What a weird year for television. What a weird year to even be talking about television. Set aside the obviously extreme circumstances in which much of this TV season has occurred and still so much has changed. The finales of Orange is the New Black and BoJack Horseman were twin sunsets on the brief moment in time when it seemed like streaming television would be a brave new frontier of ambition, innovation and experimentation, just as the arrival of Disney+ and HBO Max confirmed it would just be another battleground for giant corporations. Disney put so much money behind their FYC campaigns that Ramy (Hulu), What We Do in the Shadows (FX) and even The Mandalorian (Disney+) racked up tons of Emmy nominations out of nowhere. And then, of course, there’s the situation we’re all in, the almost total shutdown of television production, the glut of Zoom episodes we’ve thankfully managed to avoid watching, the insane spectacle of John Krasinski making a good news aggregator YouTube show to raise people’s spirits and then selling the concept to CBS All Access without him attached. The finale of The Blacklist was only half-shot, so they animated the rest of the episode and aired it on actual television.
It feels kind of absurd to look back on this year and talk about how good the television was, but here we are. The Sundae TV Awards 2020. 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 2019 to May 2020), and we only cared about the seven major awards in drama and comedy, this is what you’d get.
You can see each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of the post.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES – Better Call Saul
Dean: “Better Call Saul was always a great show, but in its fifth season, it finally overcame the division within itself to become the best show on television. Since its inception, but especially in the previous two seasons, it was essentially the best legal drama ever made, with a pretty good crime drama about drug cartels grafted on and rarely intersecting. It wasn’t that the stuff with Mike and Gus was bad, obviously, but there often wasn’t even a thematic mirror to what was happening with Jimmy and Kim. It just felt like two unrelated stories happening near each other in the same universe, with a couple of characters in common, but no meaningful overlap. This year, worlds finally collided as Jimmy became Saul Goodman, the cartel’s favourite lawyer.
Season five had it all: Kim and Jimmy running their biggest con yet to save the home of the world’s grumpiest man, Mike going through a long dark night of the soul, a sham marriage that wasn’t really a sham marriage (or is it?), Kim exploding at Rich Schweikart in front of the whole office and plenty of methodical scenes of people doing crimes. There was a survival thriller episode in the desert and a hostage situation, a foreboding turn for Cinnabon Gene, and Tony Dalton just absolutely loving life as Lalo. And it culminated in something kind of incredible for a prequel series: an honest-to-god, earth-shattering twist. Namely the revelation, and then the slowly dawning realisation, that maybe Better Call Saul was never about Jimmy breaking bad at all. Maybe it was Kim’s story all along.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: On Becoming a God in Central Florida – “On Becoming a God is about Krystal Stubbs (Kirsten Dunst) taking over her husband’s multi-level marketing ‘business’, and it uses that premise to launch a searing critique of not just MLMs, but America itself. In this show, capitalism is a religion: requiring unquestioning faith and regular offerings to the gods; promising a better future that will compensate for all the hardships of the present – that you, too, can be a millionaire. It’s blackly funny and genuinely suffocating, with an all-time great performance from Dunst at its heart.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Orange is the New Black – “Orange is the New Black died as it lived – one of the best TV shows of all time. I will never fully comprehend why people turned on this show, but its last season was a reminder of everything great about it. Its humanistic, character-driven storytelling brought to life by one of the best ensembles on television. Its ability to be a shamelessly activist show without ever collapsing into the bland didacticism that label implies. Its willingness to stare into the darkest parts of American life without blinking. There’ll never be another show like it.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA – Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul
Ciara: “Better Call Saul is the story of how Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman, the character we knew all those years later on Breaking Bad, and season five is the point where that transformation is – more or less – complete. He gives out 50% off vouchers for his law practice, makes hilarious TV ads, and, of course, starts practising law under the name Saul Goodman. It’s fascinating to see Odenkirk return to the kind of schtick he did so well when Saul was a comic relief supporting character on Breaking Bad, but now imbued with so much pathos. Even when he’s huge and wild and reckless, he’s so human it aches. No matter how funny Odenkirk is (very), he also plays it as tragedy.
Odenkirk has been giving the best performance on TV for years now (this is his third Sundae Award for Better Call Saul), but he continues to top his previous work every time. There’s so much in season five that’s virtuosic in isolation: he screams at Howard about why he didn’t take the job offer, and he gets bigger and bigger and louder and louder, and it’s both delightful and horrible. “Lightning bolts shoot from my fingertips!” he screams. Then the camera stays on him after he’s done, and the changes in his expression, the way he straightens his tie, it’s devastating. There’s the big meeting in ‘Wexler v. Goodman’, everything in the extraordinary episode in the desert, or how perfectly he plays off Rhea Seehorn in the final episode’s last moments, telling us so much in a momentary facial expression. But it’s the cumulative effect that’s undeniable. No-one on TV this year made me laugh as much or broke my heart as thoroughly.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Paul Mescal as Connell Waldron in Normal People – “Normal People is grounded in its two wonderful lead performances. Mescal is quietly devastating as Connell, projecting such a disarming realism – he is, truly, one of the lads from your hometown – that his big emotional moments hit a hundred times harder. The scene where he breaks down in the counsellor’s office is the series’ finest moment, carried entirely on Mescal’s back.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Nick Offerman as Forest in Devs – “Devs only works as much as it does because its cast know how to make all its abstract, philosophical dialogue feel like it really means something to their characters. No one does it better than Nick Offerman. Forest is sometimes wry, enigmatic, sage-like, sometimes boiling over with rage and sorrow and grief, and sometimes a weirdly normal, kind of funny guy. But everything he says and does makes complete emotional sense in the moment and in the totality of his character. It’s a complete portrait of a man, built pretty much entirely out of Offerman’s performance.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA – Kirsten Dunst as Krystal Stubbs in On Becoming a God in Central Florida
Ciara: “Kirsten Dunst was the victim of one the greatest injustices in TV history when she didn’t win an Emmy for her turn in the second season of Fargo. Her return to television for On Becoming a God in Central Florida should have been the perfect opportunity to right this wrong, but the Emmys fucked up again. They are, after all, the Emmys.
That’s not to suggest that Dunst should be awarded as a make-up for not getting her rightful Emmy for Fargo, even though that would be reason enough on its own. But she’s absolutely brilliant in On Becoming God. She plays Krystal, a woman in 1990s Florida working a minimum wage job at a water park, who, when her husband dies suddenly, has to take over his “business”: an investment in a multi-level marketing scheme called FAM. Krystal isn’t a sucker who pays into the scam, she sees things clearly. “I will not be poor again,” she says in the premiere, and Dunst delivers it with a perfect emphasis that illuminates everything she does from then on.
Even though Dunst plays Krystal cynical and cunning, there’s an underlying naivete to her, too. She knows FAM is a scam, and is perfectly willing to scam her friends with it. But she still thinks that FAM might work as promised, for her at least: that she could ever possibly be able to make money from it. That combination – Kyrstal is cynical and cunning enough to blow up the lives of the people around her, but not enough to see the truth – makes her one of the best performances of Dunst’s career.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne Sheridan in Normal People – “Paul Mescal has gotten such praise for Normal People that it sometimes feels like Edgar-Jones hasn’t gotten quite the credit she’s due. She’s so vulnerable as Marianne, like she wears her heart outside of her body. Particularly impressive is how well she conveys the nuances and complications of Marianne’s involvement in BDSM, keeping it from veering into cliché.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Mj Rodriguez as Blanca Evangelista in Pose – “Pose’s second season was good, but it definitely had a bit of a sophomore slump, for a variety of reasons. None of those reasons was Mj Rodriguez, who came into her own so much as an actress, she was able to make lightning on the screen opposite Patti LuPone. But her crowning moment was obviously her lip sync performance of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ (as sung by Whitney Houston) in the finale. Jaw-dropping stuff.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA – Tim Blake Nelson as Wade Tillman in Watchmen
Dean: “There are certain character actors who can show up in anything, whether it’s a masterpiece or a shitshow, and you just know you’re in safe hands. Regardless of the context, they’re going to be good. The archetypal example of this phenomenon is Roger Ebert’s Stanton-Walsh Rule: ‘no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad’. I probably haven’t seen enough of his work to make such a definitive statement about Tim Blake Nelson, but he’s certainly of the Stanton-Walsh mould. I’m always happy to see him on a cast, and I always know he’ll be one of the best parts of whatever he’s in.
He’s obviously a super funny actor, and Watchmen does make use of his considerable comic talents by making him the deadpan straight man to Jean Smart’s embittered, wise-cracking ex-superhero. But as Wade, a survivor of the comic’s iconic psychic squid attack, he got a rare dramatic moment in the spotlight and nearly ran away with the show. Wade is a kind of low-affect guy most of the time, but that only means Nelson works all the harder on the subtleties of the performance, so much so that he remains compelling even when his character is wearing a mask that completely covers his face. It also means his more expressive turns, in the romantic scene with a woman from his PTSD support group or when a false alarm sends him fleeing to his backyard banker, hit ten times as hard. Someone give this man a lead.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut in Better Call Saul – “Jonathan Banks has been playing Mike for a decade, and it would be easy for him to coast on the work he’s already done in the role. But his performance in season five of Better Call Saul reveals new shades and meaning, particularly how Werner Ziegler’s death hangs over everything he does, in unexpected and affecting ways.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Mel Rodriguez as Ernie Gomes in On Becoming a God in Central Florida – “Ernie is one of the most fascinating characters in the show, exploited by Krystal, but exploiting others on her behalf, victim and victimiser in one. But the strangest thing about him is that he has no cunning, no guile. Mel Rodriguez plays him with a disarming earnestness that makes his mental and spiritual breakdown over the course of the first season utterly heartbreaking. His best role yet, I reckon.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA – Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul
Dean: “Kim fucking Wexler! Rhea fucking Seehorn! This is what taking your shot looks like. Rhea Seehorn got the biggest and best role in her career and just put everything into it. She started off great, but she just gets greater and greater every season. This is it, the best performance on TV right now. When I try to describe the intensity of it, how much amazing work she puts into every shot, all I can come up with are words like explosive, volcanic, nuclear. She can shift the tone of a scene with a change in expression and, like, the way she uses her voice. It’s always full of such emotional nuance, the wobble in it when she gets upset, but also how she can inflect it with so many different shades of feeling. The subtle but clear distinction between, e.g. Kim pretending to be fine when she’s angry and Kim pretending to be fine when she’s disappointed, it’s just magic. It’s superhuman.
I could cite so many standout moments to make my case. Her indignant outburst at Rick Schweikart. Her confusion, panic and betrayal when Jimmy runs a con on her without telling her first. Her negotiating her way out of a fucking hostage situation with a psychopathic drug lord. But here’s the thing it always comes back to. In the final moments of the season, in a shot from Jimmy’s point of view, Kim turns to him and shoots finger guns at the camera. She blows the smoke off the barrels. She smiles. It’s one of the most chilling things I’ve ever seen. It made my jaw drop. It’s been stuck in my head every since, just playing over and over. That’s the power of a great performance.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Meryl Streep as Mary Louise Wright in Big Little Lies – “Sometimes you don’t realise how great an actor is until you see everything around them fall to shit, and by that standard, Meryl Streep once again proved herself one of the greatest actors alive in Big Little Lies’ terrible second season. She’s always unsettling as Mary Louise, sometimes in ways that are wonderfully showy – the scream she does at the kitchen table! – but more often in ways that are subtly off, unnerving in ways you can’t articulate.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan in Mrs. America – “The show went harder on Betty Friedan than the other feminists, but in doing so, also gave Ullman the space to build a really familiar, human portrait of someone who was, as much as anything else, just kind of an asshole. She’s bitter, pricklish, judgemental, overprotective and hypocritical like a real person is. It’s one of the few cases in the show where a focus on personal hurt expands, rather than shrinks, our sense of a character.”
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A DRAMA – Thomas Schnauz for Better Call Saul: “Wexler v. Goodman”
Ciara: “It is a universal but all too often forgotten truth that all the best TV dramas are very, very funny. Dry humourlessness isn’t evidence of seriousness: in truly great shows, humour and serious drama work in tandem, each heightening the other. By those lights, ‘Wexler v. Goodman’ is an extraordinary episode of television. It is the funniest episode of television this year and one that made me sick with worry to watch. It twists the knife in your stomach until your laughs come with a mouthful of blood.
The centre of the episode is the meeting between Saul and Mesa Verda’s lawyers, including his girlfriend, Kim. It’s pure, unadulterated Saul Goodman: he pulls out all the stops, an elaborate play that involves a Native American woman’s copyright, a demand for four million dollars, and a series of ads put together by his trusty team of film students that accuse Mesa Verda of taking people’s homes illegally or, like, giving people a rash. But it’s also the episode where Saul pays some prostitutes to hassle Howard during a business lunch. It’s the episode where Mike tricks a librarian into giving false evidence to the police and tricks a low-level cop into thinking he’s in charge around here solely through the power of holding a coffee cup and giving off a vibe.
All of this is extremely funny, and all of it is unequivocally horrifying. It’s a masterclass in writing: in sustaining tone, in characterisation, and yes, in cranking out laughs. It’s stunning. And then it ends with a punch only exceeded by Better Call Saul’s finale, when Kim suggests she and Saul – Jimmy, really – get married. Amazing.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Carolina Paiz for Orange is the New Black: “God Bless America” – “Orange Is the New Black, one of the best TV shows ever made, spent a good chunk of its final season in the immigration detention centre next to the prison that it’s been set in all these years. It’s a risky move narratively that pays off massively, nowhere more than in this episode. It’s full of devastating moments, but two stand out: Karla using a smuggled phone to say goodbye to her kids before she gets deported – she promises never to stop trying to get back to them, saying that if she’s not back for their birthdays, that just means she’s still on her way – and a heart-breaking glimpse of the juvenile hearings at the immigration court.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Noah Hawley for Legion: “Chapter 25” – “You think you have a pretty good grasp on where this episode is going stylistically – it’s a dark fairytale, with all the narrative tropes and old-fashioned dialogue that implies – and then suddenly Jemaine Clement is having a rap battle with Jason Mantzoukas. It’s weirdly one of Legion’s lighter episodes, even as it builds to the biggest, most explicit expression of the show’s core ethos: ‘Remember. It’s not us or them. It’s us and them’.”
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING IN A DRAMA – Stephen Williams for Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”
Dean: “’This Extraordinary Being’ is nothing less than an achievement of pure filmmaking genius. It’s shot as if in a single take, as the protagonist and viewpoint character switches between Angela Abar, played by Regina King, who is living the memories of her grandfather, Will, played primarily in this episode by Jovan Adepo. And that’s just the start of it. It’s shot almost entirely in black and white and has possibly the best black and white cinematography I’ve seen in the digital age outside Twin Peaks. Memories are unstable and slide over each other, as in a breathtaking shot when a car pulling away from Will has the ghostly image of two dead black people being dragged along with ropes, something Will witnessed as a boy during the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. Visions of his mother flutter into scenes, playing piano in the cinema his family owned and operated before the city’s majority-black Greenwood neighbourhood was invaded by a racist mob, burned to the ground and strafed by airplanes.
There’s a cliché about directing awards being given to those who do the most directing, rather than the best, but sometimes the best is the best because it’s the most. Because of its daring, ambition and imagination, because it takes risks, but also because it’s just so cool. This is the kind of episode that reminds me why I love television, why I love filmmaking, why I love the screen. Because it lets us see in ways we never have before, thematically, yes, but also literally, visually. ‘This Extraordinary Being’ does all that and more. It’s a true all-timer.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Lenny Abrahamson for Normal People: “Episode 2” – “What is most striking about Normal People is its intimacy, most particularly in episode two, in which Marianne and Connell have sex for the first time. That scene is the centre of the episode, and it would be so easy for it to feel lewd or voyeuristic – but in Abrahamson’s hands, it’s so intimate and naturalistic and just a bit awkward that it’s positively lovely. Cutting between that and their ignoring each other at school makes the whole thing impossibly bittersweet.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Daniel Scheinert for On Becoming a God in Central Florida: “Many Masters” – “’Many Masters’ is the first and best episode of Becoming a God to go all-in on the show’s flirtations with the surreal. The midnight couples’ audition for a meeting with their cult leader. The heart attack dream where Obie watches himself cut his own stomach open. Cody offering up the corpse of a pelican he killed as tribute. Just an absolute masterclass from one of the minds behind Swiss Army Man.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA – The Firefly Fun House Match at Wrestlemania 36
Dean: “Nothing could have prepared me for watching this match live. We all knew it was going to be weird. Since Bray Wyatt returned last year with not just a new gimmick, but a whole mythos, there was always the potential for something this brilliant. The world of the Firefly Fun House – the set of a creepy kids’ show where Bray appears as a Mister Rogers-like host – had already produced such wonders as ‘The Muscle Man Dance’ (‘now wiggle your behind / (erase your mind)’), but the last time another wrestler entered it, during Wyatt’s feud with Seth Rollins, it culminated in a series of matches so ludicrously bad it was hard to see either Rollins or Wyatt’s demonic alter ego The Fiend fully recovering. And, besides, it’s not like Vince McMahon is known for giving his wrestlers a lot of creative freedom.
And yet, here we are, talking about the wrestling match that basically took place inside the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks, a match that cracked the whole genre of televised wrestling wide open by simply recognising that if televised wrestling is television, it can be as wild and surreal and ambitious as television has proven it can be. The use of archive footage from Saturday Night’s Main Event and Hulk Hogan’s debut on WCW Nitro to move the characters’ through time and space and alternate realities, even though the whole match was shot on a soundstage, is so simple in its genius that it continuously blows my mind. It’s also an incredible deconstruction of the character of John Cena, who’s ultimately driven into such despair by the realisation that he was the villain all along that he barely puts up a fight when the Fiend finally appears to erase him from existence. I’ve watched it probably twenty times since April. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop thinking about it.”
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES – Better Things
Ciara: “I’ve always really liked Better Things, but on the understanding that it’s strangeness could lead to dull or off-putting places as well as captivating, moving and funny ones. I admired its ambition – how utterly unlike anything else on TV it is – and the rewards always outweighed the risks. But season four is all reward. It has all the strangeness and ambition of previous seasons – more, if anything – but it succeeds every time. I loved every second of it.
Better Things is ostensibly a grounded, vaguely autobiographical comedy-drama about creator/star Pamela Adlon’s alter-ego, actress and single mother Sam Fox. And it’s great at being that: Sam coping with her oldest daughter reaching adulthood, or finally trying to move on from her divorce, makes for as affecting human drama as you’ll get on TV. But it’s also a show where Sam’s youngest daughter can talk to ghosts and it’s never been the focus of an episode. It’s a show that opened one episode with Sam’s middle child – who may be trans, her gender and sexuality plays out in the background with a purposeful kind of ambiguity – meticulously recreating a Jerry Lewis bit, in what initially appears to be a white void, with exactly zero context before or after. It’s a show so episodic that it’s genuinely surprising when the events of one episode have any bearing whatsoever on another, and a show full of moments of surprising, startling beauty. It is also very, very funny.
The final shot of the season – the girls, at the beach, looking behind them, while REM’s ‘Night Swimming’ plays – is a perfect ending. It caps off a masterpiece.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: BoJack Horseman – “Bojack Horseman has been one of the best shows of the streaming era for a long time – brilliant and bittersweet, always knowing that you don’t need to sacrifice gags to have heart – but how it sticks the landing in its final season should cement its reputation as one of the best TV shows of all time. Its willingness to refuse easy resolution and instead make the audience live with uncertainty is an all-too-rare quality in modern television. I will miss it very dearly.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Letterkenny – “In this day and age, it simply must be acknowledged when you can honestly say a show’s seventh and eighth seasons were among of its very best. The former is built around the hicks starting a public access farming advice show, the latter around Tanis bringing back the Letterkenny Irish to go for national gold. The most joke-dense show on TV just keeps getting denser, deepening its already huge cast with great new additions like the incomprehensible Newfoundland hockey players and Wayne’s American cousin. I just keep laughing.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Danny McBride as Jesse Gemstone in The Righteous Gemstones
Dean: “Danny McBride is so obviously one of the funniest actors of his generations that it can be hard to describe why. His follow-up to his genuinely virtuosic performance as Neal Gamby in Vice Principals (for which he previously won this award) is the eldest son of the Gemstone televangelist family, Jesse Gemstone. He’s just as cringeworthy a person as Gamby, full of incredible self-regard far outweighing his incredible stupidity, and that’s one of the things that distinguishes him from Gamby: he thinks too much of himself to even have the self-awareness to be embarrassed. When he prays to God, he says ‘Thank you, God, for forgiving me of my wrongdoings, which you know are not who I am’. After terrorising one of his lackeys out of paranoia, he says ‘I forgive you for my suspicions of you’.
Jesse is a stupid, spoiled bully that’s hard to feel sympathy for even when his wife is chasing him with a gun. (She shoots him in the ass, naturally.) And yet, even this man is offered a moment of grace, a chance to break free from his ways, to go forth and sin no more. Jesse comes to the lowest point in his life, every relationship that matters in his life ruined or hanging on by a thread. And he decides to follow his son to do missionary work in Haiti. He doesn’t buffoonishly try to make a big deal about it. He doesn’t immediately start begging his son for attention or forgiveness. He just walks over, wordlessly, picks up a shovel and starts digging. It’s beautiful. Also, there’s a bit where he says ‘Daddy’ like ‘Da-deh’ and it made me laugh so hard I had to pause, then rewind it like ten times before I could move on with my life.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Rob McElhenney as Ian Grimm in Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet – “Rob McElhenney is so deeply tied to his role on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that I thought it would be hard to buy into him as anything else. But McElhenney distinguishes Ian from Mac instantly – smart, successful, and a whole other kind of mean – and within the space of an episode, it no longer occurred to me to make the comparison. He particularly shines in moments of drama: there’s a scene where he remains silent as Poppy yells at him in the car, and it’s perfect.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Matt Berry as Laszlo Cravensworth in What We Do in the Shadows and Eli Rabbit in Year of the Rabbit – “Matt Berry is one of the treasures of contemporary television, a man with such power over his voice he can make pretty much any line, no matter how inane, into comic gold just through his weird pronunciation. Either of his phenomenal performances this year would have been enough to warrant MVP status. But both? Undeniable.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox in Better Things
Dean: “I’ve joked for a long time that I’m not sure whether I love Better Things or hate it, but I can’t deny that it’s great television. That joke was ruined by the latest season, which confirmed once and for all that I love Better Things and I hope it continues as long as Pamela Adlon wants to make it. But even before that epiphany, I could never have stopped watching for Adlon’s performance alone. She is so constantly, effortlessly funny. Even when she’s just walking from one room to another, she doesn’t waste a chance to mutter to herself or pull an exasperated face. She has the rare skill of being really good at being sarcastic and she loves to laugh out loud at her own jokes, which I always find really endearing for some reason.
But the big moments are still pretty amazing. I love the scene where Sam wrestles her elderly mother on the ground because she won’t give her a saliva sample for a DNA test. I love when she and the girls have to try and capture an owl in the house and she’s freaking out more than the kids. I love when she calls Max a c*nt, and then calls her one again, and then they’re both calling each other c*nts over and over, and there’s the moment of shocked silence after, before Sam starts laughing. And those all happened in just one episode! Add that to bits like her comic frustration at not understanding what’s going on with Frankie’s sexuality in the finale or the moment she tells her deadbeat ex Xander that she’s going to pay out his full alimony so she doesn’t have to deal with him anymore. It’s one of the most brilliant, hilarious and unique performances on television.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Alison Brie as Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder in GLOW – “In previous seasons, Ruth’s sheer joy in wrestling shined at the heart of Brie’s performance. Because this season of GLOW saw their wrestling show move from a serial TV show to a Vegas revue that’s the same night after night, that’s lost – but in its place, Brie takes on more emotionally complex territory. Ruth plateaus while all her friends seem to move forward, and in the end she desperately returns to old dreams instead of pursuing new ones.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Aisling Bea as Áine in This Way Up – “It’s easy to focus on the dramatic elements of comedic performances in the age of the sadcom, and, in fairness, Aisling Bea is really good at the hard-hitting emotional stuff. But I want to give a special highlight to how funny she is, especially since she takes on the difficult role of a character who is funny in-universe. Áine is always cracking jokes, playing pranks, doing impressions and she always makes me laugh as much as she makes the other characters. It’s a refreshing change from the more popular mode of having characters try to be funny and get no-sold.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia in GLOW
Ciara: “Marc Maron is so great as Sam: funny and gruff and utterly magnetic. He plays even his most vulnerable moments angry, in a way that not only isn’t monotonous but feels layered and complex. There’s such depth and nuance to his anger that it feels like part of a genuine human being’s personality, instead of a series of reactions to stimuli.
Maron does so much great work on GLOW, but the standout moment from this season is undoubtedly his performance in ‘Hollywood Homecoming’. He is taking his daughter Justine around to movie studios to try and sell her screenplay, and you can feel the weight of his own failures in every moment: there’s a battle inside him over whether he’s an asset or a liability to Justine. Then, in the meeting where she sells the script, he has a heart attack. He doesn’t tell her. He wanders in the next morning after spending the night in the hospital. You wait for him to explain what happened, and Maron makes every second he doesn’t agonising, an unbearable twist of the knife.
So the moment when he clearly decides never to tell her – he pours two glasses of whiskey and says ‘let’s celebrate’ – is a gut punch. The moment’s pause before he drinks, the smile after he downs it, how he nods when he says ‘Let’s make a fucking movie’. It’s lasered onto the backs of my eyelids. Maron doesn’t oversell it at all, but it’s quietly impactful, layered with a dozen contradictory emotions.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Walton Goggins as Baby Billy Freeman in The Righteous Gemstones – “Walton Goggins is always brilliant, and his performance as Baby Billy steals the show. He plays the brother of the late Gemstone matriarch, with whom he once had a hit single with the greatest song of all time. It’s a fantastic performance: you’re never quite sure when he’s being sincere or manipulative. But mostly, Goggins is hilarious, not least in how he insists on being called Baby Billy despite being an old man.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Scott MacArthur as Scotty in The Righteous Gemstones – “Scott MacArthur is so stupid, so funny and so scary in The Righteous Gemstones. He marries the naive cockiness and slobby slapstick of his breakout role in The Mick with the cold-blooded, sinister affect that made him so very chilling as the antagonist of El Camino to produce a comedic villain as buffoonish as he is brutish. I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – Edi Patterson as Judy Gemstone in The Righteous Gemstones
Ciara: “Edi Patterson plays Judy, the frustrated middle child of the televangelist Gemstone family. Like her brothers, Judy is stuck in a perpetual state of arrested development: she’s a spoiled, bratty teenager trapped in the body of a forty-something woman. She whines and throws tantrums like a kid. It’s also a great physical performance. Patterson doesn’t just talk like a spoiled teenager, she moves like one: the way she throws her arms around is perfect, as is the way she tries to smash up a car with some shopping trolleys. She fumbles hilariously with her fiancé, because all of Judy’s ideas about sex and relationships are derived entirely from teen movies and porn.
But mostly, Patterson is so breathlessly funny, delivering a long monologue about sexually assaulting a man and kidnapping his son so guilelessly that I howl laughing every time. Her every line delivery is like it was grown in a lab to make me laugh. She tells Jesse she’s going to shave her pussy and learn to surf, and when he asks why she would shave her pussy, she screams, ‘So I can surf faster, Jesse!‘ and it’s one of the funniest things anyone has ever said. Patterson was great on McBride/Hill/Gordon Green’s previous show, Vice Principals, but on The Righteous Gemstones, she has brilliantly come into her own, proved herself one of the funniest people on television. This show’s cast is so insanely stacked, yet she still dominates the screen. It seems retrospectively absurd that she hasn’t spent twenty years as the biggest comedy actor in Hollywood.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Mikey Madison as Max Fox in Better Things – “One of the most interesting things about Better Things is how much we’ve seen Sam’s daughters grow and change, in the subtle, largely off-screen ways that teenagers change in real life. Max – now technically an independent adult – is on a fault-line between the brattiness of her youth and a mature, responsible grown-up she’s becoming, and Madison captures both as part of the whole.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Kaitlin Olson as Dee Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Kaitlin Olson is still the best comedic actress on television. It’s just true. She hasn’t had as many spotlight episodes in the last couple of seasons of Sunny and it’s still true. Dee has the most under-written C-plot of “The Gang Chokes” – watching Frank almost die makes her an adrenaline junkie – and still steals the whole episode. I think of her telling the bewildered guys she went to a Puerto Rican neighbourhood and started saying racist things to incite a mob against her probably every day.”
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A COMEDY – Jeff Loveness & Albro Lundy for Rick and Morty: “The Vat of Acid Episode”
Ciara: “This season of Rick and Morty was a giant let-down, reaching its nadir with an episode where Rick and his grandkids had an orgy with dragons that somehow didn’t even rise to the level of shock humour. But ‘The Vat of Acid Episode’ is the glittering exception, and not just because it opens with shitting on the dragons thing.
People, whether pro- or anti-, tend to over-intellectualise Rick and Morty: it’s a bleak nihilistic ode to/critique of toxic blah-blah-blah-blah. But when Rick and Morty is good, it’s because it’s funny. ‘The Vat of Acid Episode’ is exactly what I love about Rick and Morty, combining a clockwork structure that funnels the audience towards a big comedy payoff, with a ton of throwaway gags in the meantime.
At the start of the episode, Rick’s solution to their problem is to jump into a fake vat of acid and pretend their dead. Morty calls this stupid, and when Rick says there’s no such thing as a bad idea, Morty says what about his idea for a place-saving device that allows you to go back in time and have a do-over, like in a video game. (“Yeah, I saw it on Futurama.”) Rick makes the device, and there are so many great gags along the way – an elaborate sequence of Morty and a girl re-enacting the Up montage, only for Jerry to mistake the place saver for a TV remote and reset everything – leading to the episode’s big punchline: everything Morty does using the place saver, he really did, and when Rick consolidates it all into one universe, there’s only one way to wriggle out of the jams Morty’s created: a fake vat of acid. It’s hysterical. I loved it.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Stefani Robinson for What We Do in the Shadows: “On the Run” – “So: once upon a time, Laszlo didn’t pay a month’s rent. 167 years later, the landlord shows up looking for what he’s owed, so Laszlo skips town. (They’re all vampires, by the way.) The whole episode is about him making a new life for himself under the name Jackie Daytona in a small town in Pennsylvania. He runs a bar! He coaches the girls’ volleyball team! He’s a local hero! ‘On the Run’ feels like a wacky C-plot promoted to A-plot, and it’s about as delightful a half-hour of television as you’ll get.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Trevor Risk for Letterkenny: “Nut” – “Letterkenny is built on repetition. Not only is the dialogue, like, fifty percent running gags at this point, but one of its tried and true comedic devices has always been characters just repeating the same phrase over and over with minor, but hilarious, variations. The phrase for the final act of this episode is ‘give me some of that X nut, white boy’, after Squirrely Dan is traumatised by some porn he watched. Each X is a food item, described elaborately. It’s incredible.”
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING IN A COMEDY – Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet: “A Dark Quiet Death”, directed by Rob McElhenney
Dean: “I’m kind of a sceptic of the ‘standalone episode’, especially when it goes so far in abandoning the setting and characters as ‘A Dark Quiet Death’. I’m always afraid we’re about to veer into ‘is this an episode of television or is this a short film?’ territory and I like short films, but I don’t watch TV to see them. I’m always afraid they’re gonna turn out like the standalone episode of Forever, which abandons leads Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen to follow two completely different characters in what was basically a twee indie romance, only reconnecting by panning slowly to Maya Rudolph watching the events unfold as a ghost and crying. ‘A Dark Quiet Death’ arguably goes even further, abandoning not just the characters, but the setting and even time period, to tell the story of Beans and Doc, a couple who meet in the nineties, develop a game, found a studio, lose creative control and then each other.
But there’s never a moment where it stops feeling like Mythic Quest. McElhenney keeps the episode within the bounds of the show’s established visual vocabulary, comedic register and acting style. He directs his leads, Cristin Milioti and Jake Johnson, so perfectly in tune with the rest of the show that you could imagine either of them walking into a regular episode and just fitting in. And it’s always engaging to watch even though the episode is mostly dialogue and time skips. It introduces two totally new characters and tells a beautiful story with them in just over half an hour that sings as a standalone episode and deepens the show’s core themes about the relationship between art and capital. It’s like it teaches you how to watch the rest of the show. It’s magnificent.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Danny McBride for The Righteous Gemstones: “The Righteous Gemstones” – “Danny McBride is the great unsung genius of modern television, and The Righteous Gemstones is some of his best work yet, as is abundantly clear from this pilot. It’s one of the best pilots in recent memory, an extremely funny episode in itself that sets up the show to come perfectly. McBride’s directing is stellar: the scale of the show is much bigger than Vice Principals or Eastbound & Down, and it makes great use of the larger canvas.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Pendleton Ward for The Midnight Gospel: “Mouse of Silver” – “Pendleton Ward came back to animation this year with the soft psychedelia of The Midnight Gospel, co-created with comedian Duncan Trussell. Each episode uses an interview from Trussell’s podcast for dialogue, and this one is a conversation between Trussell and his mother, who was dying of cancer. It’s probably the most beautiful visual work of Ward’s career, an explosion of colour and imagination that rhymes so gorgeously with the subject matter, and also features a race of teddy bear scientists who just kind of putter around doing weird, funny things.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY – Richard Osman’s House of Games
Ciara: “I watched so many game shows this year. Pointless, obviously. I watched so many repeats of The Chase that I got to the end of however many episodes Virgin Media TV has the rights to and back to the start of loop. I binged all of Taskmaster. I even watched episodes of Tenable and the Australian version of The Chase (my recommendation: don’t). But Richard Osman’s House of Games remains special, a consistently delightful drop of sunshine in the drabbest hours.
The basic idea of House of Games is that you have a group of four celebrity contestants each week competing in a series of games to win some mostly pretty shite prizes. The games are silly but never stupid: a pairs game where one person gives the answer and the other has to spell it correctly, say, or a game where the players are given a map and have to point to where they think a given place is (closest wins). It gives the whole thing a low-stakes, laidback feel even as it’s challenging enough to be genuinely satisfying to get the answer at home. Because the contestants remain the same for a week at a time, you get miniature storylines playing out that make it all the more engaging. You have someone to root for (or against). I wait with bated breath for the day someone wins all five shows.
And the whole thing is funny in a very simple, satisfying way: certain silly word combinations that are fun to say out loud, or the delight of watching someone give a truly dumb answer. Comedians usually do well on the show, and It’s in part because the premise of so many games is to make the weird little connections that comedians make all the time.”