With HBO’S Game of Thrones and PBS’ Downton Abbey out of contention this year, the primetime Emmy race for outstanding drama is wide open, with a bunch of prestige newcomers entering the fray.
One strong contender is Netflix’s The Crown, awarded the Golden Globe in January. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is getting rave reviews across the board, and star Elisabeth Moss should be expected to face The Crown’s Claire Foy in the best actress race.
“Many of the Hollywood people we’ve interviewed who don’t have a chance to watch a lot of TV have all seen The Crown. That could really sweep it,” said the New York Post’s Robert Rorke.
NBC’s breakout hit, This Is Us, also is expected to be an Emmys contender, one of the few broadcast entries to rise to that level in this age of the prestige premium cable or streaming drama.
‘Us’ Versus Them
“The true definition of the blended TV family, this diverse character-driven ensemble drama, much like thirtysomething decades before, is ripe for water-cooler banter,” Marc Berman, editor in chief of Programming Insider, said. “In a sea of generic scripted crime-solvers, This Is Us offers a fresh and inventive way to tell a story. Most important, it proves that the concept of an immediate hit, both critically and by the numbers, can still exist on a broadcast network.”
“If NBC submits the ‘Memphis’ episode, This Is Us will win,” Rorke said. “It’s the equivalent of Moonlight in a category where the other shows — such as The Crown and Westworld — will try to impress the Academy with how much money they’ve spent. This Is Us claimed your emotions with its excellent actors and writers and involved you without any of the expense. The Memphis episode was the most emotionally wrenching episode of TV this year.”
The show’s cast is also full of Emmy contenders, including Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia and Chrissy Metz. Still, a broadcast drama hasn’t won this prize since Fox’s 24 in 2006.
Even without two-time outstanding drama winner Game of Thrones, HBO should remain in the mix with Westworld, with potential nominations for stars Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood.
“Emmy voters like a good debate, and there is no better show to decipher than Westworld,” Berman said. “Did anyone really know what was going on?”
A dark-horse possibility for HBO is The Leftovers, with critics raving about its third and last season, although viewership for the Justin Theroux-starrer is low.
Beyond The Crown, Netflix could find itself having to back several entries, including Stranger Things; House of Cards, which returns just before the Emmys deadline on May 30; Orange Is the New Black, which runs out of sync with the Emmy calendar, with its latest season debuting on June 9; and the much-discussed 13 Reasons Why, which takes on the difficult topic of teenage suicide.
And now that FX finally got its critically beloved The Americans into the race last year, most critics expect it to remain there for its penultimate season. Another possibility for FX, and a show that the network will certainly push, is its trippy take on Marvel’s X-Men franchise, Legion, starring Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens.
AMC’s Better Call Saul, now in season three, should also get a nomination here, just as it did for seasons one and two.
Other possibilities include Showtime’s Homeland, which was an Emmy darling in its earlier years; CBS All Access’ The Good Fight, following in the footsteps of its Emmy-darling parent, The Good Wife; season two of USA’s Mr. Robot; and OWN’s Queen Sugar.
Emmy Looks At Hot ‘lanta’
The comedy field is ripe for upset, with HBO’s Veep having won the last two years. FX’s Atlanta — created, written, executive produced by and starring Donald Glover — seems like the heir apparent, with many critics naming it the best show of 2016.
“Outstanding acting, production and a setting that is anything but typical for a sitcom is all the more reason to believe Emmy will come calling,” Berman said. “This is comedy with dramatic overtones, and real life presented the way it should be on the small screen.”
FX could also see comedies Better Things and You’re the Worst earn nominations.
ABC’s Black-ish, nominated last year as well, also seems like a shoo-in for another nod. That said, Veep hasn’t lost any of its oomph and should be expected back on the list this year. And several of Veep’s comedy brethren on HBO — Girls, in its final season, and Silicon Valley — have good shots to make a reappearance on the list. HBO rookie Insecure also could rate.
Netflix has its own comedy contenders, with shows such as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Master of None on the roster. And Amazon’s Transparent, nominated for its first and second seasons, is also likely to return. Transparent could be joined by Amazon’s Fleabag, written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
ABC’s five-time Emmy winner Modern Family and CBS’ The Big Bang Theory should always be considered possibilities but neither should be expected to take the trophy.
‘Feud,’ ‘Lies’ and ‘Fargo’ in the Fight
The limited-series category has become incredibly competitive with plenty of diverse offerings. Last year, FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story basically swept this category, but this year, there are several strong contenders.
FX returns with lots of options in this category, including Feud: Bette and Joan, starring powerhouses Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, who will likely face each other in the best actress category.
“Under Ryan Murphy’s guidance, simply everything worked in this project, including one of the most brilliantly authentic recreations of an Oscar ceremony to date,” Gracenote’s Jay Bobbin said.
The third installment of Fargo, starring Ewan MacGregor as brothers, also seems like a likely nominee, even though it appears to be less buzzy than the first two seasons.
HBO’s Big Little Lies, with its high-powered cast, was a popular favorite, and Sarandon and Lange should expect company in the best actress category from Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and possibly Shailene Woodley.
“Two Oscar winners — Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon — combined with Shailene Woodley as the three mothers of 7-year-olds who get involved in a murder mystery had social media — and the proverbial water cooler — abuzz with banter. Throw in the name David E. Kelley as producer and you have a likely Emmy Award winner. It was true excellence all around,” said Berman.
Big Little Lies is likely to be joined in this category by HBO’s The Night Of, starring breakout actor Riz Ahmed and John Turturro. Another strong possibility is The Young Pope, featuring Jude Law and Diane Keaton.
National Geographic Channel could find its way into this category for the first time with Genius, starring Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein.
On the broadcast side, ABC’s American Crime, which the network canceled, has been a repeat entry, while Fox’s Shots Fired could make some noise come Emmy time.
“How varied the past television season has been is to be marveled at,” Bobbin said. “That may be a sign of ‘Peak TV,’ but it also indicates a real commitment by many talents on both sides of the camera to originality and quality. If content is indeed king, there’s a lot to be happy about here.”