Awards are always a terribly flawed way of determining what makes for good popular culture. Limits on the number of nominees lock deserving contenders out of their categories. Differences between the people who watch television shows or movies and the people in the pool assigned to judge them can produce some truly baffling biases and decisions. And winning doesn’t automatically transform a show’s prospects of staying on the air or an actor’s chance of getting good work in the future. But all of those caveats aside, it can be hugely satisfying to see a small show get the recognition you assume it’ll be denied, or an actor break barriers. And if you want better television, here are the shows and performances you should root for get whatever boost it’s possible to wring out of the Emmys on Sunday.
The Big Bang Theory
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Who Should Win: Girls
Why: There are a lot of legacy shows on this list, and some very notable omissions, particularly Parks and Recreation, which had a much stronger season than its network counterpart 30 Rock. Given that, I have to root for Girls, one of the few comedies to arrive on television knowing exactly what it was and what its strengths were, even if during its run, creator Lena Dunham had to confront some of its more notable weaknesses and absences, particularly when it came to race. Flawed though it may be, those of us rooting for more personal, low-budget shows—and who would like to see folks of color get the opportunities Dunham and Louis C.K. have—should hope for Girls to take home the statuette over more commercial favorites like The Big Bang Theory.
Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory
Larry David as Himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm
Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan in House of Lies
Louis C.K. as Louie in Louie
Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock
Jon Cryer as Alan Harper in Two and a Half Men
Who Should Win: Louis C.K. or Don Cheadle
Why: It’s impossible to compare C.K.’s exploration of wounded and uncertain middle-aged masculinity and Cheadle’s turn as a hyped-up management consultant struggling to raise his potentially transgender son with tenderness and consideration. House of Lies is an inconsistent mess in comparison to the jewel-like Louie. But C.K. isn’t exactly lacking in recognition. And Cheadle’s playing a character who’s more distant from his real self than C.K. Plus, a black actor hasn’t won the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Emmy since Robert Guillaume for Benson in 1985.