Look, I know we all live busy lives. Even if we’re stuck at home, there is lots of stuff to do. Movies and TV to watch, books to read, exercise to be done so as to not become glued to the couch, and maybe, possibly, some work to take care of, as well. These are difficult times, no question, but that’s no excuse to let yourself miss some of the best and most award-worthy television of the past year.
I personally keep an ongoing list of things I need to see, and enjoy crossing them out after I’ve watched them. It’s sort of an OCD way to handle my viewing requirements, but it tends to insure that nothing gets lost in the shuffle. Using my black Sharpie on the list gives me an odd sense of accomplishment, as I churn through a lot of good television, as well as some garbage (someone is going to have to explain Shadow and Bone to me), and a fair number of movies, too.
But because I watch so much, I have a pretty good sense of what is worthy and what isn’t. Or, when it comes to the Emmys, what is most worthy. With that in mind, here’s a handy guide to five performances you should prioritize before voting ends on Monday.
MJ Rodriguez in Pose (FX)
MJ RODRIGUEZ, POSE
The first trans woman to get a nomination in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series brought a beautiful and heroic heart to one of the greatest shows to ever grace the small screen. Pose probably won’t win the top prize of Outstanding Drama Series (I’m pretty sure The Crown will), and Ms. Rodriguez will likewise almost certainly lose to either Olivia Colman (as Queen Elizabeth II) or Emma Corrin (as Princess Diana) from that show, but please do yourself a favor and embrace the absolute pleasure that is her work. She is a vision, and the discovery of her and other performers like Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, and Billy Porter (who won the Outstanding Actor in a Drama for this show two years ago) would be the show’s lasting legacy, if it weren’t for the high quality, Every show needs a center, a character around whom the whole show has to be built so it can hang together. MJ Rodriguez’s Blanca was ideal for that, as we followed her journey through the AIDS epidemic. The actress’s work in the role was transcendent.
Jean Smart in Hacks (Photo HBO/Anne Marie Fox)
JEAN SMART, HACKS
I know, I know, there’s been a ton of press about her work lately, but it’s warranted. If you’ve been a TV watcher at all for the last three-plus decades, you are aware of Smart’s talents, and are thus almost certainly an admirer. She’s done comedy, drama, tragedy, sometimes all at once. This year, she’s nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work here, but she’s also nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, for Mare of Easttown. She’s dynamite in that, for sure, but good lord, is she remarkable in Hacks. Playing an aging, under-appreciated comedian who ends up working with a young writer to revitalize her career, the highlight comes in the eighth episode, “$1.69 Million.” In it, she unleashes a brilliant attack on a chauvinistic male comedian from a comedy club stage, humiliating him in the process, all while simultaneously winning over the crowd. Watching it, the word “Bravura” comes to mind. So do the words, “Emmy winner.”
Brendan Hunt (L) with Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso (Apple)
BRENDAN HUNT, TED LASSO
Yes, you have probably seen the show already, and yes, there are four actors from the show in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category, and yes, Brett Goldstein is getting the most attention, but Hunt’s deadpan work as the title character’s assistant coach is the funniest of the bunch. Hunt, who is also one of the show’s creators, is both grounding and laugh-out-loud funny, often concurrently. That’s not easy to do, but Hunt makes it look effortless. There is a distinct possibility that the four actors will split their vote, and someone like SNL’s Bowen Yang or Hacks’ Carl Clemons-Hopkins might sneak through — I just don’t see The Kominsky Method’s Paul Reiser or SNL’s Kenan Thompson, who has been nominated in this category three of the last four years and won an Emmy in a different category in 2018, getting it — but do the right thing here and give the nod to Hunt. This, even though he will almost certainly be up on the stage with Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, and the rest of the team when Ted Lasso wins Outstanding Comedy Series. He deserves to win here, too.
McKenna Grace in The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
MCKENNA GRACE, THE HANDMAID’S TALE
Wait, didn’t I mention a few weeks ago that this show had become something akin to torture porn? Yes, I did. I certainly did. And I most definitely wouldn’t give any of the other acting, writing or directing awards to anyone else in this show, but jeez, it’s hard to argue with the work that the lovely Miss Grace accomplished this year. She’s only in three episodes of the show — thus qualifying for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series — but her work in one of them, “Pigs,” in which she describes her forced marriage to an older man who regularly pimps her out to others, is devastating. It should be mentioned that Miss Grace is 15 years old. It’s easy to forget this at times, because she has the gravitas of someone much older. Powerhouse is not a word I use very often in this space, but I’ll use it here to describe her work on this show. Wow.
Josh O’Connor in The Crown (Netflix)
JOSH O’CONNOR, THE CROWN
The only reason I’m not mentioning Billy Porter as the standout in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series is because, as noted above, he’s won this award before. I don’t believe for a second that the 31-year-old O’Connor will win this trophy, but I do believe he deserves to. I would have thought it’d be nigh on impossible to make Prince Charles a sympathetic character, but somehow, O’Connor does it, bringing empathy and pathos to a man I’ve always thought of as a twit. O’Connor’s work is subtle and quiet, but always moving.
I’ll be honest. It’s been a while since I’ve cared enough about the Emmys to sit down and watch the show. That run of indifference ends this year, if only to see if any of these five stalwarts gets called to the stage. That alone would be worth it.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here. (Note: Neil may be taking off next Wednesday, but if so, he’ll be back the following Wednesday.)