I’ll admit it: I found this year’s Emmy nominations more than a little disappointing, with even fewer pleasant surprises than last year. Still, the Emmys are my annual chance to hope against hope that one of my favorites will walk home with the prize (The Americans, The Americans, The Americans, and The Americans), even if my betting money’s on someone else. Here are Paste’s predictions for who will, should and could win Emmys in 15 major categories Monday night:
Ultimately, one’s predictions in the drama categories boil down to a single underlying question: Will Emmy voters show up for The Americans’ farewell tour? FX’s acclaimed tale of two Soviet spies posing as American travel agents in the D.C. suburbs turned in one of the best final seasons of all time, securing its place in the firmament of TV’s most recent “Golden Age” in the process; with the possible exception of Netflix’s The Crown, it is so far and away the finest of the nominees it seems impossible it wouldn’t win.
In this case, I’d be over the moon to be wrong, but when it comes to predicting the actions of the TV Academy, my rule of thumb is to settle on my ideal result, crush it under my feet, light it on fire, and throw it off a high cliff into the ocean. So, my money’s on The Handmaid’s Tale to repeat, with the truly dreadful Game of Thrones playing dark horse on the basis of sheer scale.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Should win: The Americans (FX)
Could win: Game of Thrones (HBO)
Despite Rachel Brosnahan’s mesmerizing (and soon to be Emmy-winning) performance as a housewife-turned-standup in 1950s New York, I had my qualms with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as a whole. Certainly, it’s no match for the surreal American horror stories of Atlanta Robbin’ Season, which creator Donald Glover, stalwart directors Hiro Murai and Amy Seimetz, and the superb ensemble turned into TV’s answer to Get Out. The problem, as I see it, is that Emmy voters already embraced Atlanta’s more traditional first season; the much more ambitious, challenging second could be a stretch for their tastes. In a large field (eight, to be exact), the buzzy Maisel is the best bet—and if the TV Academy’s taste runs moodier, HBO’s more conventionally structured Barry is poised to snatch the top prize.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Should win: Atlanta (FX)
Could win: Barry (HBO)
Though it was underappreciated by critics, The Assassination of Gianni Versace has since grown into the role of frontrunner, and without a Big Little Lies or Fargo in the mix—and Twin Peaks: The Return snubbed entirely—it’s hard to see an upset coming. That said, Netflix’s Western, Godless, was well received upon its release last autumn, and might appeal to voters scared off by Versace’s unapologetic faggotry.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Should win: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Could win: Godless (Netflix)
Lead Actor, Drama Series
Since I’ve already switched my prediction from Matthew Rhys (The Americans) to defending champion Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us) and back again approximately 64 times, I feel duty-bound to explain why it’s such a toss-up. (I honestly don’t see anyone else winning, including Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright.) On the one hand, there’s Brown’s slightly broader, still deeply affecting turn on a family drama the TV Academy clearly wants to love. On the other, there’s Rhys’ subtler, still awfully wrenching turn on a family drama the TV Academy’s been reluctant to honor. The coin flip? The fact that the Emmys haven’t awarded back-to-back trophies to the same actor in this category since Bryan Cranston’s Breaking Bad three-peat almost a decade ago. I’m going to say the Welshman extends the streak—by a whisker.
Will win: Matthew Rhys, The Americans (FX)
Should win: Matthew Rhys, The Americans (FX)
Could win: Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us (NBC)
Lead Actor, Comedy Series
The previous category’s comedy counterpart is a different story: In roughly the same span, Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent), Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) have all repeated, the latter on two separate occasions. As with last year, the safe bet is for the TV Academy to award Glover here (and in comedy writing) for Atlanta, though Bill Hader’s terrific performance as an assassin/aspiring actor in Barry is just the kind of Emmy catnip that could pose a threat. In the end, though, I’m rooting for Danson to take home his first statuette since Cheers: His reformed demon, Michael, propels The Good Place’s Season Two story of friendship from its early twists to its glorious conclusion.
Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX)
Should win: Ted Danson, The Good Place (NBC)
Could win: Bill Hader, Barry (HBO)
Lead Actor, Limited Series/TV Movie
The unorthodox structure of The Assassination of Gianni Versace would simply not work were it not for Darren Criss’ magnetic, frightening performance as spree killer Andrew Cunanan, whose terrifying path back in time from Versace’s South Beach doorstep to his California childhood lends the limited series its shape. Criss so impeccably calibrates Cunanan’s self-pity that we come to see him in far sharper relief even as he repulses us. For the TV Academy to give the award to anyone else would be a travesty.
Will win: Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Should win: Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Could win: Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Melrose (Showtime)
Lead Actress, Drama Series
This is the Big Kahuna, the Whole Enchilada, the Top Banana, the category of the night: an absolute stemwinder among six extraordinary actresses in extraordinarily difficult roles, including each of the last two winners, Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black). It’d be hard to get too upset at any one of their names being called; even my least favorite of the bunch, Evan Rachel Wood’s consciousness-forming android Dolores Abernathy, is an example of immense actorly control. Do you go with Sandra Oh’s career-redefining turn in one of the best new series of the year? How about Claire Foy’s impossibly precise Queen Elizabeth II, in a standout season of The Crown? Ultimately, I fled to the safety of the repeat winner, but if there is one upset I’ll be dreaming about all weekend, it’s hearing Keri Russell’s name read Monday night: As I wrote of its penultimate episode, “when it comes to The Americans’ brilliant, methodical loosening of the Cold War’s grip—prying away first Martha, then Gabriel, then Philip, then Claudia, then Paige—it seems to me fitting that its most ardent fighter, its lone survivor, its final girl, should be the indomitable Jennings, Elizabeth.”
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Should win: Keri Russell, The Americans (FX)
Could win: Sandra Oh, Killing Eve (BBC America)
Lead Actress, Comedy Series
To quote Lodge 49, as above, so below: Brosnahan’s performance in Maisel, particularly during its livewire stand-up set pieces, is so deliriously brilliant it elevates the entire series. And though I’d love to see Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish), Pamela Adlon (Better Things), or Issa Rae (Insecure) win awards they should’ve taken home during Julia Louis-Dreyfus boring reign atop this category, Midge Maisel’s Lenny Bruce routine is so electric it’d be a shame to wait.
Will win: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Should win: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Could win: Tracee Ellis Ross, black-ish (ABC)
Lead Actress, Limited Series/TV Movie
Back. To. Back. Emmy. Winner. Laura. Dern.
Sing it with me, folks! The competition here is scant, and Biel’s comeback story, with The Sinner, is more than a year old at this point, so I feel comfortable predicting that Dern will double down on her Big Little Lies statuette with another for Jennifer Fox’s engrossing The Tale. If only I had a time-turner to add two more to the pile for Enlightened...
Will win: Laura Dern, The Tale (HBO)
Should win: Laura Dern, The Tale (HBO)
Could win: Jessica Biel, The Sinner (USA Network)
Supporting Actor, Drama Series
With Better Call Saul’s Jonathan Banks out of the running due to the Emmys’ old-fashioned cutoff date (May 31), I’ve really got no rooting interest here. Harbour’s dadbod (and kind, self-effacing off-screen persona) make him as worthy as anyone, in my mind, even though I’ve never mustered much enthusiasm for Stranger Things. The rest? Depressing, frankly. Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister has been reduced to the “I drink and I know things” caricature Game of Thrones once resisted, his costar, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, plays a noble dud, and the remaining nominees play two-dimensional second fiddle to much more complicated women. Wake me up when it’s over.
Will win: David Harbour, Stranger Things (Netflix)
Should win: David Harbour, Stranger Things (Netflix)
Could win: Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Supporting Actor, Comedy Series
Here’s your feel-good story of the night: Henry Winkler, nominated three times for his iconic role as the Fonz on Happy Days, finally taking the stage four decades later for his genuinely excellent performance as acting teacher Gene Cousineau in Barry. (Let me play wet blanket for a moment and echo Paste’s Jacob Oller: Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry deserves the award for his exasperated facial expressions alone.) Here’s your worst-case scenario: Tony Shaloub riding the Maisel wave to a Winkler upset for playing Midge’s one-note father, one of the most sorely underwritten characters on TV.
Will win: Henry Winkler, Barry (HBO)
Should win: Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta (FX)
Could win: Tony Shaloub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Supporting Actor, Limited Series/TV Movie
If you’ll allow me to remain on my high horse a moment, I’d like to preemptively express my disappointment about Jeff Daniels defeating Edgar Ramirez and especially Finn Wittrock in this category, which I suspect will have as much to do with name recognition as it does the acting itself. (Wittrock’s turn as Jeff Trail, though small, is a tremendously powerful treatment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the brutal consequences of homophobia.) Nothing against Daniels, also nominated for The Looming Tower and a past winner of the Lead Actor (Drama) award for The Newsroom. His outlaw Frank Griffin in Netflix’s Western just seems a little… been there, done that.
Jeff Daniels, Godless (Netflix)
Should win: Finn Wittrock, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Could win: Edgar Ramirez, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Supporting Actress, Drama Series
It’s safe to assume that someone on The Handmaid’s Tale will go home with the trophy in this category, all due respect to Vanessa Kirby’s magnificently moody turn as Princess Margaret in The Crown. The question is, which someone? Alexis Bledel’s role, though it proves hugely consequential in the end, is probably too small, on the whole, to register with voters. Defending champion Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia is the odds-on favorite, though whether it’s because or in spite of her enigmatic past I cannot say with confidence. The real standout of The Handmaid’s Tale Season Two, of course, is Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy, emerging as an antagonist to Moss’ Offred far more complicated than any commander in Gilead. This one could get interesting!
Will win: Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Should win: Vanessa Kirby, The Crown (Netflix)
Could win: Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Supporting Actress, Comedy Series
I love Kate McKinnon. Kate McKinnon is, along with first-time Supporting Actor nominee Kenan Thompson, one of the sole remaining reasons to watch Saturday Night Live. Kate McKinnon does not need a third consecutive Emmy. (I also love Alison Janney, and she sure as hell doesn’t need a third Emmy for Mom.) Do I think McKinnon will win anyway, because Emmy voters are lazy? Yes. Do I think Borstein, like Shaloub, could ride the Maisel wave to victory? Also yes—and in this case I’d be pretty dang happy. Is my preference for Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz—or, failing that, GLOW’s Betty Gilpin, nominated for the Netflix series’ first season? Yes, ma’am. I guess there’s always next year.
Will win: Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Should win: Zazie Beetz, Atlanta (FX)
Could win: Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Supporting Actress, Limited Series/TV Movie
So, here’s the thing: Penelope Cruz’s performance as Donatella Versace in the latest installment of American Crime Story is nothing to sneeze at. (It sure as hell has flair.) But Judith Light’s performance as widowed cosmetics magnate Marilyn Miglin in the latest installment of American Crime Story is so gripping—like a vise—that it becomes the anchor of one of the best episodes of television to air all year. So why do I think Cruz wins? For one, the TV Academy has been known to mistake screen time for substance. For two, the TV Academy loves to give a movie star an Emmy. And for three, the TV Academy hasn’t been terribly kind to Light: The veteran actress has been nominated three times and come up empty each one.
Penelope Cruz, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Should win: Judith Light, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
Could win: Merrit Wever, Godless (Netflix)
The 70th Emmy Awards air tonight at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on NBC.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.