This article contains spoilers.
or the past few years, television has been drawing the attention of folks who have formerly seen the medium as secondary to film. Though it may now seem pretentious to downplay the influence of TV, the industry itself was once frustrated by broadcasts of films intended for the big screen. Television was seen as more formulaic, less intellectual — a perspective informed by class-based access to media as well as gender-based devaluations of soap operas and reality series.
This year, television has entered a new golden age. HBO’s suburban mystery “Big Little Lies” soared in popularity with audiences and critics. Hulu made waves with the debut of its hit series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of the same name from 1985. Aziz Ansari’s comedic Netflix sitcom “Master of None” returned for a second season this year, with some episodes influenced by Italian neorealism and others focused on advancing deeply necessary cultural conversations.
Whether on our laptop screens or tiny boxes in our living rooms, television has always been both a space of escape and a space in which our ideologies are reflected back to us.
Then there’s “Game of Thrones,” which builds a fantastical, historied world where cynicism abounds and reflects the realistic turbulence of power. Finally, this year saw the resurgence of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s game-changing “Twin Peaks,” including much of the original ‘90s cast and all of its enigmas.
It’s safe to say that television is changing. Perhaps it’s becoming more cinematic — we’re seeing more inventive visual design and more complex narrative arcs across episodes as well as seasons — but that’s not to undermine the central role that television has always played in American culture. Whether on our laptop screens or tiny boxes in our living rooms, television has always been both a space of escape and a space in which our ideologies are reflected back to us.
— Sophie-Marie Prime
Best Drama Series
Winner: “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” couldn’t have arrived at a more poignant time. Set in a dystopian (yet all too familiar) future where fertility is rare due to environmental contamination, the show is based on Atwood’s eponymous 1985 novel. In this future, a religious and totalitarian patriarchy reigns supreme; the few women who can still bear children are forced to become handmaids and bear the children of upper-class, infertile, straight couples.
The show follows June (Elisabeth Moss) — now called “Offred,” as the man of the house that owns her is named Fred (Joseph Fiennes). After she’s separated from her husband and child, June endures an abusive induction as a handmaid by the militant Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) and is assigned to a home with a politically influential and disturbed couple.
The show’s politics and institutional practices seemed to reflect present headlines that were, and often continue to be, dystopian in their own right. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is certainly politically necessary and all too relevant, but these aren’t the only reasons the show is the year’s best drama. Its ensemble cast gives impressively layered performances, particularly given that each of their characters battle both complex moral hypocrisies instigated by the bureaucratic climate as well as individual desires for power and personal fulfillment — yet, each exists only for those with privilege.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” could be considered the year’s best drama for its performances alone, but the cinematography of each episode adds a layer of emotional depth that makes the series strikingly personal and all the more psychologically searing. For its performances, blistering script, affecting visuals and dose of much-needed perspective, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the year’s best television drama.
— Sophie-Marie Prime
Runner Up: “Stranger Things 2”
Is “Stranger Things 2” as flawlessly executed as the show’s first season? Not quite, but a few minor moments of stumbling don’t stop the show from orchestrating its iconic, masterful blend of joyful energy and heartbreak, and of course, its trademark nostalgia — all within a breakneck production turnaround. The second season is all the more impressive, as it expands the show’s universe while remaining intimate enough to delve deeper into the characters we love — that Steve and Dustin team-up was a stroke of genius — and introduce new favorites. While this season ties up its loose ends well, we can’t help but yearn to return to Hawkins, Indiana. After all, we need justice for Bob.
— Harrison Tunggal
Nominations: “This Is Us,” “The Crown” and “Game of Thrones”
Best Comedy Series
Winner: “Master of None”
Right within its opening moments, season two of “Master of None” asserts its confidence, as the camera lands upon a stack of Criterion Collection DVDs on protagonist Dev’s (Ansari) nightstand. In one shot, creators Ansari and Alan Yang align the show with Italian neorealist masterpieces such as “L’Avventura,” “La Notte” and “Bicycle Thieves”; the show more than earns its place among those cinematic classics. Truly, the formal experimentation in the show’s second season makes its predecessor seem like a fine antipasto compared to its follow-up, the main course, a handmade tortellini by the three-Michelin-star restaurant Osteria Francescana (where Dev actually eats in the season’s second episode, “Le Nozze”). From the black-and-white “Bicycle Thieves” homage, to the decades-spanning, LGBTQ+ coming-of-age story of “Thanksgiving,” the second season of “Master of None” constantly swings for the fences and never misses in its exploration of form. Michelangelo Antonioni would be proud. The season even bears a certain prescience, as Dev learns that his TV host partner is a sexual predator. For a show that always felt tactile in its miming of actuality, “Master of None” became even more reflective of the reality upon which it is based.
— Harrison Tunggal
Runner-Up: “The Good Place”
To implode your show’s canonical universe in the first season’s last minutes is bold. To implode your show’s universe with every episode — and in one episode, more than 800 times — is even bolder. Inexplicably, the crafty “motherforkers” who made “The Good Place” had the audacity to do both this year — and succeed.
Credit where it’s due: The cast hits all its cues with aplomb. The show’s writers, including punny legend Megan Amram, stuff many sight gags and barely plausible twists into 22-minute chunks. But showrunner Michael Schur must have made a Faustian bargain (or, more likely, rewatched a ton of “Lost”), to wrap this much clever ambition into “The Good Place.” Good thing it only took him one shot.
— Joshua Bote
Nominations: “Insecure,” “Dear White People” and “American Vandal”
Best Limited Series or TV Movie
Winner: “Twin Peaks: The Return”
When it premiered in 1990, Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” changed television. Period. It was mysterious and puzzling. It slowed down the progression of typical television narratives and shirked the usual dramatic twist in each episode. “Twin Peaks” unfolded like a rose — a Blue Rose, as one might say — with each layer revealing more hidden players and a darkened core.
The original “Twin Peaks” took a deep dive into the psychology of a small, sinister town where secrets intersect with the supernatural. What was most frightening about the original “Twin Peaks” were its revelations on the human capacity for violence and harm. This is unsurprising, given that the series was created by Lynch, writer-director of films like “Blue Velvet” and “Eraserhead.”
“Twin Peaks: The Return” takes the original’s twisted murder-mysteries and casts them into national searches that transcend time, space and dimensions as well. It certainly does not neglect the beloved original characters, almost all of whom return after 25 years, as Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) had promised. Together — and led by Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper, Cooper’s evil doppelgänger and several other iterations of Coopers — the ensemble cast shines as brilliantly as ever, proving that nothing and everything can change in tiny, sinister towns.
“Twin Peaks” is so otherworldly and existential that some have speculated it will never truly end. Others have speculated that “Twin Peaks: The Return” isn’t a television series at all, but rather an 18-hour long movie. Clearly, “The Return” leaves just as many open doors (or curtains) as the original did, if not more.
— Sophie-Marie Prime
Runner-Up: “Big Little Lies”
“Big Little Lies” was the appointment-viewing breakout murder mystery of the year, specifically because it entertained — no, reveled in — the notion that the mama drama of four bourgeois women in Monterey, California, could possibly be interesting, let alone enthralling.
Its individual performances (especially Nicole Kidman’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning turn) and killer soundtrack (by one prodigious kid) certainly contributed to the show’s appeal.
By poring over a town’s interpersonal relations with a fine-toothed comb — whether it’s small-town gossip or its integral, lifelong friendships and rivalries — it unveiled the necessity of kinship against violent men, a narrative that only grew more vital as the year wore on.
— Joshua Bote
Nominations: “Black Mirror,” “Fargo” and “Top of the Lake: China Girl”
Winner: Bruce Miller, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
There has been much buzz about how the dystopia of “The Handmaid’s Tale” does not seem that implausible as of late — author Atwood’s anxieties surrounding a Christian hegemony and severe misogyny are understandable. In this regard, Miller successfully modernized Atwood’s story in a way that makes it easily feel like a dystopia we would imagine today. For example, when Emily (Alexis Bledel), a lesbian handmaiden, is tried for being part of a resistance, the panel reads out Bible verses that I last heard yelled by counter protesters at Pride this past summer.
The show has garnered much critical acclaim and awards recognition, and with good reason — one of its strongest features is its cinematography and coloring, and Miller demonstrates an understanding of the power of a good visual. For example, showing the Handmaids walking with their hands unclasped conveys a number of developments in a simple movement.
Though Bruce Miller has managed to construct a masterful show, it is not without its shortcomings. The adaptation, much like its source material, is lacking in nuanced considerations of race. It should be noted that Miller made certain steps in the first season, most notably doing away with the all-white world that Atwood imagined, and he has said the second season will more consciously address race in Gilead.
— Danielle Hilborn
Runner-Up: David Lynch and Mark Frost, “Twin Peaks: the Return”
After an 11-year lapse in major content from Lynch following his sensational “Inland Empire,” “Twin Peaks” is back, and the new season is possibly his most experimental work since “Eraserhead.” Along with Frost, who is often unduly snubbed in discussions of the show’s writing, the original series has been revitalized with immense creativity and visual bravura. Replete with his usual nightmarish set pieces and heady surrealism, “The Return” is an 18-part masterpiece that ranks among Lynch’s best work. Don’t miss the penultimate episode; it will send shivers down your spine.
— Jack Wareham
Nominations: Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones for “Black Mirror,” David Benioff and D. B. Weiss for “Game of Thrones” and Michael Schur for “The Good Place”
Best Drama Lead Actor
Winner: Kit Harington, “Game of Thrones”
Say what you want about the seventh season of “Game of Thrones” — we all know the plotting was hardly the series’ strongest — but several of the actors undoubtedly turned in winning performances, even if the scripts they were given felt a little lacking. Harington was among those who delivered exceptionally well. After years of brooding, angst and knowing nothing, Jon Snow’s storyline has finally reached its boiling point; we’re seeing him truly grapple with the weight of leadership, face diplomacy situations of the highest-stakes and reunite with family members he hasn’t seen in years. Not to mention, Jon’s also had to deal with the White Walkers, a plot that could fill a season all on its own. Even with so much on his character’s plate, Harington evokes the same honor, nobility and courage that made us all fall in love with Jon seven seasons ago, as the member of the Night’s Watch whose whole plotline revolved around his struggle to get laid.
And it’s worth noting — though maybe it wasn’t the most demanding acting Harington’s had to do — that he was one half of the guiltiest pleasure on television in that last scene of the season with Emilia Clarke. Thanks, Kit — HBO couldn’t have done it without you.
— Shannon O’Hara
Runner-Up: Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
As a supporting yet pivotal character on “Breaking Bad,” Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman captivated viewers in his skeezy lawyer ways. Yet, Odenkirk as pre-Saul Goodman, Jimmy McGill, is even more compelling. As the show enters its third season, Jimmy is fast approaching his transformation into Saul. As such, Odenkirk expertly toes the line between Jimmy and the Saul that viewers know he will become. As tensions with his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), rise to a climax and his position as a lawyer is stalled, his loose grasp on morality wavers immensely in the aftermath. Odenkirk’s portrayal of a character who tries so hard to maintain that moral grasp yet finds himself unable to let go of his increasingly crooked ways is more than gripping. And the consistency of the audience rooting for a character who is wildly inconsistent is a direct reflection of Odenkirk’s marvelous acting.
— Nikki Munoz
Nominations: Milo Ventimiglia for “This Is Us,” Justin Theroux for “The Leftovers” and Matthew Rhys for “The Americans”
Best Drama Lead Actress
Winner: Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Having won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series earlier this year for her role as Offred in Hulu’s adaptation of Atwood’s 1985 novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Moss is captivating.
At the center of the narrative, Moss’ Offred is harrowing. Clothed in a red dress and huge white Puritan bonnet for a majority of the show, Moss’ performance shines in her silent strength. Most of her communication with others is through terrifying government preached slogans, but in her eyes, Moss tells a story of rebellion and an inspirational passion to resist, despite unfathomable pain. Through passed glances to other handmaids on the street, Moss and the other women transform their positions, standing in solidarity through locked eyes or momentary clasped hands.
Perhaps most terrifying though, are flashbacks to a time before her enslavement, when Offred, with her hair let down and face rosy, lived life like any American today. Moss’ brilliant juxtaposition of her two selves — one outspoken and vibrant, the other cold and alone — is soul-crushing. Her performance illustrates just how desolate life is when nothing is in your control anymore, not even your own body. The show warns of how quickly and quietly normal life can be turned upside down.
— Rebecca Gerny
Runner Up: Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things 2”
“Stranger Things 2” is as equally irresistible as the original series — not only for the ways it keeps viewers on their toes while referencing classic favorites in the horror and science fiction genres, but also for the performances of its young stars. Even though she often shares the screen with a talented ensemble of teen actors, 13-year-old Brown almost always steals the spotlight. Her character, Eleven, an almost-mute preteen with telekinetic abilities, is consistently the most compelling character in the series, and Brown plays the role with strength, elegance, complexity and, in the second season especially, resilience.
— Sophie-Marie Prime
Nominations: Claire Foy for “The Crown,” Emilia Clarke for “Game of Thrones” and Mandy Moore for “This Is Us”
Best Comedy Lead Actor
Winner: Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
At the end of “The Dinner Party,” Dev (Ansari) returns from a party with Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) in a taxi. By this point in the season, it’s become clear that the two have feelings for each other, so when Francesca leaves the car — presumably to return home to Italy the next day — Dev is left sullen. He sinks into the backseat, and the camera stays on him for the majority of the car ride to his apartment, cutting away only once, to his phone when Francesca texts him good night.
This shot of Dev, as his eyes wander in loneliness and defeat, lasts for three minutes, and the range of emotions and the subtleties conveyed throughout this time is a true credit to Ansari’s talent, not just as a comic actor, but one with exceptionally compelling dramatic talent to boot. Such a static shot could have been a bore to watch with anyone other than Ansari. He engages us completely in this lengthy ending and throughout the show’s entirety, becoming a bona fide romantic leading man straight out of “L’Avventura” in the process. If anyone is going to make us fall in love with Italian neorealism, we’re glad that it’s the endlessly charismatic, utterly endearing Ansari.
— Harrison Tunggal
Runner-Up: William Jackson Harper, “The Good Place”
It takes guts to play a character more often laughed “at” than “with,” but William Jackson Harper’s Chidi Anagonye on “The Good Place” is portrayed with such an earnest and delicate touch that any laughter comes from a place of love. Anxious, awkward and, above all, indecisive, Chidi on paper is far from the endearing dork brought to life by Harper. His lively dynamic with Eleanor (Kristen Bell) demonstrates the pair’s chemistry and comedic chops, but Harper’s performance stands all on its own — and “The Good Place” is an even better place because of it.
— Caroline Smith
Nominations: Ted Danson for “The Good Place,” Anthony Anderson for “Black-ish” and Jimmy Tatro for “American Vandal”
Best Comedy Lead Actress
Winner: Gina Rodriguez, “Jane the Virgin”
Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) has been through a lot, ranging from the accidental artificial insemination at the core of the show’s premise to, more recently, the death of her husband, Michael (Brett Dier). Through all of the extreme ups and downs of this self-aware, satirical telenovela is the consistent strength of the main character — a testament to Rodriguez’s talent. Whether Jane is at the height of success, as with her first published book, or at a deeply low point, such as intense grief, she is consistently likeable — truly a protagonist you want to root for. Rodriguez’s stellar acting makes Jane seem less like a work of fiction and more like someone you know personally, despite the extreme circumstances of the show’s plot.
In the most recent season, Jane deals with her feelings for her ex-boyfriend and father of her child, Rafael (Justin Baldoni), while also falling back into a relationship with her self-proclaimed first love, Adam (Tyler Posey). While her romantic entanglements are consistently a large part of the show, Jane is never defined by them, as Rodriguez excels in showcasing Jane’s layers and individualism. This results in Jane’s writing career and growing role as a mother becoming just as captivating to viewers and important to Jane’s character as her romantic plot lines — a successful complexity that is all due to Rodriguez’s strong grasp on this layered character.
— Nikki Munoz
Runner-Up: Issa Rae, “Insecure”
What would HBO’s “Insecure” even be without leading lady and creator Issa Rae as Issa Dee? Season two saw Rae truly come into her own as it challenged the fictional Issa’s established relationships and convictions. Rae’s pitch-perfect comedic timing and heartbreaking dramatic skills not only make Issa a well-rounded character, they make her intimately relatable, especially for her show’s intended Black audience.
As Rae shared with Rolling Stone, “In creating and writing the show, this is not for dudes. It’s not for white people. It’s the show that I imagined for my family and friends.” With Rae as its star, “Insecure” will continue to push boundaries while always retaining its heart — a laudable attribute missing from much of today’s TV.
— Caroline Smith
Nominations: Rachel Bloom for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus for “Veep” and Kristen Bell for “The Good Place”
Best Limited Series Lead Actor
Winner: Kyle MacLachlan, “Twin Peaks: The Return”
“I am the FBI,” affirms Special Agent Dale Cooper, back on the case mere minutes after regaining his decades-dormant consciousness. It’s a moment of profound serenity, finally placing MacLachlan back in the beloved role that made his career nearly 28 years ago. The actor effortlessly recreates the character, but it’s also one of several meticulous variations of Cooper that MacLachlan plays throughout the “Twin Peaks” revival.
There’s a mullet-bearing evil doppelganger that leaves death in its wake, a nuclear family businessman with the brain function of AOL dial-up and an agent determined to right irreversible wrongs. Though each possesses the appearance of a moral absolute, MacLachlan finds tonal flexibility in all of them, moving between tremendous body comedy and petrified terror. Both this shading and the late-season localization of familiarity are what make MacLachlan’s work so uniquely arresting, undermining the character identification that is typically fundamental to consuming television.
Cooper’s now dad-like charisma conceals an underlying vanity that he shares with his evil doppelganger. Both are domineering in their moral enforcement and it’s the deceitful comfort of this imaginary good-evil binary that tears “Twin Peaks: The Return” asunder. In the season’s final moments, MacLachlan unveils a final variation on Cooper, one who’s lost and, for the first time, purposeless. Through his interwoven work, MacLachlan rips open a generation’s image of the ideal all-American secret-agent-man to reveal the destructive savior complex that drives him. “I am the FBI,” indeed.
— Jackson Kim Murphy
Runner-Up: Ewan McGregor, “Fargo”
In the third season of “Fargo,” McGregor plays not one, but two entirely different characters. McGregor is suitably suave and smug as the successful Emmit Stussy and, at the same time, jealous and gullible as the struggling Ray Stussy. Besides differentiating how the two characters behave and talk, McGregor goes all-in in distinguishing the twins’ physical appearance as well. The portly Ray is widely different in terms of expression and gait than the conventionally attractive Emmit.
Normally, it’s enough of a struggle to make one character memorable. In “Fargo,” McGregor is able to craft two distinct and equally compelling performances, thereby demonstrating that he truly holds the “high ground” when it comes to good acting.
— Arjun Sarup
Nominations: Benedict Cumberbatch for “Sherlock” Robert De Niro for “The Wizard of Lies” and Geoffrey Rush for “Genius”
Best Limited Series Lead Actress
Winner: Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Kidman’s performance as Celeste Wright — mother, former lawyer and domestic violence victim — is a vivid and haunting one that is crucial to the series. Celeste is in a seemingly perfect relationship from the outside, with the pilot’s introduction depicting an infatuated couple, bewitched and sexually attracted to each other with cringe-worthy passion. As the show progresses and their rich Monterey, California, perfection begins to scrape away, the powerful message comes to the surface.
The gritty and raw depiction of domestic violence and the codependent relationship that it can manifest is one that has inspired a somewhat gruesome issue to be drawn out into the public eye. Kidman’s portrayal is beautiful and visceral. Her uncertainty to leave her husband and maternal occupations are realistic. Every fluctuating emotion is subtly expressed in her face and every line is spoken purposefully.
All her artistic choices and interpretations along with the story she is telling hone in on the honest and terrifying struggles of someone in such a position. With such an unforgiving, undisguised performance, Kidman is not just excelling at acting but helping to give voice to the many who experience the horrors that her character does on the show.
— Maisy Menzies
Runner-Up: Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”
Reese Witherspoon’s role of gossipy, strong willed, mother-of-two Madeline Martha Mackenzie is an incredibly vivacious and real performance that both entertains and connects with audiences. While the series deals with intense and often gruesome topics such as domestic violence and rape, Witherspoon’s familiar character and dramatic flair grounds the other characters and offers relief from what might otherwise be overwhelming performances.
Her performance can be comical at times but at others, her character endures everyday problems, such as a rebellious teenager and marital struggles. Yet, Madeline perseveres, fights for the protection of others and defends the downtrodden. Her character is honorable and independent, a credit to Witherspoon’s performance.
— Maisy Menzies
Nominations: Felicity Huffman for “American Crime,” Susan Sarandon for “Feud: Bette and Joan” and Carrie Coon for “Fargo”
Best Supporting Actor (Drama, Comedy and Limited Series)
Winner: Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
Without Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister, “Game of Thrones” would likely be too melodramatic and brooding. Even in his attempts to brood over his failures, just like Jon Snow, he simply fails, and hilariously so.
Tyrion’s sarcastic, dry humor and wit are essential to the show’s success, and it’s Dinklage who brings such perfect comedic timing to the character. His British accent is never perfect, but there’s something perfectly funny about its imperfection, especially in the telling of a joke.
But humor is far from Tyrion’s sole asset. His humanization has been one of the most refreshing aspects of the show’s progression, his vulnerability and pain being genuinely heartbreaking.
In season seven particularly, though, he plays the incredibly significant role of looking toward the future. In one scene, he speaks to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) about his fears of what might happen to her goal to “break the wheel” if she were killed, and to the need of finding a successor. It’s territory that the show bravely explores as, with the limited time left, that sort of future would likely never be shown. Dinklage injects those moments with the necessary gravitas to pull them off — his character’s worry is palpable through the very vigor in his line delivery and through the wonderful chemistry he has with Clarke.
With the way Dinklage plays these moments out, we, the audience, even think about the possibility of there being no throne at the end of the show, of the type of governance changing, possibly toward something more democratic. For a show titled “Game of Thrones” that started seven years ago with a dispute of the throne, that’s a hell of a feat for an actor to pull off.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner Up: David Lynch, “Twin Peaks: the Return”
The return of “Twin Peaks” wouldn’t be complete without Lynch himself playing Gordon Cole, a name borrowed from an insignificant character in one of his favorite films, “Sunset Boulevard.” Lynch’s deadpan performance as a hard-of-hearing and loud-talking FBI director generates seemingly endless humor. Take the following exchange from the twelfth episode:
Gordon Cole: For now, I’d really like to get back to this fine Bordeaux.
Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer): What kind is it?
GC (checking his watch): 11:05.
(Then, a 24-second silence.)
GC: Albert, sometimes I really worry about you.
Although Lynch’s constant alignment with the governmental status quo is somewhat troubling, Gordon Cole provides the disturbing series with much appreciated comic relief.
— Jack Wareham
Nominations: Joe Keery for “Stranger Things 2,” David Harbour for “Stranger Things 2” and Timothy Simons for “Veep”
Best Supporting Actress (Drama, Comedy and Limited Series)
Winner: Chrissy Metz, “This Is Us”
Few characters on television have as much of their past explored as the Pearson siblings. Kate, in particular, is developed as a character across three separate planes of time. We get to see her as an innocent nine-year-old, a sulky introverted teenager and, ultimately, an adult attempting to move forward from the insecurities of her past.
Metz, who plays the adult version of Kate, must not only take us on Kate’s present journey but also make that journey consistent with the facets of the character that have already been displayed in the other periods of time.
Metz accomplishes the daunting job of portraying Kate with aplomb and brings just the right mixture of longing, anger and underlying sincerity to the character.
She particularly shines in “Number Two,” an episode primarily revolving around Kate’s struggles to process her grief after her miscarriage. Metz’s eyes do most of the talking in this episode, giving viewers a glimpse into how haunted and how broken Kate must feel. The way Metz acts out her character’s emotional upheaval and the way she depicts Kate’s unspoken acceptance of her mother’s love in “Number Two” is truly indescribable.
For the sheer beauty of how she portrays Kate in “This Is Us,” Metz definitely cements her status as one of the best actresses on television.
— Arjun Sarup
Runner Up: Lena Waithe, “Master of None”
Lena Waithe plays Denise, stylish, independent confidante to main character Dev (Ansari), on Netflix’s “Master of None.” Her cadence and demeanor are very natural, her chemistry with Ansari is so real, and it’s hard to believe they weren’t BFFs before the show. Waithe is not just a hilarious, exciting-to-watch actor with a contagious onscreen presence; she is a Black lesbian woman using her presence in the media to promote LQBTQ+ rights and voices. Just like her character on the show, she is honest and clear about who she is, and she is a true inspiration for this new age of television.
— Maisy Menzies
Nominations: D’Arcy Carden for “The Good Place,” Lena Headey for “Game of Thrones” and Sophie Turner for “Game of Thrones”
Best Ensemble Cast (Drama, Comedy and Limited Series)
Winner: The cast of “This Is Us”
In less than two seasons, “This Is Us,” propelled by its immensely talented star cast, has fleshed out all of its characters to a point where viewers can find a piece of themselves in everyone of them. A tear is willingly shed when Randall (Sterling K. Brown) has to say goodbye to his foster daughter. A smile is instinctively given when Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) tries to do a moonwalk in front of his kids. A shot of bittersweet inevitability is felt when Kate (Chrissy Metz) tries to shut off her grief after her miscarriage or when Rebecca (Mandy Moore) has to move on from her husband’s death. And then there’s Kevin (Justin Hartley) — a fractured and confused soul who inevitably lends an emotional crutch to anybody who has ever felt irreparably broken and lost.
But wait, that’s not all of them. There’s William (Ron Cephas Jones), whose sage wisdom is the comfort food for the soul we all need. There’s also Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), whose badassery is infectious enough for anybody to get their mojo back.
Through its tearjerker of a story and the powerhouse performances of its ensemble, “This Is Us” has created a group of people who, because of their inherent decency, can reassure us of the fact that, despite how bad things may seem, we always have the capacity to change and to become better.
Because its stars are able to achieve all of that, “This Is Us” truly has the best ensemble on TV.
— Arjun Sarup
Runner-Up: The cast of “Game of Thrones”
In a mostly rushed seventh season, “Game of Thrones” was still able to successfully mine the potential offered by the long-anticipated meetups and reunions of its constituent ensemble. Because geographical distance apparently does not play a factor, we got Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya’s (Maisie Williams) extended game of cat and mouse, Jon and Daenerys’ “will-they-won’t-they” tension, the return of Gendry (Joe Dempsie), and the terse reunion of the Lannister siblings all in one packed-to-the-rafters season.
Indeed, thanks to the brilliance of its star cast, these encounters live up to the hype and end up being the fiery center that prevents season seven from, well, freezing under its own ambition.
— Arjun Sarup
Nominations: The cast of “Stranger Things 2,” the cast of “Twin Peaks: The Return” and the cast of “The Good Place”
Best Variety Talk Show
Winner: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” is unique compared to other late-night shows. Airing once a week on HBO allows the show room to develop in-depth stories as well as the freedom to sprinkle in a fair number of F-bombs. The show’s depth has even yielded a significant amount of influence — a defamation lawsuit was brought against the network after Oliver dedicated one segment to the coal industry with specific focus on criticizing coal baron Robert Murray.
Giving Oliver his own show seemed inevitable after his success hosting “The Daily Show” when Jon Stewart took a hiatus. Oliver’s humor is sharp and witty, but the reason his bits most resonant is twofold — he is more than willing to criticize himself, and Oliver does not shy away from acknowledging how demoralizing current events can be. Yet, credit for the show’s success does not only belong to Oliver, as it is clear that he is backed by a strong writer’s room. Oliver and his team put in extensive work for each week’s episode and it shows — from starting their own church in order to expose the sinister nature of many televangelists, to addressing the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and police militarization, the show manages to provide comedic relief while also serving as a comprehensive source of information.
— Danielle Hilborn
Runner-Up: “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
From hosting the “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” event to taking political comedy to new levels, 2017 was the year of “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”. The Queen Bee of late-night television — coupled with whip-smart correspondents, fantastic editors and the occasional musical number — is not afraid to invent new and ingenious ways to make the news not just digestible, but genuinely funny, without ever shying away from the gravity of contemporary political affairs. Her comedy works because of its coupling of deadpan humor with a “we’re all going to die”-esque seriousness, a quality far too many late-night comedy programs insensitively eschew in favor of making light of political affairs. For this reason, as her theme song promises, “the boys wanna be her.”
— Caroline Smith
Nominations: “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “The Graham Norton Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
Best Animated Series
Winner: “Big Mouth”
Despite its fractured and ironic style, Netflix’s uproarious new comedy, “Big Mouth,” is one of the most honest portraits of adolescence you can find on television. The main characters, voiced by Nick Kroll, John Mulaney and Jessi Klein, are all beginning to experience puberty. In this period of intense change, they are guided by a Hormone Monster (also voiced by Kroll) and a Hormone Monstress (Maya Rudolph) who voice the primal instincts of the pubescent mind. As they begin to discover masturbation, pornography and their sexualities, the show’s writers handle their awkwardness with depth and appreciation.
The series borrows heavily from the new trend of animated shows like “BoJack Horseman” that juxtapose cartoon animation with mature subject matter. It’s tempting to say that the show is geared towards adolescents, but adults will likely find just as much enjoyment in its tender reflections on puberty as kids will. Highlights include one character who engages in monastic-resembling preparation for onanism, a subplot about a talking pillow and a recreation of “Apocalypse Now” set in an alternate universe called the “Pornscape.”
— Jack Wareham
Runner-Up: “BoJack Horseman”
Time and trauma lay at the core of the devastating fourth season of “BoJack Horseman.”
The introduction of BoJack Horseman’s new daughter, Hollyhock (played by a winsome Aparna Nancherla), in concurrence with a family tale going back to World War II, sets into motion the evergreen question of whether familial tragedy can be passed down through generations.
It’s fairly hefty stuff, but for once, “BoJack Horseman” finally lets in an iota of light. The show’s always at its best when it embraces both halves of the “dark comedy” tag. With some of the most purposeful narrative experimentation — flashbacks, both real and imagined, and stunning visual renderings of mental illness — of any show released this year, “BoJack” achieves just that.
— Joshua Bote
Nominations: “Bob’s Burgers,” “Rick and Morty” and “Samurai Jack”
Best Documentary Series
Winner: “The Keepers”
Set in Baltimore, “The Keepers” looks to answer the decades-old question of who killed Sister Cathy Cesnik. Cesnik, a beloved teacher at Archbishop Keough High School, disappeared Nov. 7, 1969, and though her remains were found Jan. 3, 1970, her murder remains unsolved to this day. Cesnik was aware of sexual abuse being committed by some of the school priests against students, who believe that she was killed to prevent her from exposing the truth.
The documentary is equal parts compelling and terrifying. One particular scene in the fifth episode, while objectively innocuous in presentation, was downright chilling to view. The heart of the show, though, are the women most intent on getting justice for Cesnik — her former students, many of whom suffered abuse at the hands of the priests. Their love for Cesnik is palpable, as well as the sense that they trusted her and knew she cared for them. They knew she would have stood up for them. It is these women who are the keepers of her memory, the keepers of the knowledge that there was something very wrong happening in Baltimore — the keepers of the belief that people must be held accountable for their actions.
— Danielle Hilborn
Runner-Up: “Planet Earth II”
With advancements in camera technology, the team behind “Planet Earth II” manages to outdo the original series, offering brand-new, never-before-seen perspectives of nature’s most elusive subjects. Innovatively, the series shows us the first filmed instance of a Wilson’s bird-of-paradise’s mating ritual from the female’s perspective. The series also takes a notable political stance, pleading that the planet’s natural beauty be preserved amid the ongoing encroach of urban life. The series’ message is amplified by the iconic voice of the one true narrator of nature documentaries, David Attenborough, and by theme music composed by that expert tugger of heartstrings, Hans Zimmer. In its values and visuals, “Planet Earth II” proved there wasn’t a more beautiful television show in all of 2017.
— Harrison Tunggal
Nominations: “The Vietnam War,” “Chef’s Table” and “Wormwood”
The Daily Californian Arts Awards Honoree
Winner: Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes is legendary. If you haven’t heard of her, you’ve probably heard of her prime-time medical drama series “Grey’s Anatomy.” Or perhaps you’ve heard of her political thriller series “Scandal” or her crime drama “How to Get Away with Murder.” Rhimes is the creator and showrunner of “Grey’s Anatomy,” which, after nearly 13 years on the air, just celebrated its 300th episode. She also created and runs “Scandal,” which is closing out its seventh season after a highly-anticipated crossover with “How to Get Away with Murder,” for which she is executive producer. These are just a few of Rhimes’ achievements — there are many.
In other words, Rhimes is not only legendary, she’s a televisual superwoman.
Last November, Rhimes was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. There, she was introduced by another powerful Black woman whose influence on television cannot be overstated, Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey described Rhimes as “game-changing” and noted: “She is currently the most powerful showrunner in television. Period.”
Indeed, Rhimes is revolutionary. Rhimes’ stories have reach. More than eight million people watch her shows on Thursday nights, when her golden triangle of series airs back to back — all to return Jan. 18. Each of these shows features leading women, two of whom are women of color, as they navigate professional landscapes and personal strife. These women are imperfect, they are real, and they are unapologetic.
In her speech at the Hall of Fame, Rhimes acknowledged the question of diversity. She talked about her childhood, her extraordinary imagination and the life her parents built for her. She talked about her own privilege. Then she talked about the importance of seeing someone like herself on television. “Oprah Winfrey changed my imagination. … The world got wider.”
Rhimes’ characters are authentic, imperfect and diverse. They centralize women who live outside of and with their intersectional identities — or, as Rhimes calls them, their “adjectives.” Her shows are addictive. Rhimes builds worlds where both what is real and what is possible are reflected.
— Sophie-Marie Prime