2021 Emmy Predictions for Limited Series & Performances, Movies & Specials: Matt Roush’s Picks

Hamilton, The Queen's Gambit, The Undoing
Courtesy of Disney+; Phil Bray/Netflix; Niko Tavernise/HBO

The Emmy Awards are by tradition among the hardest to predict, because it’s often impossible to know just when a show or star’s moment in the spotlight has arrived—or when the Emmy voters will turn away from the tried and true to celebrate the new kid on the block.

Senior Critic Matt Roush takes a crack at reading the tea leaves to pick the presumed winners, while revealing which nominees are the most deserving and lamenting the most obnoxious snubs.

2021 Emmy Predictions: Matt Roush’s Picks for DramaSee Also

2021 Emmy Predictions: Matt Roush’s Picks for Drama

Who will most likely win, should win, and should have been nominated?

Scroll down for Matt’s picks in the categories of Limited Series, Lead Actor and Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, Supporting Actor and Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, Variety Talk Series, Variety Special, and Competition Program.

73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Sunday, September 19, 8/7c, CBS

The Underground Railroad
Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon Studios

Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series

Mare of Easttown (HBO)

I May Destroy You (HBO)

WandaVision (Disney+)

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)

The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime Video)

Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Townes, Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth in The Queen's Gambit
Phil Bray/Netflix

The Frontrunners

For years the long-form limited series has been among the most heated races, with exceptional brand-defining projects duking it out. 2021 is no exception, and an argument could be made for each of these remarkable works. But only one can emerge on top, and industry consensus favors The Queen’s Gambit, the riveting drama that made chess sexy and kept audiences hooked during the long pandemic lockdown. HBO’s Mare of Easttown is a strong runner-up, with its American small-town intrigue evoking high-end British mysteries like Broadchurch.

Marcin Dorocinski as Vasily, Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth in The Queen's Gambit
Phil Bray/Netflix

Most Likely to Win

The Queen’s Gambit

Evan Peters, Kate Winsley in Mare of Easttown
Michele K. Short/HBO

Should Win

Mare of Easttown

Joshua Caleb Johnson as Onion, Ethan Hawke as John Brown in The Good Lord Bird
William Gray/SHOWTIME

Should Have Been Nominated

The Good Lord Bird (Showtime)

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. in Hamilton
Courtesy of Disney+

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Paul Bettany, WandaVision

Hugh Grant, The Undoing

Ewan McGregor, Halston

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Leslie Odom Jr., Hamilton

Hugh Grant in The Undoing
Niko Tavernise/HBO

The Frontrunners

Of all this year’s snubs, and there are always many, none are more confounding than the absence of Ethan Hawke’s manic portrayal of abolitionist John Brown in Showtime’s ignominiously ignored historical drama The Good Lord Bird. He would likely have won in this category if nominated. And while my admiration for Broadway’s Hamilton is second to none, crowding the list with performances better suited to the variety/music categories is this year’s biggest Emmy scandal. Of the remaining nominees, it’s a toss-up between Paul Bettany’s inspired blend of sitcom and tragic action hero in the wondrous WandaVision or Hugh Grant’s chilling take on domestic villainy in The Undoing. Because Grant deserved an Emmy for his earlier walk on the dark side in A Very English Scandal, I’ll go with him.

Hugh Grant in The Undoing
Niko Tavernise/HBO

Most Likely to Win

Hugh Grant, The Undoing

Paul Bettany in WandaVision
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Should Win

Paul Bettany, WandaVision

Ethan Hawke as John Brown in The Good Lord Bird
William Gray/SHOWTIME

Should Have Been Nominated

Ethan Hawke, The Good Lord Bird

Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You
Natalie Seery/HBO

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Kate Winslet, Mare of Easttown

Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You

Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit

Elizabeth Olsen, WandaVision

Cynthia Erivo, Genius: Aretha

Elizabeth Olsen in WandaVision
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The Frontrunners

Couldn’t there be a five-way tie? Probably not, but I’m hard-pressed to decide between these very distinctive tour-de-force performances. The wildly talented Michaela Coel will probably have to settle for a writing Emmy, and Elizabeth Olsen won’t get enough credit for her chameleon skill at masking tragedy beneath ever-shifting classic-comedy personas. Which leaves top contenders Anya Taylor-Joy, rightly celebrated for her electrifying star turn as a damaged chess prodigy, and Kate Winslet disappearing into the role of a hard-luck small-down detective. Because awards tend to go to the showier talent, I’m predicting Taylor-Joy.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit
Phil Bray/Netflix

Most Likely to Win

Anya Taylor-Joy

Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown
Sarah Shatz/HBO

Should Win

Kate Winslet

Thuso Mbedu in The Underground Railroad
Kyle Kaplan/Amazon Studios

Should Have Been Nominated

Thuso Mbedu, The Underground Railroad

Julianne Nicholson in Mare of Easttown
Michele K. Short/HBO

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Jean Smart, Mare of Easttown

Julianne Nicholson, Mare of Easttown

Kathryn Hahn, WandaVision

Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

Renee Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton

Moses Ingram, The Queen’s Gambit

Jean Smart in Mare of Easttown
Michele K. Short/HBO

The Frontrunners

It would be fun to see Jean Smart win twice—once for comedy (Hacks), and once as Mare’s sardonic mother. I’m also partial to Julianne Nicholson’s heartbreaking performance as Mare’s best friend. But hands down the most memorable scene-stealer this year was Kathryn Hahn’s nosy neighbor-turned-witchy nemesis in WandaVision, a hoot for all seasons.

Kathryn Hahn in WandaVision
Suzanne Tenner/Marvel

Most Likely to Win

Kathryn Hahn

Kathryn Hahn in WandaVision
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Should Win

Kathryn Hahn

Marielle Heller in The Queen’s Gambit
Courtesy of Netflix

Should Have Been Nominated

Marielle Heller, The Queen’s Gambit

Daveed Diggs in Hamilton
Disney+

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Daveed Diggs, Hamilton

Jonathan Groff, Hamilton

Anthony Ramos, Hamilton

Thomas Brodie-Sangster, The Queen’s Gambit

Evan Peters, Mare of Easttown

Paapa Essiedu, I May Destroy You

Evan Peters in Mare of Easttown
Michele K. Short/HBO

The Frontrunners

No disrespect intended to Hamilton, but really? No Donald Sutherland from The Undoing? No Bill Camp from The Queen’s Gambit? No William Jackson Harper from The Underground Railroad? Of those that somehow made the cut, Evan Peters’ ill-fated detective in Mare from Easttown left the deepest impression.

Evan Peters in Mare of Easttown
Michele K. Short/HBO

Most Likely to Win

Evan Peters

Evan Peters in Mare of Easttown
Sarah Shatz/HBO

Should Win

Evan Peters

Joshua Caleb Johnson as Onion in The Good Lord Bird
William Gray/SHOWTIME

Should Have Been Nominated

See above, and add young Joshua Caleb Johnson, the young hero of The Good Lord Bird

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
Sean Gallagher/Comedy Central

Outstanding Variety Talk Series

Conan (TBS)

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS)

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)

Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC)

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Conan O'Brien
Art Streiber / © TBS / Courtesy: Everett Collection

The Frontrunners

Even in a challenging year for the genre, it’s hard to bet against the show that has won for the last five consecutive years. (But in that dream scenario where the Emmys surprise us in all the right ways, how satisfying would it be for Conan O’Brien to get a win on his way out?)

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Lloyd Bishop/HBO

Most Likely to Win

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Jimmy Kimmel Live
ABC/Randy Holmes

Should Win

Jimmy Kimmel Live (purely personal preference)

Late Night with Seth Meyers
Lloyd Bishop/NBC

Should Have Been Nominated

Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC)

Friends: The Reunion
Courtesy of HBO Max

Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)

American Utopia (HBO)

Bo Burnham: Inside (Netflix)

Dave Chappelle 8:46 (Netflix)

Friends: The Reunion (HBO Max)

Hamilton (Disney+)

A West Wing Special (HBO Max)

Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones in Hamilton
Courtesy of Disney+

The Frontrunners

Such a mixed bag. How can you compare innovative stand-up solo acts against elaborate stage productions? Given the Emmy love shown to Hamilton in other categories, it seems unlikely to lose, although Bo Burnham’s unique take on life and anxiety during the pandemic is timely and memorable enough to deliver an upset.

Anthony Ramos, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan in Hamilton
Courtesy of Disney+

Most Likely to Win

Hamilton

Bo Burnham: Inside
Courtesy of Netflix

Should Win

Bo Burnham: Inside

Between the World and Me
Courtesy of HBO

Should Have Been Nominated

Between the World and Me (HBO)

Nailed It
Courtesy of Netflix

Outstanding Competition Program

The Amazing Race (CBS)

Nailed It! (Netflix)

RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)

Top Chef (Bravo)

The Voice (NBC)

Phil Keoghan in The Amazing Race
Sam Lothridge/CBS

The Frontrunners

I have a soft spot for The Amazing Race, a longtime (long ago) multiple Emmy winner, because of the nostalgia it evokes for world travel during a safer time. And Nailed It! makes me laugh every time they don’t. But RuPaul’s celebratory drags-travaganza has sashayed away with a win the last three years, so why stop now?

RuPaul’s Drag Race
VH1

Most Likely to Win

RuPaul’s Drag Race

RuPaul’s Drag Race
VH1

Should Win

RuPaul’s Drag Race

Tough as Nails
CBS

Should Have Been Nominated

Tough as Nails (CBS)