Sunday’s Primetime Emmy Awards, the 68th, marks a moment of transition: from “the golden age of television” to the age of “peak TV.” This year is the first since 2007, when The Sopranos won Outstanding Drama Series for its final season, without Mad Men or Breaking Bad, and as such it seems, more than ever, that changes in the medium are afoot. Are we entering an age of streaming dominance, as HBO and its cable competitors once surpassed The Big Three? Will the Emmys sustain their recent record of nominating significant numbers of actors of color, and work to expand their representation in writing, directing, and the crafts? Can the best show on television (The Americans) beat one of the most popular (Game of Thrones), and if so, what does that mean for the TV Academy’s relevance? Sunday’s ceremony may not answer these questions completely, but the medium does seem to be in the midst of an epochal moment. A few years down the line, I suspect we’ll see 2016 as the beginning of where TV was going, and the end of where it had been.
The 68th Primetime Emmys will air on September 18 at 8PM on ABC.
Outstanding Comedy Series
black-ish; Master of None; Modern Family; Silicon Valley; Transparent; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Veep
Who Will Win: Veep
Who Should Win: Transparent
Who Got Snubbed: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
After its razor-sharp fifth season, in which the actual presidential campaign made Selina Meyer’s dressing down of a Colorado congresswoman and Jonah Ryan’s shambolic campaign for the House of Representatives seem less like satire than social realism, Veep is poised to win its second consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. And that’s no crime on the TV Academy’s part. But it was the familial heft of Jill Soloway’s sublime Transparent—not to mention the winsome invention of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—that seemed to push the boundaries of TV comedy in the past year, relying on reserves of affection, for self and for others, that suggest a political statement of their own.
Outstanding Drama Series
The Americans; Better Call Saul; Downton Abbey; Game of Thrones; Homeland; House of Cards; Mr. Robot
Who Will Win: Game of Thrones
Who Should Win: The Americans
Who Got Snubbed: The Leftovers
With two riveting sequences, one deafening (“Battle of the Bastards”), the other hushed (“The Winds of Winter”), HBO’s fantasy epic concluded an otherwise lackluster season on an aesthetic high note—and likely ensured a repeat victory in the Outstanding Drama Series category. (Emmy voters, as The Ringer’s Sam Donsky reminds us, love to go back to the well.) If the nomination for The Americans helped salve the wound of The Leftovers’ absence, however, it’s dispiriting to think that FX’s extraordinary spy drama, after its most stirring season to date, should have to settle for just being invited to the party.
Outstanding Limited Series
American Crime; Fargo; The Night Manager; The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story; Roots
Who Will Win: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Who Should Win: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Who Got Snubbed: London Spy
A mark of the form’s ongoing revival, Outstanding Limited Series might be the strongest of the major categories: With the exception of AMC’s anodyne The Night Manager, which I’d have replaced with BBC America’s surprising, seductive London Spy, the field is full of compelling, even daring, stories. But with due respect to Roots, Fargo, and the deft, multifaceted American Crime, FX’s retelling of the O.J. Simpson trial—as close to a sure bet as you’ll find—managed to capture the tension of the immediate experience without sacrificing the benefits of hindsight. That’s no mean feat.
Outstanding TV Movie
All the Way; Confirmation; Luther; Sherlock: The Abominable Bride; A Very Murray Christmas
Who Will Win: All the Way
Who Should Win: Confirmation
Who Got Snubbed: 7 Days in Hell
Reflecting the winnowing ranks of the made-for-TV movie, this category is a two-way race—Luther and Sherlock are efficient, if unremarkable, mysteries, while Netflix’s Christmas special came nowhere near the whimsical entertainments of 7 Days in Hell. I suspect the TV Academy will go for the bombast of All the Way, anchored by Emmy favorite Bryan Cranston’s Tony-winning turn as Lyndon Baines Johnson. But the more impressive feat may be the quiet nerve of Confirmation, in which Anita Hill’s (Kerry Washington) fight against sexism and racism is as courageous, and as timely, as it was the day she stood before Congress and demanded to be heard.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Anthony Anderson, black-ish; Aziz Ansari, Master of None; Will Forte, Last Man on Earth; William H. Macy, Shameless; Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley; Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Who Will Win: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Who Should Win: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Who Got Snubbed: Bill Hader, Documentary Now!
For his reimagining of Grey Gardens’ Little Edie Beale alone (“It’s a built-in scarf”), Hader deserves inclusion here for IFC’s cunning Documentary Now!. (I’d ditch Forte, as the patience-testing, not-exactly-last man on Earth in FOX’s flat sitcom.) In any case, it’s immaterial: In Transparent’s lovely, tender second season, defending champion Jeffrey Tambor once again lent trans woman Maura Pfefferman layer upon layer of complex humanity, as a parent, partner, and friend. His fellow nominees have their merits, but in the end, it’s not even close.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep,/i>; (HBO); Laurie Metcalf, Getting On; Tracee Ellis Ross, black-ish; Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer; Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
Who Will Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Who Should Win: Tracee Ellis Ross, black-ish
Who Got Snubbed: Michaela Watkins, Casual
There’s no doubt that Louis-Dreyfus “deserves” to win—in the sense that her vulgar (now ex-) president Selina Meyer is never less than devastatingly funny. Nor is there any doubt that the TV Academy loves her with abandon—between Seinfeld, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and Veep, she’s amassed a frankly inconceivable 17 nominations, including six wins. Still, with so many stellar comediennes on television, it’s hard not to sigh at the likelihood of her winning a fifth consecutive award in this category. If it can’t be Watkins, the brilliant, beating heart of Hulu’s crafty Casual, my choice is the ferocious, fantastically expressive Ross, whose Rainbow Johnson signals the rebirth of the sitcom mom.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Louie Anderson, Baskets; Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Ty Burrell, Modern Family; Tony Hale, Veep; Keegan-Michael Key, Key & Peele; Matt Walsh, Veep
Who Will Win: Louie Anderson, Baskets
Who Should Win: Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Who Got Snubbed: Zach Woods, Silicon Valley
I must admit, I haven’t caught up with Baskets, so Anderson is an educated guess. Given the Emmys’ predilection for “body of work” awards, the narrative behind the veteran performer’s first Primetime Emmy nomination, at age 63, is compelling, not least because he plays Baskets’ mother, Christine. (The fact that the series received no other nominations, including for star Zach Galifianakis, suggests as much). I’ll also admit that my preference for Burgess, though he’s still the standout in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s manic ensemble, stems from my hope that Emmy voters will reward him for the series’ (even better) first season, too. And I’ll admit, finally, that none of this would matter if the TV Academy would wise up to Zach Woods’ unmatched performance in Silicon Valley, earnest and absurdist in equal measure. His recitation of “O captain, my captain” in “The Empty Chair” might be the hardest I’ve laughed all year.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Anna Chlumsky, Veep; Gaby Hoffmann, Transparent; Allison Janney, Mom (CBS); Judith Light, Transparent; Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live; Niecy Nash, Getting On
Who Will Win: Allison Janney, Mom
Who Should Win: Anna Chlumsky, Veep
Who Got Snubbed: Kether Donohue, You’re the Worst
Well, my hardest laugh of the year, with the possible exception of Kether Donohue in You’re the Worst,, the FXX comedy’s “secret weapon,” as I wrote in my recap of its recent season premiere. Alas, with Donohue out of the running, it’s tough to choose either a winner or a preference in this category, though smart money’s on 12-time nominee and seven-time winner Allison Janney (see also: Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to three-peat for her performance in Mom. If not exactly unfortunate—I love Janney to death, and hers is a richer sitcom turn than most—this isn’t exactly thrilling, either, what with Kate McKinnon’s insightful impression of Hillary Clinton, Gaby Hoffmann’s bold, forthright presence on Transparent, and Niecy Nash’s preternatural calm on Getting On. Still, it’s Chlumsky who’s most overdue: Though her finest screen moment, Amy’s meltdown, came last season, “C***gate” is a close second. It’s time.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline; Rami Malek, Mr. Robot; Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul; Matthew Rhys, The Americans; Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan; Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Who Will Win: Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Who Should Win: Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Who Got Snubbed: Freddie Highmore, Bates Motel
With the field clear of Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm, this is Spacey’s to lose—even if his conniving Frank Underwood is a thick slice of ham slathered in syrup. Malek has an outside shot (the current season of Mr. Robot has helped, though), and I’d never count out the beloved Kyle Chandler, but I have my fingers crossed that the upset, if there is one, comes from Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk, a showman of the first order as law-bending lawyer Jimmy McGill. It’s a toss-up whether he, Rhys, or Highmore, as the young Norman Bates, is currently delivering the best male performance on television.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Claire Danes, Homeland; Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder; Taraji P. Henson, Empire; Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black; Keri Russell, The Americans; Robin Wright, House of Cards
Who Will Win: Robin Wright, House of Cards
Who Should Win: Keri Russell, The Americans
Who Got Snubbed: Carrie Coon, The Leftovers
The precipitous sophomore slumps of both Empire and How to Get Away with Murder would seem to preclude a repeat of last year’s most memorable Emmy moment, with Henson honoring Davis’ powerful speech with her own standing ovation, though both are (and have been) their respective series’ greatest strengths. This leaves Wright in prime position to nab her first Emmy for playing American ice queen Claire Underwood, though I prefer the subtler cool of Keri Russell’s Elizabeth Jennings. (About the TV Academy’s failure to recognize Carrie Coon, or indeed any of the extraordinary women of The Leftovers’ incredible second season, the less said the better. I’m still stewing over it two months later.)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul; Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones; Kit Harington, Game of Thrones; Michael Kelly, House of Cards; Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline; Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Who Will Win: Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
Who Should Win: Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
Who Got Snubbed: Dylan Baker, The Americans
As Mic’s Kevin O’Keeffe noted on Twitter, this might be the weakest of the major categories: Dinklage, Kelly, and Mendelsohn, though terrific in previous seasons of their respective series, had less to work with than ever before, and Harington’s Jon Snow is no more charismatic than the Wall he once swore to protect. (Voight could get nominated for playing a corpse, but let’s not expend too much energy on the dreadful Ray Donovan.) That leaves Banks, excellent in a terse performance that contrasts nicely with Odenkirk’s chattering, charismatic one, and at least three superb turns left off the Emmys’ list: Michael Angarano, not even submitted for The Knick; Michael McKean, as Jimmy McGill’s, uh, fastidious older brother on Saul; and Dylan Baker, whose gallows humor and sincere emotion as a Soviet spy having second thoughts is one of the reasons The Americans was so superlative this season.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones; Lena Headey, Game of Thrones; Dame Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey; Maura Tierney, The Affair ; Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones; Constance Zimmer, UnREAL
Who Will Win: Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Who Should Win: Constance Zimmer, UnREAL
Who Got Snubbed: Alison Wright, The Americans
The other, even more fundamental factor in The Americans’ brilliance is Alison Wright, in what remains the medium’s finest performance of the year—including a five-episode sequence, with her at the center, which would merit an Outstanding Limited Series nomination in its own right. Though it’s possible the Game of Thrones contingent could suffer from vote-splitting, Cersei Lannister’s unflinching atrocities in “The Winds of Winter” should ensure Headey walks off with the trophy. It’s Zimmer, though, whose clear head should prevail: As the executive producer of a Bachelor-style reality show, she’s convincingly calculating and vulnerable at once, not to mention darkly funny. Compared to her, Cersei is a one-note character.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series of TV Movie
Bryan Cranston, All the Way; Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride”; Idris Elba, Luther; Cuba Gooding, Jr., The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story; Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager; Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Who Will Win: Bryan Cranston, All the Way
Who Should Win: Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Who Got Snubbed: Oscar Isaac, Show Me a Hero
I’m going out on a bit of a limb here by predicting Cranston’s LBJ to best Vance’s Johnnie Cochran, largely because this category traditionally favors name recognition that the latter doesn’t have. (That said, the great Oscar Isaac, now with a recurring role in the Star Wars franchise in his back pocket, didn’t even get nominated, so what do I know?) If Cranston’s scenery-chewing performance is a lifelike impression of the former president, though, Vance’s Cochran is a revelation, offering what amounts to an X-ray of the attorney’s noble motivations and unseemly tactics. Let’s just say I won’t be mad if I get this one wrong.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie
Kirsten Dunst, Fargo; Felicity Huffman, American Crime; Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill; Sarah Paulson, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story; Lili Taylor, American Crime; Kerry Washington, Confirmation
Who Will Win: Sarah Paulson, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Who Should Win: Sarah Paulson, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Who Got Snubbed: Riley Keough, The Girlfriend Experience
As controlled and engrossing as Riley Keough’s enigmatic performance in The Girlfriend Experience is, it’s hard to say she was “snubbed,” because who would you cut? Audra McDonald, channeling Billie Holiday? Kerry Washington, revisiting Anita Hill? Felicity Huffman’s brittle, canny schoolmaster? Lili Taylor’s embattled single mom? Kirsten Dunst’s wilier-than-she-looks hairdresser? The one that stands above the rest, though—the one whose precision, and depth, forced us to reconsider a woman about whom it might have seemed we knew all there was to know—is Sarah Paulson. Few actors have done such consistently impeccable work in film and television in recent years (Carol, 12 Years a Slave, American Horror Story), and Marcia Clark might be the role of her lifetime. I look forward to seeing her receive the honor she so richly deserves.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie
Sterling K. Brown, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story; Hugh Laurie, The Night Manager; Jesse Plemons, Fargo; David Schwimmer, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story; John Travolta, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story; Bokeem Woodbine, Fargo
Who Will Win: Sterling K. Brown, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Who Should Win: Sterling K. Brown, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Who Got Snubbed: Connor Jessup and Joey Pollari, American Crime
Unexpectedly sexy, with a warm, sly grin and a refined sense of Christopher Darden’s personal turmoil, Brown—with due credit to the great Bokeem Woodbine—is the odds-on favorite in this category, and it’s hard to argue with that. The actors who might’ve nudged him from the top spot, at least for me, weren’t even nominated: As the pair of teenagers embroiled in a sexual assault case at an Indianapolis prep school, Jessup and Pollari, alone and in tandem, elevated the second season of ABC’s anthology series into a searching portrait of growing up gay in middle America.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Hotel; Olivia Colman, The Night Manager; Regina King, American Crime; Melissa Leo, All the Way; Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Hotel; Jean Smart, Fargo
Who Will Win: Jean Smart, Fargo
Who Should Win: Jean Smart, Fargo
Who Got Snubbed: Catherine Keener, Show Me a Hero
The real highlight of Fargo, of course, was Smart’s stony, stiff-lipped Floyd Gerhardt, matriarch of a North Dakotan crime family. (Colman, as a tough, pregnant intelligence analyst; and King, as a protective, and prideful, mother, run second and third, respectively.) Still, it’s unpleasant to see David Simon’s nuanced, thorough, keenly intelligent Show Me a Hero forgotten since it aired last summer, in particular Keener’s observant performance as an aging white woman in fast-changing East Yonkers, as prescient as it was unflashy.
Matt Brennan is a film and TV critic whose writing has appeared in LA Weekly, Indiewire, Paste, Slant, The Week, Flavorwire, Deadspin, and Slate, among other publications. He lives in New Orleans and tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.