Maybe no categories in the 2017 Emmys races have more potential for surprises and breakthroughs than the supporting actor and actress fields. And in part, it's a matter of sheer numbers—supporting performances nominations extend across three categories of programming: drama, comedy, and limited series/TV movie.
Expected nominees include returning favorites like Maura Tierney (The Affair), Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black), Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin (SNL), Anna Chlumsky and Tony Hale (Veep), Judith Light (Transparent), and Louie Anderson (Baskets). There are also new faces everybody’s hoping to see in the mix, thanks in part to the absence of Game of Thrones from this year's race due to its later premiere date. Those include John Lithgow (The Crown), Jeffrey Wright and Thandie Newton ****(Westworld), Chrissy Metz and Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us), Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta) and Winona Ryder and Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things). In the Limited Series/TV movie category, Big Little Lies and Feud: Bette and Joan are going head to head: Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Judy Davis are shoo-ins. Also expect Sarah Paulson for American Horror Story: Roanoke... she’s practically the grande dame of this category.
It’s hard to argue with any of the above performances, even if some of them err on the side of predictability. The diversity represented could also make for an exciting year for the not terribly progressive TV Academy. Still, here are a few upsets that I’d like to see:
Someone whose performance has stayed with me is Jeannie Berlin, who played district attorney Helen Weiss on The Night Of. The daughter of comedy legend Elaine May, Berlin scooped up an Oscar nomination in 1973 for The Heartbreak Kid; by 1990, she'd dropped off the radar, only to re-emerge 20 years older in Kenneth Lonergan’s 2011 film Margaret. Who does that? Since then, the actress has chosen a mere handful of prestige projects as her re-entry to the industry, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, and Woody Allen’s Cafe Society among them. Her performance in The Night Of was a sharply-drawn, witty character sketch of a no-nonsense veteran of the New York legal system, holding her own opposite John Turturro and stealing every scene she was in. I can’t wait to see what sort of project she picks up next, but I know that whatever it is will be weird, wonderful, and one-of-a-kind.
Another great performance was Alessandro Nivola’s turn as Mark Madoff in Barry Levinson’s The Wizard of Lies. Hank Azaria is the favorite to be nominated for the HBO movie, and he does a lot of scene chewing—some comic, some wonderfully appalling—in his portrayal of Madoff lacky Frank Dipascali. But in my opinion Nivola deserves as much of a shot. As Bernie’s son Mark, Nivola must navigate Mark’s confusion about his father’s secret-keeping, his outrage when the Ponzi scheme is revealed, and his inability to forgive the man he once idolized. As he comes to be misrepresented and despised by former friends and associates, his decline into hopelessness and despair—and, ultimately, suicide—is utterly heartbreaking.
Esteem for House of Cards has been waning, which is too bad. The show can still be excellent at times. This season, Neve Campbell and Damian Young delivered a haunting two-hander as LeAnn Harvey, the Underwoods’ campaign manager, and Aidan Macallan, a data scientist and NSA tracker the Underwoods employ to hack into telecom systems in a plot to tilt the election in their favor. Playing political pawns whose own spinelessness catches up with them, Campbell and Young both give powerful performances—hers as a panicked staffer who must cover her tracks to save her career, and Young as someone who slowly realizes the betrayal that will cost him everything. I can't imagine where they get this stuff.
Speaking of political stagecraft, Tony Hale is brilliant on Veep season after season, but why not make room for another cast member who stepped into the center of the action this year? To me, that’s Timothy Simons, whose vainglorious dunce Jonah Ryan has been an aggravating foil to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Selena Meyer for all of the the show’s 58 episodes. This year, Jonah became a bigger thorn in Selena's side than ever by becoming a congressman and announcing his run for president. I would argue that Jonah Ryan has become iconic, and perhaps more importantly, a shorthand term for millennial office trolls around the country. Everybody has their own Jonah Ryan; maybe it’s time to give this one a statuette for his sacrifice.
Two icons of a different sort are also deserving of a spotlight this season: Andrea Martin, for Difficult People, and Carol Kane, for The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Martin is performing double duty, also starring in NBC’s Great News, but I think her character in Hulu’s underrated comedy series is nothing short of brilliant, twisting self-aware clichés into new ingenious territory as a psychologist who relentlessly manipulates her clients—and her daughter—for her own narcissistic gains. And while Kane has been a key player in all three seasons of Kimmy Schmidt, this season she pulled focus with Lillian’s new foray into political activism and her breakup with serial killer Bobby Durst. Both actresses are over 60 and hitting new strides in their careers thanks to television (and Tina Fey). Nothing is possibly cooler than that.
Watch video interviews with Nicole Kidman, Millie Bobby Brown and more of this year's nominees here: