This feature was originally published in July 2017.
Well, here we are in peak TV (or maybe slightly coming down that mountain), but still the Emmy Awards are not completely reflective of that. For every Atlanta and Stranger Things and The Night Of, we’re missing major nominations from Legion and The Leftovers and Insecure. The Emmy voters are loyal to a fault, finding ways to honor shows like House of Cards, Homeland, and, hell, even Veep as they drift beyond their prime. That’s not to say that this year, the 69th installment of the awards (hehe), is a poor reflection of the contemporary television landscape. There is much to celebrate. But with the sheer amount of quality TV out there, there are bound to be some omissions.
Going into this year, a number of past winners are absent. Game of Thrones pushed back its premiere and, as a result, missed out on qualifying. Orphan Black also didn’t run this year, and Downton Abbey is out to the pasture. That certainly opened up a few doors for new competitors, to which many series and performers took advantage.
But before we get into our picks in the major categories, let’s point out a few notable tidbits from the smaller categories:
— Aside from being nominated for their acting, both Donald Glover and Aziz Ansari are up for writing awards, with Glover also having the opportunity to win for directing.
— In only its fourth year as a category, Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance is finally starting to get interesting, with nominations going outside the expected The Simpsons/South Park/Family Guy realm. Among the nominees this year are Kevin Kline as Mr. Fischoeder on Bob’s Burgers and, our favorite, Kristen Schaal as Sarah Lynn on Bojack Horseman.
— Speaking of animated series, Bojack Horseman is a major omission from this category, which includes The Simpsons and Sofia the First alongside more worthy shows like Archer and South Park.
— Westworld and Stranger Things are both up for Best Main Title Design, and both are quite worthy.
— Hans Zimmer, the dudes from S U R V I V E, Max Richter, and T Bone Burnett are just a few of the names up for awards for their work in television music.
— The much talked about Music Supervision world is now up for Emmys, too, with Big Little Lies, Master of None, Better Call Saul, Stranger Things, and Girls all up for awards (Big Little Lies and Master of None have to be the favorites here, right?)
— A lot of big names in the Guest Actor categories, including both Riz Ahmed and Matthew Rhys for Girls (both of whom are also nominated as leads on The Night Of and The Americans respectively); SNL hosts Dave Chappelle, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Tom Hanks; Hugh Laurie for Veep; Ben Mendelsohn for Bloodline; the late Carrie Fisher for Catastrophe, Angela Bassett for Master of None (this one was really great); Alexis Bliedel for The Handmaid’s Tale (also excellent); and frickin’ Barb from Stranger Things might finally receive justice in the form of a statue.
– In the Reality world, it’s nice to see Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg finally get the credit they deserve.
– For TV Movie, not sure how Black Mirror‘s San Junipero qualified for that, but here’s hoping it snakes out an upset against Sherlock and The Wizard of Lies (and, um, Dolly Parton’s Christmas movie).
But what about the big guns? We’ve got predictions in the 16 major categories. Granted, this isn’t a science, but looking back at historical trends –and just our plain and simple preferences — allows us to make some educated guesses. We’ll find out for real who the winners will be on Sunday, September 17th on CBS.
Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish)
Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)
Jane Fonda (Grace and Frankie)
Who should win: Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat)
Who will win: Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish)
Going up against favorites like Allison Janney and Julia-Louis Dreyfus is always tough. Toss in veteran star power like Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda and tough seems like an afterthought. Of course, we’re talking about Ellie Kemper and Tracee Ellis Ross. Not that Kemper has a chance in this category — Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is good, but was hardly part of any conversation in 2017 — but it’s got to be intimidating to see that roster of names regardless.
What Ross has in her favor, though, is a recent Golden Globe win which follows past Emmy nominations. So, if voters are fatigued from championing Dreyfus and Janney, and they can’t come to a conclusion on the Sophie’s Choice of Tomlin and Fonda, they might want to give Ross a chance. Well, it’d be earned, that’s for sure, as she delivers time and time again in Black-ish as Dr. Rainbow Johnson. So, why not toss an Emmy on to her pile? Do it!
On a side note… WHERE THE HELL IS CONSTANCE WU’S NOMINATION????
Best Actor in a Comedy Series
Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)
Aziz Ansari (Master of None)
Donald Glover (Atlanta)
Anthony Anderson (Black-ish)
William H. Macy (Shameless)
Zach Galifianakis (Baskets)
Who should win: Donald Glover (Atlanta)
Who will win: Donald Glover (Atlanta)
Of the four repeating nominees, only Aziz Ansari’s painting outside the lines on Master of None has an outside chance of upsetting the two-time defending champion Jeffrey Tambor from the continually excellent Transparent. Still, this is ultimately a two-actor race between Tambor and this year’s Golden Globe winner for Best Actor, Donald Glover.
But will the goodwill that Atlanta received at the more progressive Globes carry over to the Emmys? It’s hard to say for sure, but one interesting note is that Transparent is not nominated for Comedy Series this year, and it had been nominated for both years that Tambor won. That might indicate some of the support for Tambor and Transparent fading, while the buzz on Atlanta has not wavered. It’ll be close, but Glover should pull this one out.
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black)
Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things)
Chrissy Metz (This Is Us)
Thandie Newton (Westworld)
Who should win: Thandie Newton (Westworld)
Who will win: Chrissy Metz (This Is Us)
Another very strong category here. Uzo Aduba won two years ago, but it’s hard to see her repeating after her show, Orange Is the New Black, has faded so completely from the public consciousness. The two Handmaid‘s actresses should cancel each other out, especially considering that neither gave a total knockout in their role. And Millie Bobby Brown might be the most beloved figure in this group, as her character Eleven became a cultural milestone, but it’s unclear just how high of esteem her less-is-more performance could be deemed as award-worthy. Still, Brown could be a dark horse here.
That leaves a pair of worthy competitors. On one hand, we have Thandie Newton, whose portrayal of the frightening and sympathetic Maeve Millay on Westworld is the best thing about that show. Often times, it felt like Newton was the only thing holding the show together, and a reason to keep revisiting for even the most skeptical of viewers. On the other hand, Chrissy Metz is often the emotional center of This Is Us, and her portrayal of a woman dealing with weight issues is a world we’re not often shown on television. While we’d love to see Newton (or Brown) walk up to the podium, Metz might make for the best TV moment if she wins.
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
John Lithgow (The Crown)
Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul)
Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
Michael Kelly (House of Cards)
David Harbour (Stranger Things)
Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us)
Jeffrey Wright (Westworld)
Who should win: Michael McKean (Better Call Saul)
Who will win: Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us)
It’s surprising that in a relatively weak category, the Emmy voters wouldn’t just fail to award the year’s best supporting performance, but also fail to nominate it. Michael McKean has been playing against type for the last three seasons of Better Call Saul, shedding his comedy roots and knocking it out of the park as the whip-smart and mentally unstable Chuck McGill. But this year, it went from inspired to unforgettable as Chuck was pushed to the edge by both his brother and his fragile mind. Nothing in this category, especially his grunting cast mate Jonathan Banks, comes even close.
Alas, McKean won’t win. But who will? Michael Kelly has virtually nothing interesting to do anymore on House of Cards, Jeffrey Wright is generally one-note on Westworld, and David Harbour wasn’t particularly memorable on Stranger Things. Really, it feels like only John Lithgow stands much of a chance against the juggernaut that is This Is Us. Does This Is Us‘ potential dominance extend to Ron Cephas Jones and his portrayal of the terminally ill William Hill? You bet.
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Vanessa Bayer (Saturday Night Live)
Leslie Jones (Saturday Night Live)
Anna Chlumsky (Veep)
Judith Light (Transparent)
Katheryn Hahn (Transparent)
Who should win: Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Who will win: Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Let’s see, three nominations for Saturday Night Live, two for Transparent, and one for Veep. Yeah, someone from Studio 8H is going home with gold. On one level, there’s Vanessa Bayer, who finished her final season with the show this past May, but thanks to the star-studded episodes, she wasn’t really given much material to work with outside of the brilliant Tostinos commercials. On another, there’s Leslie Jones, who continues to steal many a “Weekend Update” segments.
But then there’s Kate McKinnon, who’s easily the biggest of the three and also the most promising of the bunch. Why? She’s been getting more and more looks out in Hollywood, what with Ghostbusters and Rough Night, and that star power works in her favor. Couple that with all her political impersonations — ahem, HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON — and she’s going to be the first person these voters remember. It helps that she’s at the top of the list, too. “Don’t give up.”
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin (Saturday Night Live)
Louie Anderson (Baskets)
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Tony Hale (Veep)
Matt Walsh (Veep)
Who should win: Alec Baldwin (Saturday Night Live)
Who will win: Alec Baldwin (Saturday Night Live)
Some might argue Alec Baldwin is the only thing keeping Saturday Night Live relevant right now. That’s not exactly true, per se, but when you’re impersonating the most talked about person on Earth, well, you kind of take precedence. Last season, you couldn’t escape Baldwin’s Trump, and alongside McCarthy’s Spicer impersonation, the two became the most prominent cast members despite being special guests. That’s more of a problem for Lorne Michaels, who will likely be tinkering with his cast in the years to come, but it’s relevant to this category since voters will be drawing from memory.
In other words, they’re going to remember Baldwin. Even better, they’re going to see Baldwin as important. And they won’t be wrong. Look, it’s not easy making Trump funny — go ask Trey Parker and Matt Stone — and while Baldwin’s portrayal wasn’t always hilarious, it hit all the right nails at all the right times. It also helps that Baldwin doesn’t exactly have the toughest competition. Modern Family stopped being relevant five years ago. Baskets is sadly still too niche. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t have the right clout, even if Tituss Burgess is unbelievable. And Veep is coming off its weakest season.
Hail to the chief, indeed.
Best Limited Series
Big Little Lies (HBO)
The Night Of (HBO)
Genius (National Geographic)
What should win: The Night Of
What will win: Big Little Lies
A quick scan of this category reveals a bulk of deserving contenders. With no OJ this year, Feud might ride some of the goodwill afforded to Ryan Murphy in this category, but it still feels like that show was more flash that substance. Fargo has won this award before, but it seems unlikely that its weakest season finds it earning repeat status. And Genius, well, it’s just happy to be included in a surprising turn for National Geographic to be featured in creative competition.
That leaves HBO’s big guns. Big Little Lies has all the makings of a champion: outstanding performances from a pedigree cast, a slow-build to become a cultural sensation, and a subject matter of physical abuse that gives it some weight. The Night Of also checks off some of these boxes, though it never really captured the greater public’s eye in the same way. It’s a close race between the two if we are judging by quality alone, but Big Little Lies should pull out the victory if popularity comes into play.
Best Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie
Carrie Coon (Fargo)
Felicity Huffman (American Crime)
Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies)
Jessica Lange (Feud: Bette and Joan)
Susan Sarandon (Feud: Bette and Joan)
Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies)
Who should win: Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies)
Who will win: Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies)
Okay. We have no friggin’ idea here. If there is anything we know for sure, it’s that Felicity Huffman seems like a major underdog in this category. Carrie Coon could win extra goodwill for her doing double duty, with outstanding performances in both Fargo and The Leftovers, and might also benefit from the Feud and Big Little Lies nominees splitting voters.
But how do you compete against four Academy Award winners? That’s what you have in Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Reese Witherspoon, and Nicole Kidman. The difference in these are that Lange and Sarandon camped things up for their over-the-top portrayals of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis respectively, while Witherspoon and Kidman got to keep their feet firmly on the ground.
So, yes, all of these actresses might suffer from pulling votes away from their co-stars, but it still seems like one of the Big Little Lies ladies has the upper hand. Witherspoon is great in it, but it’s also a little close to a role we’ve seen her in before. Kidman, though, as an abused wife and mother struggling to hold things together, is the flashier of the opportunities, and could take the prize.
But, again, literally any of these nominees — aside from Huffman — could win and it would be both unsurprising and deserved.
Best Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie
Riz Ahmed (The Night Of)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock: The Lying Detective)
Robert DeNiro (The Wizard of Lies)
Ewan McGregor (Fargo)
Geoffrey Rush (Genius)
John Turturro (The Night Of)
Who should win: Ewan McGregor
Who will win: Ewan McGregor
Sorry John Turturro, you absolutely destroyed your role in The Night Of, eczema and all, but unfortunately for you, Obi-Wan Kenobi arrived with his two roles and propped up a good season of Fargo into something pretty good. Ewan McGregor, who gained some weight after being his most svelte for Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting, was never not thrilling in Fargo. Some of that magic had to do with the David Crosby do he wore for Ray Stussy and the Sydney Pollack style he donned for his brother Emmit, but really, the fact that you could distinguish the two and how they both interacted together — even physically sparred on multiple occasions — makes McGregor kind of a shoo-in. And voters love when performers give ’em extra work.
Still, we’d be remiss not to mention Riz Ahmed, whose complete transformation from quiet-talking college student to quiet-talking felon, didn’t get enough praise in The Night Of‘s post-run. So, let’s just say that if the voters saw Rogue One recently — you know, if their kids were playing it in the living room or something — and they saw Ahmed and thought, Oh yeah, he was pretty goddamn great in that HBO show, and then proceeded to vote for him, and that leads to a surprise win … well, we would hardly shake our heads at that. Hey, we might even tweet him a GIF in congratulations. Wouldn’t that be nice? Same goes for Turturro, who we still have pegged as the black horse in this race. The others? Nah. Not a chance in hell. Again, who knows.
Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Television Movie
Regina King (American Crime)
Shailene Woodley (Big Little Lies)
Laura Dern (Big Little Lies)
Judy Davis (Feud)
Jackie Hoffman (Feud)
Michelle Pfeiffer (The Wizard of Lies)
Who should win: Laura Dern (Big Little Lies)
Who will win: Laura Dern (Big Little Lies)
The name that jumps out here is Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s been out of the spotlight for too long and could win some goodwill from the Emmys in the form of a welcome back award. But it will be hard for anyone to topple Regina King, who has won this category for the last two years and could easily do so again.
But we see something different happening. Feud and Big Little Lies are both more buzzy than American Crime, and we see one of these actresses unseating King. Out of those two, it’s Laura Dern as the delightfully antagonistic Renata Klein who gets to both show off her chops and steal the scenes she’s in. But, we also could see these actresses splitting votes with their co-stars, in which case King could walk away with the prize for a third year in a row.
Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Television Movie
Alexander Skarsgard (Big Little Lies)
David Thewlis (Fargo)
Alfred Molina (Feud)
Stanley Tucci (Feud)
Bill Camp (The Night Of)
Michael K. Williams (The Night Of)
Who should win: Bill Camp
Who will win: ::shrug::
Gun to my head … I still wouldn’t have an answer. Like Tom Petty once sang, this category takes us into the great wide open, where you can honestly make a strong case for everyone. Voters love Ryan Murphy and Stanley Tucci, so both Feud entries are immediately suspect. Then there’s Alexander Skarsgard, whose villainous role on Big Little Lies was scary enough to haunt months later. Speaking of scary, how about that David Thewlis? I’ve been bulimic for over a decade and even I found myself wincing at his calculated purging — not to mention all that future dental work sifting around his mouth.
Then there are the two other champs from The Night Of. Goddammit was Bill Camp great as Detective Box. He played it confident and patient, adding even more nuance to Richard Price and Steven Zaillian’s scripts, and he was a total delight to follow around New York City throughout the sordid mini-series. Similar applause goes to his co-star Michael K. Williams, whose poetic performance as the incarcerated anti-hero Freddy Knight was another outstanding addition to his ensuing resume. Yeah, this one’s like George Clooney and Vera Farmiga … up in the air. There’s nothing left to say, but… Guess!
Best Variety Talk Series
Last Week Tonight (HBO)
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
Jimmy Kimmel Live! (ABC)
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS)
The Late Late Show with James Corden (CBS)
Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
What should win: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
What will win: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Why does this category feel like we’re in the voting booth all of a sudden? Weird. Well, for starters, kudos to the Emmys on snubbing NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, which has become a sad and pathetic hour of television, one that has (not surprisingly) captured the worst side of America. But hey, not so fast James Corden. You’re not that far off from the stupidity and drivel that Fallon has branded throughout his run. Let’s just say if the Emmys toss him the award and snub the real movers and shakers in this category, well, any good will with that aforementioned snub goes down the drain.
So, it’s down to the other five, and that’s admittedly quite a class of characters. There’s Stephen Colbert, who switched things around over at Late Show, there’s Jimmy Kimmel, who certainly benefit from the whole Oscar kerfuffle, there’s John Oliver, who keeps shouting at us, and there’s Samantha Bee, who’s been killing it over at TBS alongside the cruelly snubbed Conan O’Brien. She’s easily the best pick of the group — especially since they left off Seth Meyers, whose “Closer Look” segments are always a must-watch — but allow this writer to stew in his own controversy for a second to talk about Bill Maher.
If you recall, we named Maher our Comedian of the Year in 2016, and for reasons we still believe in. Yes, he fucked up big time, cracking an incredibly offensive joke that lacked any wit or tact, but in no way should he be written off. After all, he returned the following week with absolute humility — a rarity given his sweltering ego — and gave the floor to Ice Cube and Symone Sanders to offer a rewarding lesson not only for him but for everyone. That shouldn’t negate all the work he did throughout last year’s election, especially seeing how he was one of the few comics who saw Trump as a serious threat.
No, Maher is one of the loudest proponents for liberalism, and his willingness to talk to the “other side” — to entertain actual discourse, no matter the asshole — is why Real Time is an essential institution right now. Having said that, he did fuck up, and in doing so, he ostensibly cost himself the award this year. But who knows.
Either way, we’re putting our money on Samantha Bee.