Awards Daily TV looks at the Emmy® guest acting races in all four categories and singles out the frontrunners and perennial contenders.
The 2016-2017 Emmy season failed to provide truly standout guest performances. Yes, Melissa McCarthy’s reoccurring Sean Spicer impersonation became the best sketch to come out of SNL in a while, but beyond that, voters will have a difficult time completing their ballots.
This could mean one of two things. Without as many obvious performances to vote for, voters might take the time to seek out worthy and unlikely guest performances like Shoukath Ansari from Master of None and Gillian Anderson from American Gods. What’s much more likely to happen is that voters will resort to name recognition and repeat nominees from Jimmy Fallon hosting SNL to Christine Baranski’s yearly guest work on The Big Bang Theory.
Maybe in the end, voters will just say “screw it” and use their ballots as a way to proclaim one final time #justiceforbarb and nominate Shannon Purser for Stranger Things.
Saturday Night Live Over the past six years, SNL boasted anywhere from two to six guest Emmy nominations in a given year. Voters have soft spots for alumni, comedy legends, and political impersonations. This all but ensures more nominations for Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series race. With her Sean Spice impersonations, McCarthy finally feels like a frontrunner after being nominated for her hosting duties the past four out of the five years.
The Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series race is a lot more up in the air with SNL submitting six hosts. Based off of the choices of voters in the past, Aziz Ansari, Dave Chappelle, and Jimmy Fallon have the best chances at nominations. Movie stars like Tom Hanks and Dwayne Johnson might be able to sneak into the race based off of overall love.
Girls Last year, the acting branch of the Television Academy used the guest races to show that they are still paying attention to Girls with a surprise win for Peter Scolari. In its final season, Girls features plenty of guest performances worthy of recognition at the Emmys. In an incredibly weak guest actress field, Becky Ann Baker finally has a strong chance of breaking in, especially after her standout episode running around NYC high and puking in a dumpling restaurant.
Voters have three great guest actors to choose from between Riz Ahmed, Matthew Rhys, and Peter Scolari. After winning last year Scolari probably has the best shot of being nominated, but if voters pay attention to the season, they’ll nominate Rhys for what the single greatest 30 minutes of television in 2017 for the episode “American Bitch.” That is, if they don’t penalize him for the performance not being comedic in the slightest.
This Is Us Network drama’s last savior holds the opportunity to earn even more acting nominations this year in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series race. Both Gerald McRaney and Denis O’Hare seem like obvious contenders in this race. Gerald McRaney plays a doctor that sporadically pops up throughout the series. He has the most over-the-top heartfelt moments to force wisdom on the family, and voters will eat the character actor up. Denis O’Hare is an actor that voters have nominated in the past. As the gay lover returning to say his goodbyes to the dying grandfather played by Ron Cephas Jones, he could easily earn a third nomination.
Emmy Friendly Names
Bradley Whitford Emmy voters really like Bradley Whitford. With three opportunities for guest nominations this year, Whitford has the opportunity to sneak back into the Emmy race. On the comedy side, voters have two options between his work on Better Things and Mom, although with neither show being a major awards contender his name power might result in vote splitting. On the drama side, Whitford is an unlikely contender with his guest performance on Chicago Justice, a show that is likely never getting close to an Emmy nomination.
Cloris Leachman (American Gods) With 22 previous nominations, there is no doubt that Emmy voters can’t get enough of Cloris Leachman. American Gods may not seem like an obvious awards contender, but with the Television Academy embracing fantasy shows more and more every year, there is a good chance they’ll use this opportunity to vote for Leachman yet another time.
A Series of Unfortunate Events The Netflix comedy based off of the beloved YA series has a lot of potential acting contenders, especially over in the Guest Actress in a Comedy Series race which might be the most underwhelming the category has been in years. 17-time Emmy nominee Alfre Woodard can never be counted out, and in recent years, voters have also rallied behind Joan Cusack. After being nominated five previous times for her work on Shameless, voters clearly like her, especially after her win once the ballot was switched over to a plurality system.
Plenty of past nominees and winners are back on the ballot in 2017. One of last year’s winners, Hank Azaria is eligible again for his work on Ray Donovan. Interestingly, he will be potentially competing against Ben Mendelsohn, last year’s shocking winner in the Supporting Actor in a Drama Series category. Beau Bridges, a 16–time nominee, is once again eligible for his work on Masters of Sex, a show he has already been nominated for twice.
The near-barren Guest Actress in a Drama Series race features at least three past nominees with Khandi Alexander (Scandal), Laverne Cox (Orange Is The New Black), and Cicely Tyson (How to Get Away With Murder).
Almost as much as they love SNL hosts, Emmy voters have a soft spot for guest work within the Chuck Lorre universe. Past nominees Christine Baranski and Laurie Metcalf are possibilities for their reoccurring roles in The Big Bang Theory.
Alexis Bledel (The Handmaid’s Tale) The single biggest nomination voters can push through to prove they’re paying attention is to finally give Alexis Bledel her first Emmy nomination. Her small role in The Handmaid’s Tale as a tortured handmaid is arguably her best work to date whether it’s hard to watch scenes of Ofglen being tortured or her stealing a car. No other eligible Guest Actress in a Drama Series contender stands out as much as her.
TJ Miller (Crashing) Emmy voters have largely ignored Miller’s supporting performance in Silicon Valley, most likely because the character is absolutely annoying. This year, voters have the opportunity to nominate the comedian for a much more accessible performance in Crashing where he actually portrays a fictionalize version of himself hyping up Holmes to get his stuff back from his soon-to-be ex-wife.
Gillian Anderson (American Gods) For years, fans of Gillian Anderson demanded that Emmy voters bring her back to the ceremony as a nominee. This year with her performance as Media in American Gods, Anderson pops up as various pop culture icons, most notably Lucille Ball, and is without a doubt one of the most buzzed about guest performances of the year. Emmy-winner Kristin Chenoweth also holds a strong shot in the same category for her role as Easter in the American Gods finale.
Carrie Fisher (Catastrophe) After the unexpected death of Carrie Fisher, fans quickly looked for any final opportunity to celebrate the late icon. Word of one of her final performances in Catastrophe quickly spread, and she became an unlikely Emmy contender.
Angela Bassett (Master of None) Everyone, but especially the gays, are desperate to finally witness Angela Bassett win a major award. After a standout guest performance on Master of None, she might finally be closer to winning. In a standalone episode highlighting Denise and her struggle to come out, Angela Bassett plays Denise’s mother. The reception to the second season has been consistently strong, especially towards this storyline. It appears that Bassett will earn her fourth Emmy nomination.
BD Wong (Mr. Robot) After working in television for over 20 years, BD Wong was likely on the cusp of his first Emmy nomination last year for his critically acclaimed performance as a transgender woman living a double life as the head of the Dark Army and China’s Minister of State Security. This year with far less competition, Wong might be able to deservedly sneak into the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series race even if Mr. Robot seems to have gone through an unfortunate sophomore slump.
Taking a Moment to Advocate
Shoukath Ansari (Master of None) The standout performance throughout Master of None has not been Ansari himself but instead his father, Shoukath Ansari. He gives the most genuinely hilarious performance without a single day of professional training. No one really expects the actors branch to single out a non-actor, but in such a boring year Ansari would be a welcome surprise.
Brian Stokes Mitchell (Mr. Robot) Mr. Robot went through a divisive sophomore slump, but almost a year later I am still thinking of Brian Stokes Mitchell’s scene in Central Park lighting thousands of dollars on fire. Actors haven’t really embraced the cast besides Malek, but Mitchell deserves a nod for creating one of the most memorable scenes of the season.
Matthew Rhys (Girls) The final season of Girls was touched on earlier, but the episode American Bitch is truly one of the best and, without a doubt, the most haunting episodes of television this year. Rhys’s performance is no easy feat as a sexual predator forcing audiences to continuously reconsider everything throughout the episode. Even though it is not comedy, it would be a crime for him to be left out.
LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Grey’s Anatomy) Somehow in Season 13, Grey’s Anatomy once again became the most popular show in the Shondaland universe. In one of the most emotionally draining storylines of the year, Maggie’s mom is introduced to audiences as she attempts to hide her cancer diagnosis from her daughter. Jackson is the perfect contender for a guest actress nomination.
Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
- Dave Chappelle, Saturday Night Live
- Peter Scolari, Girls
- Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live
- Peter MacNicol, Veep
- Matthew Rhys, Girls
- Bradley Whitford, Mom
- Riz Ahmed, Girls
- Aziz Ansari, Saturday Night Live
- Jon Hamm, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- TJ Miller, Crashing
Other Names in The Race: Tom Hanks (Saturday Night Live), Shoukath Ansari (Master of None), Hugh Laurie (Veep), Dwayne Johnson (Saturday Night Live), Steve Buscemi (Portlandia), Stephen Fry (Veep), Haley Joel Osmont (Silicon Valley), Michael Carlsen (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Bradley Whitford (Better Things).
Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
- Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live
- Christine Baranski, The Big Bang Theory
- Carrie Fisher, Catastrophe
- Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
- Angela Bassett, Master of None
- Becky Ann Baker, Girls
- Alfre Woodard, A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Laurie Metcalf, The Big Bang Theory
- Joan Cusack, A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Sarah Silverman, Crashing
Other Names in The Race: Tina Fey (Difficult People), Jane Krakowski (Modern Family), Jane Adams (Atlanta), Trace Lysette (Transparent), Maya Rudolph (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Anna Camp (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).
Guest Actor in a Drama Series
- Hank Azaria, Ray Donovan
- Gerald McRaney, This Is Us
- Denis O’Hare, This Is Us
- Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
- BD Wong, Mr. Robot
- Beau Bridges, Masters of Sex
- Bradley Whitford, Chicago Justice
- Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mr. Robot
- Hal Holbrook, Grey’s Anatomy
- Dylan Baker, The Good Fight
Other Names in The Race: Orlando Jones (American Gods), Brian Tyree Henry (This Is Us), David Strathairn (Billions), Reed Birney (House of Cards).
Guest Actress in a Drama Series
- Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
- Gillian Anderson, American Gods
- Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away With Murder
- Cloris Leachman, American Gods
- Carrie Preston, The Good Fight
- Ann Dowd, The Leftovers
- Laverne Cox, Orange Is The New Black
- LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Grey’s Anatomy
- Shannon Purser, Stranger Things
- Khandi Alexander, Scandal
Other Names in The Race: Kristin Chenoweth (American Gods), Rihanna (Bates Motel), Kim Dickens (House of Cards), Alison Wright (The Americans), Mary-Louise Parker (Billions), Nina Hoss (Homeland), Sharon Gless (The Exorcist), Milana Vayntrub (This Is Us).