WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Only someone as likable as Bell could make us root for someone as terrible as Eleanor Shellstrop. Mistakenly sent to “The Good Place” after her death, Eleanor started out shallow, callous and deeply selfish, and Bell gleefully reveled in her caustic nastiness. But she wasn’t irredeemable, and Bell’s buoyant personality shined through as Eleanor slowly learned the ropes of basic ethical behavior and approached something resembling goodness. (Or OK-ness, at least.)
RACHEL BLOOM, CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: The leading lady of The CW’s musical rom-com hit all the right notes in Season 2. She made us laugh, as Rebecca Bunch’s toxic obsession with Josh Chan annoyed everyone around her. She got us all choked up, as Rebecca’s dream wedding turned into a humiliating nightmare. And of course, she sang her heart out, with catchy tunes like “The Math of Love Triangles” that we’re still humming (and giggling about) months later.
ELLIE KEMPER, THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: The Netflix comedy’s third season was about as uneven as Kimmy’s grasp of pop culture, but one thing that never wavered was Kemper’s commitment to and grasp of her tricky titular role. The Office alum’s unenviable job? To make Kimmy appear naieve but not dumb, eternally optimistic but not cloying, accomodating but never a pushover — a hat trick she continues to pull off with astonishing ease.
JUSTINA MACHADO, ONE DAY AT A TIME
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: With the Netflix reboot, the perpetual supporting player finally snagged the leading role that’s long eluded her. And she rose to the occasion. Playing a single Cuban-American mother/army veteran, the actress sparkled with crackling comedic timing, buoyant energy and a commanding presence as she tackled everything from her character’s PTSD to the dating game. And she did it all while more than holding her own opposite EGOT winner Rita Moreno!
ISSA RAE, INSECURE
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: If Rae isn’t the year’s breakout star, she’s certainly among them — with ample reason. Whether the radiant wrecking ball who shares her first name was screwing up her relationship with good-guy boyfriend Lawrence by boinking her “Achilles d—k,” blowing up her best-friendship by dropping truth bombs on gal pal Molly or cracking us up with her impromptu performance of “Broken P—-y,” the HBO comedy’s co-creator/lead kept it, sometimes painfully, real.
MICHAELA WATKINS, CASUAL
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Valerie Meyers had a lot of growing up to do in the Hulu dramedy’s second season, and Watkins played every beat of character’s journey — which included a new romance, an expanding social circle, and the death of a parent — with chaotic, awkward, relatable poignancy. Casual reminds us, time and again, that no one really has their life all figured out. But thanks to Watkins’ measured, grounded performance, it’s a consistent joy to watch Valerie try.
NATALIE ZEA, THE DETOUR
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: When Robin’s past caught up with her in the underrated TBS comedy’s second season, Zea not only hilariously sold us on the idea that Nate’s “wife” had been shady enough to have married for money umpteen green-card husbands, she made us believe her character so wanted to be reformed that she’d pee in a coffee cup while doing 65 mph to more quickly rescue their kidnapped kids. The gold that that kind of feat should get the actress is decidedly not the sort that splashed Nate when he whizzed Robin’s piss out the — oops — closed window.