Emmy voters, listen up! With too much TV to watch and too little time, these are the programs and performers to check out before nomination voting closes.
Ballots are out. Voting is open. The 2022 Emmy Awards are officially up for grabs, as networks, studios, and stars vie for TV’s highest honor. With more contenders in nearly every major category, this year is poised to be a particularly tight race to join.
So let’s make it a bit easier. Below, IndieWire’s Marcus Jones (Awards Editor, TV & Film) and Ben Travers (Deputy Editor and Critic) have filled out a joint dream ballot, stocked with worthy options for voters to consider. These are critical favorites, under-the-radar gems, and personal picks that just might expand a field that tends to get stagnate.
Now, before anyone takes their complaints to Twitter — “Where’s ‘Succession’?” “What about ‘Ted Lasso’”? — last year’s top winners were taken off the table in order to include more space for unproven programs and performers. In general, we tried to steer away from too many frontrunners, though a few TV Academy favorites still made their way in. Sue us. Sometimes you just gotta back the best.
With that in mind, here’s IndieWire’s 2022 Emmy Dream Ballot. And for those of you not voting on the nominees, maybe you’ll find your next favorite show in the expansive lists below. The Emmys are all about highlighting the best TV has to offer, so let’s lean in to one of Hollywood’s longest awards seasons.
Best Drama Series
“The Good Fight”
Marcus Jones: It is very funny to be in the position of advocating for three of the most-watched TV shows this season, but they seem to need any help they can get on the nominations front. I find it to be a shame that “Bridgerton,” an Outstanding Drama Series nominee at last year’s Emmys, is now being overlooked right when the show has figured out how to transition from a splashy concept into an exemplary romance. Whatever it lost in softcore appeal, or the blooming star power of Regé-Jean Page, it’s made up for with more resonant storytelling that has a better understanding of how to highlight its large, diverse ensemble.
I am not completely immune to spectacle though, given my inclusion of “Euphoria.” The provocative HBO drama’s highly anticipated sophomore effort is admittedly polarizing, but it gives viewers so much to latch onto between the lush revamp of its cinematography, its mesmerizing score, and its winking maximalist performances. To summarize, yes it is not for everyone, but “the girls that get it, get it…”
On the other hand, I’m not sure much needs to be said about global phenomenon “Squid Game.” The world seems so close to overcoming that one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, but please, please, please let voters make this easy, impactful nomination that can hopefully open the doors to more non-English series getting Emmys attention.
Ben Travers: You’re right that, a) I’m decidedly not that girl when it comes to “Euphoria,” even though Zendaya deserves every accolade and then some, and b) “Squid Game’s” popularity should help lock up this and many other nominations, but considering how close I came to including “Yellowjackets” on our list, I fully support backing favorites that won’t feel like a sure thing until the nominations are revealed. “Severance” doesn’t have the same fervor around it as Netflix’s juggernaut, but it’s inching ever closer to becoming an Emmy drama powerhouse. Here’s hoping the continued buzz around Dan Erickson’s Apple TV+ thriller spreads through the TV Academy faster than the black goo covering Irving’s work station. Then there’s “Pachinko” and “The Good Fight”: two dramas with dedicated fanbases, although both are a few rungs down on the popularity scale compared to “Squid Game” or even “Severance.” High ratings tend to bode well at the Emmys for series with even modest critical acclaim, so may the critics’ drums beat loud enough to make up the difference for Soo Hugh and The Kings’ exquisite entries.
Best Comedy Series
“The Righteous Gemstones”
Ben: I’m going to go ahead and assume Emmy voters don’t need a reminder to nominate “Barry” or “Hacks” — two of the top comedies on TV, both of which have been justly recognized in the past — but they’re beyond tardy regarding Pamela Adlon’s towering achievement for FX. It’s high time “Better Things” earns recognition beyond the Lead Actress race, and having completed its six-season run, this is the last chance for the Emmys to properly honor the empathetic, avant-garde ode to life itself.
That’s the top priority (and one I already fear will go unfulfilled), but “Dave” and “The Righteous Gemstones” are two true comedies (aka, they’re built around jokes) that turned out stellar second seasons. “Dave” showrunner Jeff Schaffer is a seven-time Emmy nominee for his work with Larry David on “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and he deserves another nod for the latest season of HBO’s long-running Academy favorite. But voters shouldn’t overlook “Dave.” The way Season 2 wrestles with its rap star’s whiteness in a medium rooted in Black culture is outstanding, and its structure on a writing-level should be studied in school. As for “Gemstones,” well, David Gordon Green’s direction deserves first consideration, but the whole show is a raucous, unforgettable good time.
Ryan Green / HBO
Now Marcus, please explain what’s perhaps your most surprising pick on this list: “Hawkeye”… a Best Comedy nominee? Are you sure you don’t mean Marvel TV’s Best Christmas Show?
Marcus: Well first off, I had to find something else upon your inclusion of “The Righteous Gemstones,” a choice I wholeheartedly endorse. But the reason I include “Hawkeye,” outside of enjoying the Christmas bits of course, is that I’ve been a bit of a Grinch about Marvel TV shows until it cured my cynicism around them. As a Marvel Comics fan, I found the Netflix shows needlessly dour, and the first round of Disney+ originals overly expository, but “Hawkeye” is the project that’s come closest to the company’s edict of “reflecting the world outside your window.” Rogers: The Musical is a great opening gag, the third episode’s chase sequence is second only to the recent “710N” episode of “Barry” in terms of this season’s best action-comedy set piece, the dynamic between Hailee Steinfeld and Florence Pugh is electric, and Jeremy Renner manages to be the most likable he’s ever been as a character many viewers would argue had worn out his welcome before the show aired. I thought it’d be a limited series, but I definitely look forward to it likely now having a Season 2 more so than other Marvel TV shows.
“Abbott Elementary” is listed because it is simply great, and although I roll my eyes at the idea of it being “the savior of network sitcoms” (y’all have been sleeping on a lot of great shows), it is true that broadcast comedies have a harder time breaking into the Comedy nominations. Here is a reminder to voters to pass this gem onto the next phase of the Emmys with flying colors.
Lastly, “Insecure” has gotten better every season, and deserves credit for sticking the landing with an ending that felt very earned, and played to the strengths of each one of its main cast members.
Best Limited Series
“The White Lotus”
“We Own This City”
Marcus: I appreciate us both mostly glossing over the tidal wave of true crime series that hit our queues this spring. That said, I did put “We Own This City” here because of the true story it’s telling being an unexpected, morbidly stranger-than-fiction follow-up to creator David Simon’s landmark series “The Wire.”
However, I do think limited series have overall gotten a little too staid for my tastes. “Maid” should be a sure-fire nomination in my opinion because it does not sacrifice any depth by having a humor to it. It still, like “Squid Game,” tells a very relevant story about the extreme costs of being poor in a capitalist society.
And “Love Life” Season 2 is one of the best romantic comedies in recent memory. William Jackson Harper and Jessica Williams light up the screen as a long simmering couple, with writing that is as contemplative as it is amusing. Didn’t hurt either to see ringers like Arian Moayad, Punkie Johnson, and Ego Nwodim join in on the fun, too.
Ben: Technically, the story of Watergate is a true crime story, though I don’t think anyone obsessed with the genre would have included “Gaslit” in their queues. They should! It’s very good! Even typically annoying awards-bait aspects — like extreme prosthetics and well-trodden historical territory — actually work in its favor. (Sean Penn’s makeup artists, led by Kazu Hiro, really mold the character to fit the performance.) Meanwhile, “The White Lotus” should be safe, but the Emmys haven’t nominated a comedy in the Best Limited Series category since “Political Animals” in 2013, so let’s not forget Mike White’s instant classic, shall we? And then there’s “Station Eleven,” Patrick Somerville’s beautiful, anti-apocalyptic drama on HBO Max. Reviews are rightly rhapsodic. The TCA, DGA, and Peabody Awards all provided much-needed recognition. Buzz seems to have lasted since its December release, all of which could be enough to push the season’s best limited series onto the final list. Here’s hoping.
Best Actors – Drama
Penn Badgley, “You”
Jason Clarke, “Winning Time”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”
Aunjanue Ellis, “61st Street”
Shô Kasamatsu, “Tokyo Vice”
Melanie Lynskey, “Yellowjackets”
Annie Murphy, “Kevin Can F*** Himself”
Joseph Quinn, “Stranger Things”
Sydney Sweeney, “Euphoria”
Tramell Tillman, “Severance”
Ben: I’m not sure I expect any of my picks here to land a nomination — except for Melanie Lynskey. New dramas are tricky to gauge when it comes to measuring the TV Academy’s like or dislike, but “Yellowjackets” sparked with a wide base, and Lynskey has become the face of its appeal. I can’t imagine she’s kept out of the Best Actress race, though stranger things have happened. Tramell Tillman could ride a similar wave of adulation and land a Supporting Actor slot if “Severance” connects, and Jason Clarke may also have an outside shot if “Winning Time” sparks with voters the way Adam McKay’s last HBO drama did. Still, I hope viewers appreciate the commitment and precision Chiwetel Ejiofor brought to “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” Playing an alien ain’t easy, nor is threading the line between earnest drama and physical comedy, yet he pulls it all off with aplomb. Finally, I fully expect “Tokyo Vice” to get blanked, and even if it did score an acting nom, that would almost certainly go to the very deserving Ken Watanabe… but I have to give a small shout-out to Shô Kasamatsu, who put in the work and hopefully returns for Season 2, when perhaps a wider audience has caught up with his crackling HBO Max crime saga.
Marcus: Starting with two actors deeply impacted by when their eligible seasons were released, “You” star Penn Badgley and “Kevin Can F*** Himself” star Annie Murphy are two leads that carry their shows on their backs. For three seasons now, Badgley has kept viewers in the palms of his character Joe’s dastardly hands, selling the show’s overall premise by conveying just how many real life people still give the guy the benefit of the doubt knowing all the harm he caused. Murphy too, on the high-concept freshman AMC dramedy that premiered over a year ago, gives an incredibly layered performance that shatters the one-note concept of the sitcom wife. I’d say what she does is commendable even if one has issues with everything happening around her.
“61st Street” is a show that could’ve still worked had they downplayed Aunjanue Ellis’ character, the wife of Courtney B. Vance’s hero lawyer, but the recent Oscar nominee brings an undeniable stature to the role. Just the taste we get of her character’s arc as a local Chicago politician fighting for criminal justice reform is enough to have folks call for her own “The Good Fight” style spin-off. Joseph Quinn also made a meal of his role as charming outcast Eddie Munson, further displaying how the casting team at “Stranger Things,” led by Carmen Cuba, really knows how to find newcomers like Maya Hawke as well that perfectly feed into exactly what audiences find appealing about the blockbuster Netflix series.
Finally, Sydney Sweeney deserves props for a wondrous, rollercoaster performance that best captures the messiness of teenagedom, while still being very rooted in the trauma her character Cassie went through in Season 1. I have never ever been happier seeing an actor have such a dynamite showing in their sophomore season.
Shane Brown / FX
Best Actors – Comedy
Sarah Goldberg, “Barry”
Brian Tyree Henry, “Atlanta”
Devery Jacobs, “Reservations Dogs”
Jake Johnson, “Minx”
Natasha Lyonne, “Russian Doll”
Bobby Moynihan, “Mr. Mayor”
Paula Pell, “Girls5eva”
Chandra Russell, “South Side”
Ben Schwartz, “The Afterparty”
Molly Shannon, “I Love That For You”
Marcus: Even if one thinks “Russian Doll” went through a sophomore slump, it still has Natasha Lyonne giving the most lived-in performance of any comedy actor this season. As the death-defying, time-traveling New Yorker Nadia, her charisma and delightful idiosyncrasies are unmatched, making her more than worthy of another acting nomination. A large part of comedy is being funny though, and for my money Chandra Russell is giving the most uproarious performance on TV, playing the entrepreneurial Officer Turner on HBO Max’s criminally underwatched series “South Side.” On the same streaming service, Jake Johnson is scuzzy ’70s excellence as porn pioneer Doug Renetti — even more the heart of “Minx” than he was on “New Girl.” Ben Schwartz and Molly Shannon are another two actors that are reliable scene stealers, with the former playing a toxic optimist that gives “The Afterparty” its oddball edge, and the latter embodying a capricious shopping network host that viewers can’t help but fall in love with on “I Love That For You.”
Ben: Yes, “South Side”! The Comedy Central-turned-HBO Max original deserves all the love it can get. In terms of sheer laughs, I’d put Paula Pell among the funniest performers on television, and it’s high time she gets her due. I’d also argue Bobby Moynihan gave a sneaky-great turn on “Mr. Mayor.” Over the NBC comedy’s two-season run, he built his bumbling comic relief character into the show’s heart and soul (while delivering outstanding physical comedy and mastering the quick tonal changes of Fey & Carlock’s whirlwind scripts). Then it’s hard to imagine an Emmys without Sarah Goldberg or Brian Tyree Henry — two integral supporting stars that navigate between straight-faced comedy and legit distress — and it should be just as hard to hold one without Devery Jacobs. Of all the drama-skewing comedies in contention, I tend to think of “Reservation Dogs” as more the former than the latter, but that’s a category question, and Jacobs’ breakthrough turn is worthy no matter where it’s honored.
Best Actors – Limited Series
Jon Bernthal, “We Own This City”
Olivia Colman, “Landscapers”
Mackenzie Davis, “Station Eleven”
Dominique Fishback, “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey”
William Jackson Harper, “Love Life”
Anne Hathaway, “WeCrashed”
Hamish Linklater, “Midnight Mass”
Himesh Patel, “Station Eleven”
Nick Robinson, “Maid”
Shea Whigham, “Gaslit”
Ben: Remember “Landscapers”? The little four-part HBO/Sky Atlantic co-production rolled out over the holidays in the U.S. and hasn’t made much of a wave since. But Olivia Colman is still Olivia Colman. She’s exquisite in the adventurous limited series, keeping the audience invested as the narrative bends between her stark reality and cinematic dream world. Those who saw the performance aren’t likely to forget it, and after winning her first Emmy for “The Crown” just last year, she could score a sneaky fifth nomination for this one (her fourth in as many years) — that is, if enough people saw her. Though never nominated before, the same could be said for our adult “Station Eleven” leads: Anyone who saw the HBO Max gem won’t be able to shake two arching, emotional turns from Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel. (Matilda Lawler deserves one, too! Here’s hoping!) Shea Whigham deserves serious kudos for pushing the dangerous G. Gordon Liddy to his limits (without drifting into cartoon territory), and Hamish Linklater just needs the Emmys to take Mike Flanagan’s horror sagas seriously if he hopes to score a nod. His monologues alone make him worthy.
Marcus: Jon Bernthal too, expertly sets the tone for “We Own This City” with his opening monologue. Over 10 years and dozens of memorable roles since his breakout turn on “The Walking Dead,” it is a shock he has never been nominated for any major acting awards, but the compelling depths he reaches as the contemptuous Sgt. Wayne Jenkins should be enough to turn the tides. As mentioned before, William Jackson Harper hits it out of the park on “Love Life” Season 2 and should receive a 2022 Emmy nomination, in addition to all the future romantic-comedy roles coming his way, for the allure and nuance he packed into his character Marcus. Continuing with sports metaphors, although “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey” is a slam dunk for star Samuel L. Jackson, Dominique Fishback deserves credit for providing an all-star level assist. Meanwhile, opposite of that is Anne Hathaway on “WeCrashed,” who salvages every scene she shares with a painfully cartoonish Jared Leto by properly indulging in the satire. And while he seems to have tapped out of the awards race, Nick Robinson also understood his assignment for “Maid,” being the villain when he needed to be, and evoking empathy in all the right places.
And Six More, for Good Measure
Best Director, Comedy – Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Best Short Form Program – “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson”
Best Animated Series – “Undone”
Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series – Lee Yoo-mi, “Squid Game”
Best Unstructured Program – “The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans”
Best Writing for a Drama Series – “This Is Us”
Ben: As long as this Dream Ballot has become, I couldn’t let it end without shouting out a few key nominees in other categories. In a just world, “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” would win Best Comedy Series, but I’ll settle for topping its submitted category of Best Short Form Series. The same goes for Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s “Undone,” except the time-bending, heart-filling half-hour odyssey should be dominating the Drama races. An Animated Series nod (again, where it’s been submitted) is the least the TV Academy can do. Lastly, as I’ve been begging voters to recognize for six years now, it’s time to give Pamela Adlon an Emmy not just for leading “Better Things” in front of the camera, but for leading it everywhere else as well. Her FX comedy is another I’d love to see snagging nominations across the board, but Adlon’s efforts behind the camera — where she’s directed 44 of the series’ 52 episodes — are unlike anything else on television. Respect must be paid, especially now that the series has wrapped.
Marcus: While Gong Yoo’s cameo as a slap-happy recruiter made a more viral impression on the early “Squid Game” crowd, I found Lee Yoo-Mi’s tragic three episode run as Player #240 to leave the most devastating impression. Her scene opposite HoYeon Jung in the show’s sixth episode, where she keeps having to remind herself of the pair’s doomed circumstances, is among the most heartrending things I’ve seen this Emmys season. Almost as tear-jerking as the series finale of “This Is Us,” which concluded in such a warm, meditative way that made me rethink my aversion to the hit NBC melodrama. The fact that writer Dan Fogelman still stuck to his guns too, incorporating sequences that they had written and shot years earlier, and the final product managed to be a success overall, it all gave me hope that network TV is nowhere near done bringing innovation to the medium. And speaking of innovators, it is pretty wild that “The Real World,” the show many would argue paved the way for there to even be a Best Unstructured Program category, has never been nominated. While the first two seasons of “The Real World Homecoming” have there merits, “The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans” is the perfect season to reward given how it captures the impact of unscripted storytelling itself, diving into how cast members like Danny brought forward national issues scripted television was too afraid to touch in 2000, while still supplying that drama people are accustomed to getting from modern reality TV.