The Emmys are different from other showbiz awards, because the same series and the same performances can win year after year. Sure, it may feel like Meryl Streep is always nominated for an Oscar, but it’s never for the same movie twice. In the 2010s, meanwhile, only two shows have won the Emmy for best comedy series — Modern Family (five times) and Veep (three times) — and Julia Louis-Dreyfus has taken the comedy lead actress category for all seven seasons of Veep so far. The easiest way to win an Emmy? Already have an Emmy.
That’s become even more true the past few years thanks to rule changes allowing more Television Academy members to vote in each category, rather than the old blue-ribbon panel system that guaranteed all voters had watched the submitted episodes. So now it’s even more of a popularity contest, with certain voting blocs — particularly HBO’s giant one — having enormous sway over how events unfold.
But Veep took the year off while JLD underwent cancer treatment, and the voters finally fell out of love with Modern Family, leaving the comedy field pretty wide open. On the drama side, Game of Thrones returns after its own year off, but for an abbreviated season that even the most die-hard Westeros stans seemed lukewarm about. So the results this year (which will be presented September 17 on NBC, hosted by Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost and Michael Che) could be more surprising than they’ve been in quite some time. Or, it could just be a roundup of the usual suspects.
Below, my picks for what should win in the major categories, what’s most likely to win (also likely, based on my past history in this field, to lose you money) and who should be competing but got left out when the nominations were made.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
SHOULD WIN: There are some great shows and seasons in this category, but Atlanta Season Two was simply on another level this year compared to the rest of TV comedy (and, arguably, the rest of TV, period). That the same season could feature the manic silliness of “Barbershop” and the gothic tragedy of “Teddy Perkins” in consecutive weeks feels like enough on its own to justify the award, but every installment was a surprising, impeccably-crafted gem.
WILL WIN: With Veep and Modern Family out, and with tiebreak rules giving us eight nominees instead of seven, it feels like almost anything can happen. In some other categories, I’m giving extra weight to HBO’s supersized voting bloc. While that numbers advantage could certainly deliver a win here to Barry (or to Curb, which has somehow never won this category before), the peril of the vote being split three ways feels real enough that Atlanta’s overwhelming greatness will likely put it over the top.
ROBBED: FX’s other auteur-driven quasi-comedy Better Things had a second season that wasn’t that far off from Atlanta’s. Few shows on TV are as reliably funny and sweet as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and no show may be crazier or more imaginative than The Good Place.
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid’s Tale
This Is Us
SHOULD WIN: The Americans will go down in history as one of the best dramas of this loaded era and perhaps any era. That this year is only the second it was even nominated here is a reminder of how silly this whole game is. Its tremendous final season is the clear class of a category otherwise filled with shows that didn’t have their best years.
WILL WIN: There’s a slim chance that sentiment, plus the fact that nobody particularly loved Game of Thrones Season Seven, could let Americans sneak in here. But the spy drama’s never having cracked the category before suggests it’s the longest of long shots, and that the HBO bloc will give it to the dragons. (And, if that doesn’t happen, a Handmaid’s repeat still feels more probable than an Americans win.)
ROBBED: While Barry was deservedly all over the comedy categories, this year’s other brilliant breakout about a dysfunctional assassin, BBC America’s Killing Eve, wasn’t so lucky on the drama side. AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire delivered a final season for the ages that few voters (and viewers) watched, while The Deuce suffered the same Emmys fate as most of David Simon’s other series, even though Simon and George Pelecanos got movie stars to anchor this one.
Best Limited Series
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
SHOULD WIN: Remember a few years ago when Fargo and True Detective and all of Ryan Murphy’s shows made it seem like this category was where it was at, while the traditional drama races felt old and boring? Not so much lately, as even the two best shows here, Godless and Versace, had notable flaws (Godless’ dwelling on the revenge story rather than the town-of-women idea, Versace’s suffocating focus on Andrew Cunanan over his victims). Both of those shows featured some spectacular performances and moments, though, and Versace had enough highs to make it a deserving winner, especially this year.
WILL WIN: Murphy’s stuff tends to resonate with voters, and if Versace wasn’t as great as The People v O.J., it should still check enough boxes to get the win.
ROBBED: American Vandal snuck in with a writing nomination, so it’s not as if voters were completely oblivious to the profane and poignant delights of the Netflix mockumentary series. Twin Peaks: The Return was both a narrative mess and one of the most riveting TV experiences of the last few years. (If nothing else, Kyle MacLachlan’s snub from the limited series lead actor category is absurd.)
Best Actor in a Comedy
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Bill Hader, Barry
William H. Macy, Shameless
SHOULD WIN: Bill Hader redefined his entire career with his intense, serio-comic performance in Barry (which he also co-created). Brilliant acting on a show that wouldn’t work if the leading man was even slightly less committed or versatile. But I’m also not sure who else could do all of the things The Good Place asks of Danson, who has to constantly shift between evil and heroic, larger-than-life and painfully human, ridiculous and tragic. It’s a coin flip for me, but I’ll go Danson.
WILL WIN: Glover has the advantage as the defending champ (and if people watch his submitted episode, his turn as Teddy Perkins is indelibly haunting), though Danson was an Emmys darling back in the Cheers days. Still, the voting body has turned over a lot since the early Nineties, and this feels like an Atlanta kind of year. Bet on Glover, with an outside chance of Hader triumphing because of HBO’s voting power and people’s general fondness for both him and Barry.
ROBBED: IFC’s baseball comedy Brockmire is probably too obscure to get awards traction in the Peak TV era, but Hank Azaria’s doing the best work of his career in the title role. Alex Lawther from Netflix’s teen tragedy The End of the F***ing World was doing something strange and special.
Best Actress in a Comedy
Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Allison Janney, Mom
Issa Rae, Insecure
Tracee Ellis Ross, black-ish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
SHOULD WIN: This is one of the better groups of nominees in the entire field, with plenty of potential winners who would be quite deserving. Chief among them, though, are Brosnahan and Adlon. Adlon, like Donald Glover, wears a lot of hats as Better Things’ lead director, showrunner, co-writer, etc., but her raw and sincere performance as a single mom holds the entire fantastic enterprise together. And Brosnahan not only delivers Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Maisel dialogue at the proper machine-gun pace and with the necessary panache, but she’s utterly believable as someone who could become a huge stand-up comedy star in the late Fifties. Think how unbearable that show would be if you didn’t love Midge when she was on stage. It’s another toss-up, so I’ll give Adlon bonus points for the many other categories in which she deserved to be nominated but wasn’t.
WILL WIN: Does the great JLD’s temporary absence leave the field wide open for a relative newcomer like Brosnahan to sail in and add an Emmy to her Golden Globe win? Or will Janney — who already has seven Emmys on her shelf (including two for this role when she was submitting as a supporting actress) — slide in to fill that gap until the final Veep season is eligible next year? A Brosnahan win feels more exciting, a Janney win more inevitable.
ROBBED: It’s a great field, but this is such a good time for comedies built around women that you could construct an equally strong alternate ballot featuring, say, GLOW’s Alison Brie, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom, Justina Machado from One Day at a Time, Minnie Driver on Speechless, Ellie Kemper as the titular unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Constance Wu from Fresh Off the Boat.
Best Actor in a Drama
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Ed Harris, Westworld
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld
SHOULD WIN: Apply everything I wrote above about The Americans in general to Rhys, other than this being his second nomination in as many years. This was a slightly more Elizabeth-centric season than a Philip one, but he was still spectacular throughout. Nobody else in the category got the kind of material he received, nor took it to the kinds of places he did. He deserves at least one of these trophies.
WILL WIN: Of the three major categories Americans is up for, Rhys probably has the best chance, since the show is facing one steamroller (Game of Thrones) and Keri Russell another (Elisabeth Moss). Everyone loves reigning winner Brown, but he didn’t get nearly as much to do this year on This Is Us, and to push through one of the two Westworld nominees would tap the limits of HBO’s power under the current voting system. I’ll put my money on Rhys, even if it’s a bet made with the heart and not the head.
ROBBED: Starz’s lack of Emmys traction meant J.K. Simmons didn’t get nominated for beautifully playing two different roles on Counterpart. Voters nominating Ventimigilia in addition to Brown probably elbowed out The Good Doctor’s more deserving Freddie Highmore from another potential Actor On a Surprisingly Popular Broadcast Network Drama slot. Rami Malek won this category two years ago and hasn’t been nominated since, despite his performance not dipping at all. And obligatory Halt and Catch Fire shout-outs go to Scoot McNairy and Lee Pace.
Best Actress in a Drama
Claire Foy, The Crown
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Keri Russell, The Americans
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld
SHOULD WIN: If the question is, “Which leading actress in a drama gave the best performance this year?” the answer is Moss, who continues to go to places few performers have in the history of this medium. (When I watched the Handmaid’s scene where June reunited with her daughter, I thought, “Well, there goes Keri Russell’s last Emmys chance.”) But if the question is, “Which actress in this category will I be most upset to see never win an Emmy for this role?” then it’s Russell, who did some pretty incredible stuff in her final turn as Elizabeth Jennings. (That gasp early in the finale, as she recognized what had to be done about Henry, is just one standout moment of many.) I’m an awards socialist when things are close, and Moss already has her prize, and will likely win a few more before Handmaid’s is over, so: Russell, please.
WILL WIN: Moss has the advantage of familiarity (she was also nominated a bunch for Mad Men), plus the idea that a vote for Handmaid’s still feels political (even compared to voting for a show about Russians trying to interfere with our government). Kyle Chandler’s win for the final season of Friday Night Lights is precedent for Russell getting a going-away prize, but Moss feels more likely.
ROBBED: Jodie Comer was every bit as important to what made Killing Eve work as Oh. Maggie Gyllenhaal works emotional magic in every episode of The Deuce. And while I wasn’t expecting Halt’s Kerry Bishé and Mackenzie Davis to suddenly be noticed by the voters now, I’m getting choked up just thinking about their final scenes together.
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta
Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live
Henry Winkler, Barry
SHOULD WIN: The only reason I’d hesitate even slightly to pick the versatile, marvelously expressive Henry is that he was by no means a supporting performer on Atlanta this year, and he should probably have swapped categories with Glover. Then again, Anderson’s been playing the clear central character on Baskets for a while now, and he won this two years ago, so why not?
WILL WIN: If Atlanta is comedy’s rising tide lifting all boats, then Henry would be part of that. More likely, though, Baldwin wins again, less as a comment on his own bored performance than Academy members voting against Donald Trump in the only way they can right now. Though don’t count out Winkler, who never won in the Fonzie days, and is as universally beloved a guy as you’ll find in the business.
ROBBED: Lakeith Stanfield wasn’t in Atlanta nearly as much as Henry, but he made his moments count (particularly in “Teddy Perkins”). Andre Braugher should have won this category at least twice already for all the silly things he does and says so sublimely on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And John Rothman gave one of the most beautifully specific performances on TV in the second and final season of Amazon’s One Mississippi.
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Zazie Beetz, Atlanta
Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Aidy Bryant, Saturday Night Live
Betty Gilpin, GLOW
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
SHOULD WIN: The GLOW season eligible this year is the first, and Gilpin was a bit more central to the second. Still, she and Brie made for a strong tag team that carried the series back and forth between kitchen-sink drama and the cartoonish antics inside the wrestling ring. Gilpin’s been around for a while but mostly in thankless minor roles on shows like Nurse Jackie and Masters of Sex. This was her big opportunity, and she grabbed it like it was a championship belt.
WILL WIN: Comedy revivals complicate my usual theories about Emmy momentum. McKinnon is the reigning two-time winner, but Metcalf won three years in a row for playing Jackie during Roseanne’s original run. (She also might be a way for voters to honor the success of the show’s return without celebrating Roseanne Barr herself.) And Mullally won twice for Will & Grace in the 2000s. I’ll take McKinnon.
ROBBED: How has the legendary Rita Moreno not gotten a nomination for either season of One Day at a Time? It’s almost as dumb as MacLachlan being ignored for Twin Peaks. As the omniscient non-robot Janet, D’Arcy Carden is crucial to so much of The Good Place’s metaphysical comedy, and she’s a delight in the process. Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Fumero both went through a lot of tricky emotional territory this season on Brooklyn Nine-Nine even as they were also reliable laugh generators.
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Joseph Fiennes, The Handmaid’s Tale
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Matt Smith, The Crown
SHOULD WIN: It’s an underwhelming group, especially relative to some of the people who could have been nominated. Dinklage didn’t have a ton to do on Thrones this season, for instance, and Fiennes remains Handmaid’s most glaring weak link. Harbour deserves credit for grounding so much of the craziness on Stranger Things. But maybe this is the time to finally give Coster-Waldau the award for all he’s done over the years to help the mess of contradictions that make up Jaime Lannister feel like a unified character.
WILL WIN: When in doubt, bet on Dinklage, even if Tyrion’s primary function this season was to offer Dany bad advice, then look at the floor when she scolded him for how things turned out.
ROBBED: Rhys and Russell finally broke through with the voters, but no such luck for Noah Emmerich, who was just as important to The Americans’ dramatic endgame. Among the sprawling male ensemble of The Deuce, Gary Carr is doing mesmerizing work as the insecure pimp CC. Billions’ David Costabile and Asia Kate Dillon (who identifies as gender non-binary but has submitted work to the actor category in the past) would also be fun and deserving nominees (and a way to recognize a show that’s not quite as emotionally deep as some of the competition, but far more entertaining than most).
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama
Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Vanessa Kirby, The Crown
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale
SHOULD WIN: Bledel moved from guest actress to supporting actress this year, and she continued to astonish when given the chance, finding an animalistic rage inside Emily to match the one Elisabeth Moss gets to play far more often as June. Some other good contenders here — Kirby’s episodes were the highlight of the Philip-centric Crown Season Two, and Strahovski had moments of her own, albeit playing a character for whom the show had too much sympathy — but the former Gilmore Girls star is head and shoulders above her peers.
WILL WIN: Bledel and Dowd won Emmys in separate categories last year, and Strahovski wasn’t even nominated. It’s not impossible for an actor to beat multiple co-stars in this kind of category (the Modern Family guys used to do it regularly), but vote-splitting should be watched out for, even if Bledel feels like the favorite. Or maybe this is the year Headey finally wins?
ROBBED: Dominique Fishback’s much less famous than some of her Deuce co-stars, but her performance as the deceptively clever Darlene was just as strong and memorable as theirs. Julia Garner was the best reason to watch Ozark Season One (and the show’s least clichéd aspect). Aubrey Plaza continues to go to emotional places on Legion that no Parks and Rec viewer could have expected from her. And if her TV parents could get farewell nominations for The Americans, then Holly Taylor is just as deserving and important to how that show concluded.