Is Serena Joy Waterford a villain or a victim? The fact that Yvonne Strahovski kept us pondering this paradox throughout the brutal second season of Handmaid’s is reason enough for her to claim an Emmy — even competing against two costars who won a year ago (Ann Dowd for supporting, Alexis Bledel for then-guest actress). Strahovski’s character deepened, and so did her performance, as Serena painfully confronts the oppressive nature of the society she helped create. Beaten by her husband and mutilated for rebelling against the system, she makes the ultimate maternal sacrifice to save her (and June’s) daughter from Gilead’s horrors. We may despise Serena, but Strahovski illuminates the tragic depths of her inner struggle. —Matt Roush, Senior Critic
Writing for a Drama, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
There were two genuine success stories last season. The biggest was the revival of Roseanne, which finished as the No. 3 show. The smaller, way-more-fun triumph was the word-of-mouth campaign that made this spy vs. assassin drama a phenomenon. Viewership increased with every episode, which hasn’t happened to a show in 10 years. Waller-Bridge should win not just for writing the complex lady bosses — newly recruited MI6 agent Eve (Sandra Oh, up for lead actress) and psychopath Villanelle (the sadly not-nominated Jodie Comer) — but for gleefully subverting plot expectations and never letting us get comfortable with whom we root for. It’s a storytelling rush. —Michael Fell, Editor-in-Chief
Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special
What makes Susan Lacy’s exploration of Steven Spielberg’s life and career so satisfying? Like the director’s most heartwarming movies, it’s a well-made tale sensitively told. Granted, the category is well stocked: At nearly five hours, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, a richly detailed account of the comedian’s life, is the most ambitious entry. And Jim and Andy is a gloriously loopy exploration of Jim Carrey’s transformation into Andy Kaufman while starring in the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. But watching determined wunderkind Spielberg (above, with Saving Private Ryan star Tom Hanks) invent special effects for the films he made as a teen is a unique delight. Spielberg shines brightest in capturing how his parents’ divorce affected his early creative choices. —Robert Edelstein, Contributing Editor
John P. Johnson/HBO
Henry Winkler Supporting Actor (Comedy)
Fifth time’s the charm? We certainly hope so for Henry Winkler, who scored acting Emmy nod No. 5 for his role as grandiose acting coach Gene Cousineau on HBO’s Barry. Whether he’s berating student (and hit man) Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) or getting his flirt on with gruff detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), Winkler (above, with Sarah Goldberg) is one of the best returning favorites of the season. He talks about his current Emmy prospects, as well as his first nomination in 1976 for the breakout role of Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on Happy Days.
Television has been very good to me. My first job was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show [in 1973]; my second was Happy Days [1974–84]. By Season 2, I was getting 50,000 fan letters a week. I would read the mail — one letter was to the producers saying, “Fonzie should get more screen time.” It was from my mother! She didn’t sign it, but I would have known that handwriting anywhere.
The first time I was nominated, I was really nervous. Jack Albertson won for Chico and the Man, but at age 27, I had an image of who I wanted to be as an actor. I’ve now flipped the numbers, and at age 72, I’m getting closer to who I imagined. But that whole thing of “it really is an honor to be in a category with all those other actors”? That lasts until your tush hits the seat, at which point you really just want to win!
When something is written well, like Barry, the whole script goes into your body, goes into your mind. Every page, you turn and go, “Oh my God, this is amazing!” I was reading filet mignon, not a steak and baked potato for $1.29. [During casting] the producers said, “You’re on a short list.” And I said, “OK, I have one question: Is Dustin Hoffman on that list? Because if he is, I’m not going in.” And they said no, so I auditioned.
I’m so proud and so happy that I was nominated, but you don’t get that by yourself. You get it because you’re with Bill Hader and this incredibly talented bunch of actors I get to work with every day. They make me better. So here I am again. But here I am is more important than the again. —Henry Winkler, as told to West Coast Bureau Chief Jim Halterman
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Best Reality Competition
The time has come for the queens to reign. The Emmys introduced the reality competition category way back in 2003, and since then, just three shows — The Amazing Race, The Voice, and Top Chef — have swapped places at the podium to snatch the statuettes. (For those keeping score at home: The Amazing Race won 10 times; The Voice, four; and Top Chef, once.) But unlike on those enjoyable, if formulaic, series — which are nominated again along with American Ninja Warrior and Project Runway — the contestants on Drag Race don’t have just one goal, such as getting to a finish line first or belting a tear-jerker Christina Aguilera ballad. Drag Race’s fierce female impersonators, decked out in impossibly high heels and towering wigs, need to look flawless while they perform flawlessly. Each week is a boot camp in all things showbiz as they whip up catwalk-ready outfits, record songs, act in skits, dance in elaborate musical numbers and, yes, lip-sync for their lives. To me, that’s more awe-inspiring than watching someone making braised short ribs while a clock counts down. To quote inimitable host RuPaul, “Can I get an amen up in here?” — Eric Andersson, Staff Editor
Four TV Guide Magazine staffers on who we want to see take home the gold.