Emmy Races to Watch: Can the Underdogs Win This Year?

Matt Roush

HBO

Emmy week is upon us, and in one of the more wide-open races in memory, it seems like Sunday night's ceremonies will be full of surprises. Here are the races where either the incumbents (like Game of Thrones or the upstarts could take Emmy home.

FX

Drama

Can anything unseat HBO’s Game of Thrones, last year’s winner and once again TV’s most-nominated series (with 23)? Given the epic scale of the “Battle of the Bastards” and the explosive finale that followed, it must be considered the front-runner. Yet there’s growing buzz around FX’s critical darling The Americans, which finally hit the big time after four seasons of scintillating spy intrigue, with nominations for drama series and its stars, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell.

Rhys’s top competition is another first-time nominee, Mr. Robot’s mesmerizing Rami Malek, while the formidable Russell faces past winners Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder) and Claire Danes (Homeland). As for Thrones, could Kit Harington, as the resurrected Jon Snow, trump costar Peter Dinklage, a two-time supporting winner? Miracles obviously happen.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

Comedy

While many expect repeat wins from Veep, its star Julia Louis-Dreyfus (aiming for five in a row), Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor and Mom supporting actress Allison Janney (going for her third straight), there’s potential for an upset in the supporting actor race, dominated recently by perennial nominees Tony Hale (Veep) and Ty Burrell (Modern Family). Louie Anderson scored a nod as a dour mom in FX’s Baskets, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Tituss Burgess is an absolute riot.

The Night Maganer

Des Willie/AMC

Limited Series/Movies

An unusually robust field is dominated by two exceptional FX dramas: American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson and Year 2 of Fargo (last year’s winner in the category), each with a wealth of great performances. Look for O.J. to triumph, including a slam-dunk win for lead actress Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark over Fargo’s brilliant Kirsten Dunst. In one of the year’s toughest calls, O.J. costar Courtney B. Vance’s cunning impersonation of Johnnie Cochran is up against another towering portrayal: Bryan Cranston’s reprisal of his Tony-winning performance as LBJ in HBO’s All the Way.

Fargo’s best shot is for Jean Smart’s supporting role of a tough crime-family matriarch, and while O.J.’s Sterling K. Brown should win in the supporting category for his moving work as Christopher Darden, two other O.J. nominees (John Travolta and David Schwimmer) could cancel him out, opening the door for The Night Manager’s superb villain Hugh Laurie to finally take home an acting Emmy after seven tries (as drama lead for House).

John Oliver

HBO

Variety Talk

Since 2003, only The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report have won this prize. Neither exists in this form anymore, and Trevor Noah’s Daily Show and Colbert’s CBS Late Show were snubbed. This looks to be a battle between the populist (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon) and the provocateur (Last Week Tonight With John Oliver). I’d go with the latter.

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