Emmy Predictions 2021: Who Should Win, Who Will Win, and Dark Horse Picks

TV Lists emmys
Emmy Predictions 2021: Who Should Win, Who Will Win, and Dark Horse Picks

As I say each and every year (and will continue to do so), I don’t like the Emmys. I think they are deeply flawed and a very poor example of the best that TV has to offer. However… this year’s nominations aren’t that bad. For the Emmys, that’s huge. Still, like 2020’s Pandemmys, I think the winners are going to be pretty clear. The only category where a real tooth-and-nail fight might go down is for miniseries, because that’s where television truly continues to shine. The miniseries (or “limited series”) format, which already has the distinction of attracting big-name talent, is also a way for productions to operate safely with COVID restrictions, utilizing smaller casts and short episode counts (this is something we’ll see play out even more with next year’s nominees and awards). And they absolutely made the most of it.

Below are my picks for who will probably win each of the major awards, who should win, and a dark horse pick if you’re looking for an upset. This year I’m not making a prediction for reality or talk shows, because I’m not well versed enough in those categories to do more than pick a rabbit out of a hat. Also, the supporting categories are a crapshoot, so you’re on your own there (when it comes to guest stars, go for the biggest name, especially if they appeared on SNL). Best of luck to you and, more importantly, to all of the nominees:


Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie

Paul Bettany (WandaVision)
Hugh Grant (The Undoing)
Ewan McGregor (Halston)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton)
Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton)

Should Win: Paul Bettany
Will Win: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Dark Horse: Ewan McGregor

I’m genuinely upset that Hamilton is a contender here. I mean what the actual hell. It’s not a TV show… it’s a musical that happened to be rebroadcast on a streaming service you can watch on your television. It’s such a weird cheat for Disney+, and I genuinely can’t tell how Emmy voters will go on this. On the one hand, everyone loves Hamilton. On the other hand, Emmy voters love movie stars, especially ones from the UK. I adore both Hugh Grant and Ewan McGregor, but they didn’t put in the performances that should win them Emmys here. So who does that leave? Paul Bettany was really excellent in WandaVision, but up against the might of Lin-Manuel? It seems impossible.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie

Thumbnail image for queens-gambit-main.jpg

Michaela Coel (I May Destroy You)
Cynthia Erivo (Genius: Aretha)
Elizabeth Olsen (WandaVision)
Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit)
Kate Winslet (Mare of Easttown)

Should Win: All of them
Will Win: Kate Winslet
Dark Horse: Anya Taylor-Joy

Per the logic of the category above, Kate Winslet is a shoo-in. Emmy voters love British actors and movie stars on TV, and HBO has a massive voting bloc. But Netflix also has a lot of voters, and everyone loved The Queen’s Gambit (plus, Taylor-Joy’s star is on the rise, and the Emmys love to reward that). Elizabeth Olsen gave an incredibly moving performance, but sadly I don’t see a genre series winning anything here. Cynthia Erivo made the best of a middling miniseries, but it’s not likely enough to get her the win. Michaela Cole is a superstar, and HBO might put its weight to back her, but I think they’ll go for the bigger name and less avant-garde production. Surprise me, Emmys!

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Michael Douglas (The Kominsky Method)
William H. Macy (Shameless)
Jason Sudeikis (Ted Lasso)
Kenan Thompson (Kenan)

Should Win: Jason Sudeikis
Will Win: Jason Sudeikis
Dark Horse: William H. Macy

I predict that Ted Lasso will repeat Schitt’s Creek sweep from last year and take home the statue in all the comedy categories. That said, given the relative age of Emmy voters and the fact that this was Macy’s swan song on Shameless, he could win (same for Douglas). There’s an outside chance that Anderson or Thompson could triumph (Thompson was particularly charming in his NBC series), but I think it’s going to be Lasso all the way.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Aidy Bryant (Shrill)
Kaley Cuoco (The Flight Attendant)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish)
Jean Smart (Hacks)

Should Win: Jean Smart
Will Win: Jean Smart
Dark Horse: Kaley Cuoco

Remember when The Big Bang Theory dominated the Emmys year after year? Maybe there will still be some residual feelings about it to propel Kaley Cuoco to victory in the genuinely engaging Flight Attendant but… probably not. It’s Jean Smart, folks. This was the year of Jean Smart. She killed it both in Hacks and Mare of Easttown, she’s deserved these kudos for a long time, and she’s going to get them here.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us)
Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country)
Josh O’Connor (The Crown)
Regé-Jean Page (Bridgerton)
Billy Porter (Pose)
Matthew Rhys (Perry Mason)

Should Win: Billy Porter
Will Win: Billy Porter
Dark Horse: Regé-Jean Page

More than most, I think the lead actor categories are pretty wide-open this year. Of the drama series nominated, none were barnstormers except Bridgerton, and as charming as Page was I don’t see him necessarily getting the statue. Porter seems like the most likely candidate, given that this was Pose’s final season, and his star has risen vibrantly through it. O’Connor is British (an Emmy boon!) and was uncanny as Charles, but there are also four excellent Black actors here and this is not really the time to reward that particular side of the British aristocracy, you know? Having said that…

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series


Uzo Aduba (In Treatment)
Olivia Colman (The Crown)
Emma Corrin (The Crown)
Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Mj Rodriguez (Pose)
Jurnee Smollett (Lovecraft Country)

Should Win: Olivia Colman
Will Win: Olivia Colman
Dark Horse: Mj Rodriguez

This wasn’t even the best season of The Crown, but its presence looms large here. Like in the lead actor category, none of these series dominated the zeitgeist in the way that this year’s comedy and limited series did, so it’s a little harder to discern who has the shine on them despite all providing great performances. But when in doubt, default to British, final seasons, and voting blocs. The winner there, at least, is Colman.

Outstanding Limited Series


I May Destroy You
Mare of Easttown
The Queen’s Gambit
The Underground Railroad

Should Win: All of them
Will Win: Mare of Easttown
Not-Very-Dark Horse: The Queen’s Gambit

Tough tough tough tough. Honestly, each one of these series is an absolute gem. They are, with only a few additions, the best shows of the year. To only be able to pick one is criminal.

But who has the buzz? Well, Mare of Easttown seems the most likely. It was outstanding and stuck the landing, but so did the rest of them (arguably Wanda did not, but each choice here has its foibles if you want to nitpick). Gut reaction is Mare, but Queen’s Gambit has a strong possibility of a checkmate.

Outstanding Comedy Series

Black-ish (ABC)
Cobra Kai (Netflix)
Emily In Paris (Netflix)
Hacks (HBO)
The Flight Attendant (HBO)
The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
PEN15 (Hulu)
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Should Win: Ted Lasso
Will Win: Ted Lasso
Dark Horse: Hacks

Love it or hate it, I don’t see the Lasso juggernaut slowing down for any of these other series. Half of these aren’t even really comedies in any traditional sense, including Cobra Kai and The Flight Attendant, and it’s one of the many reasons I think the Emmys do such a terrible job of understanding our current TV landscape. At the end of the day, though, I’m just happen to see Hulu’s little gem PEN15 nominated.

Outstanding Drama Series

The Boys (Amazon)
Bridgerton (Netflix)
The Crown (Netflix)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Pose (FX)
This Is Us (NBC)

Should Win: The Mandalorian
Will Win: The Crown
Dark Horse: Bridgerton

The drama category is fun this year, because there are some truly bonkers nominations. Thirst-trap Bridgerton? Three supernatural/superhero/space shows? Honestly it’s wild. And once again, Grogu (the artist formally known as Baby Yoda) could grasp a tiny Emmy statue in his little baby Jedi hand. It’s unlikely, but it could happen. The Emmys might almost be fun for a minute…? Let’s see what the voters do with this hodgepodge. A true popcorn dot gif moment.

The 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards will air live Sunday, September 19, on CBS and stream on Paramount+, and we will have some thoughts about it right here the following day.

Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin