Arts·Queeries

For your consideration: 22 LGBTQ actors who deserve 2022 Emmy nominations

Shows like Feel Good, Our Flag Means Death, and Saved By The Bell helped make this a truly landmark season for queer representation. (Plus: justice for Heartstopper!)

It was a truly landmark season for queer representation. Are we about to see the queerest Emmys ever?

Left to right: Lily Tomlin in Grace and Frankie, Mae Martin in Feel Good, Bowen Yang in Saturday Night Live. (Netflix/NBC)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

This week, voting for the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards begins. With eligibility open to all television or streaming series that ran between June 1, 2021 and May 31, 2022, it is going to be one of the most competitive year the awards have ever seen.

Between the continuing exponential growth of streaming platforms and a backlog of productions delayed by the pandemic that finally were released, the sheer quantity of series gunning for gold is unprecedented, which means far too many worthy folks could get lost in the shuffle. Among them are dozens of LGBTQ performers who helped make this a truly landmark season for queer representation, from The White Lotus and Our Flag Means Death to Sort Of and honourary mention Heartstopper.

In recent years, the Emmys have pushed far ahead of their film-centric counterparts the Oscars in terms of rewarding queer talent. In the last two years, 26 openly LGBTQ performers were nominated (13 each year), 3 of whom won (including our very own Dan Levy in 2020). Compare to that to the Oscars, who have only nominated seven actors who openly identify as LGBTQ in their entire 94-year history — and only one of them has ever won (Ariana DeBose, just a few months ago for West Side Story). 

This year seems poised to be the queerest Emmys ever — that is, if voters can make their way through the thousands of hours of content and get a chance to see all the worthy options. So I've made a handy list of 22 in particular that I'm personally rooting for, which is really only a subjective selection of what could have easily been a list of 50 (I'm sorry, but unfortunately this means Sara Ramirez's work as Che Diaz on And Just Like That... did not make the list).

Whether you're an Emmy voter or not, do try and find your way to them all. In alphabetical order, for your consideration:

Bilal Baig for Sort Of

Fresh off a Peabody Award win, CBC's very own Sort Of is Canada's greatest hope at some Emmy love (and with good reason — it's more than sort of great). And its creator and star Bilal Baig would be a very worthy nominee for their writing or acting on the series, although the regard would once again bring up the issue of gendered categories for performance Emmys (Baug identifies as non-binary). Here's hoping for both multiple nominations for Sort Of and the Emmys rectifying its category problems shortly thereafter.

Murray Bartlett for The White Lotus

At this point, HBO's The White Lotus feels like it aired years ago (it was actually just last July). But that shouldn't mean we should forget the tour de force performance Murray Bartlett gives in the series as Armond, the manager of the titular resort. (I mean, how could you?) Finally, the rest of the world discovered what queers have known since Bartlett's work as Dom on Looking, and he seems like one of the safest bets on this list for a well-deserved first Emmy nomination.

Jasmin Savoy Brown for Yellowjackets

While the adult cast of this past winter's hugely popular Yellowjackets has received the awards attention so far (namely Melanie Lynskey, which we are by no means complaining about), the teenage cast is just as praiseworthy. In case you somehow missed out, the show splits its narrative between a group of teenagers trying to survive after their plane crashes in the woods in 1996 and their extremely dysfunctional current-day adult selves. The casting of the paired actors is extraordinary, not least with respect to Jasmin Savoy Brown, who plays the teenage Taissa (Tawny Cypress plays the adult version). The openly queer Brown is having a major moment (she's the highlight of the younger cast of January's Scream reboot) and Emmy voters should take notice.

Jerrod Carmichael for Rothaniel

Emmy voters have done a very bad (and, let's just say it: very problematic) job with the Outstanding Variety Special category lately. Either a Dave Chappelle special or a Carpool Karaoke special have won 5 of the last 6 years, including when Carpool won in 2019 over both Hannah Gadsby's Nanette and — most tragically — Beyoncé's Homecoming. Ideally, this year they'll make for that just a tiny bit by rewarding the rightful 2022 winner: Jerrod Carmichael's incredible standup special Rothaniel, in which he poignantly comes out.

Ariana DeBose for Schmigadoon

Hot off an Oscar win and hosting the Tonys, Ariana DeBose is already 2022's queer queen of awards show... so why stop now? Her enormously charming performance in the Apple TV+ musical comedy Schmigadoon is more than worthy of some Emmy attention.

John Early for Search Party

It would truly unfortunate if the exceptional Search Party goes without an Emmy nomination for its entire five-season run. And although this, sadly, seems likely given that they've ignored it every year, if they are going to give it even just one nomination, let it be for John Early's legendary (in my household, at least) run as Elliott Goss. 

Hannah Einbinder and Carl Clemons-Hopkins for Hacks

The second season of Hacks evolved into one of television's best and most wonderfully queer shows (that lesbian cruise episode!), and that's in large part because of cast members Hannah Einbinder (who plays Ava) and Carl Clemons-Hopkins (who plays Marcus). Both were nominated last year, but lost out to the Ted Lasso sweep. Here's to at least one of them joining their co-star Jean Smart (who remain unparalleled this season) in the winner's circle this time around.

Nathan Foad and Vico Ortiz for Our Flag Means Death

Speaking of wonderfully queer shows, what an unexpected delight David Jenkins's pirate comedy turned out to be. Go into it knowing as little as you can about how queer it gets, but I think it's safe to note how praiseworthy two of its out actors, Nathan Foad (who plays Lucius) and Vico Ortiz (who plays Jim), are. Both seem like outside shots at Emmy attention, but anyone who has seen Our Flag Means Death knows how special everything about it comes to be.

Ncuti Gatwa for Sex Education

An MVP of the intensely talented (and, so far, entirely Emmy nomination-less) ensemble of Netflix's Sex Education, Ncuti Gatwa has already earned three BAFTA nominations for his work as Eric on the series. Even if Emmy voters ignore him once again (which they should not!), he can surely take solace in the fact that he was just named the 14th incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who.

Punkie Johnson for Love Life

The second round of the HBO Max anthology series Love Life, which follows a different person each season from their first to last romance, was a massive improvement over the first (sorry Anna Kendrick). With this edition centred on William Jackson Harper's Marcus as he slowly finds his way to Jessica Williams's Mia, one of the season's highlights was a fantastic supporting turn from Punkie Johnson as Marcus's no-nonsense queer little sister Ida. 

Mae Martin for Feel Good

The lead of one of our favourite LGBTQ-centric British Netflix series... is actually Canadian, both on and off the screen. Mae Martin portrays a fictionalized version of themselves on Feel Good, which they also co-created and co-wrote. The series sadly ended its run after two seasons last year, but it's not to late for the Emmys to reward Martin (who is so, so good on the show) for their contribution to queer television. (And if not here, Martin's also a standout from the second season of HBO Max's The Flight Attendant.)

Abby McEnany for Work in Progress

Like Martin, Abby McEnany co-created, co-wrote and starred in the Showtime series Work in Progress, which also ended its run after two seasons last year. McEnany played a self-identified "fat, queer dyke" living with depression and OCD, offering us one of television's most radically queer — and radically honest — protagonists. Although it's highly unlikely to get to mainstream awards attention, please find yourself to Work in Progress either way.

Kate McKinnon and Bowen Yang for Saturday Night Live

They're probably the two biggest locks for nominations on this list, but that doesn't mean I won't go to bat for Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon and Bowen Yang anyway. They were part of the queerest cast SNL ever had this past season (along with the aforementioned Punkie Johnson, who didn't quite have the SNL screentime to warrant consideration here over Love Life), which also just so happened to be its best season in a long time. (Coincidence?) Sadly, this May marked McKinnon's final episode, but we're looking forward to Yang and Johnson keeping the queer torch burning at Studio 8H this fall.

Paula Pell for Girls5Eva

The first out queer woman to be a writer on Saturday Night Live, Pell left that show in 2013 after nearly 20 years. Her legacy will live on (she was responsible for Debbie Downer!) but is already being built elsewhere, even though no one seems to be paying attention? Peacock's Girls5Eva — which centres on a girl group reuniting two decades after being one-hit-wonders — is hands down the most laugh-out-loud funny show on television as far as I'm concerned (save maybe The Other Two, which we'll get to). The entire cast (not to mention the writing and music teams) deserves so much Emmy love, Pell included. Don't let this one get buried, voters!

Matt Rogers for Q-Force

No one deserves a voice performance Emmy nod this year more than Matt Rogers. On Q-Force (which Rogers also co-wrote), he voices Twink, the youngest member of a group of undervalued gay spies. Rogers gives such a committed, elevated performance as Twink — who uses his drag looks as an espionage tactic — that it even warrants Maya Rudolph being dethroned from winning in the voice performance category the past two years and counting. (He's also great on the Vanessa Bayer series I Love That For You, which is currently airing on Showtime.)

Drew Tarver for The Other Two

The second season of HBO Max's The Other Two continued to follow messy siblings Brooke (Canadian queen Heléne Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver) as they navigate the fame of their teen heartthrob brother (Case Walker) and talk show host mom (Molly Shannon). Everything about the season should be considered by Emmy voters (who gave it nothing the first time around), particularly Tarver, who nails one of the most tragically dysfunctional gay characters TV has has ever seen. 

Lily Tomlin for Grace and Frankie

Does Lily Tomlin need another Emmy? Probably not, as she does have four. But Tomlin is the legend of this list, and deserves so much credit (along with her co-star Jane Fonda) for significantly lifting up seven seasons of Grace and Frankie, which, let's just admit, didn't have the best writing. Though an even more important awards-related consideration in Tomlin's case is getting her that Oscar so she can finally land her EGOT.

Josie Totah for Saved By The Bell

Peacock unfortunately just cancelled their Saved By The Bell revival, a show I did not expect to love as wholeheartedly as I did. A self-aware satire of the early 1990s series it's based on, one of its absolute greatest assets (besides its equally award-worthy writing) was Josie Totah's performance as Bayside High's sharp-tongued transgender cheerleader Lexi. Totah was nominated for a Critics' Choice Television Award earlier this year, and the Emmy voters should considering follow suit.

Honourary mention: Joe Locke for Heartstopper

The British coming-of-age rom com series Heartstopper melted all our hearts this past April, in no small part due to openly gay teen actor Joe Locke. Locke's performance as Charlie was a deeply uplifting change of pace from typical queer teen fare, helping it get renewed for not one but two new seasons. Although Netflix decided to submit the show for the Children's & Family Emmys instead, it is still very much worthy of celebration (and feels sorely missed on the Primetime ballot).

Voting for the Emmy Awards takes place between June 16 and June 27th. The nominations will be announced on July 12th.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of the lead image misidentified Aidy Bryant as Kate McKinnon.
    Jun 19, 2022 12:00 PM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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