprise. I’ve never experienced the instant sense of excitement at a casting announcement that seems to infect everyone else on the Internet whenever anyone is cast in anything (who cares if Michael Sheen and David Tennant were cast in Good Omens when they and the show might suck?), but there was something special about Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis that made me sure from the moment I heard that I’d soon be watching one of the best performances of her career.
Bette Davis’s public persona was brassy and droll, world-weary even in her youth and never one to back away from a fight. Sarandon captures that side of Davis with what seems like effortless grace, and her imitation of Davis’s performance in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is magnificent. But it’s the private persona of Bette Davis, the parts of her unembedded in history, where Sarandon is creative and transformative, that she really shines. There were layers of performance in the real person of Bette Davis that Sarandon respects and reflects in her portrayal – she sheds her hard outer shell in the company of friends to reveal a second, slightly softer shell, and so on as she enters more intimate contexts. Sarandon’s performance is bold in its scope, yet subtle in its nuances and I’ll burn the Microsoft Theater to the ground if she doesn’t win the Emmy.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life – “Lauren Graham’s performance has always been one for the ages – she’s hilarious and moving and speaks at a hundred miles an hour – and while the revival had some rough patches, Graham shines more than ever. Her monologue about her favourite memory of her late father alone makes it one of TV’s great performances.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe in Halt and Catch Fire – “Davis’s performance as Cameron is transcendent – like a star of the silent era, she can hold herself in front of a camera so that even lying still she’s completely mesmerising. Sometimes that hypnotic quality can create distance between actor and audience, but Davis’s approach to acting is achingly human, with a physicality and vulnerability that always feel sincere and earned.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA – Michael McKean as Chuck McGill in Better Call Saul
Dean: “Sometimes I like to think about how Michael McKean’s portrayal of Chuck would read if Chuck weren’t an asshole. He plays Chuck very grandly, as a man of gravitas and wit. There’s an old-timey quality to it, and I think if Chuck were the hero, all his speeches would be accompanied by a swirl of inspiring music. Of course, he’s not the hero, but he thinks he is: though he mocks Jimmy for trying to manufacture a Perry Mason moment during the latter’s disbarment hearing, you just know Chuck imagines himself as Atticus Finch.
You know because playing Chuck like a hero is how McKean tells you a rich and detailed story about his character’s interior life. His self-regard is apparent right away, but it’s his maintenance of that self-regard, even as his words and actions betray it, that sketches in the shades of delusion that make Chuck so despicable and yet so tragic. That consistency alone makes McKean’s performance brilliant, but it’s the moments when Chuck cracks that make it one for the ages. Whether it was his breakdown on the stand in ‘Chicanery’, or his slow, quiet, deliberate suicide in ‘Lantern’, all of this season’s most powerful and haunting moments were Michael McKean’s for the taking.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: David Thewlis as V. M. Varga in Fargo – “As V. M. Varga, David Thewlis is the evils of capitalism personified. It’s easy for a character who isn’t a realistic person to fall a little flat, but V. M. Varga is truly scary right through to the very last scene of the season. He’s such a disgusting oily slime person that he manages to make the simplest actions revolting.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Miguel Angél Silvestre as Lito Rodriguez in Sense8 – “As an actor in a telenovela-influenced storyline on a surreal, impressionistic sci-fi show, playing a cheesy melodramatic action movie star, it would be easy for Miguel Angél Silvestre to lose track of his character’s core, but he never does. Even while telepathically moping from country to country in long johns, he preserves the pathos at the heart of Lito’s struggle.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA – Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango in Fargo
Ciara: “Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the best part of the third season of Fargo. From the start, she’s committed to playing Nikki as totally, sincerely in love with Ray. A lesser actor would have tried to make her motivations more ambiguous, which is much more played-out than a gorgeous young woman who completely adores her schlubby parole officer. Winstead does a great job at letting us assume certain things about Nikki based on context clues without playing into them: it’s not a twist or a reveal that the femme fatale is strong and smart and tough, it just emerges naturally.
Winstead plays Nikki as someone who is never shocked by the cruelty or absurdity of the world. ‘Pretty girls should only open their mouths when they see a dick,’ Meemo, one of Varga’s henchmen, says, shortly before beating her up. Winstead doesn’t blink or miss a beat before saying, ‘Well, just so I’m clear, which one of you is the dick?’
Nikki is the season’s beating heart, the character we follow and root for – more so than Carrie Coon as Gloria, our protagonist. Mary Elizabeth Winstead sure has come a long way since Passions.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul – “With a character who regulates their emotions as tightly as Kim, it would be easy for Rhea Seehorn’s performance to be boring. Instead, she manages to capture Kim’s complex emotional life under a layer of polished professionalism, while also radiating the anxiety that effort to control her feelings provokes.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Aubrey Plaza as Lenny Busker in Legion – “Aubrey Plaza has been good for a long time, but I had my doubts when she was cast in Legion. Mishandling her role would have turned Legion into an eight-hour loop of that cheesy, embarrassing possession scene from Order of the Phoenix, but she proved her greatness with the most shocking and captivating performance on television this year.”
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A DRAMA – Charlie Brooker for Black Mirror: “San Junipero”
Dean: “Black Mirror isn’t about the perils of technology any more than 1984 is about the perils of cameras and grammar. There’s no episode of Black Mirror where technology fails – the danger in Black Mirror arises exclusively from humanity, sometimes as individuals (‘The Entire History of You’), but more commonly as a society (‘Fifteen Million Merits’). Technology can encourage or enable behaviour, but only as we permit. Black Mirror doesn’t think technology is evil, it thinks humanity is untrustworthy. But when every story it tells about technology ends in tragedy, that point can be blurred.
‘San Junipero’ is the first episode of Black Mirror with a happy ending and it’s the best episode the show’s ever done. The script is paced perfectly – it doesn’t pull back the veil on the titular town’s virtual reality until two-thirds of the way through the episode, giving us as much time as we need to appreciate how real it is for Yorkie. There’s a specificity of character voice (‘I’m regarding you’) and worldbuilding detail (the fifties nostalgia diner in the eighties town) that saves it from the danger common to high-concept stories of abstracting too much from the human factor. Best of all, it just tells a great romance, with lots of pining and lovely romantic dialogue: ‘I don’t want to like anyone, so you’ve just been totally fucking inconvenient’.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Charlie Brooker, Rashida Jones and Mike Schur for Black Mirror: “Nosedive” – “‘Nosedive’, set in a world where everyone uses an app to rate each other out of five, is excellent as a social satire and as a character study, and it never stops being one in order to be the other. Lacie’s breakdown allowing her to become free for the first time stuck with me more than almost anything on television this year.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Michael Saltzman for Halt and Catch Fire: “The Threshold” – “The word ‘writerly’ is often used as a pejorative even in positive reviews of Halt and Catch Fire, but its best ever episode should put that trend to bed. ‘The Threshold’ is a masterpiece in the ‘trapped in a small environment’ tradition of 12 Angry Men that detonates long-simmering conflicts to pit its characters against each other and themselves.”
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING IN A DRAMA – Matthew Weiner for Orange is the New Black: “The Animals”
Ciara: “‘The Animals’ is the only TV work that Matthew Weiner has done since the end of Mad Men, a show he created and ran for seven seasons. It’s one of the most powerful episodes of television I’ve seen, and his direction is a huge part of that.
The big stuff is near the end of the episode, when a peaceful protest is violently broken up by the guards, culminating in the death of a beloved character. It’s the first time since season one that the entire cast is in a scene together, and we follow the reactions of all of them in a way that never makes them blur together into a crowd. ‘Sixty people who are used to being the centre of the scene are going to have to be reacting, but not really be singled out,’ Weiner said, ‘You have to treat every single person like they’re the star of the scene.’ The chaos is so well-executed – the physical performances of the actors and the disorientating cuts – that that it makes me feel kind of sick to watch it.
But the rest of the episode makes that scene all the more powerful: the intimate shots of women in love that never seem leering or invasive, like Poussey and Brook planning their future in the time machine or Piper stroking Alex’s arm. There’s so much hope and humour in the rest of the episode alongside the creeping terror.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Ryan Murphy for Feud: “And the Winner is… (The Oscars of 1963)” – “You know people who deride directing awards for being for the ‘most directing’ instead of the ‘best directing’? I’m not one of those people. This episode of Feud has a Goodfellas-style long take and showy shots with mirrors and the ground literally shaking. Ryan Murphy is incredibly inconsistent, but when he’s good, he’s brilliant.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Paolo Sorrentino for The Young Pope: “Episode 8” – “The Young Pope would be impressive if it was just wall-to-wall visual excess and melodramatic performances, but it’s extraordinary because of its sincere awe for the divine. The eighth episode perfectly captures the sublime and ridiculous nature of the human encounter with God in a way I didn’t think pop culture could since New Hollywood killed the saint picture.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA – Joe Pantoliano as Michael Gorski in the Sense8 Christmas Special
Dean: “Sense8 is not a show designed for anyone to stand out. It has a huge cast, most of whom can telepathically flit from their own storylines to each other’s, and its directing and editing constantly combine, remix and blur the lines between scenes, narratives and even characters. The Wachowski Sisters and their slate of co-directors revel as much in the sensuous and intimate as the grandiose and spectacular – the show is a visual feast of incomparable beauty.
So, it’s a testament to Joe Pantoliano’s skill as an actor that few scenes in the series have stuck with me as much as his brief appearance in the Sense8 Christmas Special. Michael Gorski is not a good man – he’s a racist alcoholic ex-cop who lectured his son, Will, for saving an injured black teenager in the first season – but Pantoliano makes his isolation and abandonment more painful and heart-wrenching in two minutes than most actors could accomplish in two hours. From the resigned way he lets Mr Whispers ply him with whiskey to his haunted, bitter, desperate delivery of ‘I don’t care what my son did. I just want him to come home’, Pantoliano steals not just the scene but the whole special. There could be no better argument for a revival in the career of one of this century’s finest character actors.”
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Dean: “There was a point halfway through It’s Always Sunny’s twelfth season when I started to worry it was spinning its wheels. That’s not the worst thing that could happen – getting stuck in place as one of the best shows ever made still makes you one of the best shows ever made – but Sunny is a show that excels because it tests its own limits, tries new things and takes big risks. Luckily, I needn’t have worried: the back half was a run of amazing episodes that screwed around with the show’s status quo in several major ways.
Mac came out of the closet for good in ‘Hero or Hate Crime?’ and ‘Dennis’s Double Life’ introduced Dennis’s secret child and ended with him leaving the Gang to move to North Dakota and Charlie somehow finally winning the Waitress’s affections. ‘A Cricket’s Tale’ gave us a day in the life of Rickety Cricket, and ‘The Gang Tends Bar’ delivered one of the most radical storylines in the show’s history when Dennis attempted to make money by just sincerely running the bar well. Glenn Howerton’s new starring role in AP Bio means this might be the last Sunny we have for at least a couple of years. If so, it was a hell of way to go out: a season and especially a season finale that will leave the audience ravenous until it returns.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Baskets – “The problem with the post-Louie dramedy boom is how many shows think they can bill themselves as comedies without being funny. A comedy shouldn’t need to stop being funny to start being serious, and Baskets has the good sense to tell its small, sad human drama with wacky absurd humour. It’s wonderful.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Letterkenny – “The first two and a half minutes of Letterkenny are funnier than the entire run of Modern Family – an instant masterpiece that only gets better and better. Every episode of its second season is perfect, somehow managing to introduce lots of new characters without disrupting the carefully-constructed chemistry of its cast. Fast-talking auctioneer Jim Dickens is a particular highlight.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Zach Galifianakis as Chip and Dale Baskets in Baskets
Dean: “Zach Galifianakis is doing some of the best acting on television right now as failed clown Chip and his moderately more successful twin brother Dale. Both are absurd and ridiculous human beings, but Galifianakis never lets their silliness obscure the pain that drives both characters in very different ways. Chip exists in a perpetual state of grim annoyance at the world, a posture that would be exasperatingly one-note if Galifianakis didn’t know how to inflect his annoyance with subtle shades of jealousy, defeat and longing from scene to scene. Dale is excitable, aggressive and petulant, but Galifanakis makes the hurt and resentment beneath his confident façade real enough to offset the character’s potential to be unbearably grating.
Both feel so distinct I absent-mindedly submitted Zach Galifianakis as a supporting actor more than once for these awards, which is even more impressive because Chip and Dale actually have a lot in common – they’re arrogant, condescending, irritable and childish, but always in ways particular to their personalities and position in life. Chip is like a kid in the dirt, thrashing his arms and kicking wildly in a vain attempt to hit the bully who has him pinned down; Dale is the bully trying to shove a fistful of dirt in his mouth. Both performances are also filled with incredibly funny character choices, especially Dale’s inexplicable Southern accent.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Jared Keeso as Wayne in Letterkenny – “With his thick rural Ontario accent and his deadpan delivery, Jared Keeso made me laugh more than almost anyone this year. He’s an especially amazing physical comedian: the way he moves his body is so measured and deliberate, only moving as much as absolutely necessary while the rest of his body remains perfectly static. ”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Danny McBride as Neal Gamby in Vice Principals – “I never really understood the appeal of Danny McBride until I watched Vice Principals. Now I think he’s a genius. Neal does many cringeworthy and horrible things, but none of them are as uncomfortable as his moments of humanity, because McBride sells them so soulfully that it hurts all the more each time Neal refuses to be a better man.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – Kaitlin Olson as Mackenzie “Mickey” Molng in The Mick
Ciara: “Kaitlin Olson has been one of the best comic actresses on television for a decade as Dee Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but that’s one of the few shows on earth where everyone is good enough that she has competition for the spotlight. In The Mick, she’s given the lead role in a show built around her. It would be easy for that transition to be strained, but even as The Mick takes some time to find its feet, Olson is the most natural thing in the world.
She’s incredibly funny, whether it’s artful use of slapstick or having a screaming meltdown or failed attempts at seduction. She’s always committed to doing whatever it takes to be as funny as possible. But for the first time in her career, Olson – who built her career on playing a brittle sociopath – proves herself capable of playing sweet. Mickey supporting her nephew Ben’s gender non-conformity could easily have seemed like a shoehorned issues-y episode, but in Olson’s deft hands, it was instead sincerely touching.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Rashida Jones as Angie Tribeca in Angie Tribeca – “Naked Gun wouldn’t work without Leslie Nielsen, and Rashida Jones is fantastic as Angie Tribeca’s Nielsen. She faces the absurdity without a wink or a smile. On Parks and Rec, Jones never stood out – she had some funny lines, but she was mostly a (good) straight man. On Angie Tribeca, she’s hysterical: like she’s found her purpose.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – “Sometimes you only appreciate an actor when everything else is going wrong. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt hasn’t gone completely wrong, but its fairly lacklustre third season made me incredibly grateful for Ellie Kemper. The commitment and energy she brings to Kimmy makes a character who could be a shallow live-action cartoon character into a rich, complex and funny live-action cartoon character”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Ted Danson as Michael in The Good Place
Ciara: “Ted Danson was nominated for an Emmy for every year Cheers was on the air. He was perfect as Sam Malone, one of the best sitcom performances ever on one of the best sitcoms ever. Twenty-four years after Cheers went off the air, Danson is on an NBC sitcom again, and there’s a certain amount of good will he gets for that alone. He plays Michael, who is in middle-management in the afterlife, and is excited for his chance to design a ‘neighbourhood’ for the first time. There’s something that gets to me in seeing his hair has turned white enough to pass for an angel.
Supporting Actor in a Comedy was very competitive this year (for us, at least, if not for the Emmys), but what pushes Danson over the top is that his performance is the lynchpin of his entire show. He’d be a worthy contender after the first twelve episodes: he’s consistently funny, and makes sometimes weaker jokes work through the force of his charisma. But – without spoiling the finale – the last episode not only gave Danson some great material (his smile alone), but retroactively revealed the layers he’d put in. If his performance wasn’t note-perfect on two completely separate levels, The Good Place would have fallen apart.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Timothy Simons as Congressman Jonah Ryan in Veep – “This has been one of Veep’s weaker seasons – especially after season five ended on such a perfect note – but Simons’ performance as Jonah is better than ever. He invents libertarianism because he doesn’t get invited to a party, and Simons is so good that I managed to sympathise with Jonah while I was laughing at him.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Glenn Howerton has been one of the best actors on television for a decade, and he’s still finding ways to enrich his dark, twisted, broken portrayal of Dennis Reynolds. Howerton’s performances in ‘The Gang Tends Bar’ and ‘Dennis’s Double Life’ brought new dimensions of age and exhaustion that perfectly set up Dennis’s shocking departure in the season finale”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – Donna-Lynne Champlin as Paula Proctor in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Dean: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend went to shit in its second season, but even as its plot and themes and basic characterisation were mangled time and time again, most of the cast turned in great performances, and none more so than Donna-Lynne Champlin. Even though Paula was sidelined so aggressively in the plot that she seemed to disappear from the show for long stretches of time and only got one solo in the whole season (the same amount as weird recurring joke character Trent and fewer than Greg, who was written out of the show in the fourth episode), she was the star of the season.
There’s a special kind of skill that very few actors ever achieve, which is the ability to be handed a script that may as well be a transcript of a tweaker’s hallucinogenic ramblings about the lizard people written in that same tweaker’s own personal shit and somehow make it sound like a well-written and compelling work. Donna-Lynne Champlin has that skill in spades and I would never have been able to finish the second season if she hadn’t made it just about tolerable. Paula isn’t supposed to be like a real person – no one in the show is – but she’s the only character who still felt alive and at least somewhat coherent by the end of the finale thanks to Donna-Lynne Champlin.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Olivia Colman as Godmother in Fleabag – “The whole Fleabag cast is great, but Olivia Colman, cast against type as Fleabag’s horrible Godmother, is particularly wonderful. I think all the time about her matter-of-factly putting a bouquet of flowers on the ground.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Mary Steenburgen as Gail Klosterman in The Last Man on Earth – “Whether she was almost bleeding to death alone in an elevator or playing a solemn accordion version of ‘She Drives Me Crazy’, Mary Steenburgen did the best dramatic and comedic work of her career in season three of The Last Man on Earth. Even her smaller bits – like shouting ‘heel’ at a self-driving car – left me in fits of laughter.”
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A COMEDY – Jared Keeso and Jacob Tierney for Letterkenny: “Uncle Eddie’s Trust”
Ciara: “The best comedy writing of the year is the funniest comedy writing, and Letterkenny is one of the funniest shows on TV: it’s unashamedly in love with jokes, using unfashionable modes like puns and alliteration and catchphrases just as much as cringe comedy or meta-humour. And ‘Uncle Eddie’s Trust’ is Letterkenny at its most devoted to just being funny.
Wayne and Katy’s Uncle Eddie dies and leaves them 5,000 dollars, and they have a Dragon’s Den-style contest to decide what to do with the money. Most of the episode is just a series of pitches by various characters, and every one of the pitches is hilarious. Most of them are for existing reality shows: Daryl and Squirrelly Dan include condemning homosexuality in their pitch about duck calls, not out of any malice, but because they saw it on Duck Dynasty (and on the news).
Letterkenny is a show about a small rural town, and it manages to say rarely said things about what that means while never for a moment reaching for a higher purpose than just being as funny as it can. Wayne and Katy decide to throw a party, because the only bar in town is gone and its absence is keenly felt. There’s something sweet in the moment, when they all seem happy, toasting Uncle Eddie’s memory. Until the beer runs out, at least.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Donald Glover for Atlanta, “B.A.N.” – “I’ve never been sold on Atlanta being the greatest and most ground-breaking TV show ever, but ‘B.A.N.’ is a hell of an episode. Set on a talk show on a bizarro-world version of BET, ‘B.A.N.’ is proof that Atlanta could be one of the funniest and most interesting shows on TV, if only they wrote more jokes.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Andy Daly for Review: “Cryogenics; Lightning; Final Review” – “Review was one of the few single-camera comedies that understood the anarchic freedom that a comedian can enjoy within the limits of formula. It hung such strange, sad and silly stories on its reality show structure that it seemed certain to run out of steam. Instead, it achieved its crowning glory with one of the best finales of all time.”
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING IN A COMEDY – Mike Hollingsworth for BoJack Horseman: “Fish Out of Water”
Dean: “BoJack Horseman is so funny it doesn’t need to be beautiful, but it is, and ‘Fish Out of Water’ is the show at its most gorgeous, elegant and graceful. The silent episode is an old gimmick, especially in animation, but ‘Fish Out of Water’ is a rare example of one that takes lots of visual cues from the directorial style of silent comedies – parallel tracking shots in chase scenes a lá Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances, geometrical jokes like the flatfish that seems to inexplicably obstruct BoJack until he turns sideways, and impossible gags like the taffy stamp blocking BoJack from the seahorse father’s view because it blocks BoJack from the camera’s view, even though the seahorse father is standing to its side.
Of course, if those were just references for references’ sake, they’d have no effect, but episode director Mike Hollingsworth understands why they were part of the comedic vernacular of silent comedy and uses them effectively while never limiting his visual repertoire. From the brief but moving Dutch-angle shot of a panic-stricken BoJack against the underwater cityscape to the perfectly composed and proportioned scene of BoJack swimming away from the exploding taffy factory, ‘Fish Out of Water’ is just lovely to look at, and so full of colour, especially in the chase through the trench full of bioluminescent anemones. Remember colours? I remember.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Jonathan Krisel for Baskets: “Fight” – “Jonathan Krisel’s direction is a central part of Baskets’ comedic vernacular: he wants ‘to elevate these parking-lot worlds because they have just as much beauty in them… Even when you have these big-box stores, there are still people with feelings in them.’ Dale having a breakdown to ‘Dog Days Are Over’ is a perfect execution of that idea, and maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: John Solomon for The Last Man on Earth: “The Open-Ended Nature of Unwitnessed Deaths” – “The Last Man on Earth’s visual style isn’t flashy, but it’s very pretty, and somehow keeps its silly humour and heavy drama not just cohesive, but unified. John Solomon is the show’s best director and ‘Unwitnessed Deaths’ is his best work, whether the characters are contemplating whether to confirm their loved ones’ deaths, or engaged in Shawshank Redemption-themed sexual roleplay.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY – Bo Burnham for Make Happy
Ciara: “‘Y’all ain’t never seen a comedy show like this in your fucking life,’ Bo Burnham says near the start of Make Happy, ‘And for good reason. It gets old after a few minutes.’
I love stand-up, but so much of it – even stuff that’s good – doesn’t push the form any. There’s people like Stewart Lee or Maria Bamford, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Which is weird, because stand-up is so incredibly malleable: a person, standing on a stage (probably), trying to be funny (mostly). Make Happy consistently pushes the boundaries of what stand-up can be and peels back the artifice of what it currently is. It’s my favourite stand-up show not made by Stewart Lee, and Bo Burnham was only twenty-five when he made it.
There’s a lot I could say about Make Happy – how emotional pain is an organic undercurrent, not a gimmick, or its surprising interest in class politics, or its willingness not just to show how the sausage is made but to make the sausage-making the joke in itself – but maybe the most significant thing is how, more than any stand-up special I’ve seen, it’s conceived as a piece of theatre and as a piece of filmmaking. Its use of lights, sound effects and the stage itself as integrated parts of the show is wonderful, and it’s definitely the only stand-up show that ever made me think, ‘Wow, what nice cinematography.’
I’ve loved Bo Burnham since I was fourteen, and it’s crazy to see how his style and my tastes have evolved so similarly in parallel to one another. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.”