Winner: “House of the Dragon”
The first episode of “House of the Dragon” broke records as the most-watched premiere in HBO history, beating its own predecessor “Game of Thrones.” The slow-build story of high-stakes family succession is much more condensed than the broad scope of the original series, allowing for deeper character development despite large time jumps. It’s an incredible accomplishment for the showrunners, who took the dense source material “Fire and Blood” — George R. R. Martin’s veritable textbook of Targaryen history — and injected it with raw emotion, making bold choices to explain character motivations.
Season one laid the foundation for what will surely be a devastating civil war, complete with dragons as volatile nuclear bombs. The beautifully rendered creatures, however, are not just weapons of war but characters themselves by the end of the season, each with distinct personalities. The emotional core of the show lies in the twisted love and resentment between Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) — the primary bearers of familial pain and the scapegoats of male violence. Paddy Considine’s stoic yet heartfelt performance as the patriarch King Viserys is remarkable.
“House of the Dragon” may still be living in the shadow of “Game of Thrones” for now, tainted by the infamous eighth season, but it has the extraordinary potential to establish itself as much more than just a spinoff.
— Asha Pruitt
Mind-bending and unsettling are just a couple of adjectives to describe “Severance” and the world the show creates in just eight episodes. The show’s release coincided with a period when work-life balance feels increasingly elusive, and audiences found themselves captivated by the Lumon’s mystifying universe and its peculiar solution to this common problem.
Expertly pulled together, the show leaves no room for unnecessary information. Even seemingly minute details, such as a room of baby goats or the lack of escape keys on Lumon keyboards, hint at important elements of the story. With heightened tension and strong suspense, audiences stay glued to the edge of their seats until the end of the season, eager to see the characters’ “innies” reconcile with their “outies” in order to expose Lumon’s fraudulent and inhumane behavior.
With such a nuanced, jarring and, in certain ways, familiar world developed by the writers of the show, it goes without surprise that viewers highly anticipate the upcoming season.
— Sejal Krishnan
Winner: “Abbott Elementary”
Quinta Brunson’s “Abbott Elementary” revives the mockumentary style series to bring hilarious, heartfelt comedy to life.
A truly exceptional aspect of the television show is its mastery in giving each character a fully developed backstory, unique traits and an individualized sense of humor. No stone is left unturned in giving a reason to love even the most absurd characters, such as Principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James). While she may be obsessed with increasing her TikTok following and chasing a bougie lifestyle, she redeems herself by taking care of her family and ultimately doing right by the students.
“Abbott Elementary” stays true to its roots, enabling success. Regardless of the silly, petty tiffs that occur or the slow-burning romance between Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams), the show remains a comedy while exploring the all-too-real truths of disadvantaged public school systems.
What makes this show stand out among other comedies is its down-to-earth nature and nostalgic moments. While the series may aim to capture Philadelphia culture, it pulls at the viewer’s heartstrings by reminding them of their core memories as a child in school. “Abbott Elementary” recalls funny moments that audience members may have experienced in their own schooling, such as being prevented from overdosing on sugary Halloween candy during class in the second grade. However, it reframes those memories to give a glimpse into the effort that teachers put in to help the next generation succeed.
— Sejal Krishnan
Runner-up: “The Rehearsal”
How much can you blur the lines between reality and artifice? Nathan Fielder’s “The Rehearsal” sets out to elide this distinction until it twists, doubles back and eventually — completely — dissolves. Dealing in the same flavor of absurdist artificiality as “Borat” and “Nathan For You,” Fielder endeavors to choreograph reality, filtering interpersonal relationships through the eponymous “rehearsal,” the idea being that practicing for future interactions in a climate-controlled environment will allow these interactions to go exactly as planned come performance time. Expectedly, chaos ensues, but it’s a kind of chaos that flirts with reality, dangling social and personal clarity like a carrot. Then you blink and it’s gone.
— Emma Murphree
Best Limited Series
Winner: “The Dropout”
In an industry oversaturated with true crime films and television shows, it becomes increasingly difficult to craft a worthwhile story that leaves a mark on its audience while remaining ethical. Hulu’s “The Dropout,” however, is an absolute standout in its remarkable handling of one of the most infamous cases of fraud in America. At times utterly heart-wrenching and at others suspenseful, “The Dropout” is a series that viewers cannot help but binge-watch in one sitting.
Tracking the monumental rise and disastrous fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her sham company Theranos, “The Dropout” knows when to highlight Holmes’ sympathy and when to represent her as a cold-hearted and cruel business owner. Amanda Seyfried gives a tremendous performance as Holmes and the rest of the extensive cast expertly portray the multitude of individuals Holmes encountered throughout her career.
It’s no wonder that “The Dropout” has garnered so many nominations and accolades; it is a phenomenal series that one cannot get enough of, as it weaves through a convoluted series of events with ease, painting a disturbing portrait of Holmes. “The Dropout” may have been released alongside a slew of series in the same vein, but it’s one of the most poignant and memorable limited series of the year.
— Maida Suta
Runner-up: “Inventing Anna”
The hilarious Netflix limited series “Inventing Anna” tells the mostly true story of “German heiress” Anna Delvey, better known in criminal court as the cunning con artist Anna Sorokin. This Shonda Rhimes production eloquently dives into the mind of the criminal, displaying how her sky-high dreams and tenacity eventually landed her in federal prison.
Julia Garner, with a fabulously blended German and Russian accent, plays Anna in an enjoyingly conceited way, personifying the air of a narcissist in a way that begs the audience to sympathize with her. The rest of the cast also hands in stellar performances, particularly Anna Chlumsky’s Vivian Kent, the fictional journalist who uncovers Sorokin’s plot, and Arian Moayed’s Todd Spodek, Sorokin’s real-life lawyer. The weaving of these characters’ storylines allows the audience to trust and love each individual for the whole of their personalities, good or bad.
— Katherine Shok
Best Actor in a Drama Series
Winner: Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”)
If “Breaking Bad” sustained a high-wire act full of electricity and verve, prequel series “Better Call Saul” is anchored by its down-to-earth evocation of quotidian melancholy. Each season of the series — which tracks Jimmy McGill’s steady descent into the vulpine criminal defense attorney Saul Goodman — has required intricate work from lead Bob Odenkirk.
The final season of “Better Call Saul” demanded the greatest interpretive range yet. Odenkirk’s paradoxically clownish yet crafty comic act is undercut at every turn by a pensive, liminal aimlessness. Behind every job is a restless wistfulness; behind every theft, a fretful yearning.
Odenkirk embodies a performance within a performance within a performance. His depiction is entrenched in a revealing quietude while possessing a large reserve of restraint — single glances, fidgeting feet and shifting lilts in tone suggest the sinuous curves and nuances of Saul’s ever-shifting intentions and motivations. As Jimmy, Saul and Gene, Odenkirk is equal parts despicable and pitiful as he is enterprising and earnest, embodying each often in the same scene.
If a single word were to epitomize the grounding emotion behind Odenkirk’s achievement in the series, it would perhaps be the Welsh word “hiraeth.” A word that has no direct English equivalent, it most closely means a nostalgia for a place one can never return to. It is this nameless longing that haunts Odenkirk’s portrayal until the series’ final frames, tinting Jimmy’s metaphysical journey in an achingly human fashion.
— Hafsah Abbasi
Runner-up: Matt Smith (“House of the Dragon”)
While many know Matt Smith as the bowtie-wearing, universe-saving Doctor in “Doctor Who,” it’s quickly become apparent that the British star may look far better in shoulder-length platinum blonde hair atop a fire-breathing dragon.
In the highly anticipated spin-off of “Game of Thrones,” Matt Smith stuns as wild card Daemon Targaryen. Smith was an unlikely pick for the role, having most recently starred in the notable Marvel flop “Morbius” and Netflix’s “The Crown.” Nonetheless, Smith brings a delightfully disturbing charisma to the Targaryen family. Episode after episode, Smith charges tedious scenes with thrilling excitement as the rogue prince schemes, fights and decapitates his way through the often infuriating politics that stuff an, at times, bloated narrative. As a smouldering terror, Smith will certainly go down in history as one of this year’s favorite anti-heroes.
— Addison Lee
Best Actress in a Drama Series
Winner: Sadie Sink (“Stranger Things”)
Nothing embodies the summer of 2022 quite like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” — or rather, the image of an entranced Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) propelling into the air as the track floods an epochal scene in the fourth episode of “Stranger Things 4.”
Much like its prior three seasons, the fourth season of the sci-fi series thrives given its strong ensemble, full of teens wrought with the storminess of adolescence in Hawkins, Indiana. The angsty and, at times,“upside down” group would be lost without Max: the spunky skateboarder of the clique. While the first three seasons of “Stranger Things” often overlooked Sink’s prowess as an actress, the penultimate season allows the 20-year-old to shine.
Sink’s performance is, arguably, the best in the series, as she flawlessly demonstrates Max’s grief after losing her brother to the monsters in Hawkins. As one of Vecna’s initial targets, Max’s run-in with the frightening figure is imperative for the stakes of the latter half of the season. Sink executes this altercation masterfully, demonstrating the ways in which the young girl must push past her trauma and recall moments of euphoria in order to escape the grasp of the tormented creature. Sprinting through Vecna’s lair, Sink delivers a performance rich with pathos, as a panicked Max runs across crumbling terrain in an attempt to return to her nearly lifeless body in Hawkins.
Sink, too, seems to be running miles ahead of her “Stranger Things” costars, “runnin’ up that road” to a lustrous, sensational career.
— Sarah Runyan
Runner-up: Zendaya (“Euphoria”)
At the 72nd Emmy Awards, Zendaya won her second Emmy award for lead actress in a drama series for her aching portrayal of Rue Bennett in the hit HBO series “Euphoria.” The 26-year-old is now the first Black woman to win twice in the category, as well as the youngest star to snag two Emmys for acting.
Zendaya delivers a performance of a lifetime in the second season of “Euphoria.” Although peripheral characters from Season 1 step into the spotlight during this season, Zendaya’s profoundly poignant performance keeps protagonist Rue centered at the heart of the show. From each heart-wrenching sob to perfectly pitched hysterical laugh, she melts into the role of a troubled teen hitting rock bottom with finesse. With her raw, electrifying screen presence, Zendaya will no doubt continue breaking records and making history.
— Anne Vertin
Best Actor in a Comedy Series
Winner: Bill Hader (“Barry”)
SNL fans were elated to witness a familiar face grace their TV screens once again when Bill Hader first launched his HBO original series “Barry.” With a head full of laughter and a heart full of darkness, the show lures its viewers into the worried world of Barry Berkman, a sympathetic hitman in crisis.
Tired of answering to a feckless crime organizer (who respects him about as much as he respects the bodies he eradicates), Barry makes the bold yet hilarious career choice to enroll in a cringe-worthy acting class for fame-hungry Los Angeles transplants. The first two seasons managed to maintain a relatively carefree tone when grappling with the show’s heavy subject matter. Season three, on the other hand, takes a different approach.
Without giving too much away, this season’s murders are painful and real. When audiences caught word of the series’ projected stylistic pivot, some wondered whether the show could survive as a dramedy. But throughout the season’s eight-episode arc, both Hader and Berkman prove their “serious acting” skills are worthy of another season.
From tragedy to terror to yearning to warmth, Hader does a spectacular job of bringing viewers into his character’s convoluted psyche. With honest expressions and raw emotions, fans can’t help but love Barry. And, as Hader dedicates another year to reimagining the roles of genre, we, at The Daily Californian, can’t help but wait in a state of anticipatory glee for season four.
— Piper Samuels
Runner-up: Theo James (“The White Lotus”)
English actor Theo James of Divergent fame proves that his acting range can go beyond just the tortured, hot young adult protagonist. In the second season of “The White Lotus,” James plays the carefree, rich, hypersexual rascal Cameron Sullivan.
The perfect foil to Will Sharpe’s Ethan Spiller, James levies his pearly white grin, suntanned abs and overconfident sexuality to underscore the impacts of toxic masculinity and the privileged male mind. Although James’ acting makes it clear just what kind of person Cameron is, his jovial charisma and joie de vivre make it hard to hate his character (a great feat, considering Cameron’s levels of douchebaggery).
In a season stacked with a star-studded cast, James is still able to shine through with his assertive, clear performance of Cameron: the embodiment of the playboy male gaze.
— Katherine Shok
Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Winner: Jennifer Coolidge (“The White Lotus”)
You can take the girl out of Hawaii, but you can’t take the overflowing drink out of her hand. Half-lidded and half a billion dollars in hand, Jennifer Coolidge returns as Tanya McQuoid-Hunt in the second season of holiday soap opera “The White Lotus.” Whether audiences loved her, hated her, pitied her or iconized her in the first season, Tanya’s arrival on the sunny, sexually-liberated yet religiously-shunned beaches of Sicily made viewers everywhere say “I can’t watch” while turning up the volume on their laptop.
From Italy to the Pacific Islands, no one else can strike the balance of charm and discomfort Coolidge clutches between her French-tipped fingers. She is a complete enigma and a complete disaster, scurrying into self-destructive scenarios, silk headscarf to the wind. Coolidge somehow manages to make audiences root for her again and again, despite her endless transgressions against fashion and hotel staff. You gotta love her! Or … do you? Should you? Anyone who has been on Twitter between the hours of 6 and 7 p.m. PST the past six Sundays can attest she is a star. Between line readings dribbling out of Coolidge’s pursed lips and dead-eyed stares — there is something about the way Coolidge flicks her wrist that makes the entire show pulse.
— Sarina Bell
Runner-up: Quinta Brunson (“Abbott Elementary”)
Gen Zers know Emmy-winning writer, producer and actress Quinta Brunson as a Buzzfeed staple, but Brunson’s talent bounded her into mainstream fame. “Abbott Elementary,” airing on ABC, is a “The Office”-esque comedy taking place in an elementary school stocked with gregarious, unique characters. Leading the pack is none other than Brunson’s Janine Teagues, a spritely second-grade teacher.
A diehard optimist and see-er of the bright side, Brunson lovingly portrays Janine in a way that makes watchers root for her. And that rooting is much needed, given the tribulations Janine faces: tuna sandwich food poisoning, a deadend rapper boyfriend, a lack of funding for public education and troublesome parental units.
Janine perseveres through it all with optimism and love for her young students, emotions that leap through the screen thanks to Brunson’s portrayal. Her vision for the show she created and stars in is clear, and her newfound fame is incredibly well deserved.
— Katherine Shok
Best Variety Talk Show
“Now, as a straight man, which do you give less of a f— about: women’s rights or gay rights?” inquires Ziwe Fumudoh, clearly unafraid to ask the real questions, while her guest, Michael Che, laughs and shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
Fumudoh’s pop culture talk show “Ziwe” is aptly named for the Renaissance woman who fills the roles of host, sketch actor and musical guest, even creating her own satirical commercial breaks. Fumudoh’s style of confrontational questioning and deliberate baiting is unmatched by any other late-night host, allowing her to cut the niceties and go deeper than the surface, revealing more about her interviewees. She has done everything from ASMR affirmations about white allyship with Phoebe Bridgers to dramatic readings of Cardi B’s “WAP” lyrics with Gloria Steinem.
Fumudoh first rose to popularity from her YouTube shorts and Instagram Live segments, but after two seasons with Showtime, she has successfully adapted her distinct comedy style to the pace and scope of a television production. The show’s best moments, however, arise when her guests come prepared with sassy comebacks, giving Fumudoh a taste of her own medicine. In an episode with Fran Lebowitz, for example, the famously sardonic author is entirely unfazed by the question, “What bothers you more, slow walkers or racism?” Lebowitz raises her eyebrow as she responds, “Day to day? Obviously, I encounter more slow walkers.”
— Asha Pruitt
Runner-up: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
John Oliver is essentially everyone’s dream history substitute teacher. On his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” the British comedian makes the most of 30 minutes every week, breaking down politics, news and current events with biting satire.
Hitting its stride in its ninth season early this year, Oliver continues to employ his marvelous ability to switch between absurdist humor and serious pathos. From spouting couplets about Ted Cruz to comparing critical race theory to Rihanna’s pregnancy, the comedian presents the epitome of the mild rude humor that your grandparents would probably hate.
But f-bombs and jocularity aside, there’s something oddly comforting about Oliver’s straightforward critiques. His lucidity, while presented in a sometimes unconventional format, creatively merges comedy and truth in a way that fuels the future of satirical television.
— Taila Lee