An ultra-competitive year brings Game of Thrones back into the conversation but can it reign supreme against The Handmaid’s Tale?
Outstanding drama series
After last year’s absence, Emmys stalwart Game of Thrones returns to an outstanding drama series category that’s more competitive than when it last won the award in 2016. Now, HBO’s sprawling, big-budget fantasia, leading all shows with 22 nominations, will have to fend off The Handmaid’s Tale, which last year made Hulu the first streaming service to take home this award. The stars aligned for Handmaid’s Tale in 2017, its bleak, dystopian premise making for an appropriate victor in a year that saw Donald Trump take office and the #MeToo movement take off. The question, now, is whether Emmy voters see it fit to award the show for its second outing, which was better but also, somehow, more upsetting than its first.
This category isn’t necessarily a two-way race: The Americans, FX’s brilliant Russian spy drama, ended its run about as powerfully as one could hope, and Emmy voters would be well-advised to honor the show for its six stellar seasons in total. There’s also The Crown, This Is Us and Stranger Things, none of which suffered any real dips in quality this past year. The same can’t be said of our seventh nominee, Westworld, whose second season, though visually enchanting and undeniably ambitious, was a convoluted mess.
Should win: The Handmaid’s Tale
Will win: Game of Thrones
Outstanding comedy series
One need not worry about the quality of the 2018 comedy nominees in Veep’s stead: this year’s category is stacked with debut entrants (Barry, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Glow), reboots (Curb Your Enthusiasm), indie fare (Atlanta), and yearly comedy category bridesmaids (Silicon Valley, Black-ish, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). It’s easily the tightest race of the evening, even as some of the best comedies on television, such as The Good Place, Better Thing, and Insecure, didn’t make the cut.
The second season of Atlanta was extraordinary and deserves recognition, though the historically conservative Emmys may shy away from honoring a show whose laughs don’t come easy. If that’s the case, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, winner of this year’s Golden Globe, or Glow, on the heels of a delightful second season, could sneak out a victory. Even the critically acclaimed Barry, which traffics in a similar sort of black comedy as Atlanta, is a contender. The others don’t stand much of a chance, especially my beloved Curb Your Enthusiasm, whose 10th season had little of the wit or perspicacity as its first nine.
Should win: Atlanta or Glow
Will win: Atlanta
Outstanding lead actress in a drama
Wait, no, this is the night’s most competitive race. Joining last year’s head-to-head between Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Claire Foy (The Crown) is Sandra Oh, the neurotic, intrepid, and thorny MI5 spy of the year’s breakout show Killing Eve (her equally brilliant co-star Jodie Comer was unfortunately snubbed). Moss, last year’s winner, is most deserving: what she’s doing with the character of June in The Handmaid’s Tale is remarkable and, frankly, without peer (see season two, episode 11, a mostly silent installment that proves yet again that Moss has the most expressive face on television). But I’d hardly wring my hands over a win for Oh, a simply magnetic force on screen, or Keri Russell, who has been nominated for her work in The Americans twice before.
Fellow nominees Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) and Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) are long shots, though their work, too, is formidable. The Emmys have never had a problem with repeat winners – see Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Kate McKinnon, Modern Family and The Daily Show – so I’m inclined to predict another win for Moss. If they choose, understandably, to mix things up, Oh would be an unassailable choice.
Should win: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale or Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Will win: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Outstanding lead actor in a drama
If the Emmys see it fit to honor The Americans in some way (and they ought to), it’ll likely be in the category of outstanding lead actor, which is a bit thin. Through six seasons Matthew Rhys has consistently turned in one of the best performances on TV as Philip Jennings, the KGB officer living in the States with his wife and fellow spy, Elizabeth. This last season, a gripping but understated denouement, may have been his best work yet. His only real competition comes from Sterling K Brown, who last year became the first black man to win the Emmy in this category. It would not be a surprise to see him win again, especially given This Is Us’s popularity.
The other nominees – Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright in Westworld (bleh), Milo Ventimiglia in This Is Us and Jason Bateman in Ozark – are fillers in what’s ultimately a two-way horse race. If one of them has any chance at making inroads, it will be Ventimiglia, and probably because his character Jack died a gruesome death-by-slow-cooker this past season. But that’s not reason enough to deny Rhys what’s rightfully his.
Should win: Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Will win: Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Outstanding lead actor in a comedy
After years of joke wins for Jim Parsons and Jon Cryer, the Emmys finally began to right its wrong in this category a few years ago, awarding Jeffrey Tambor’s performance in Transparent and, last year, Donald Glover’s in Atlanta. Glover is back this year, with his stiffest competition coming from Bill Hader, whose portrayal of the zany, emotionally stunted titular hitman was one of the year’s freshest. Neither Glover nor Hader are especially funny in their shows, at least not in the way fellow nominees Ted Danson (The Good Place) and Anthony Anderson (Black-ish) are in theirs, but they bring to their characters (or, in the case of Glover’s wild turn in Atlanta’s Teddy Perkins episode, other characters) so much depth and complication that it’d be unjust to award a more conventionally comic performance instead.
Should win: Donald Glover, Atlanta
Will win: Bill Hader, Barry
Outstanding lead actress in a comedy
For the first time since 2011, someone not named Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is guaranteed to win this one since Veep’s seventh and final season hasn’t aired yet. That speaks less to a lack of deserving winners (there are a handful) than it does JLD’s dependably, spectacularly funny tenure as Selina Meyer. Assuming the mantle this year will be either Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs Maisel), Pamela Adlon (Better Things), Issa Rae (Insecure), Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie), Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish), or Allison Janney (Mom).
It’s not quite a toss-up, though a win for Rae, Adlon, Ross, or Brosnahan would be well-deserved. After winning the Golden Globe, Brosnahan, as the charming and exuberant titular stand-up comic, is the favorite. But I’d personally like to see a win for Adlon, who’s on triple duty writing, directing and starring in a show whose insights into mother-, sister-, and daughter-hood are indelible and touching, rendered by its star with the brutal clarity of a consummate auteur.
Should win: Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Will win: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
Outstanding lead actress in a limited series or TV movie
Last year this category was populated almost entirely by the cast of Big Little Lies and Feud: Bette and Joan, which meant it looked uncannily like an Oscars race. But no Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Susan Sarandon or Jessica Lange puts Laura Dern, nominated for her role in the HBO movie The Tale, in pole position. Playing Jennifer Fox, who wrote and directed this bracing autobiographical tale of her own experience of childhood abuse and its ripple effects, Dern is sensational, angry and nuanced, a total force.
Also in this category are a host of first-rate actors: Jessica Biel (The Sinner), Regina King (Seven Seconds), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story: Cult), Edie Falco (Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders), and Michelle Dockery (Godless), whose performance in Netflix’s seven-episode feminist Western was one of the year’s best. Unfortunately, she finds herself up against a force even stronger than the mutinous cowboys who threaten to overtake her ranch in Godless: Laura Dern.
Should win: Laura Dern, The Tale
Will win: Laura Dern, The Tale
Outstanding lead actor in a limited series or TV movie
I was not as enamored with Darren Criss’ performance in The Assassination of Gianni Versace as others. Playing the repressed serial killer Andrew Cunanan, an admittedly difficult task, Criss often resorted to that well-trodden, limp-wristed portrayal of gay men that suggested mindless camp more than it did latent sociopathy. As the series progresses Criss does improve and loosen up considerably, but it never quite rang true. But, I digress, since he’s going to win anyway.
A deserving winner would be Benedict Cumberbatch in the four-episode Patrick Melrose, a sleek, decadent and unflinching look at addiction adapted from Edward St Aubyn’s part-autobiographical novels. Jeff Daniels, who plays FBI counterterrorism expert John O’Neill in Hulu’s The Looming Tower, is another great choice from a gripping, true-to-life miniseries that got far less fanfare than it merited.
Should win: Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Melrose or Jeff Daniels, The Looming Tower
Will win: Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Outstanding limited series
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – Should win/will win
Outstanding variety talk series
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee – Should win
Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Will win
Late Late Show with James Corden
Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series
Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta – Should win
Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live
Henry Winkler, Barry – Will win
Outstanding supporting actor in a drama series
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Joseph Fiennes, The Handmaid’s Tale
David Harbour, Stranger Things – Will win
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Matt Smith, The Crown – Should win
Outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie
Jeff Daniels, Godless
Brandon Victor Dixon, Jesus Christ Superstar
John Leguizamo, Waco
Ricky Martin, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Edgar Ramirez, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – Will win
Michael Stuhlbarg, The Looming Tower
Finn Wittrock, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – Should win
Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series
Zazie Beetz, Atlanta
Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
Aidy Bryant, Saturday Night Live
Betty Gilpin, Glow – Should win
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live – Will win
Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
Outstanding supporting actress in a drama series
Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale – Will win
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Vanessa Kirby, The Crown
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale – Should win
Outstanding supporting actress in a limited series or movie
Sara Bareilles, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
Penelope Cruz, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – Will win
Judith Light, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – Should win
Adina Porter, American Horror Story: Cult
Merritt Wever, Godless
Letitia Wright, Black Museum (Black Mirror)