The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards take place this Sunday, September 17. The following are A.V. Club TV Editor Erik Adams’ predictions for the winners of the major series and acting awards, mixed in with some wishful thinking and endorsements of worthy programs overlooked by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Outstanding drama series
Prediction: You’d have to go back to 2011 to find the last network dramas nominated in this category. (Caveat: Commercial network—Downton Abbey was a fixture here for most of its run.) You’d have to turn the pages of Emmys history back 11 years to track down a winner from the Big Four, and the contenders from the 58th Primetime Emmys represents an entirely different era of the medium: 24 coming out on top of a field in which The Sopranos was the lone representative for pay-TV. The tastes of Emmy voters may favor cable and streaming these days, but they still have, like most showbiz voting bodies, a strong traditionalist streak—it wasn’t that long ago that Modern Family had a chokehold on the top comedy prize. And that bloc of voters has probably been salivating since they first saw This Is Us last fall. Not since Lost has a show carried by your local affiliate generated this much popular and critical buzz—and like Lost, its lingering questions have kept people talking about This Is Us between seasons. TV professionals will want to prove that the networks still have relevancy in the age of Peak TV, and throwing their weight behind Dan Fogelman’s treacly, time-hopping family saga is their best shot at doing so. And if they don’t pull it off this year, they won’t get a chance next year. Remember: Winter is coming.
Preference: While we’re reciting Emmy trivia: No streaming show has ever won this award either. And while Netflix’s chances are better than they’ve ever been—it has a zeitgeist-seizing hit in Stranger Things, prestigious awards bait (that actually works) in The Crown, and an unearned legacy nod in House Of Cards—I’d love to peek out from under the pile of Netflix shows I’ve been buried in for the past two years and see Hulu’s gripping adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale achieve this milestone. (Apparently I’m convinced that spite will carry the day this year, because Better Call Saul’s taut third season is actually my favorite among the nominees, but I’d rather see the trophy go to the Republic Of Gilead. Under his eye.)
Overlooked: The Leftovers. The Leftovers, The Leftovers, The Leftovers. Everyone who left this show’s glorious final run of head-scratchers off their ballot should be mauled by the descendant of a legendarily virile lion.
Outstanding comedy series
Prediction: It’s not a complete snapshot of the riches currently afforded to TV’s comedy fans, but this roster is pretty damn close to a bumper crop, give or take a Modern Family. And the Francesca plot on Master Of None. And, I suppose, presumptive winner Veep, which is going to extend its winning streak in this category after its weakest season to date. (The show loses its reason for being when too many of its characters aren’t congregating in the corridors of power—and apparently its creative way with colorful language goes with it.) For as much as the Emmys like a hint of the vanguard in their drama honorees, they like familiarity and reliability in their comedies. See: All those Modern Family wins, 30 Rock’s three-peat prior to all of those Modern Family wins, Frasier’s utter dominance of the category in the 1990s.
Preference: Atlanta was my favorite TV show of 2016, regardless of genre. It’s visually inventive, structurally adventurous, and funny as fuck—oftentimes all in the same episode.
Overlooked: All of the same qualities are possessed by The Good Place, Michael Schur’s small-town ensemble charmer disguised as a supernatural treatise on morality. Bonus points for pulling off a tricky season finale.
Outstanding limited series
Prediction: If the TV academy loves one thing, it’s movie stars deigning to do something on the small screen. If Hollywood at large loves one thing, its paeans to the Hollywood of old, preferably with Hollywood royalty. Feud creator Ryan Murphy more or less initiated outstanding limited series’ divorce from its longtime companion, TV movies, but it’s in the acting categories where his anthology series tend to shine. Expect this one to go to Big Little Lies, which caught a ton of attention at the beginning of 2017, and not only boasts a leading-lady triumvirate of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley, but was also shepherded to TV by one-time Emmy favorite David E. Kelley. Big Little Lies takes the prize, and you can bet the Pinterest-perfect house on it.
Preference: Feud is both Ryan Murphy at his Ryan Murphy-est—a candy-colored chronicle of the public rivalry between the stars of a camp classic—and at his best. A little bit of revisionist history and a pair of bravura performances by Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon shed some sympathetic light on public figures who’ve been publicly disfigured elsewhere—no matter what Olivia De Havilland and her lawyers might say.
Overlooked: Apparently television’s college of cardinals hasn’t heard: There’s a new pope now. The Young Pope’s complete excommunication from the Emmys is surprising and flummoxing—a little like The Young Pope itself.
Outstanding lead actress in a drama
Prediction: Viola Davis has previously won this category for her portrayal of Annalise Keating, Claire Foy is coming off a Golden Globe win for playing the heavy head that wears The Crown, and Robin Wright has been a perennial nominee in the role of Claire Underwood. Keri Russell is intensity personified as Soviet sleeper agent Elizabeth Jennings; Evan Rachel Wood brought much warmth, understanding, and cunning to an artificial intelligence waking up to her true nature. But none did the career-best level work that Elisabeth Moss did in the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale, an interior character (not by choice) turned compellingly outward by the Mad Men alum. The Handmaid’s Tale is the year’s most urgent TV show, made all the more urgent by her lead performance.
Preference: Moss is The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred is supposed to be neither seen nor heard, yet all you’ll want to do while watching the show is see and hear Moss. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian cautionary tale had to make more space for other characters’ perspectives in its translation to TV, but Moss is never anything less than its anchor.
Overlooked: Carrie Coon. Fargo’s performance was the one incontrovertible bright spot in a down year for the Coen brothers pastiche. But she was on a completely different plane (pun intended) as Nora Durst on The Leftovers. Nora was a woman seeking answers and employed in the business of verification, but season three finally gave Coon the chance to play her as someone who finds a shred of peace. If only she’d be given the chance to find some Emmy hardware as well.
Outstanding lead actor in a drama
Nominees: Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us; Anthony Hopkins, Westworld; Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul; Matthew Rhys, The Americans; Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan; Kevin Spacey, House Of Cards; Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Prediction: I don’t foresee This Is Us running the table on Emmy night, but I can see it picking up another trophy here. Sterling K. Brown is coming off of a win last year, for American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson, and he wowed an even larger audience in the first season of This Is Us. Brown stood out amid the show’s intertwining, multi-generational storylines, playing Randall Pearson as a man reconciling with and reclaiming his past.
Preference: The episode for which Brown is nominated, the road-trip episode “Memphis,” is a tearjerking culmination of Randall’s quest. Would I be happier if Bob Odenkirk or Matthew Rhys were finally recognized for their work as characters with their own identity issues? Sure. But I concede that it’s Brown’s (and This Is Us’) year.
Overlooked: Rectify was always going to be too small, too under the radar, and possibly too grim to catch the attention of the TV academy. But it’s a goddamn sin that it ended its four-season run without a single Emmy nod for acting—particularly in the case of Aden Young, whose haunting, deeply felt portrayal of former death-row prisoner Daniel Holden still resonates, nearly a year after Rectify went off the air.
Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series
Nominees: Pamela Adlon, Better Things; Jane Fonda, Grace And Frankie; Allison Janney, Mom; Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep; Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish; Lily Tomlin, Grace And Frankie
Prediction: Selina Meyer can’t get an electoral victory, but all Julia Louis-Dreyfus does is win for Veep. She’s on a five-year streak, she’s won this award more times than any other actor in Emmy history, and there’s no reason to think that she won’t add to that tally again this year.
Preference: Tracee Ellis Ross is a constant delight on Black-ish, and she plumbed complicated, complex emotional depths in the episode for which she’s nominated, “Being Bow-racial.”
Overlooked: What more does Rachel Bloom need to do to get noticed in this category? She sings, she dances, she kills—comedically, though that might become another deadly double entendre in Rebecca Bunch’s hand when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend kicks off its “funny Fatal Attraction” season next month.
Lead actor in a comedy series
Prediction: This one’s a toss-up. With the exception of two new additions with FX pedigrees—Donald Glover and Zach Galifianakis—it’s the exact same lineup from last year. Jeffrey Tambor could make it three for three, though I wonder if his comments at last year’s awards—“I would very much like to be the last cisgender male playing a female transgender role”—and a rockier third season for Transparent will have cooled his hopes here. William H. Macy, meanwhile, is on his fourth nomination for Shameless, but at this point it seems doubtful he’ll ever break through with enough voters. Emmy voters might be the only people watching Baskets, based on Louie Anderson’s well-deserved win last year, but Galifianakis still seems like a long shot. I think it’s probably down to Glover and Aziz Ansari, and even though Ansari is much more confident in the leading-man position in Master Of None’s second season, the Television Academy will follow the leads of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, and the Television Critics Association in going with Donald Glover.
Preference: But if I’m judging based on the episodes submitted for consideration, I give the advantage to Anthony Anderson. Glover’s magnetic in Atlanta’s first episode, but Anderson funnels all the rage and confusion of Donald Trump’s presidential victory into something healing and humorous in Black-ish’s “Lemons.”
Overlooked: It is keeping with the themes of Review that Andy Daly would forever toil away in obscurity as Forrest MacNeil, delusional reviewer of life. The Emmys never recognizing a cleverly crafted, tragicomic depiction of a man whose life work was asked for by no one: Half a star. (Andy Daly in Review, meanwhile: Five stars.)
Outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie
Nominees: Carrie Coon, Fargo; Felicity Huffman, American Crime; Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies; Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies; Susan Sarandon, Feud: Bette And Joan; Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette And Joan
Prediction: In contrast to the category above, this one is totally wild. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford didn’t get to go head-to-head in the slugfest for Baby Jane gold, but Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon do. Their nominations are echoed by the Big Little Lies doubleheader of Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. (And if Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern had chosen not to submit in the supporting category, this could’ve been a field comprised entirely of Big Little Lies and Feud.) So let’s get similarly wild: Lange, Sarandon, Kidman, and Witherspoon split the vote four ways, allowing Carrie Coon to swoop in and win for Fargo.
Preference: Carrie Coon, winning her Emmy for the wrong show.
Overlooked: Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” got a nod in the TV movie category, but it was the clock-scrambling love affair between Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw that made the episode feel like heaven is a place on Earth.
Outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie
Prediction: Why do all the lead actor categories feel so boring and safe this year? Let’s follow their lead and just guess that Robert De Niro comes away with an Emmy for his portrayal of Bernie Madoff.
Preference: Riz Ahmed, totally transforming as the college kid caught in and ground up by the gears of the American criminal-justice system in The Night Of.
Overlooked: How could you miss Jude Law in The Young Pope—especially when he was wearing that incredible papal tiara? Paolo Sorrentino’s limited series was a stylistic triumph above all else, but Law’s fallible pontiff was the human heart beneath the immaculate production design and the kangaroo.
Outstanding television movie
Nominees: Black Mirror, “San Junipero”; Dolly Parton’s Christmas Of Many Colors: Circle Of Love; The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks; Sherlock, “The Lying Detective”; The Wizard Of Lies
Prediction: The miniseries is enjoying a revival, but made-for-TV movies could use a similar rejuvenation, based on the number of episodes from continuing series that snuck in on this, the fourth year telefilms are being weighed separately from limited series. On its way out the door, Sherlock will win once more here.
Preference: It’s really not a TV movie, but “San Junipero” is an eye-catching Black Mirror stunner with a toe-tapping soundtrack, captivating lead performances (see above) and something Charlie Brooker’s future-shock anthology has never had before: a shred of hope.
Overlooked: Eh, erm… Please vote for Oh, Hello On Broadway on your ballot for the 70th Primetime Emmys.
Outstanding variety talk series
Prediction: For all of the late-night shows grinding current events into cathartic chuckles during the Trump era, none has benefited so much, or performed as well, as The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Preference: Let Emmys host Colbert drop the ceremonial façade for a few minutes on Sunday—his Late Show has become a necessary, nightly voice.
Overlooked: Really!?! Late Night With Seth Meyers got locked out of variety talk’s big category? “Carpool Karaoke” and Bill Maher’s “Ain’t I a stinker?” routing outdo the soothing burn of a good “A Closer Look”? Really!?! Maybe Meyers and team will get their proper due in Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series.
Outstanding variety sketch series
Prediction: Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer, David S. Pumpkins, the Dave Chappelle/A Tribe Called Quest episode—not to mention deep cuts like “Wells For Boys,” “Funny New Comedy,” and the latest (and last?) chapter in the saga of Vanessa Bayer and her hungry guys. Saturday Night Live re-entered the cultural conversation in a “yuge” way during its 42nd season, and the winningest program in Emmys history is yet to get sick of winning.
Preference: Documentary Now!’s second season is seven video-store in-jokes in a lovingly crafted, deadpan package. To not acknowledge Bill Hader’s work in “Parker Gail’s Location Is Everything” is to spit on the grave of the late Jonathan Demme. (Not really, but would that it were that this Saturday Night Live-adjacent series wasn’t going up against a monster SNL season.)
Outstanding reality-competition program
Prediction: For most of this award’s existence, it might as well have come packaged with the grand prize for The Amazing Race. The Voice has recently busted up that globetrotting hegemony, and the last singing competition standing (at least until 2018) stands a good chance of establishing its own dynasty.
Preference: But nothing would shake up this relatively staid category like RuPaul’s Drag Race strutting down the runway and snatching up an Emmy after its first nomination for outstanding reality competition.
Overlooked: The Great British Baking Show can never win an Emmy (unlike Sherlock and the third season of Black Mirror, it has no co-producer in the United States), but MasterChef Junior possesses a similar spirit of kitchen-bound encouragement, and it’s just as worthy of rewarding.