What a weirdly fantastic and fantastically weird year of television we’ve had. We said goodbye to previous award winners Better Call Saul, Better Things and Derry Girls, all of whom represented one of the two dominant themes of the year: good shows staying good. It’s Always Sunny? Still good. Taskmaster? Still good. Ted Lasso? Still good.
But Ted Lasso also represents the other theme: our extreme uncertainty about how to classify many shows as dramas or comedies this year. Some of it was new shows like Peacemaker, or new to us shows like Doom Patrol and Succession, that straddled the divide. But we also had favourites like Ted Lasso that seemed to shift from one to the other. While we put thought into our process and considered qualities like a show’s structure as much as or more than its tone, some of our decisions are likely to feel arbitrary or even absurd to you, reader. All we can say is: deal with it, because we are not explaining or justifying that shit every time.
And with that little bit of housekeeping out of the way, please enjoy as we pass judgement on the last TV season (June 2021 – May 2022). As well as the classic drama and comedy awards, we also have two awards for reality, variety and documentary television, including game shows, professional wrestling and whatever Eric Andre is doing at any given minute. We picked our winners by consensus, so only shows we both watched were eligible to win, but we each picked a runner-up, regardless of whether the other has seen it.
You can find each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of the post. We recommend checking them out if you’re looking for recommendations.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES – Better Call Saul
Ciara: “Better Call Saul has spent the last few years getting better and better even though it was great to begin with, and its final season was the best of all, cementing it as not just the best show on TV, but one of the best shows ever made. As a prequel, it always felt like its future was written: we know what happens to Jimmy, after all. But it turned out we didn’t know anything at all – that the sliver of his life we’d seen on Breaking Bad was the tiniest of windows, much too small to understand a man through.
For so much of Better Call Saul, the persistent questions were who would survive? and how does Jimmy become Saul? And now that seems almost quaint. Like trying to understand the most beautiful moral poetry through ‘tick yes or no’ checkboxes. Not that the fates of Better Call Saul original characters – ones we knew, one way or another, wouldn’t make it into Breaking Bad, like Nacho or Howard or Kim or, all those years ago, Chuck – weren’t devastating, weren’t some of the most compelling television ever made. But the smash-bang pace of Breaking Bad is such a distant memory that who will survive seems a silly way to get your head around it.
And as for how Jimmy becomes Saul, the final season revealed that the show was never about that. I’ve often said that while people describe Breaking Bad as a show about a good man gone bad, that’s really Better Call Saul – but in the final offing, it reveals itself to be, to have always been, a show about rediscovering your capacity for good. About being willing – being insistent – on being held to account. About capital-c Confession. And, more than anything, it’s a love story. A wonder. I will miss it dearly.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Pam & Tommy – “Pam & Tommy is the best Ryan Murphy show in years. And yes, admittedly, Ryan Murphy had nothing to do with it. But it has the quality the best of his work has: just the right mixture of sharp social commentary and silly camp, taking a gossipy Hollywood story that’s been a punchline for decades and using it as a vector to explore dozens of the forces still shaping American life. Also: Tommy Lee’s dick talks.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Squid Game – “I waited almost a full year to watch Squid Game, by which time it had gone from being the most talked-about show of last year to the most oversaturated intellectual property of the entire COVID era. I thought it’d be good, but I couldn’t imagine it living up to the hype. Well, what do I know? Squid Game is so smart and so simple, elegantly written and beautifully directed, full of gut-wrenching horror and gut-busting humour. The cast alone is an embarrassment of riches, but then there’s the music and costumes and production design. It’s a masterpiece. Everyone who greenlit the game show version at Netflix should be in jail though.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA – Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul
Ciara: “This is Bob Odenkirk’s fourth time winning this award – becoming our most decorated awardee ever. But if that makes it sound like Odenkirk wins by default, well. It’s still true he deserves it this year most of all.
There’s a moment in ‘Point and Shoot’ where Jimmy convinces Lalo to send Kim to Gus Fring’s house instead of him. In the moment, it feels like he’s sending her to her death out of pure selfishness, perhaps the most nakedly evil thing we’ve seen him do: his ‘do it to Julia!‘ moment. Kim tells Gus and Mike that it was to protect her – to give her an escape – but Odenkirk plays it more ambiguous. He’s in full salesman mode, not letting Lalo (or us) see beneath. We never find out for sure what his intentions were. Pure and noble or rotten to the core.
There’s a similar moment in the finale, when he says he will testify against Kim – shaving just that little bit more off a sentence he’s already negotiated down to seven and a half years. But this time we do find out his motivations. He just wanted to see her again. Odenkirk’s speech at Jimmy’s trial is the kind of thing actors could study: how we see him shift from the bullshitting salesman speech we’ve seen him give before into something true and real and painful. There’s always been this tension in Odenkirk’s performance, between Jimmy and Saul – and, this season, Gene, too. But more than ever before, the ways his personas play off each other, the way he shifts between them, was virtuoso. We’ve waited all these years for them to collapse together – to submerge Jimmy into Saul – but in Odenkirk’s capable hands, he figures out a way to be all of them at once.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Colin Firth as Michael Peterson in The Staircase – “Was this the first or thousandth time I saw Colin Firth play an American? I’ve never quite been able to work it out. Which might be because even though I’m pretty sure it was the first, he’s so good that it doesn’t seem possible. His Michael Peterson is just the right mix of cruel and compelling, constantly manipulating everyone around him so instinctively he seems like he believes his lies.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: John Cena as Christopher Smith / Peacemaker in Peacemaker – “Cena’s performance as Peacemaker in The Suicide Squad was already good, but it only hinted at a depth and pathos his self-titled spin-off lays bare. I could cite so many moments – dancing to hair metal in his undies, trying to play off PTSD as a fixation on his logo – but nothing sticks like his scenes with Robert Patrick as Peacemaker’s abusive father. Early on, still trying desperately to win his approval, then later, still cowering in fear of him at twice his size and half his age. Finally, a challenger for Bautista’s title as the best wrestler-turned-actor ever.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA – Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul
Dean: “Kim Wexler is one of the best characters in all television, and Rhea Seehorn’s performance over six seasons of Better Call Saul – especially its final season – is among the greatest in the medium’s history. And yet, she’s been snubbed for Supporting Actress in a Drama by the Emmys so many times that when they finally nominated her this year, they were snubbing her for Lead. Not here though. Not at The Sundae. This is Seehorn’s third award for playing Kim, because she rules. She’s the best fucking actor on television.
We see two Kims this season, each at her own extreme: first, the Kim we know and love, scheming with Jimmy to ruin Howard’s reputation and force a settlement in the Sandpiper suit, then six years later in the Gene timeline, quiet, brown-haired, working at a regional sprinkler company in Florida.
Seehorn plays Slippin’ Kimmy with a mix of giddy excitement and manic hyperfocus. It’s the first time she’s cut loose and gone bare knuckle on the world, and she’s having fun. Too much. Kim at Palm Coast Sprinkler remembers Slippin’ Kimmy and it’s gobsmacking how much the experience changed her. So unwilling to trust her own judgement she answers every question with a ‘maybe’, never offering her opinion unless asked. So scared of her own power she lives her life with an amputated soul. Which is why it’s so exhilarating when she and Jimmy see each other one last time, share one last cigarette against a wall. Just a small change in her posture and the whole scene shifts. Because that’s how good Rhea Seehorn is. She’s the best fucking actor on television.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Kaley Cuoco as Cassie Bowden in The Flight Attendant – “The Flight Attendant seemed sure to go the way of Big Little Lies or Killing Eve and spectacularly shit the bed in season two, and incredibly, it stayed good. Kaley Cuoco is a huge part of why. If season one is a fun pulpy thriller with a story about trauma layered into it, this season was a fun pulpy thriller with a story about recovery layered into it – and Cuoco plays recovery in such a complex, realistic way, having to endure the pain of negotiating between becoming a new person and reckoning with all her sins. Loved her so much I seriously considered watching The Big Bang Theory.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout – “In a year that featured a ton of the best superhero TV ever made, the best supervillain performance on television was still Amanda Seyfried as former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Much of The Dropout is about Elizabeth’s transformation from arrogant, idealistic undergrad into Machiavellian psychopath, complete with a total reinvention of her persona. The scene where she forces herself to deepen her voice, repeating her talking points over and over as her vocal chords strain to the point of snapping, is easily the best thing I’ve seen Seyfried do on screen.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA – Nick Mohammed as Nate Shelley in Ted Lasso
Dean: “I knew how this season of Ted Lasso would end the second I saw Rupert whisper in his ear, but I still lost my mind at the final shot of the series: Nate, hair grey, soul sold, and heel turn complete. Early in the season, his ego seems like a new affliction, product of a rush of fame to his head. When Rebecca and Keeley teach him to be more assertive and confident to get a nice table at a restaurant for dinner, it feels like a healthier expression of ego. But it just makes him more assertive and confident about being an entitled dickhead. When his father doesn’t praise him enough, he takes it out on Will, the new kit manager. When Ted doesn’t praise him enough, he takes it out on Richmond.
The genius of Mohammed’s performance is how close to the chest he plays Nate’s thoughts, while his emotions play out silently on his face, often in the background, or in scenes without a partner. As late as the finale, after he’s already betrayed Ted by leaking his panic attack, you wonder if there’s still hope for him, if he’ll turn back before it’s too late. But then he gets the chance to say his piece, and he’s so bitter, self-centred and pointlessly cruel, never more childish even as his greying hair reminds you he’s been in his thirties this entire time. He was always this guy. Then his dead-eyed stare into the camera to close the series, like Patrick Bateman cosplaying as José Mourinho. I still have chills.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Matthew Macfayden as Tom Wambsgans in Succession – “Succession’s whole cast is insanely stacked, but Matthew Macfayden is so compelling that I constantly looked forward to finding out what Tom Wambsgans – a guy who’s only in the family by marriage – was up to. The Nero and Sporus speech is a masterclass, simultaneously menacing, funny, tragic and, weirdest of all, sincerely, genuinely romantic. Don’t even get me started on the finale.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Freddie Stroma as Adrian Chase / Vigilante in Peacemaker – “From annoying me as Cormac McLaggen in Harry Potter to winning me over as Adam in UnREAL to stealing my heart as Vigilante in Peacemaker, it’s been a wild ride for me and Freddie Stroma. For years, we as a society have asked: what if Dexter were a cute autistic busboy just as willing to kill jaywalkers as murderers? Now we know: Vigilante – Adrian to his friends (he has none) – is a street-level crimefighter without pretensions of heroism, but Stroma plays him with such sweetness and vulnerability you’d nearly forget he’s a ruthless murderer if he didn’t bring it up so much.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA – HoYeon Jung as Kang Sae-byeok in Squid Game
Ciara: “Kang Sae-byeok is instantly a fascinating character: she escaped North Korea and now lives as a pickpocket in the south. While she is much too steely, much too clear-eyed, to have time for dreams, she enters the game with its millions in prize money in the hopeless hope of getting the funds together to save her brother from the orphanage. She’s desperate, but in a way she jealously guards, shoving her vulnerability below a stoic exterior. An exterior that we, as the audience, get to see below in a way other characters, for the most part, only glimpse if Sae-byeok trusts them absolutely. She’s a lone wolf, fierce and independent, until she’s not – until she makes not just alliances, but true, deep love, deep enough to tear her heart in two. The marble game alone.
Squid Game was Korea’s Next Top Model runner-up HoYeon Jung’s acting debut, and it feels, truly, like watching a star be born. There are aspects of her performance that I can’t fully appreciate as an English speaker – she learned the Hamgyŏng dialect for the role, practising with real North Korean defectors – but it probably says something that I still found myself wondering if HoYeon Jung was herself North Korean, assuming she would need first-hand knowledge to produce such a performance. Squid Game is a great show with tons of great performances, but she’s the best of them – she gives the kind of performance the words ‘breakout star’ were coined to describe.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Hannah Waddingham as Rebecca Welton in Ted Lasso – “I am aggressively Team Ted Lasso Is a Drama Now, perhaps the captain of that team. You can see the dramatic turn in a lot of this season’s performances – Ted talking about what happened to his dad, gah – but Hannah Waddingham’s was one of the most subtle, most fascinating. Her relationship to an initially mysterious man she meets on an app is a masterclass in the tension and stakes that can be at play in even the most conventional of romance plots.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Patricia Arquette as Harmony Cobel in Severance – “I wasn’t as high on Severance as a lot of other people, but its cast was pretty undeniable, none more so than Patricia Arquette. I am often suspicious that flashy new TV shows with legendary actors in supporting roles are just using them for name recognition, and that I’m liable to get a good, but not especially impassioned performance. But Patricia Arquette isn’t just good in Severance, she eats the rest of the cast’s fucking lunch. She plays Kobel as an ice-cold bitch with a heart of magma, a true believer and false deceiver both. One of the best to do it.”
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A DRAMA – Thomas Schnauz for Better Call Saul: “Plan and Execution”
Dean: “Picking just one episode of Better Call Saul’s final season to give this award to was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make on this blog. It is undoubtedly one of the best seasons of television ever made, and so many episodes could have been worthy winners. But when it comes down to it, no episode of this show embodies as much of what made it great as ‘Plan and Execution’.
Better Call Saul was a show about the intoxication of genius in a way Breaking Bad only hinted at. In Breaking Bad, you beat your opponent by finding their fatal flaw and exploiting it, but in Better Call Saul, everyone is so clever and savvy you can only outlast your enemy if you outsmart them. After taking the first few episode to lay tracks, this is the one where Kim and Jimmy pull the trigger on their plan to destroy Howard. It’s as thrilling as any great heist film, as funny as any great sitcom. Running around a park with their film school crew to reshoot phony evidence of their own scheme at the last minute. Listening in on the meeting with bated breath. Howard sees them coming a mile off and they still beat him.
And then the consequences come knocking at the door, and the butterflies die in your stomach. The moral gravity of their universe pulls them back to Earth and down to Hell. Am I sure it’s the best episode of Better Call Saul? No. But it’s definitely the most. We shall never see its like again.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: George Pritchett & Tony Roche for Succession: “Too Much Birthday” – “The writing throughout this season of Succession was stellar, but ‘Too Much Birthday’, in which Kendall Roy turns forty, stands apart. It is the perfect encapsulation of the show’s particular brand of tragicomedy. It’s full of great gags – the entrance to the party is a gigantic replication of Kendall’s mother’s birth canal, and he was planning on performing Billy Joel’s ‘Honesty’ on a crucifix – but constantly inflected with the deep and horrible sadness that suffocates Kendall, attempting to recreate the childhood he never had and finally win his father’s love or even respect.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Tamara Becher-Wilkinson for Doom Patrol: “Undead Patrol” – “Doom Patrol is a great show because it’s about a superhero team so dysfunctional that three seasons in, most of the characters haven’t become superheroes, and they’re barely a team. ‘Undead Patrol’ is a great episode because it’s about the team turning into zombies because a hot demon lady vomited on them, fighting off a horde of sentient flesh-eating asses – including by eating them – and then curing themselves by eating brains from the severed but still living head of their mutual abuser. It also features experimental short films from the 1920s and Michelle Gomez saying the word ‘Dada’ in her Scottish accent. Five stars.”
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING IN A DRAMA – Sam Jones for Ted Lasso: “Beard After Hours”
Ciara: “’Beard After Hours’ is an episode I was calling ‘Beard After Hours’ before I knew that was the actual title, because it is, in essence, Coach Beard in a version of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. It doesn’t follow the movie’s plot beat by beat, or anything, but it captures its vibe: its loose-limbed, hallucinatory episodic adventuring through a city that never sleeps. ‘Beard After Hours’ is an odyssey through a London night, from the ivory tower to the seedy underbelly. Sam Jones’s direction is perfect for this, alluding to Scorsese without just doing pastiche, imbuing the unnatural light of a nightclub with a quasi-magical feeling that feels one part drug-induced, one part being young and alive and in love. Because it is a love story – and even though the show up to now presented Beard and Jane as a bad match, Jones shoots them like they’re meant to be.
It is also one of my favourite types of TV episodes: a ‘Data’s Day’, where, like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where we just follow Data’s own adventures for a day, a supporting character becomes the protagonist for a go around. Jones makes ‘Beard After Hours’ visually distinct, like we’re getting to see the world as Coach Beard does, for once. I loved it.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Michelle MacLaren for Better Call Saul: “Nippy” – “Michelle MacLaren is one of the best TV directors of all time – responsible for some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad – and her contributions to Better Call Saul’s final season were electric. But ‘Nippy’ is special: a tightly structured, propulsively entertaining bit of television, as wonderful a caper as this century has produced. I particularly love the Best Years of Our Lives-style playing out the core drama in the background of a shot, with the heist going wrong in background security footage.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Vince Gilligan for Better Call Saul: “Point and Shoot” – “‘Point and Shoot’ is so tense, and goes so long without even a moment’s relief from that tension, that I genuinely got a stomach ache watching it. If the previous episode, ‘Plan and Execution’, showed Howard in a hell of Kim and Jimmy’s design, then this is Kim and Jimmy in a hell of Lalo’s design. The fear in Jimmy’s face when he sees Lalo, his disbelieving horror. Kim stopped at the traffic lights on her way to assassinate Gus, when a cop car pulls up beside her. Mike trying so hard to save everyone, still clinging to the last of his sullied honour. Now that’s what I call television!”
REALITY, VARIETY AND DOCUMENTARY
OUTSTANDING REALITY, VARIETY OR DOCUMENTARY SERIES – I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
Dean: “I love sketch comedy. I’ve watched a lot of it. But even the best sketch shows usually have a mix of great, good, okay and bad sketches. It’s just a law of averages thing. You can’t win them all. A Bit of Fry and Laurie is one of the greatest sketch shows ever, and it has plenty of bad sketches. A sketch show with only good sketches seems mathematically impossible.
I Think You Should Leave only has good sketches. It was one thing when the first season only had good sketches, because so much of it was stuff Tim Robinson had been working on for years, sketches he’d pitched when he wrote for Saturday Night Live and which had been rejected by the tasteless hacks running that shitshow. But season two was just as brilliant, maybe better. From shirts at Dan Flashes (‘CAUSE THE PATTERN’S SO COMPLICATED, YOU IDIOT!’) to sloppy steaks at Truffoni’s (‘I’m worried that the baby thinks people can’t change.’) to Coffin Flop on Corncob TV (‘We’re allowed to show ’em nude, ’cause they ain’t got no SOUL!’), the second season was like watching someone bottle lightning with the ease of a child catching fireflies.
Bob Odenkirk and Paul Walter Hauser dropped by for a pair of hilarious but oddly moving sketches, and season one standout Patti Harrison returned as a woman whose job is tables and a tycoon on a Shark Tank knockoff who got rich because a parade balloon fell on her. I could go on. Not just uniquely funny, but uniquely rewatchable. The best sketch show ever.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Ready to Mingle – “Ready to Mingle deserved better, because it fixed the inherent problem with Bachelor-style romance competition shows. Its innovation being that only half the guys competing for the girl’s affections are actually single: if she picks a single guy, they split the prize money, but if she picks a guy with a partner, he wins the whole amount. Suddenly there are motivations at play that aren’t as transparently fake as looking for love. It was fizzily addictive the way the best reality television is.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Taskmaster – “The twelfth series of Taskmaster featured the best set of live tasks the show’s ever done, Guz Khan sensually slapping a space hopper covered in paint and Victoria Coren-Mitchell learning to ride a bike on television at age 48. The thirteenth featured a contestant who forgot how to walk during a walking challenge, a contestant who brought umbilical cords as a prize and a contestant who annoyed Alex so much during multiple tasks he broke character (all three were the same contestant). Still one of the century’s best shows. Still hyped for more.”
OUTSTANDING REALITY, VARIETY OR DOCUMENTARY SPECIAL – Jeremy Kyle Show: Death on Daytime
Ciara: “Jeremy Kyle Show: Death on Daytime is a sensitive, rigorous documentary, exposing the horror of The Jeremy Kyle Show – a talk show where guests confront each other about personal problems, cancelled by ITV after the suicide of Steve Dymond shortly after he was a guest on the show – and contextualising it within a broader culture that dehumanises and abuses Britain’s working class, especially the unemployed, the mentally ill, the drug addicted. Death on Daytime left me both furious and incredibly sad. And made me want to classify ITV as a terrorist organisation.1
The Jeremy Kyle Show was an evil programme: exploitative, abusive, classist, nakedly cruel. I was, like most people, aware of and horrified by Dymond’s suicide, but Death on Daytime pulls into the light all the bodies that paved Jeremy Kyle’s way. Suicides of guests and staff, a heroin overdose, mental breakdowns. The show’s superficial safeguards and aftercare were a joke, with abuse not just turned a blind eye to but actively encouraged: the more heinous shit you can generate for the cameras, the more money will come rolling in. A torture nexus driven by money and ratings.
There are many moments I think about often, but perhaps the one I most return to is a camera man, speaking anonymously, saying that on The Jeremy Kyle Show, middle-class people hired working-class people to feed working-class people to other working-class people. The staff, guests and audience were all primarily working-class – and the show was designed for them to be used as tools in each other’s exploitation, to see each other as opponents instead of brothers. It makes me sick just to remember.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Norm McDonald: Nothing Special – “Norm MacDonald died last year, and Netflix posthumously released his final special: an hour of stand-up recorded in one take in his home shortly before being admitted to hospital for a procedure. It’s great: he plays off an audience that aren’t there, anticipating our reactions and feeding off them. Knowing MacDonald passed away, you can feel the spectre of his mortality hanging over the piece, despite his usual dry comic style. How far he goes out of his way to say he loves his mother in the middle of a really funny bit becomes an unexpected tearjerker. Unfortunately, Netflix stuck a bunch of celebrities talking about the special in the end, so, just, like, turn it off at that point.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Rory Scovel: Live Without Fear – “In 2018, Rory Scovel decided to do six straight nights of improvised stand-up as both a challenge and an attempt to reconnect with his improv roots. The results are fascinating and, way more impressively, funny, and it is well worth the time of anyone who loves stand-up and enjoys watching people play with its conventions. Like many stand-up specials in recent years, Live Without Fear has a documentary grafted onto it. Unlike the rest, it’s not about the performer, but the guerrilla founding of the theatre where he’s performing, a whole other kind of flying by the seat of your pants. It rules.”
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES – Derry Girls
Dean: “I am used to TV shows disappointing me. I’ve seen dozens of shows open strong with a great first season, then go to shit immediately in the second. I’ve seen even more shows get further, only to stumble and fall into a pit of mediocrity, an even slower, less interesting way to die. I’ve seen some shows get so high on their own supply that watching them feels like directly observing the creators masturbate. Most of all, I’ve seen too many shows fail to stick the landing and flame out in the final stretch.
Derry Girls never disappointed me. It got better and better each season, not by degrees, but in leaps and bounds. Funnier, thornier, riskier. More heartfelt. Lisa McGee, who wrote every episode, and Michael Lennox, who directed every episode, developed a comedic chemistry with each other and their cast that any other show would envy. Uncle Colm gets to be a hero when he bores an RUC officer into releasing the girls from custody. A flashback episode about the girls’ mammies as teens, ten years into the Troubles and two episodes before the girls vote for the Good Friday Agreement.
They did so much of their best work on their last time round and topped it all off with one of the best sitcom finales in years. It was very special, for a minute there, having an Irish sitcom as one of the best shows going. It’ll be just as special to have it forever as one of the best shows of all time.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Better Things – “I’ve watched Better Things since its debut, and was deeply moved by its final season. It’s an ending that feels full and satisfying even as it acknowledges that nothing is ever really an ending, either. Sam’s kids each in their own way reach a point of being grateful to and loving their mother, even if they’re still assholes to her sometimes, and Sam, too, reaches that point with her mother. Sam is an empty nester, now, almost, even if you never really are. Pamela Adlon is a genius, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “I gave Letterkenny my runner-up in 2020 because it felt absurd not to celebrate a modern TV show putting out some of its best work as late as its eighth and ninth seasons. The most recent season of It’s Always Sunny was its FIFTEENTH, the Gang have outlasted THREE American presidents (so far!), and it wasn’t just some of their best work, it may well be their best season ever. A 2020 recap episode that was still funny in December 2021? A flashback episode that ignores all continuity except Dee’s stupidly big shoe size? How are they still this good after all these years?”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Matt Berry as Steven Toast in Toast of Tinseltown and Laszlo Cravensworth in What We Do in the Shadows
Dean: “Matt Berry has only ever been in the running for any major awards in one year, 2015, when he won a BAFTA for acting in Toast of London, and was nominated for co-writing it. How can a genius, icon and man of taste like Matt Berry do so much fantastic work for so many years and get so little formal recognition? It’s simple: 2015 was the result of a clerical error. Matt Berry isn’t meant to be eligible for any major awards, because it’s ridiculous to expect other people to compete with him when he has the uniquely unfair advantage of being Matt Berry.
We’d have gladly given this award to Berry for either his performance in Toast of Tinseltown or What We Do in the Shadows, but the two together demand he win. Here is a man who is so supernaturally gifted at saying words funny he could 100% coast on that for the rest of his career, but he’s not coasting, he’s pushing his characters forward. Steven Toast remains an absolutely singular comedic creation, and translating his very specific Englishness to an American context was quite an accomplishment, especially in his scenes with Fred Armisen and Rashida Jones. But his performance at Laszlo is even more impressive work, first leaning into his exasperation for a ‘fuck off and leave me alone’ direction that gradually gives way to a surprising friendship with Colin Robinson, and the even more surprising reveal of his motive for building it. There’s simply no one else like Matt Berry, and there never will be.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Glenn Howerton as Jack Griffin in A.P. Bio – “I caught up on AP Bio this year after bailing in the uneven first season, and watching it figure itself out and grow into a really solid, and well-rounded show was a joy. Glenn Howerton is, of course, a great actor – any list of the greatest TV performances that excludes Dennis Reynolds is for idiots and savages – and I loved seeing him flex muscles he doesn’t get to on It’s Always Sunny, the ones that make Jack a regular-level sitcom asshole instead of a gleeful sociopath.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Bill Hader as Barry Berkman in Barry – “Bill Hader is like the male Kristen Wiig, a once-in-a-generation comedic genius who can do serious drama at the drop of the hat, an extraordinary actor with talents on both sides of the camera. Unlike Kristen Wiig, he’s been doing great work lately. The third season of Barry was as fucked-up and despairing as it’s been, and funnier than ever. I think often of Barry nonchalantly telling Sally how he’d drive her agent insane through a covert campaign of intimidation, thinking he’s just being chivalrous. Some days it makes me feel a little ill. Most days I laugh very hard.”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox in Better Things
Ciara: “Pamela Adlon is a genius, obviously. This is her third win for acting in Better Things, and I’ve only enjoyed her performance more and more. I wrote in 2019 that Sam loves her kids more than anything, but they’re also such brats that she kind of hates them – in a way Adlon played not as a dark secret, but as neutral fact, without contradiction, but maybe with a wry, ironic tilt. Irony has always been Sam’s security blanket: as she screams at one for her kids for calling her a boomer, she’s Generation X.
But in the show’s final season – without losing her humour or her bluntness or her big dumb cartoon laugh – she lets a little bit of that irony coating loose, lets a little bit more vulnerability shine through. Her kids aren’t all grown up, but they’re getting there. And, in a way that reminds me of both the child development theories of DW Winnicott and The Marshall Mathers LP 2, the mark of maturity is to learn to accept, and be grateful for, having once been dependent on your mother. Adlon plays that from both sides – in Sam’s relationship to her kids and to her own mother – with a kind of beauty and grace that is in no way belied by her calling her kids offspring cunt trophies.
Adlon probably deserves this award for a scene the show had been building up to since its first season: Sam’s middle child Frankie’s coming out as nonbinary. It might be the best coming out I’ve ever seen on television, in part because of Frankie’s hesitating, grumbling not-telling, but mostly because in this extremely serious moment, Sam will just not stop cracking wise. It’s perfect.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Aisling Bea as Áine in This Way Up – “Aisling Bea continues to be as funny and charming and unexpectedly vulnerable in the second season of This Way Up, in which the COVID pandemic lurks in the already-written future. Goofy without ever being cartoonish. Both witty and, in certain moments, inarticulate. She’s the best.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Vanessa Bayer as Joanna Gold in I Love That for You – “I’ve enjoyed Vanessa Bayer in small roles for years, but she blew me away in her first lead role. Co-created by Bayer and inspired by her childhood leukaemia, I Love That for You is about Joanna, who fakes a recurrence of cancer to avoid losing her dream job at a home shopping network. Bayer plays Joanna impressively awkward and painfully earnest, turning her cringe, pathos and charm up so high you can’t tell whether it’ll break your heart more if she gets caught or gets away with it.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Ciara: “As soon as we saw the final episode of this season of It’s Always Sunny, Charlie Day was always winning this award. Charlie finally finds his father, and then he dies. So Charlie enlists the Gang to help him carry the corpse up a mountain, to be dropped off the cliff like his father wanted, invoking the sacred and irrelevant creed of “bros before hoes” to convince them. They each bail, until it’s just Charlie, and he breaks down. He cries about how his dad was never there – never picked him up from school, never put him on his shoulders – eventually repeating ‘you were supposed to carry me’ with his face buried in the front of the body bag.
Day is such a great comic – able to get belly laughs purely with slight vocal intonation – that it takes you by surprise when he just as capably breaks your heart. It’s Always Sunny is a no hugging, no learning sitcom, so when you have a moment of catharsis like Charlie gets in that episode, it needs impact, needs to mean all the more for how rare it is. Day carries all that on his shoulders with ease. While also being such a great comic he can get belly laughs through intonation. I have spent my whole adult life being dismayed by the Emmys ignoring It’s Always Sunny, but Day’s performance this year most of all.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Bryan Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in Atlanta – “This season of Atlanta had so many gimmick episodes that it’s basically an anthology show now, but when it did take the time to revisit what – perhaps laughably – I still think of as the show’s main cast, Brian Tyree Henry continued to be the MVP. On tour in Europe, Paper Boi is both the most successful we’ve ever seen him and at sea in a white world. He was also probably the MVP of the movie Bullet Train, but we don’t talk about Bullet Train.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Ian McElhinney as Granda Joe in Derry Girls – “One of the things I loved most about the final season of Derry Girls was how much it left Granda Joe off his leash, often in a fantastic comic duo with Aunt Sarah. Driving into the deep countryside at night to bury a rabbit so no one knows his cat killed it. Asking after Orla’s tonsils when he sees her surgeon at his daughters’ school reunion. Nothing, though, compares to his quiet thanks to his late wife when he finds his good razor after asking her to give him a sign, or his heartfelt speech on the possibility of peace in the finale. Ian McElhinney is a national treasure.”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – Mikey Madison as Max Fox in Better Things
Dean: “One of the delights of watching Better Things has been watching the young cast blossom as performers, none more so than Mikey Madison. Max is the oldest of Sam’s children, but three seasons after graduating high school, we’re only just seeing her take her first steps toward adult independence – and falter immediately, losing her apartment and moving back home so fast I nearly forgot she’d moved out in the first place.
But it’s the abortion storyline that Madison really sinks her teeth into. She does an incredible job at portraying Max’s realistically mixed feelings both about getting an abortion and keeping it a secret from her mother, and intertwines it all brilliantly with a bunch of scenes where she finds herself in Sam’s shoes, cooking for her sisters or giving out to them for not cleaning up dog shit. It all culminates in one of the best scenes in the series, when a drunken Max stumbles into her mother’s room late at night, screams at her over and over to never die, then starts kissing and licking Sam’s face until she passes out. I didn’t think she and Adlon would ever outdo the scene where they just scream ‘cunt’ at each other over and over, but I was happy to be proven wrong.
We’ve been big fans of Mikey Madison for a while now, so it’s nice to finally recognise her for a role that didn’t involve her getting lit on fire. She is crazy good at getting lit on fire though.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Molly Shannon as Pat Dubek in The Other Two – “The Other Two’s second season lacked the conceptual purity of season one, but that left more room for Molly Shannon as Pat, so who’s complaining? Pat gets a daytime talk show, and lets it damn near kill her with an immovable smile on her face. The kind of dark comedy that needs to be aggressively bright and shiny to land, and Shannon is perfect.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Jenifer Lewis as Patricia Cochran in I Love That for You – “How fantastic is Jenifer Lewis in I Love That for You? Consider this: I could have given this to her co-star Molly Shannon as a bit, but Lewis was too good for me to live with myself. She strikes an incredible balance with Patricia’s characterisation, establishing her as a ruthless, amoral businesswoman selfishly concerned with her own aggrandisement, then peeling back the layers to reveal a heart without softening what we’ve seen. She sings ‘Feeling Good’ at a jazz bar in one episode and it so thoroughly melted my face off I had to lie down afterwards.”
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A COMEDY – David Hornsby & Rob Rossell for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: “The Gang Buys a Roller Rink”
Dean: “The haters and losers at The AV Club called ‘The Gang Buys a Roller Rink’ the worst episode of It’s Always Sunny ever, in a move we can only regard as donkey-brained. But we don’t have the brains of a donkey (or donkey-type creature), so we thought it was the best shit ever. A lot of what made the most recent season of It’s Always Sunny so great – and so interesting – was how it managed to become more like its (much, much younger) sister show, Mythic Quest, without becoming any less It’s Always Sunny. So it’s fitting that the season’s most purely funny episode was a flashback episode, a Mythic Quest signature that has previously won Rob McElhenney two directing awards.
Killjoys and dryshites complain that ‘Roller Rink’ takes a big shit on the established continuity of the show, but (1) it doesn’t, because it only shows events as recalled twenty years later by a gang of glue-sniffing alcoholic pathological liars and (2) it’s very funny, so shut the fuck up. Mac constantly repeating ‘mark my words’ every time he makes a bizarre, inaccurate prediction about the future. Dennis unwittingly talking his way into watching Frank bang a secretary. Sweet Dee actually behaving sweet enough to warrant the nickname, only to instantly gain her season ten personality when she hits her head off a wall. Charlie wearing the exact same outfit when they come out of the flashback, and Dennis pointing it out. It’s Always Sunny is almost old enough to vote and it’s still this funny. The sitcom of the century.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Vera Santamaria for PEN15: “Home” – “The final episode of PEN15 – a show in which the adult creators play themselves as middle schoolers – has the most ingenious use of ‘Smooth’ by Santana feat. Rob Thomas in the history of motion picture. Add in the show’s signature cringe comedy and some genuine romance, and you’ve got a great episode of television.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Lisa McGee for Derry Girls: “The Haunting” – “The final season of Derry Girls was so much funnier than its second season, which was so much funnier than its first, which was so funny to start. I kept waiting for it to hit a ceiling. It never did. ‘The Haunting’ is the funniest episode of one of the funniest shows ever. The girls end up in rural Donegal clearing the house of Sister Michael’s dead relative and convince themselves they’re victims of a haunting. James has a dumb bit about exaggerating an injury as a near-death experience that incredibly pays off with one of the show’s sweetest, most romantic moments. I’ll miss Derry Girls forever.”
OUTSTANDING DIRECTING IN A COMEDY – Michael Lennox for Derry Girls: “The Agreement”
Ciara: “Derry Girls was always leading here: to the Good Friday Agreement, out of the Troubles and into something a lot like hope for a brighter tomorrow. ‘The Agreement’ is about the leap. About the treacherous chasm between here and there and figuring out how to jump across it. And it’s Derry Girls, so it’s mostly about Erin and Orla’s joint eighteenth birthday being overshadowed by Jenny Joyce’s, and it’s hilarious, obviously.
But it’s winning this award in no small part for the beautiful, extraordinary sequence at the episode’s end – in which Granda Joe gives a heartrending speech about the possibility that the Good Friday Agreement embodies, over a montage of the referendum playing out. Characters we know so well in the voting booth, and characters we hardly know at all, just as impactfully: a brief shot of Liam Neeson’s RUC officer is probably the best acting Neeson has turned out in a decade or two. Lennox – who directed every episode of the show – handles the tonal transition from sitcom hijinks to tear-jerk drama masterfully, naturalistically, never putting his thumb on the scale to make it feel like a staid history lesson.
Yet many British viewers admitted they learned more about the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process from ‘The Agreement’ than they did throughout their education. And that’s sad, and horrible, but beautiful, too: that a sitcom about a bunch of teenagers could impart the importance of peace, the reckless hope that made it possible.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Cherien Dabis for Only Murders in the Building: “The Boy from 6B” – “Told from the perspective of a deaf character, ‘The Boy from 6B’ has almost no sound but its score – and even that is used sparsely. It’s executed marvellously: rather than taking the obvious route and presenting it in the style of a silent film, Dabis submerges us in silence, letting the camera pick up on the thousand other ways Theo gets information from the world around him.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Yana Gorskaya for What We Do in the Shadows: “The Escape” – “Because they’re shit at their new jobs on the Vampiric Council, the lads accidentally let the Sire – the ancient forefather of all vampires – escape into the night. Even worse than risking their exposure to mortals, if the Sire is killed, every vampire descended from him will die too. Among its many wonders, this episode features surly New York gargoyles, Nandor running around in a flamingo inner tube and the long-overdue return of Doug Jones as the Baron. Its climactic confrontation with its world-changing stakes happens in a supermarket, and it ends with a setup for a spin-off so funny I hope they never ruin it by actually making it.”
1. I am willing to offer amnesty to Poirot and Jeeves and Wooster.