Will 'This Is Us' Emerge Victorious This Year? Here Are Some Emmy Races to Watch
Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley
The good news about this year’s Emmy Awards: Many fresh faces and breakout series were included in the festivities. The flip side: For those trying to handicap the winners in an always unpredictable and increasingly crowded field, it’s more of a crapshoot than ever.
The feuding families of Game of Thrones aren’t competing (the show didn’t air during this year’s eligibility period), opening the door for five freshman series to battle against veteran nominees Better Call Saul and House of Cards. The contenders couldn’t be more different. Netflix’s sumptuous historical drama The Crown would be a slam dunk if this were the Oscars, and while it’s absolutely a front-runner, the competition is fierce. Hulu’s devastating The Handmaid’s Tale has strong buzz for its allegorical topicality, and a win for NBC’s heartwarming hit This Is Us—the first commercial broadcast drama nominee since 2011’s The Good Wife—would be a stunning industry reversal. Any of these three might triumph, though don’t count out Netflix’s cult phenom Stranger Things or HBO’s dark fantasy Westworld, either of which could inherit Thrones’ spot.
The acting categories are just as tight. The lead actress race looks to be a contest between Claire Foy’s nuanced Queen Elizabeth in The Crown and Elisabeth Moss as Handmaid’s oppressed heroine. If either show sweeps, it will likely carry its star along. Sterling K. Brown, a winner last year for The People v. O.J. Simpson, is favored for lead actor in This Is Us as the adopted son bonding with his ailing birth father. One shoo-in: John Lithgow for his supporting role as Crown’s commanding Winston Churchill. In the supporting actress category, Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown and This Is Us’s Chrissy Metz are just the sort of unlikely overnight stars the Emmys love to reward, though Westworld’s ferociously mercurial Thandie Newton could be a sexy spoiler.
That caustic steamroller known as HBO’s Veep, winner of the top comedy prize the past two years, may be unstoppable—unless Emmy voters champion the work of actor-auteurs: FX’s visionary Atlanta, from Donald Glover, or Aziz Ansari’s romantically adventurous Master of None for Netflix. ABC’s provocative black-ish had another great year but is seen as a long shot.
Glover’s resilient urban underdog ought to score for best actor, while Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus is on track for a record sixth consecutive win, unless she’s unexpectedly toppled by two-time Mom champ Allison Janney, upped from supporting to lead. In the supporting categories, NBC’s Saturday Night Live (tied with Westworld at 22 nominations) may deliver a one-two punch in Kate McKinnon (last year’s winner) and Alec Baldwin for their indelible impersonations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
It’s a diva derby, with Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange of FX’s delicious Feud: Bette and Joan taking on fellow Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman from HBO’s addictive Big Little Lies for lead actress. Bet on Lange, who disappeared into the role of Joan Crawford in all of her delusional bitterness, though Kidman was powerful as Lies’ battered wife. With its homage to Old Hollywood, Feud should take top honors in the tough limited series category. HBO’s gritty The Night Of is also deserving, but stars Riz Ahmed and John Turturro will likely be overshadowed for lead actor by Robert De Niro, a first-time nominee as swindler Bernie Madoff in HBO’s The Wizard of Lies, a front-runner in the weaker TV-movie field. Possible upset: PBS’s Sherlock, a surprise winner last year.
A banner year for late-night political satirists makes this an unusually fascinating category, as CBS’s The Late Show With Stephen Colbert (snubbed in 2016) and TBS upstart Full Frontal With Samantha Bee emerge as challengers to last year’s victor, HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. Colbert is on a ratings surge and is this year’s Emmys host, which could give him an advantage. But honoring Bee, who broke into this boys’ club with fearless aplomb and biting wit, would be oh-so-satisfying. As it has 11 times before, HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher will have to pretend it’s an honor just to be nominated.
Having lost to Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele in previous years (both are no longer in production), NBC powerhouse Saturday Night Live is poised for its first win since this category was established three years ago. If only for guest actress nominee Melissa McCarthy’s showstopping performance as embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer, SNL deserves it—though it’s a fun category. Also included: IFC’s Portlandia and Documentary Now!, HBO’s Tracey Ullman’s Show, Comedy Central’s Drunk History and truTV’s maverick Billy on the Street.
69th Primetime Emmy Awards, Sunday, Sept. 17, 8/7c, CBS
This article also appeared in the Sept. 4–17 issue of TV Guide Magazine