Awards Insider!

Emmy Voters, Don’t Forget About These 10 Deserving Underdogs

From incredible breakout performances to trashy reality TV done perfectly right, we implore Television Academy members to think a little outside the box while submitting ballots this weekend.
Emmys These 10 Underdogs Deserve the Chance to Win
Courtesy of Studios.

The Emmys may now be nearly five months away, but members of the Television Academy are still in the midst of filling out their final ballots, resolved to stick to the established voting calendar even as the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes have thrown the actual ceremony’s timeline into chaos. This weekend marks the final push, as voters’ deadline to submit will come Monday night.

We’ve been analyzing and assessing all of this year’s big races for a very long time; front-runners have emerged in virtually every category, snubs and surprises have been dissected, and strategies around next cycle’s Emmys are already in full swing. But before voting wraps, the Awards Insider team has a few outside-the-box ideas for Television Academy members stalling on making their picks. Below are a handful of nominees that are starting to look like long shots when it comes to actually pulling off a win, but which still deserve serious consideration—any or all of them pulling off an upset will add some much-needed excitement to the most drawn-out Emmy season in recent memory. So listen up, voters!

Bill Hader, Barry (directing for a comedy series)

Hader has won two Emmys for his lead performance in Barry, but the Television Academy has yet to recognize the multihyphenate for what’s emerged as his most surprising and audacious contribution to the HBO series: his direction. Over time, the Saturday Night Live alum took more and more control behind the camera of his pitch-black comedy, going from helming the pilot to directing the majority of season three and then, most impressively, the entirety of the fourth and final season. As Barry got darker, its aesthetic ambition turned bolder, with Hader’s instincts as a filmmaker brought to the fore—genius tracking shots, impeccable comic timing, dizzying action sequences. At this point it feels like a long shot to say he’ll win a category that’s been dominated of late by lighter fare like Hacks and Ted Lasso. But Hader has pushed the medium forward here, and deserves to be honored accordingly. —David Canfield

Pedro Pascal, The Last of Us (lead actor in a drama series)

Depending on how much you believe the Roy family could split their own votes, Pascal may not be that much of an underdog. But his work as Joel on The Last of Us is undeniably quieter than anything on Succession too, with the actor often just offering grimaces or the flicker of a smile when large-scale chaos is erupting around him. But Pascal becomes so much more than just the gruff caretaker as the relationship between Joel and Bella Ramsey’s Ellie evolves over the course of the season. Glimpses of his old life—humor, tenderness, a willingness to put up with terrible jokes—shine through his determination, right up until the finale’s bloody hospital shoot-out that becomes more heartbreaking than heroic. Also Emmy-nominated this year for hosting Saturday Night Live and narrating a CNN docuseries, Pascal had no trouble showing voters his range this year—but they only had to watch him on The Last of Us to see so much of what he can do. —Katey Rich

Young Mazino, Beef (supporting actor in a limited series or movie)

Beef isn’t exactly an underdog in the limited-series race, but the supporting-actor competition, with seven nominees, is very crowded. Black Bird’s Paul Walter Hauser is still expected to come out on top, and it would be a deserved win. But I’d like to give a last-minute shout-out to Young Mazino’s breakout performance as Paul, the younger brother of Steven Yeun’s Danny. Mazino has the charisma to capture audiences’ attention in any scene, but he also has to display the character’s fragility as he goes on a journey that includes being catfished and having an affair with a married woman (Ali Wong). He makes even the most rage-filled scene feel grounded, and is an exciting new discovery who holds his own opposite veteran actors Yeun and Wong. —Rebecca Ford

The Traitors (casting for a reality program)

We’re not usually encouraged to think about casting for reality TV—these housewives are actually friends in real life, of course, and these people were all chosen for their ability to survive on a desert island. But the meta-reality-TV nature of The Traitors was one of its many joys, bringing together fresh-faced contestants and veterans of reality franchises like Summer House, The Bachelor, and Real Housewives. In the beginning, the newcomers are starstruck by the experienced reality contestants, who enter Alan Cumming’s Scottish castle with the confidence that they already know how to play the game. But twists, of course, are in store. The Traitors deserved far more attention in the Emmys’ reality-TV categories, but honoring the casting team led by Erin Tomasello and Jazzy Collins would be an excellent way to give the show its due. —K.R.

Jury Duty (casting for a comedy series)

Jury Duty was such a surprise with its four Emmy nominations this season. The Amazon Freevee series, which was something like a documentary mixed with improv and scripts, could have been too unorthodox to be accepted by the TV Academy. It’s up for comedy series (which it won’t win) and supporting actor for James Marsden (who could win), but I’d really love to see it grab a win in this casting category. The series had to find actors who could seem like very real people, and they also had to be light on their feet and incredible at improv. Since a scene would change depending on what the show’s unsuspecting lead, Ronald Gladden, did in any given moment, these actors had to be versatile at all times. Some were so dedicated that they’d stay in character all day long, just to make sure they never gave away the secret of the show. —R.F.

Dominique Fishback, Swarm (lead actress in a limited series or movie)

Let’s get this out of the way: Any nominee for best actress in a limited series would be a deserving winner, from Kathryn Hahn and her soulful work on Tiny Beautiful Things to Lizzy Caplan and her invigorating takeover of Fleishman Is in Trouble. The category will likely come down to two more powerhouse performances: Jessica Chastain’s in George & Tammy—which already won her a SAG Award—and Ali Wong’s in Beef, with the latter show being the front-runner to win best limited series. But I hope the nomination isn’t just the reward for Dominique Fishback, whose tour de force in Swarm was the most undeniable performance of the year for me. The actor had to veer between slapstick and horror, heartbreak and cruelty, and connect all those dots in Janine Nabers and Donald Glover’s bold portrait of a serial killer. She did that with seeming ease, leaving a terrifying—if poignant—impression that felt impossible to shake. —D.C. 

Love Is Blind (structured reality program)

This is the third year that Love Is Blind has been nominated in the structured-reality category, though it has never won. Seeing as it’s my personal guilty pleasure show, let me take this opportunity to say that voters should really consider it for a win. Yes, Queer Eye is motivational and feel-good and boasts impressive production value, but it has also won the past five years in a row. Netflix’s Love Is Blind has revitalized the dating reality show with its unique premise and colorful characters. It may not make you feel good, but it feels so good to feel so bad for these people. —R.F.

Dan Trachtenberg, Prey (directing for a limited series or movie)

Trachtenberg did what for years has seemed impossible—he directed a TV movie and got an Emmy nomination for it. As David Canfield has explained, the TV-movie category has been a bit of a wasteland at the Emmys lately, with so much of the buzz going over to limited series; given that TV movies and limited series are often lumped together at the Emmys, the movies rarely stand a chance. But this year Trachtenberg is nominated as a director, holding his own against the folks behind Beef, Fleishman Is in Trouble, and Dahmer. As he explained recently on the Little Gold Men podcast, it was a long journey to get his bold idea for the Predator series to the screen, and we’d love to see him rewarded for it. —K.R.

Ebon Moss-Bachrach, The Bear (supporting actor in a comedy series)

Playing the striving, insecure, eternally put-upon Richie, Moss-Bachrach doesn’t give the most outwardly comedic performance in this category—that has to belong to gonzo Marsden playing himself on Jury Duty—or the most tragicomic, given the two nominees from Barry. But he might be the best at capturing that balance that’s present in so many modern comedy nominees, handling Richie’s quick wit (“Any of you incel, QAnon, 4chan, Snyder-cut motherfuckers wanna get out of line now?”) and the heartbreak he shares with his “cousin” Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) over the loss of their beloved Michael (Jon Bernthal). Richie’s emotional journey gets even deeper in the more recently aired season two, which would make a win for him here even more appropriate: comic relief, with depths never entirely out of sight. —K.R.

Survivor (reality competition program)

It’s more than a minor miracle that Survivor returned to this category in 2023. It’s the venerable CBS show’s first nomination there in 17 years, cited for both its 43rd and 44th seasons. When Emmy voters move on, they rarely look back—so how in the world did this happen? Survivor is the rare example of a long-running broadcast network staple determined to innovate and stay fresh. The results are not always successful—overload of producer interference, say—but there’s a reason why the show is still on and finding new fans. In the years since CBS issued a mandate to make each season’s ensemble of strangers more diverse, Survivor has boasted the most fascinating, dynamic casts on reality television, culminating with a gay Puerto Rican salon owner—and total Survivor mastermind—running away with a triumphant victory in the most recent season. For one of TV’s oldest and most famous social experiments, that’s award-worthy progress. —D.C.

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