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Emmy Awards: 8 Burning Questions at the Finish Line

It’s become a popular refrain: “The Emmys are so boring.” That’s less a reflection of the three-hour telecast than the usual yawning predictability of the winners.

At first blush, this year does seem to have a whiff of inevitability, especially in the acting races where certain familiar faces are heavily favored to win.

But as voting nears the finish line, there are still more than a few burning questions that will only be answered when the envelopes are opened on Sept. 17.

What will win best drama?

For the past few years, it seemed like nothing could dethrone “Game of Thrones”: Though it took awhile for the show to finally break through with voters, once it did, it was hard for any of its competitors to outshine the HBO juggernaut in sheer scope and production. After all, how do you defeat a dragon? But then “Thrones” sat out the race last year, making room for Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” to not only seize the zeitgeist, but also the trophy. This time out, the two dramas are going head-to-head — each with sizable support already from voters with 22 noms for “Thrones” and 20 for “Handmaid’s.” So which will prevail? “Handmaid’s” just concluded its second season, so it’s top of mind for voters — for whom “Game of Thrones’” season, which aired last summer, may be a bit of a distant memory in an ever-more crowded landscape. Yet the second season of “Handmaid’s,” as politically pointed as ever, was perceived as too dark by some. Or will voters opt to wait until the final season of “Thrones” to crown it yet again? (And worth mentioning: Could “The Americans,” which wrapped with a much-heralded series finale, play spoiler?)

What will win best comedy?

FX’s groundbreaking “Atlanta” was denied the series prize last year by Emmy favorite “Veep,” which is absent this time out. But Donald Glover’s masterpiece faces a surging rival in Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which has been on a marketing tear, painting the town pink. The two series have yet to face off in a major kudos race — “Maisel” won the Globe and the PGA in a field that didn’t include “Atlanta.” And both series’ stars — Glover and Rachel Brosnahan — are heavily favored to win their acting races. But should either win, history would be made as the first comedy from streaming or basic cable to take home the top prize.

Will there be a “Jon Hamm effect”?

Sometimes, voters like to procrastinate — waiting until their final chance to recognize worthy contenders. It famously took until the final season of “Mad Men” for Jon Hamm to win his much-deserved trophy for best actor in a drama in his eighth try (and 16 noms overall). Will that halo translate to “The Americans”? The critically lauded drama was never a favorite of the Academy’s for some inexplicable reason — it wasn’t until the fourth season that it was even recognized with an Emmy nomination in the major races. But its final season scored not only with critics but with voters — earning four noms, including for drama, best actor (Matthew Rhys), and best actress (Keri Russell). Might voters finally want to anoint the series or its stars, given that it’s their last chance to do so?

Will Benedict do it again?

Four years ago, Billy Bob Thornton seemed a shoo-in for the best actor trophy for “Fargo.” But among the many surprises that night, Benedict Cumberbatch swooped in for the win for that year’s installment of “Sherlock.” This time out, the actor’s in contention for “Patrick Melrose,” Showtime’s limited series in which he turned out yet another tour de force performance as a drug-addled man coming to terms with his past. Once again, he’s facing off against a powerhouse lineup of contenders: Antonio Banderas, Jeff Daniels, John Legend, Jesse Plemons — and Darren Criss, who impressed in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” But if history is any judge, Cumberbatch could add to his collection.

Will the Emmys get sentimental?

The “In Memoriam” segment is always one of the most emotional during the ceremony — and this year marked some tragic losses, including CNN host Anthony Bourdain and prolific producer Craig Zadan, both of whom are nominated this year. But the Emmys has a spotty track record for recognizing those who’ve passed away — sentimentality doesn’t always seem to factor in when marking the ballot. While Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, and Raul Julia are among those who won posthumous trophies, others like Phil Hartman, Farrah Fawcett, and John Ritter went unrecognized after their deaths. But should either Bourdain (whose “Parts Unknown” is in contention in seven categories, including informational series or special) or Zadan (“Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” earned 13 noms, including variety special) triumph on Emmy night, you can guarantee there will be waterworks in the theater.

Will the Emmys make history?

Last year, history was made in multiple races: Lena Waithe became the first woman of color to win for comedy writing, along with Aziz Ansari; Donald Glover was the first black man to win for directing a comedy; Riz Ahmed, the first Muslim to win an acting prize. Will this be another year for the record books? Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve”) could be the first woman of Asian descent to win the best actress in a drama trophy, while a win for Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show” would the first time an African-American-hosted show wins that prize. If Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” wins variety talk series, it would be the first time a show hosted by a woman took that trophy. On the unscripted side, if “RuPaul’s Drag Race” upsets “The Voice,” which has owned the reality competition prize for the last three years, it’s poised to make history as the first show to win both for series and host in the same year (assuming that RuPaul earns his third hosting statue). And the EGOT club could get another member in Legend, nommed for “Jesus Christ Superstar Live.”

What impact did the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have on voting?

The flood of sexual harassment and assault allegations that were revealed in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein stories certainly made their mark in the nomination round, when Jeffrey Tambor wasn’t even submitted for consideration for his work on “Transparent.” He was eligible, too, for “Arrested Development,” but failed to earn a nod in the supporting actor race. (Kevin Spacey, another high-profile man accused of sexual misconduct, wasn’t eligible for “House of Cards,” which didn’t air during this Emmy cycle.) But Anthony Anderson, who’s nominated for the fourth time for “Black-ish,” is facing accusations of alleged assault (which he denies); the reports first surfaced in late July, just ahead of voting. Glover was already heavily favored to win for “Atlanta,” so a win for Anderson was unlikely, but the coverage may well have harmed his chances for an upset. And what remains to be seen is the impact on the women thrust into the headlines — such as Pamela Adlon, who worked alongside Louis C.K. on “Better Things” before he was ousted, and Claire Foy, whose pay disparity for her work on “The Crown” triggered a sea change in the industry. Will good will flow their way?

Which network will win the most trophies?

When the nominations were unveiled in July, Netflix claimed bragging rights: By a slim margin of four, the streamer broke HBO’s nearly two-decade-long streak of earning the most nominations — with 112 nods to the cabler’s 108. But will that haul translate to Emmy night? Last year, HBO converted 111 noms into 29 wins, while Netflix walked away with 20 wins out of 91 noms. Should Netflix triumph over HBO, another record would be broken — HBO has earned the most wins for the past 16 years.


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