Diagnosis: Too close to call.
That’s a surprising state of being for the Emmys, which are usually as predictable as an unrelenting heat wave on the day of the ceremony itself. But this year, while many of the acting races seem locked, the series races couldn’t be tighter. If last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmy ceremonies are any indication, voters haven’t forgotten about “Game of Thrones,” even though it sat out last year’s race. The HBO juggernaut came thundering back into contention, scoring seven early wins (vs. three for its main competitor in drama, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”). And on the comedy side, FX’s “Atlanta” and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” each have three wins to their credit so far, setting up a battle royale for the comedy crown.
Here’s a look at the key races — who’s poised to win, and who may play dark horse. All will be revealed when the envelopes are opened on Monday, Sept. 17.
Will win: “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
Should win: “The Americans” (FX)
Dark horse: “The Americans” (FX)
Critics have long complained that FX’s spy drama has been ignored by the Academy. This year is the last chance to rectify that oversight — and there could be no better reason than the series finale, wildly hailed as one of the best ever. The pressure to stick the landing for the creators couldn’t have been more acute, and they nailed it brilliantly. But can that sentimental factor upstage the HBO juggernaut “Game of Thrones,” back in contention this year, or last year’s winner, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which once again eerily echoed the relentless headlines?
Will win: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
Should win: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
Dark horse: “Barry” (HBO)
This isn’t to detract from the creative genius that is “Atlanta.” Donald Glover’s auteur comedy sparked even brighter in its second season, with its bold risk-taking and unprecedented storytelling shifts. But this is the year of the woman, and there’s no better standard bearer for women finding their long-stifled voices than housewife-turned-comedian Midge Maisel, as embodied so fearlessly by Rachel Brosnahan. And she’s supported by not only a deep bench on the acting side, who were also recognized by the Academy with noms, but also a brilliant creative team below-the-line, with an exacting attention to period detail that recalls “Mad Men.” Keep an eye on “Barry,” though: HBO’s dark comedy, a delightful surprise given its subject matter, could just sneak onto the platform.
BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA:
Will win: Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us” (NBC)
Should win: Matthew Rhys, “The Americans” (FX)
Dark horse: Matthew Rhys, “The Americans” (FX)
Brown made history last year when he won the trophy for leading actor, breaking a nearly 20-year dry spell for black actors in the race. And he’s made the most of the year since: Not only as the anxiety-ridden father not afraid to make fun of himself on “This Is Us,” but also on the big screen, with roles in “Black Panther,” “Marshall,” “Hotel Artemis,” and more. He even found the time to host “Saturday Night Live” and pop up in “Insecure” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” He deserves a trophy for that agenda alone. Could there be, though, a “Jon Hamm effect” that pushes “The Americans'” Rhys ahead? Although he wasn’t nommed for every season like Hamm was, he was our proxy for that gut-wrenching finale, from the garage scene to the final frame.
BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA:
Will win: Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
Should win: Keri Russell, “The Americans” (FX)
Dark horse: Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve” (BBC America)
While some found fault with the second season of Hulu’s dystopian drama, few can argue with Moss’ performance, who managed to find new depths to June/Offred’s struggle with just a flicker of her eyes. Claire Foy may engender some goodwill among voters for the classy way she bore “The Crown’s” pay parity dispute (as well as turning over the tiara to Olivia Colman), and Russell finally revealed the cracks in Elizabeth’s steely exterior. But don’t count out Oh, whose history-making nomination made a “killing” (pardon the expression) in headlines. Imagine what a win might do.
BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY:
Will win: Donald Glover, “Atlanta” (FX)
Should win: Donald Glover, “Atlanta” (FX)
Dark horse: Bill Hader, “Barry” (HBO)
Glover’s fame has only skyrocketed since he won the trophy last year, as he spread his immense talents across film (“Solo”), music (“This Is America”), and the second season of his FX dramedy. But for those who only know Hader for his wicked “SNL” impressions, his sly turn as a hitman-turned-wannabe actor proved he’s got a few more tricks up his sleeve.
BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY:
Will win: Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
Should win: Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
Dark horse: Allison Janney, “Mom”
Fun experiment: Go back and watch the first season of “House of Cards,” where Brosnahan played the unwitting subject of Doug Stamper’s obsession. Or “Manhattan,” as the wife of a nuclear scientist making her own discoveries. Who could have predicted her seamless transition from drama to the graduate school of comedy, Sherman-Palladino style? It’s no easy feat navigating those scripts, and in a girdle no less. Janney already owns several trophies for her work on “Mom” (not to mention “West Wing”), but raised her profile this year on the awards scene with her Oscar for “I, Tonya.”
BEST LIMITED SERIES:
Will win: “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (FX)
Should win: “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (FX)
Dark horse: “Godless” (Netflix)
Scott Frank’s western didn’t get much attention during its initial run, but gained momentum during awards season (12 nominations!), positioning it as a contender. But it will take some serious firepower to dethrone yet another compelling opus from uberproducer Ryan Murphy, who’s mastered the limited series.
BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE:
Will win: Darren Criss, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (FX)
Should win: Benedict Cumberbatch, “Patrick Melrose” (Showtime)
Dark horse: John Legend, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” (NBC)
Back in 2014, Cumberbatch pulled off an upset, winning the trophy in the category over “Fargo” favorites Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman (perhaps they split the vote?). But in the years since, his “Sherlock” has been passed over for the likes of Riz Ahmed and Courtney B. Vance. Although he’s in contention this time for a different role — a tour de force turn in “Patrick Melrose” — the momentum lies with Darren Criss, whose performance as the serial killer Andrew Cunanan hit notes that far eclipsed his “Glee” days.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE:
Will win: Laura Dern, “The Tale” (HBO)
Should win: Laura Dern, “The Tale” (HBO)
Dark horse: Edie Falco, “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders” (NBC)
Dern’s a familiar face to the Emmy stage — she claimed the trophy last year for supporting actress for “Big Little Lies.” She’ll need to make more room on the mantle for her compelling turn in filmmaker Jennifer Fox’s autobiographical tale about sexual abuse and repressed memory, which couldn’t be more timely in the #MeToo era. But Falco’s got an impressive collection of her own, one of the only actresses to win for both comedy and drama. Will she get a complete set, snagging one for limited series, too?