Despite the unquestionable shift in focus by the entertainment industry from the big screen to the small, there is still something muted about the Emmys. Television may have overtaken movies in pop culture importance, but the Emmys are still seen as a step below their glitzier award show cousin, the Oscars.
Despite the total failure of the summer box office, despite the increasing disengagement from the American public from the movie theater, despite the fact that more column inches were probably dedicated to Game of Thrones than all of the summer blockbusters, despite all of this, the Emmys just don’t attract the same attention, or slavish obsession, as the Academy Awards.
Some of this is just the changing attitude toward award shows in general. In a pre-internet era, these shows could be seen as a glamorous look behind the curtain of Hollywood, as stars, just playing themselves, sat down together and applauded their own achievements. Now, in a day and age where we have nonstop blog coverage of celebrity gossip, it’s easy to see the Emmys, Oscars, Grammys and Tonys as simply another industry award, no different than Salesman of the Year, just with slightly prettier people.
But in this era of “Peak TV,” with more quality programs than anyone could ever hope to watch, this year’s awards are actually a cornucopia of memorable shows competing against each other. This year’s show, which airs on ABC at 8 p.m. on Sunday night, will feature showdowns between such cultural forces as Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot and The Americans, and between Veep and Transparent. Think pieces no longer have to be written about Emmy snubs in which challenging shows are ignored in favor of mass appeal. Now, if a show didn’t get a nomination, it’s because there was too much good stuff to choose from.
If predicting Emmy winners in years past was largely an exercise in determining whether quality would be rewarded over popularity, this year is largely about determining which worthy winner will walk away with the prize. This is not to say the awards are always right. They are still famously behind the critical curve (case in point: Game of Thrones won last year for Outstanding Drama after what was largely regarded as its weakest season). And the appeal to popular taste is not entirely gone, as the trophy case for the still good, but hardly outstanding, Modern Family illustrates.
So, with more caveats than usual, we’ll attempt to read the tea leaves for Sunday night’s ceremony.
Outstanding Drama Series
Should Win: Game of Thrones
Will Win: Game of Thrones
The Americans has been the prototypical example of a quality show ignored by the awards until this year. Coming off a strong season and continued critical adoration, it has a chance. Mr. Robot is certainly the trendy commodity, and with good reason, but ultimately may be too weird and dark to win.
At the end of the day, Game of Thrones last season pulled back from the gloom of its previous one, set ratings records and presented remarkable achievements in acting, writing and directing. It’s easy to hate on HBO’s juggernaut, and it probably didn’t deserve its win last year. This year it does.
Outstanding Comedy Series
Should Win: Black-Ish
Will Win: Veep
Black-ish has been one of the flagship examples of Hollywood’s new attempt to embrace diversity. The show illustrates the way that a familiar concept can be expanded upon, simply by exploring it through a different lens. And it’s genuinely funny. Having said that, it’s hard to see how HBO’s blistering political satire doesn’t win again.
Lead Actress, Comedy
Should Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Will Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
If Louis-Dreyfus wins, it will extend her victory streak for playing Selina Meyers to five straight years. The thing is, she’s a national treasure, and despite good work from her competitors, they might as well just put her name on the trophy.
Lead Actress, Drama Series
Should Win: Tatiana Maslany
Will Win: Keri Russell
Both Russell and Maslany have a shot after years of being ignored. Both are on critically acclaimed shows, and both have their detractors. Maslany in particular feels as if she’s overdue for recognition for giving individual life to the many clones she portrays on Orphan Black. There is a chance that tradition will win out, or that the two younger actresses will split the vote and hand it to Robin Wright for her work in House of Cards.
Lead Actor, Comedy
Should Win: Jeffrey Tambor
Will Win: Jeffrey Tambor
Much like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, there is almost no chance this award doesn’t go to Tambor, and he is a more than deserving winner. Anthony Anderson of Black-ish and Aziz Ansari of Master of None both breathed fresh life into seemingly tired genres, and Thomas Middleditch manages to find new ways to be an interesting nerd on Silicon Valley, but at the end of the day this will go to the elder statesman and consummate performer.
Lead Actor, Drama
Should Win: Rami Malek
Will Win: Rami Malek
This will be where Mr. Robot gets its due. Despite an almost uniformly strong cast, Malek’s Elliot Alderson is the lynchpin of his show in a way that no other character on this list is. Add the necessary intensity and vulnerability needed to play such an unstable character and you basically have an actor’s buffet. Matthew Rhys might put up a little challenge with his performance in The Americans, and the traditional vote means a Kevin Spacey House of Cards win isn’t out of the question, but this really should be Malek’s night.
Supporting Actor, Comedy
Should Win: Louie Anderson
Will Win: Matt Walsh
Louie Anderson’s turn on Baskets has all of the ingredients for a feel-good Emmy story. A minor celebrity having a critically acclaimed comeback in a gender-bending role, this should be a lock. The only question is if enough voters saw the performance. Either of Veep’s nominees, Tony Hale and Matt Walsh, could grab the win, but the award should go to Anderson.
Supporting Actor, Drama
Should Win: Jonathan Banks
Will Win: Jonathan Banks
Last year, when Peter Dinklage won his second Emmy for playing Tyrion Lannister, his first statement upon taking the stage was “But…Jonathan Banks.” He wasn’t wrong. Banks wrings every ounce of pathos out of a character he clearly adores playing. It will be sad if he loses again, but he does face another Thrones challenger, with this undoubtedly being Jon Snow’s season. Kit Harrington has done some fine work, but come on….
Supporting Actress, Comedy
Should Win: Kate McKinnon
Will Win: Allison Janney
Another category where almost anyone could win. Allison Janney and Judith Light both bring old-school cred to the table, with Janney particularly impressive for elevating a cookie-cutter network TV sitcom. Don’t rule out Kate McKinnon, though. Her Hillary Clinton is probably the most memorable impression of this election, she frequently elevates lesser material and the meta drama surrounding the Ghostbusters reboot might win her some added support. She could be the real shock of the ceremony.
Supporting Actress, Drama
Should Win: Lena Headey
Will Win: Lena Headey
Say what you will about Cersei Lannister, but she has stayed in power and at the center of the show. Game of Thrones has arguably had bigger monsters, but every effort to make Cersei a more rounded character has simultaneously made her more sympathetic and more terrifying. And there is no doubting that this was Cersei’s season. Love for Maisie Williams, or another prize for Downton Abbey’s Dame Maggie Smith might throw a wrench into the works, but really, you wanna tell Cersei she can’t have something?