For a few years there, the Emmy Awards were about as predictable as the weather in California. Simply put: There was no need to check the forecast; the winners were already a foregone conclusion. (Not that anyone’s complaining about abundant sunshine.) But then came peak TV. Suddenly the Television Academy’s infamous — and often frustrating — habit of rewarding the same winners year after year was finally broken. Who could have imagined that Tatiana Maslany would finally be recognized for her multifaceted work on “Orphan Black” — or that a newcomer to the awards scene, Rami Malek, would be anointed lead actor?
While a few all-too-familiar veterans snuck onto the list of nominees this year (and more than a few standouts were inexplicably snubbed), this year’s nominations reflect the best of peak TV. Fresh faces in the Emmy races sparkle across nearly every category — the slate reflects an infusion of new shows and stars who can now call themselves Emmy nominees, from 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown (Netflix’s “Stranger Things”) to 73-year-old Robert De Niro (HBO’s “Wizard of Lies”). And while it remains to be seen who’ll ultimately make it to the winners circle, the absence of several reigning champions means the night will inevitably bring some welcome surprises.
Perhaps the greatest shakeup is in the drama category, where five of the seven slots belong to freshman series. You’d have to go back to 1961 to find a similar slate where the majority of the contenders were new series. Normally, a single show may break through in its first outing (see, “Homeland”) — but this time out, the Academy recognized the popularity of shows like “Stranger Things,” “Westworld,” “This Is Us,” “The Crown,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” — and they’re all contenders for the top prize, against veterans “Better Call Saul” and “House of Cards.” Good luck predicting who’s going to take that one.
New shows didn’t fare as well on the comedy side, unfortunately — it falls to ”Atlanta” to represent for the new wave of auteur-driven half-hours (“Insecure,” “Fleabag”). But the deafening buzz surrounding creator and star Donald Glover’s debut means “Veep” has a definite challenger for the title.
We’ll also have new winners in the drama acting races — with the incumbents out of contention, either because of eligibility issues or omissions. Elisabeth Moss (Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”) is favored to finally take home Emmy gold on her eighth nomination — but she’ll have to fend off none less than the queen herself, Claire Foy (Netflix’s “The Crown”). And Sterling K. Brown (NBC’s “This Is Us”) may add to his collection — having won last year in a supporting role for FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson” — but his competition, from Bob Odenkirk (AMC’s “Better Call Saul”) to Matthew Rhys (FX’s “The Americans”) to Anthony Hopkins (HBO’s “Westworld”), has yet to claim the top prize.
Of course Julia Louis-Dreyfus is poised for a repeat win as comedy actress for HBO’s “Veep” — setting records in the process — but should anyone upset her, history will be made as well. None of her competitors have won for their current roles — that is, except for Allison Janney (CBS’ “Mom”), who’s triumphed in the supporting race. And Jeffrey Tambor may the presumptive favorite going in — given his similar winning streak — but he’ll have to fend off Glover, a surging challenger.
And perhaps the biggest surprises will come from the limited series categories — where Oscar and Tony winners are vying to add one more piece of the puzzle to their EGOT status. It’s an embarrassment of acting riches for the lead actresses — Nicole Kidman, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Reese Witherspoon — while the actor lineup is a similar reflection of the industry’s top talent, from Riz Ahmed to De Niro.
In these Emmy special editions, we aim to help voters make sense of it all. We break down the key races, analyzing the competition and diving deep into all of the productions that had us buzzing all year.
There’s nothing I love more than a show with a good plot twist, and the Emmys promise to deliver all that — and more. This is one season finale I can’t wait to see.