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 2018 to May 2019), 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 (see: Big Little Lies), and regular drama series get rebranded as miniseries when they get prematurely cancelled (see: Dig), 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, 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 – Ciara gave the award for Drama, and Dean gave the award for Comedy.
You can see each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of the post.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES – When They See Us
Ciara: “When They See Us – Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries about the Central Park Five – is amazing. As in, it genuinely amazed me. I knew the broad outline of the Central Park Five’s story going in: that five black and Latino boys were wrongly convicted of rape, that the media had whipped up hysteria against the boys and that Donald Trump had taken out full-page newspaper ads about having them executed, and that, a decade-and-change too late, they were finally exonerated. But When They See Us isn’t about the broad outline; it burrows deep into every individual moment, forces us to experience every inch of terror and confusion without knowing the future has already been written. It’s a show about one of the most famous wrongful convictions in history, but when the guilty verdict came down, I gasped in shock.
It’s a show about race and class and injustice in policing, prosecution and the prison system, in a way that dovetails nicely with 13th, DuVernay’s documentary on prison and slavery in America. I’ve seen the good cop/bad cop dynamic thousands of times, but only in When They See Us was it rendered as horrifying as it is in real life, exposed as the disgusting manipulation and abuse of power it truly is. But what makes the show so great is how present it makes the viewer, rooted helplessly in the story’s now. When I watched the first episode, built around the interrogations of the boys, I had to keep pausing because I was freaking out. I thought I might throw up. I can think of few things in TV that have affected me so viscerally. 13th was an intellectual case against a criminal justice system that is unjust by design, but When They See Us is all that and so much more. It’s a masterpiece.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Sharp Objects – “Sharp Objects is a gem of a show. It’s built around a mystery, which is compelling and satisfying in equal measure, but what elevates the show is how it treats its ordinary character-based drama with the same urgency as the mystery plot. It is deeply invested in the pain of its characters and rendering its setting in much richer detail than the ’small town with dark secrets’ trope typically allows for.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Pose – “Pose is somehow both the most Ryan Murphy show that Ryan Murphy has ever produced – melodramatic, didactic and stylised to the nines – and also the dawn of so many incredible new creative voices, particularly Janet Mock and Steven Canals. Every episode made me so excited to watch the next.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA – Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul
Dean: “Better Call Saul, like Breaking Bad before it, refuses the idea that there’s a singular moment a good person becomes bad. It’s a close study of moral choice, how each step along the path of evil can seem like a small justifiable compromise in isolation, how you can only really see in retrospect that they add up into the mutilation of your soul, and how every moral choice you make matters, because none of them can be undone. But, unlike Walter White, we already know how far Jimmy McGill will fall. We know he’ll become Saul Goodman, a selfish asshole with no scruples who casually floats murder on more than one occasion. It shouldn’t be possible to shock us. And yet.
Bob Odenkirk plays Jimmy as if his future isn’t written and manages to create believable moments of redemption for a character that he knows will only get worse. Every time he has the chance to tell Howard he’s not responsible for Chuck’s death, you believe he might, which makes the gut punch when he doesn’t – “Well, Howard, I guess that’s your cross to bear.” – so painful you can hardly bear it. His eulogy for Chuck at his bar hearing, so sweet and heartfelt, would be virtuosic on its own, but the hard shift after his victory to bragging to Kim about tricking the panel (and her, and us) into thinking he cared is something else. The realisation that not only has he become Saul but that he’s been Saul for a while is devastating. I’m still reeling from it.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise in When They See Us – “Jharrel Jerome is the only actor to play one of the Central Park Five as a child and an adult, and the final episode is in large part a showcase for him. Particularly extraordinary are the solitary confinement sequences, which eschew many of the clichés of solitary confinement on screen to allow Jerome to portray more than just a tableau of suffering. I’ll never forget when the air conditioner came on, and that’s on Jerome.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Wyatt Russell as Sean Dudley in Lodge 49 – “Dud is the role Wyatt Russell was born to play. From slacker comedy to the pits of grief and everything between, he makes every facet of Dud’s personality feel not just coherent with each other, but an essential part of his character. It’s a truly complete performance, one of the best on television right now, and I hope he gets to keep doing it for years to come.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA – Emma Stone as Annie Landsberg in Maniac
Ciara: “Maniac is great, and Emma Stone is by some distance the best thing about it. She plays Annie, who blackmails her way into a drug trial because she’s addicted to one of the experimental drugs that’s being tested – the A pill, which causes a person to relive the worst day of their life. That could be an interesting idea that doesn’t come together, but Emma makes Annie’s addiction make perfect sense, without collapsing it into the justification she offers out loud.
Through the main characters’ shared dreams, Maniac hops through genres and time periods – they’re magicians, spies, gangsters, elves, a working-class couple in the eighties – meaning Stone plays a dozen characters in her performance of one character. It would be easy for Annie to get lost in the shuffle of all these different versions of herself, but Stone makes every version of Annie feel like the same person in a way that goes beyond the parallels to her non-dream life, and in a way that never makes it seem like Annie is defined by her trauma. She’s also extremely funny! I think the drama/comedy distinction can sometimes devalue comedic acting in shows that fall on the drama side, but also, there’s an episode about stealing a lemur, and she shines in it.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Amy Adams as Camille Preaker in Sharp Objects – “Amy Adams! What could I possibly say about Amy Adams, one of the greatest living screen actors, that you haven’t read a thousand times before? She’s as brilliant in Sharp Objects as ever, of course. Her performance is the rock-solid foundation of the whole series. I think often about how in Adams’s hands, Camille’s self-destruction is less a result of her depression and grief and trauma than they are inescapably intertwined, an endless feedback loop.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Dawn-Lyen Gardner as Charley Bordelon in Queen Sugar – “More than any other member of Queen Sugar’s incredibly stacked cast, Dawn-Lyen Gardner has grown into her role as Charley and it’s a real delight watching her push her talents further and further with each season. She’s taken her from the most thinly-characterised of the Bordelon siblings to the show’s de facto protagonist and risen to meet every new challenge the writers and directors have posed her. One of the most unjustly unsung performers of her generation.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA – Billy Porter as Pray Tell in Pose
Dean: “The entire ensemble of Pose is fantastic and it was wonderful watching so many actors in their first major roles, like Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore and Angelica Ross, blossom over the course of its first season. But far and away the best performance was Broadway legend Billy Porter as the haughty, witty, flamboyant ballroom emcee Pray Tell.
Pose is a story about the virtue of hope and, like all great paeans to optimism, it takes the case for despair very seriously. Pray Tell is the main voice of pessimism in the show: he repeatedly rebukes other characters for believing the straight white majority will ever give a shit about the queer, black and brown people who were – and are – the overwhelming victims of the AIDS crisis. It would be easy for him to come off as a dour scold whose only role is to be proved wrong by everyone else. But, in Porter’s hands, Pray Tell is uncomfortably persuasive, not only because he really seems to believe what he says, but because everything he says is so rooted in his pain. The fury and anguish of his grief when his partner Costas succumbs to AIDS shook me to my core, but his quiet weariness at the world might be even more harrowing.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Michael K. Williams as Bobby McCray in When They See Us – “Bobby McCray does such an unspeakably bad thing to his son in When They See Us that on paper, it would be hard to imagine sympathising with him. Yet as played by Michael K. Williams, he broke my heart. Williams portrays Bobby as trapped, too, making a bad decision because he thought he had no options, in a way that doesn’t undermine his son’s rage.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Harry Lloyd as Peter Quayle in Counterpart – “Harry Lloyd may not have played the lead in Counterpart, but he was unequivocally its star. I only watched its second season because he blew me away so much in its first. He has a particular talent for finding the soul in selfish characters and Peter Quayle may be his most selfish and soulful role yet. It’s a treat to watch him act. I hope he’s back on our screens soon.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA – Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul
Ciara: “Rhea Seehorn has been quietly giving one of the best performances on television for years as Kim Wexler on Better Call Saul. Seehorn has always captured Kim’s simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from Jimmy’s dark or criminal inclinations, playing the closely guarded tumult under her emotionally inexpressive exterior.
But in season four, we saw that exterior fall away on several occasions, each of which would make solid Emmys B-roll for Seehorn if they had the good sense to nominate her. The scene where she loses it at Howard after Chuck’s death, or the rooftop scene with Jimmy. But the most affecting part of her performance is still the small, quiet stuff, how she reacts to Jimmy slipping away. She reads Jimmy a letter from his dead brother, and it doesn’t affect him. At the end of the season, Jimmy speaks emotively about Chuck at his bar hearing. Jimmy reveals it was all bullshit, and it is the expression on Kim’s face that sells the horror of it. She believed him, just like we did, and she has learned something horrible about Jimmy, right when we do.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Patricia Clarkson as Adora Crellin in Sharp Objects – “Patricia Clarkson is so ominous throughout Sharp Objects that she sells her full-on horror monster reveal perfectly. She’s terrifying because she feels so real.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Carla Gugino as Olivia Crain in The Haunting of Hill House – “Carla Gugino gives good face. I don’t know how else to put it. Liv could have been one of Hill House’s more shallow characters in the hands of another actor – she’s seen almost exclusively in flashbacks from the perspective of other characters – but Gugino is so expressive and makes every single scene she’s in so rich with emotion that she steals the show from everyone else. She and Mike Flanagan should work together forever.”
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A DRAMA – Marti Noxon & Gillian Flynn for Sharp Objects: “Milk”
Dean: “Sharp Objects was one of the year’s best-written shows, an instant classic of Southern Gothic fiction, intimately familiar with the genre’s use of superficially polite doubletalk to keep the darkness lurking just off-screen until the pivotal moment it bubbles over.
The series finale, ‘Milk’, is when Sharp Objects switches gear from Southern Gothic to full-blown horror. Every word of dialogue in the dinner scene drips with tension, escalating and escalating as Camille’s attempts to provoke her mother into confession bounce ineffectually off the walls of delusions she’s built around herself. You keep waiting for the moment Adora cracks to come but it never does, which makes the false ending so satisfying and easy to believe and the final twist land with such a darkly comic oomph.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Caroline Williams & Mauricio Katz for Maniac: “Exactly Like You” – “Here’s the plot of this episode: Annie and Owen are con artist magicians in the 1940s invited to a séance where they plan to steal the long-lost 53rd chapter of Don Quixote. They used to go out but they’ve broken up, and Annie keeps zapping out of existence, and there’s an out-of-nowhere choregraphed dance routine. This show is such a good time!”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Janet Mock for Pose: “The Fever” – “One of the loveliest surprises of the 2018/19 television season was the discovery that Janet Mock is an excellent screenwriter and director. ‘The Fever’ was one of Pose’s most didactic episodes, but it never slips into PSA territory. Mock has such a fine grasp of dialogue and roots everything so well in her characters that what could play like dense exposition feels true to the story and its arcs. Just a great episode.”
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING IN A DRAMA – Ava DuVernay for When They See Us: “Part Two”
Ciara: “All of When They See Us is extremely well-directed, and I could slot in any episode here and make the case for it. But ‘Part Two’, the trial episode, is particularly impressive. I love how it handles the two separate cases at the same time, and I love how it plays certain reveals – like the sock found on the scene – in such classic courtroom drama style that it tricks you into thinking justice might be done. All of which serves to make the final scenes all the more painful.
The sequence where the guilty verdict is handed down is phenomenal. There are extreme close-ups of the boys’ faces, interspersed with reaction shots of their parents and quick-fire montages of footage we’ve seen in the two episodes so far, as a seemingly endless list of charges is read out in a faraway echo. Then the verdicts – guilty all – one after another, and the boys’ faces bursting into tears in those same close-ups. And then there’s Kevin (Asante Blackk), one of the boys, sitting in a chair in the middle of the street, and he plays a mournful note on his trumpet, before we cut back to Kevin in the courtroom, hanging his head. It’s an extraordinary sequence, and that one shot of Kevin in the street – a hard break from the show’s realism – is haunting.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Better Call Saul: Deborah Chow for “Something Stupid” – “I’m not sure if anything on TV this year was as exquisitely crafted as ‘Something Stupid’s opening split-screen montage. It shows us Kim and Jimmy growing apart so efficiently that it’s an embarrassment of riches for it to be so beautiful as well. But the rest of the episode is just as well-directed, particularly the use of POV shots.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Mike Flanagan for The Haunting of Hill House: “Two Storms” – “It’s important to recognise great directing even when it’s not flashy, but it’s also important not to overcorrect so much you don’t credit exceptional piece of filmmaking just because it’s ‘gimmicky’. ‘Two Storms’ is shot to seem like a single continuous take even as it moves between two separate locations in two different decades and it’s breathtaking. It’s one of those long takes (or, rather, five of those long takes) where you could easily break it down into multiple shots because every moment of it is so tightly-composed, but you’d never want to: the lack of cuts forces you to stay with the characters as events spiral further and further out of control. It isn’t just a stunt, it’s what makes the episode so powerful and affecting.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA – Sunderland ‘Til I Die
Ciara: “I’m not a football supporter, but I loved Sunderland ‘Til I Die, a docuseries following Sunderland Football Club over the 2017–18 season, newly relegated to the Championship. It’s about Sunderland F.C., but it’s mostly it’s about Sunderland the city: the importance of the football club to their identity when everything else has been stripped away, and how that importance makes the club’s failures all the more painful. It’s about the places left behind in post-industrial capitalism. And it’s that very capitalism that fails their football club, too, as money dictates their fate as much as bad luck.
But boy, do they have bad luck. As Barry Glendenning points out in The Guardian, they go through goalkeepers like Spinal Tap go through drummers. Every time it seems like something might go right, something much worse goes wrong. It’s pitch-perfect tragicomedy. You laugh while your heart breaks.
Sunderland ‘Til I Die is, more than anything, about clinging to hope in the midst of despair. Every time literally anything not completely shit happens, the fans elatedly think this is the moment everything will turn around. This hope amounts to disappointment under construction, but it’s all they have.”
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES – Fleabag
Dean: “The greatest virtue of the British television industry is that it doesn’t produce TV shows with the expectation they’ll have multiple seasons and most comedy series in particular never make it past their first. That higher bar has been the death of many a great show – This Morning With Richard Not Judy springs to mind – but it’s also fostered an environment where shows tend to only see further seasons if the creators actually want to make them and where those seasons are made on the creator’s schedule, not the network’s.
Fleabag’s first season was very good and no one would have faulted Phoebe Waller-Bridge if she’d left it lie. But thank God she didn’t: its second season blows the first completely out of the water. Waller-Bridge has grown enormously as a screenwriter in the last three years: her dialogue is crisper, her characters are more sharply detailed and every episode packs in more jokes and plot, without sacrificing one for the other. The Priest was a brilliant new addition to the cast brought wonderfully to life by Andrew Scott – who else in this wide, wide world could ever have panicked so hilariously at the thought of a nearby fox? – and their doomed romance built fantastically on the groundwork laid by the first season without ever feeling tied down by it. It’s some of the best work that pretty much everyone involved – from the cast to director Harry Bradbeer to cinematographer Tony Miller to editor Gary Dollner – has ever done.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: GLOW – “GLOW was good from the beginning, but it really came into its own in season two. The character dynamics became richer, particularly Ruth’s relationships with Sam and Debbie, as well as Debbie’s heel turn. It was also very funny, and very smart about wrestling, nowhere more so than in ‘The Good Twin’, a self-contained episode of the wrestling show they make.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Russian Doll – “Russian Doll was one of the most egregious victims of the ‘but is it really a comedy’ discourse this year. Yes, it had dark turns and emotional moments, but it also had Natasha Lyonne saying ‘cock-a-roaches’ and gingerly trying to walk down stairs without dying and the bizarre phrase ‘sweet birthday baby’ said over and over with an intonation that made it basically impossible to figure out what it meant. It was one of the funniest shows of the year and it honestly blows my mind anyone thought it was really a drama.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Will Arnett as BoJack Horseman in BoJack Horseman
Dean: “BoJack Horseman has been the best performance of Will Arnett’s career for a while now, but he’s still getting better and better with every season. His episode-long monologue in ‘Free Churro’ is just an astonishing bit of acting, moving fluidly from hilariously tasteless zingers about his mother’s horrible death grimace to just the most heartbreaking, soul-crushing ruminations on grief, mental illness and child abuse you’ve heard in any comedy, let alone one about an alcoholic horse.
But, for me at least, his best work this season was in ‘The Showstopper’, which saw BoJack’s opioid addiction escalate to the point he lost the ability to distinguish real life from his television role as the gritty antiheroic detective Philbert. Switching between BoJack and BoJack-as-Philbert as both spiral into paranoia their misdeeds will be exposed, Arnett pushes his performance into one of the few depths it’s yet to plumb: BoJack as a scary and violent abuser. It’s one of the darkest places that BoJack – one of the darkest shows of any genre on television right now – has ever gone. Arnett sells his slide from panic to paranoia to frothing-at-the-mouth violence with dizzying skill, slowly sapping the humour from his performance until all your left with is this broken, terrifying, dangerous person even an audience well-acquainted with every single one of his flaws and failings can barely recognise. It’s extraordinary.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Matt Berry as Laszlo Cravensworth in What We Do in the Shadows – “When they announced that Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s delightful and hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows was being adapted for television, it would an understatement to say I was sceptical. But then I found out Matt Berry was in it, and my fears were rightfully soothed. Matt Berry is a treasure, and his performance as Laszlo is one of the most delightful parts of a truly delightful show.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Jim Carrey as Jeff Piccirillo in Kidding – “Jeff Piccirillo – or, as he known to fans across the world, Mr. Pickles – is Kidding’s take on Mr. Rogers if he’d had to work in the age of mass media while struggling with hideously repressed grief over the death of his son. It’s a tall order, but one that Jim Carrey more than fulfils with the most achingly sincere performance of his career and without ever crossing the line into quirky for its own sake. It’s a welcome return to form for one of the best actors alive.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox in Better Things
Ciara: “Better Things isn’t like anything else on TV right now, and its third season – the first without the involvement of Louis CK – was its best yet. A big part of that is Pamela Adlon’s performance as actor and single mother Sam Fox. Adlon also writes and directs on the show, but it’s her acting that keeps bringing me back to Better Things. Sam always feels like a complete person, spikey and mean and frustrated and also kind and joyful and cool. Sometimes I kind of hate her, but I never feel like she’s not real.
Adlon offers such a compelling portrait of a mother, much richer than TV usually allows for. She loves her kids more than anything, but also her kids are such brats and she kind of hates them, and it doesn’t feel like a dark secret, it’s just a neutral fact. After all, kids kind of hate their mothers all the time, and nobody thinks it means they don’t love them. Frankie stops speaking to her without explanation, and it’s breaking Sam’s heart, but also, she has to let her be her own person.
I particularly enjoyed the exploration of Sam’s sexuality this season. Sam, who is ostensibly straight, has a will-they-won’t-they with another woman, and the show wants us to live in the ambiguity and fluidity, rather than nailing down exactly how Sam feels. With a lesser performance at its core, this would be hard to pull off, and the ambiguity could read more like evasiveness. But Adlon plays it with such complexity and tension.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Alison Brie as Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder in GLOW – “Alison Brie’s performance as Ruth is reminiscent of Shelley Long’s as Diane in Cheers, one of the best sitcom performances of all time. But I especially enjoy her performance-within-a-performance as Ruth’s wrestling persona, Zoya the Destroya, a Russian heel. You always feel like Ruth really loves wrestling, and that’s thanks to the sheer joy of Brie’s performance.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Maya Rudolph as June Hoffman in Forever – “Forever was a very unique show, restrained and slow-moving and pitched at that ‘funny, but it doesn’t make you laugh’ register that always carries the risk of just not being funny. Luckily, it had one of the funniest actresses of her day in its lead. Maya Rudolph has long been acclaimed for scene-stealing guest roles, but in her first lead role on TV, she showed how great she can be even with no scenery to chew. It was a really lovely performance and it’s a shame we won’t see more of it.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia in GLOW
Ciara: “I’d seen some of Marc Maron’s stand-up, but I don’t think I’d ever seen him act before GLOW. As it turns out, he’s a wonderful actor: funny, yes, but also soulful and affecting. He plays Sam, an exploitation director from the ‘70s who’s stuck directing a women’s wrestling show in the ‘80s, with a gruff and crotchety exterior and also a pretty gruff and crotchety interior.
In the second season, two major plotlines for Sam both had Maron show depth and vulnerability: his growing relationship to his teenage daughter, Justine, who he met for the first time in season one, and the romantic tension that develops between him and Ruth (Alison Brie). What I love about Maron’s performance is that it’s not an abrasive-guy-has-a-heart-of-gold thing. Sam is full of care and concern, but it’s never that his abrasiveness breaks and reveals the care and concern underneath. That’s still his personality. We don’t need him to become a completely different person to understand that he gives a shit.
There are many moments I could point to in season two of GLOW, but one I think about often is Ruth revealing to Sam that a network executive came on to her and she ran away. We brace for Sam to give out to her, because it’s the ‘80s and giving out is Sam’s natural state and besides, that’s what producer/star Debbie did when Ruth told her. But instead he gives out about the executive being a piece of shit. Maron’s delivery is so perfect, it sounds more like authentic care than ‘oh, that’s terrible, are you okay?’ ever could.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “This season of Always Sunny ended with a stunning dance sequence, a hard break from the show’s usual style and tone. The whole sequence is a major achievement in Sunny’s long history, but what sells it is Danny DeVito’s reaction shots. DeVito is always great, but there are moments where you realise holy shit, Danny DeVito is so fucking good at acting, and this is top of the list. He tells a whole story through wordless facial expression. It’s a masterclass, and he wasn’t even in the room when the dance was filmed.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Jason Mantzoukas as Dustin Kasprowicz in No Activity – “No Activity is a great showcase for comic actors – most of every episode is just pairs of characters in different locations talking to each other – and no one has shone brighter on it than Jason Mantzoukas. He manages to juggle the multiple levels his character, an undercover cop, operates on while remaining consistently laugh-out-loud funny. It’s far too good a performance to be stuck on CBS All Access, but such are the times.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – D’Arcy Carden as Janet in The Good Place
Dean: “D’Arcy Carden is already one of the funniest people on television as the deliberately and relentlessly one-note Janet. Her cheery, matter-of-fact delivery – deadpan with a smile – should get old and it just never does. Every time she politely interjects that she’s not a robot / person / girl, I laugh. She probably would have won this category for the second consecutive year if she’d just done that for the most recent season.
How fortunate for us all then that she did so much more: in addition to the return of Bad Janet and the debut of Neutral Janet, she plays the entire human cast in ‘Janet(s)’ and every single impression is pitch-perfect. It felt like Baskets at its high point, when I’d forget Chip and Dale were played by the same actor, but even more amazing, because Carden didn’t have the freedom to build her characters, she had to recreate what Bell, Harper, Jamil and Jacinto were already doing. And she pulled it off and was still funny! I’m so excited to see what she does next.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Rita Moreno as Lydia in One Day at a Time – “One Day at a Time has had diminishing returns at this point, honestly, but come on, it’s Rita Moreno! She’s a legend, and I’d happily watch her take a nap, probably. But luckily, Lydia is a great role that she consistently knocks out of the park. I love big performances, and Moreno is absolutely huge as Lydia: dramatic, fabulous, and always very funny.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Catherine Keener as Deirdre Piccirillo in Kidding – “Catherine Keener gives a very grounded and human performance as Deirdre – the ‘normal’ one in the Piccirillo family – that made my heart ache like an open wound. Her voice always cracks with exhaustion or frustration at just the right moment and she absolutely sparkles during a late-season flirtation with Mr. Pickles-San, Jeff’s Japanese counterpart.”
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A COMEDY – Conor Galvin for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: “The Gang Gets New Wheels
Ciara: “This season of Always Sunny was relatively mixed, but among its gems was ‘The Gang Gets New Wheels’. A lot of my favourite later Sunny is the bold experiments in form, but ‘The Gang Gets New Wheels’ is impeccable classically-structured Sunny: kicked off by Dennis discovering the destruction of his Range Rover, the Gang split into teams and get into a variety of vehicle-related misadventures. There is so much great stuff in the resulting half-hour, from tiny details – Frank’s driver’s license expiring the year Taxi went off the air – to the big setpieces – Charlie and Mac beating the shit out of a bunch of kids, which made me choke laughing. And they say shock humour is dead.
It’s a throwback, not as a shallow rehash of past glories but because when the situation in the situation comedy is sufficiently sturdy you can cycle your protagonists through the same structures and come up with something fresh and funny. And ‘The Gang Gets New Wheels’ is so, so funny. It’s also a great showcase for the always-excellent performances of the main players, particularly Kaitlin Olson as Dee, who develops a new and distinctly Dennis-like personality from driving a Range Rover.
It’s Always Sunny is maybe my favourite show of all time, and I’ve spent years waiting for it to fall off a cliff edge. Yet thirteen seasons in, it’s still producing episodes as funny as this. Here’s to thirteen more.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Lisa McGee for Derry Girls: “The President” – “Derry Girls continued to be a wonder of a show this year, and this episode is a contender for my out-and-out favourite. I love everything about Grandpa Joe trying to locate the Clintons, a subplot that is built like absolute clockwork and made me laugh harder than anything this year even on rewatch. I love James realising that no matter if he’s a boy, even if he has an English accent, he’s a Derry girl all the same. And I got legitimate chills at how the episode concludes with the heart-swell of hope for peace even as that peace is under threat here in 2019.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Raphael Bob-Waksberg for BoJack Horseman: “Free Churro” – “‘Free Churro’ does not need such a funny script. Its premise – a twenty-plus-minute eulogy delivered by BoJack at his mother’s funeral – would permit a straight dramatic approach even in a more traditional sitcom, let alone one that regularly explores the deepest, darkest parts of being alive. But, as well as being emotionally devastating, ‘Free Churro’ is one of the funniest episodes of the series, as joke-dense as a Marx Brothers film. I think often about BoJack comparing his mother’s death to the cancellation of Becker.”
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING IN A COMEDY – Lynn Shelton for GLOW: “Work the Leg”
Dean: “Lynn Shelton is a really great director of dialogue and an expert builder of tension, which made her the perfect choice for ‘Work the Leg’, a brilliant, funny and disturbing episode of TV that ranges from charmingly silly puns – an underground film festival called ‘I’m With The Banned’ – to the sickening crack of a woman’s ankle being snapped in half.
The two key moments of the episode revolve around the show’s two most important relationship: the growing friendship of Ruth and Sam and the disintegrating friendship of Ruth and Debbie. Ruth tells Sam their show got put in a 2 a.m. death slot because she refused the network president’s sexual advances in an unbroken shot that slowly tightens in on her face, putting us in her shoes as she fears that Sam – like Debbie – will blame her. But then Sam calls him a fucking asshole and you can suddenly breathe again. (He also smashes the asshole’s car up later in the episode and it’s awesome).
That relief primes you to believe that Debbie and Ruth’s big match will come together despite their differences, just like it did last season, but instead Debbie snorts a bunch of Sam’s cocaine and gets more and more aggressive until, finally, in the show’s closing moments, she deliberately breaks Ruth’s ankle. The music drops out and all we hear is the crunch of bone and Ruth screaming in pain. And then it smash cuts to black and all you can do is sit there with your jaw on the floor. It’s really, really great directing.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Natasha Lyonne for Russian Doll: “Ariadne” – “Not to give my directing runners-up exclusively based on the use of split screens, but: ‘Ariadne’ opens with a split screen before panning into only one side of it, and then it ends with an extended split screen sequence. The sides start out with contrasting colours, before becoming more similar, before eventually merging together, and it’s fucking wonderful.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Cherien Dabis for Ramy: “Ne Me Quitte Pas” – “Spotlight episodes that reveal the surprising depths of a character previously sketched in broad strokes are kind of a cheap trick, but they get me every time. ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ focuses on the social isolation of Ramy’s mother and it’s one of the most gutwrenching portrayals of social media I’ve seen. Cherien Dabis shoots smartphone use with a bleak, upsetting realism that really drives home how these flat, inert objects can fuck up your brain by showing you in real-time just how many people are doing things other than thinking about you. Thank God that Ramy is still a real comedy with jokes. ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ would be too bleak to take without them.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY – Content Provider
Dean: “‘Pretentious, metatextual, self-aware shit. What’s wrong with proper jokes? That’s what I say to me.’
It’s hard to write about how good a comedian Stewart Lee is without sounding like the kind of pretentious, gushing Stewart Lee fan regularly mocked by Stewart Lee in his stand-up, but I’ll give it a shot.
Much of the fawning praise for Stewart Lee spends so much time on his more overtly complex bits, like how he deconstructs joke structures back to the crowd and somehow makes them even funnier, that it overlooks how incredible he is at the fundamentals, especially physical comedy. Content Provider puts physical comedy front and centre for some of his funniest jokes in years: the second act sees him shuffle around the stage for six minutes with his trousers around his ankles while he rants about ‘the under forties’ and it’s hard to express now how hard I laughed – with surprise and delight and sheer mirth – when his pants fell down. And then he grabs hold of the mic stand so hard mid-tirade that he pulls the top half off and carries it around for several more minutes brandishing it as a weapon.
Stewart Lee is simply – and here, despite my best efforts, I become that fan – the greatest stand-up comedian I’ve ever seen, someone who’s truly mastered the art on every possible level. I don’t have the time, space or vocabulary to explain everything that makes Content Provider a masterpiece. All I can say is that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to write a joke as funny as his throwaway line about ‘an interactive display of the mating cycle of the Asian short-clawed otter’ and never even get close.”