WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Righteously indignant, hilariously hysterical, hopelessly devoted to his family. That’s black-ish‘s Dre Johnson, and thanks to Anthony Anderson’s fearlessly funny performance, he’s become one of TV’s all-time great sitcom dads. Whether mistaking a wealthy fellow parent’s humidor for a toilet or defending his son’s right to use the N-word, Anderson managed to score spectacular laughs, deliver sweet married-couple chemistry with costar Tracee Ellis Ross and breath life into the show’s socially conscious stance without ever making it feel preachy. Undoubtedly, Season 2’s #BlackLivesMatter-themed “Hope” was Anderson’s most emotional moment, but he actor’s ability to deliver the goods for 20-plus episodes was equally, if not more, stunning.
AZIZ ANSARI MASTER OF NONE
In praising Ansari’s work as the creator Netflix’s smart, sly and sentimental comedy, it’s easy to forget how his nuanced performance anchored so much of the series’ heart and hilarity. Watching his romantic ebb and flow with Noël Wells’ Rachel or seeing his self-absorbed Dev finally attempt to understand his immigrant parents’ point of view, Ansari built a significant, singular character from the ground up — and left us hungry to see where he’ll go in Season 2.
TOMMY DEWEY, CASUAL
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Casual’s Alex may struggle to find love — for the record, programming a dating app doesn’t necessarily make one dateable — but Tommy Dewey’s consistently moving performance as the downtrodden developer makes him impossible not to love. (For the audience, anyway.) From Alex’s short-lived time with Dave to his brilliant first-date speech about nachos, Dewey is a master of commanding our attention, manipulating our emotions and giving us hope that this romantic underdog will eventually get his day.
WILL FORTE, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: In Season 2 of the under-the-radar Fox comedy, Forte took a rough around the edges character and made him feel whole. Phil Miller’s path to redemption last fall humanized a character that went through a vilification midway through year one, and as a result, his pathetic attempts to connect with the other survivors became genuinely endearing. More so, the actual love that blossomed between Phil and Carol allowed us to look past his cartoonish behavior upon Mike’s arrival, knowing there was a real person with feelings in there somewhere. When Phil was eventually allowed to express those emotions once Mike’s prognosis grew dire, Forte blew us away with the level of pain and sorrow he was able to exude — even as he was faking his own death sentence and uncapping decades-old farts.
ROB LOWE, THE GRINDER
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Sometimes an actor grows into a role, and sometimes he seems made to play it. The latter was the case with preternaturally handsome TV vet Lowe, cast as TV star Dean Sanderson Jr. (AKA erstwhile TV lawyer Mitch Grinder). As the lead of an already meta bit of sitcom business, Lowe reveled in the knowing wink embedded within most every scene, given his own illustrious career on the small screen. But more critically, he imbued the sometimes irrepressible Dean (“But what if it wasn’t…?”) with hints of vulnerability, so that we, as well as kid brother Stewart, tolerated his flights of legal-ish fancy. The Grinder would ultimately rest for good (thanks to an unfortunate cancellation), but during his short time on our TV, Lowe made a great case for a memorable character.
THOMAS MIDDLEDITCH, SILICON VALLEY
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Can someone please explain to us why Middleditch doesn’t get more notice for his seemingly effortless portrayal of Silicon Valley‘s socially stunted genius programmer Richard Hendricks? The underrated actor has been particularly exemplary In the HBO comedy’s current third season, which has seen Richard plumbing the depths of professional despair. We also got to see more of the character’s bumbling, painfully awkward romantic side, and the only thing more enjoyable than watching Middleditch play a corporate underdog is seeing him play a social one.
JEFFREY TAMBOR, TRANSPARENT
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Though Tambor is rightfully acclaimed for his dramatic turn in Amazon’s game-changing series, he’s rarely praised for the sense of humor and humility that he brings to the role of Maura Pfefferman. Take for instance when Davina taught her how to properly say “Yas Queen!,” or when she struggled to understand how her children reconnected with her sister over a game of Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. Tambor’s delivery in those moments reminded us not only of how funny the Arrested Development MVP can be when given lighter material, but just how funny Jill Soloway’s precious dramedy can be when it escapes the Pfefferman’s #FirstWorldProblems, if only for a moment. So in the event that last year’s winner in this category repeats, we, too, will happily chant “Yas Queen."