Sunday night’s Emmy telecast on ABC will be the most unusual one in the history of the TV Academy, with the Covid pandemic turning it into yet another remote event. The nominees will have cameras in their homes, rather than assembling in a theater to laugh at host Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes.
The timing of our national lockdown, though, has had little impact on the field. The Emmy eligibility window closed at the end of May, and all but a few notable shows scheduled to air by then had already completed production before quarantine began in March. The new season of Fargo had to be bumped to fall, as did HBO’s Nicole Kidman/Hugh Grant miniseries The Undoing, but there’s no guarantee either would have been big Emmy contenders, considering how stacked the limited series categories are. (As it is, Kidman didn’t get nominated for Big Little Lies Season Two over in the less competitive drama actress field.)
So this year’s Emmy forecast offers a rare bit of normalcy in an otherwise abnormal time. And since both of last year’s big winners, Fleabag and Game of Thrones, won for their final seasons, many of the big categories should be more wide-open than they’ve been in years. Here, we place our bets on how the night will go — and shout out those who unfairly didn’t get invited to the virtual party.
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
- Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
- Dead to Me (Netflix)
- The Good Place (NBC)
- Insecure (HBO)
- The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Prime Video)
- Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV)
- What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Should win: It would be lovely to see The Good Place get its own farewell Emmy win as a validation of the show’s entire run, but its final season was underwhelming until the magnificent last handful of episodes. Meanwhile, vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows had not only the single funniest episode of television this year — “On the Run,” where Matt Berry’s Lazslo poses as “regular human bartender” Jackie Daytona — but an astonishing laughs-per-episode average overall. In lieu of a Superb Owl party, give the statuette to those undead dummies.
Will win: It really feels like a Schitt’s Creek year, doesn’t it? It would be one of the great Emmy Cinderella stories of all time: a Canadian comedy that arrived in America on a pretty obscure cable channel in Pop (though it mostly found its audience on Netflix), and didn’t get any awards traction for most of its run, only to be showered with nominations for its last two seasons. But the industry-wide affection for the show, and particularly for stars Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, feels very real. If not Creek, then 2018 winner Mrs. Maisel is the closest thing the category has to an incumbent. Plus, it gets a bump from being a show about showbiz.
Robbed: Several of the year’s best half-hour series couldn’t crack this field, including IFC’s baseball comedy Brockmire and Hulu’s Muslim-American dramedy Ramy. The one that remains most frustrating, though, is FX’s beautiful family show Better Things, which previously only earned nominations for star Pamela Adlon, and this year couldn’t even manage that. It should be getting more Emmy love with each increasingly special year, not less.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
- Better Call Saul (AMC)
- The Crown (Netflix)
- The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
- Killing Eve (BBC America)
- The Mandalorian (Disney+)
- Ozark (Netflix)
- Stranger Things (Netflix)
- Succession (HBO)
Should win: Better Call Saul Season Five had even the biggest Breaking Bad fans wondering if the prequel series is just as good, if not better. In bringing Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill closer than ever to truly being Saul Goodman, and in dragging Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler to the edge of the morality cliff with him, Saul launched itself into rarefied air with its parent show, and is the class of this category.
Will win: In the weeks leading up to last year’s ceremony, it felt like Succession had more awards momentum — or, at least, more affection from voters — than its HBO peer Game of Thrones. It wound up only winning a couple of awards (including the writing category, thus sparing us the GoT guys celebrating the script for that terrible finale). But with Thrones out of the way (and Westworld mainly getting technical nominations, meaning HBO didn’t have to split its campaigning efforts for this category), and Succession Season Two being even more acclaimed than the first, it seems the likeliest winner here, with Ozark as a potential dark horse.
Robbed: With more and more talent gravitating towards limited series or half-hour shows, this category isn’t as overcrowded as it used to be. Still, the second season of HBO’s My Brilliant Friend, based on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, was one of the year’s most emotionally potent and beautifully photographed shows. Including it here also would have added more international flavor to reflect how much television (even shows co-produced by American outlets like HBO) is now taking place in other parts of the world.
OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES
- Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu)
- Mrs. America (FX)
- Unbelievable (Netflix)
- Unorthodox (Netflix)
- Watchmen (HBO)
Should win: The most ambitious show of the past 12 months was Watchmen. The defining show of the past 12 months was Watchmen. The best show of the past 12 months was Watchmen. In taking a revered and famously hard-to-adapt comic book and turning it into a commentary on white supremacy in America, Damon Lindelof and friends somehow predicted many of the terrible events that have happened in our world since the miniseries ended, and produced a show that should dominate the proceedings on Sunday night.
Will win: There’s an outside chance that the star-studded Mrs. America — which feels very timely in its own way as a commentary on the rise of modern conservative politics — could sneak in, but Watchmen remains the heavy favorite.
Robbed: Where the comedy and drama series categories were allowed to expand to eight nominees apiece, this one held fast at only five, leaving no room at the inn for Hulu’s lovely and complicated romance Normal People and David Simon and Ed Burns’ frighteningly timely alt-history story The Plot Against America. (A David Simon show getting snubbed by the Emmys? Time is a flat circle.)
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
- Anthony Anderson, black-ish
- Don Cheadle, Black Monday
- Ted Danson, The Good Place
- Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method
- Eugene Levy, Schitt’s Creek
- Ramy Youssef, Ramy
Should win: Youssef’s acting is probably the least impressive of the various jobs he holds down on Ramy (though that’s as much a testament to his skills as a writer, producer, and director), but giving him the trophy would be a high-profile way to recognize the show after it didn’t crack the comedy series field. Still, this category feels like it should be a choice between two lifetime achievement awards of a sort, for Danson’s incredible work throughout The Good Place, up to and including the final season, and for Levy’s entire great career, up to and including Schitt’s Creek. Both are two-time Emmy winners in the past; Danson’s were for acting (on Cheers), while Levy’s were for being part of that huge SCTV writing staff. It’s the thinnest of tiebreakers, but it would be nice for Levy to get an acting trophy.
Will win: Everyone but Youssef was nominated last year, where they lost to Bill Hader. With Barry sitting this year out, the category in theory is wide open. But Levy sure seems like the sentimental favorite, with a very slim chance of Douglas getting the “actors playing actors” bump that Hader may have benefited from in 2018 and 2019.
Robbed: IFC has no significant Emmy track record to speak of, so it’s not that surprising that Brockmire never got any awards love. Still, the role of loquacious baseball announcer and recovering addict Jim Brockmire has been the pinnacle of Hank Azaria’s career, and it’s a shame the voters never noticed.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
- Christina Applegate, Dead to Me
- Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
- Linda Cardellini, Dead to Me
- Catherine O’Hara, Schitt’s Creek
- Issa Rae, Insecure
- Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Should win: Like her old SCTV co-star Levy, O’Hara is one of those actors who’s been around forever, is always funny, is beloved by her peers, and has never won an acting Emmy (though, like Levy, she shared two writing awards). Great as it would be to see Ross or Cardellini get an Emmy for their mantel, they’ve still got time. Go O’Hara.
Will win: With Phoebe Waller-Bridge out of the way, 2018 winner Brosnahan could potentially return to the winner’s circle, but it still feels like a Schitt’s Creek night. And even if another comedy dominates overall, O’Hara seems the likeliest Creek nominee to hear her name called.
Robbed: A lot of terrific performances didn’t get recognized here, including Adlon and High Fidelity star Zoë Kravitz. But what Elle Fanning did, both comedically and dramatically, as the young Catherine in Hulu’s The Great was simply astonishing. That is a very tonally delicate show that would not work at all without acting at the level Fanning achieved, and thanks to her, it was one of this year’s best comedies.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
- Jason Bateman, Ozark
- Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
- Steve Carell, The Morning Show
- Brian Cox, Succession
- Billy Porter, Pose
- Jeremy Strong, Succession
Should win: With the caveat that I have not seen Succession Season Two (I know, I know, I know), Porter continues to give one of the most powerful dramatic performances in television, and was in many ways even better, and more palpably vulnerable, this season than he was when he won the award a year ago.
Will win: Whenever a category features multiple actors from the same show, there’s often fear of vote-splitting. It’s less of a danger than you’d think, though: last year alone, Jodie Comer won the drama actress category despite competing against Killing Eve co-star Sandra Oh, while Peter Dinklage beat two other Game of Thrones supporting actors. So if Succession winds up steamrolling the competition, don’t be the least bit surprised to see Jeremy Strong giving a speech, even though voters also love Brian Cox. (A Bateman win also can’t be ruled out, given the Academy’s unfortunate affection for Ozark.)
Robbed: The Academy’s ongoing inability to learn Rhea Seehorn’s name, despite her giving the best, most nuanced dramatic performance on television for years, is mystifying, but at least there’s now a tradition of them snubbing her. Bob Odenkirk, meanwhile, had been nominated for every Saul season prior to this one, when he was better than he has ever been in the role, or in his career as a dramatic actor. But just as Carell once beat him out for the role of Michael Scott, he appears to have bumped him out of this year’s field too.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
- Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show
- Olivia Colman, The Crown
- Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
- Laura Linney, Ozark
- Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
- Zendaya, Euphoria
Should win: HBO’s Euphoria was about as aggressively in your face as teenage melodrama gets, in both its plot and stylistic choices. Yet there was Zendaya, playing a drug addict who realizes she is falling in love with her trans best friend, and she was so utterly natural and understated that she made the whole neon “DANGER” sign of it all work on an emotional level.
Will win: It’s been nearly 20 years since Aniston won her lone Emmy so far, for playing Rachel on Friends. She has been through a lot of career and personal ups and downs since then, as you may have heard (or seen while waiting in the supermarket checkout line). The Morning Show is a big comeback story for someone the industry often seems to be rooting for, and it was telling that Aniston was nominated when co-star Reese Witherspoon wasn’t. Comer could repeat, or Colman could add an Emmy to her Oscar for The Favourite, but this feels like Aniston’s moment.
Robbed: Showtime’s On Becoming a God in Central Florida was terribly uneven and should probably be over in the comedy categories, but Kirsten Dunst was an absolute force of nature in the lead role.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
- Jeremy Irons, Watchmen
- Hugh Jackman, Bad Education
- Paul Mescal, Normal People
- Jeremy Pope, Hollywood
- Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True
Should win: The on-again, off-again young love story of Normal People could have been absolutely tedious without the right actors in the lead roles, given how many of the problems in the relationship existed entirely in the heads of one half of the couple or the other. But Mescal made the interiority of his character, Connell, riveting in the early going, then heartbreaking in the later chapters as Connell grappled with clinical depression. A superb breakout performance from a relatively unknown actor who we should expect to earn lots more recognition over his career.
Will win: While I’m rooting for Mescal, a perverse part of me is pleased Ruffalo is the most likely winner for his dual role as troubled brothers — one schizophrenic, the other consumed by rage — since it would at least mean that the miserable slog that was I Know This Much Is True achieved its true purpose: getting him an Emmy.
Robbed: Aaron Paul certainly doesn’t need another Emmy for playing Jesse Pinkman after the three he earned in the Breaking Bad years. Still, his return to the character in the TV-movie El Camino was terrific, and more of a legitimate lead role than, say, Irons’ otherwise hilarious work in Watchmen.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
- Cate Blanchett, Mrs. America
- Shira Haas, Unorthodox
- Regina King, Watchmen
- Octavia Spencer, Self Made
- Kerry Washington, Little Fires Everywhere
Should win: Limited series are where the main action is at these days, and this category in particular is insanely great. (Even without some of the snubbed actors I’ll talk about in a minute.) Lots of deserving potential winners, but it has to be Regina King for her fire-breathing, world-breaking, utterly committed performance as Watchmen vigilante/cop Sister Night, doesn’t it?
Will win: Emmy voters have already given King three statuettes in the last five years, and Watchmen is a show with significantly more awards heat behind it than either American Crime or Seven Seconds had when she won for those. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see Blanchett win for embodying alt-right founding mother Phyllis Schlafly, or a Haas win for another show that lots of people in the business keep talking about. But King is the obvious favorite.
Robbed: That neither Kaitlyn Dever nor Merritt Weaver got nominations for their incredible work in Netflix’s sexual assault drama Unbelievable feels, well, you know. Given the competitiveness of the category, perhaps they’d have done better had Dever (who’s really only the lead of the first episode) submitted as a supporting actress (where Toni Collette got a nomination, despite having less material to work with than either of her co-stars). Daisy Edgar-Jones, meanwhile, didn’t have to compete against another actress from Normal People for a nomination, but it’s a shame she couldn’t get recognized like Mescal, since their combined work made that show so special.