The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards take place Monday, September 17. The following are A.V. Club TV editor Erik Adams’ predictions for the winners of the major series awards, mixed in with some wishful thinking and endorsements of worthy programs overlooked by the Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences. Watch for thoughts on the acting awards on Monday.
Outstanding drama series
Prediction: You remember that stinger from Game Of Thrones’ seventh season, when the wights drag Viserion from his icy grave and the Night King restores the dragon to its previous state of scaly invincibility—but with a twist? And then the next episode, the newly blue-eyed flying serpent wings its way toward The Wall, and makes, like, a giant blow torch? That’s kind of what Outstanding Drama Series feels like in 2018, HBO’s fantasy epic returning from a brief nap to lead its legions of dead and not-yet-dead toward a reclamation of what was once theirs. The show steamrolled its way through the Creative Arts Emmys, and there’s little to suggest that it won’t do the same on Monday night: It’s a popular show within and without the academy, and its primary challengers—last year’s winner The Handmaid’s Tale and GOT’s heir apparent Westworld—each had divisive sophomore runs. Of the other second-time candidates, The Crown retained its high standard of quality in the face of some lurid real-life plots (to quote Billy Joel: “British politician sex”), and the mystery of Jack’s death kept This Is Us buzzy. It’s cute that Stranger Things keeps getting nominated here—and a sign that the tables have turned from the days when a single genre series like The X-Files, Quantum Leap, or Star Trek: The Next Generation would slug it out with more traditional fare—but like Dustin and Mad Max, it just ain’t gonna happen, dude.
Preference: But maybe I’m just being extra pragmatic so that I’m not let down when The Americans completes its Soviet homecoming sans Outstanding Drama Series Emmy. FX’s spy thriller/domestic gut-wrencher is the Outstanding Drama Series of this entire decade, and it went out in a blaze of slow-burning glory, picking up all the slack that it let out last year and delivering a finale that makes other series’ bloodbaths of inevitability look amateurish.
Overlooked: Fellow late-20th-century period piece Halt And Catch Fire
also had a final season for the ages, capping a run whose start was nowhere near as sure as The Americans’. Mirroring the show’s expertly acted, warmly realized depiction of the personal-computing boom, the true innovators, the ones who have an idea, go unheralded in their time.
Outstanding comedy series
Prediction: There are only two shows that have won this award during the 2010s, and neither of them is around this year: The seventh and final season of Veep was delayed due to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ recovery from breast cancer, while Modern Family finally missed the cut after eight consecutive nominations. That could leave an opening for one of the contenders that have been held back by those perennials: Black-ish, Silicon Valley, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have been nominated every year they’ve been on the air, but never won, while Curb Your Enthusiasm has failed to convert on seven previous nods. None of those shows are at the peak of their powers though, and while Modern Family’s five consecutive wins show that Emmy voters always take that kind of thing into consideration, it feels like this one’s going to come down to a younger, buzzier show. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is picking up all the prestige and awards that Amy Sherman-Palladino’s previous efforts deserved, but I’m putting my money on Robbin’ Season. Atlanta won a pair of trophies for Donald Glover last time around, and the psychedelic horror-comedy of its second season both fits the national mood in a way last year’s drama winner did, and is head and shoulders above anything else that’s been on TV in 2018.
Preference: Atlanta, with apologies to Barry Block, Midge Maisel, and the women of GLOW, all of whom I love dearly. Really, anything other than zombie Curb would be a worthy winner.
Overlooked: I’m just going to say this every year until it’s no longer true: Emmy voters are going to The Bad Place until they start recognizing the divine depth and devilish wit of The Good Place.
Outstanding limited series
Nominees: The Alienist, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Genius: Picasso, Godless, Patrick Melrose
Prediction: There’s little in the way of The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story winning here. The last installment of American Crime Story was named Outstanding Limited Series, Ryan Murphy is pretty much the reason this type of show no longer competes against the TV movies, and FX shares custody of this award with HBO (and HBO isn’t here this year).
Preference: Versace is quieter and less splashy than The People V. O.J. Simpson, but it’s still riveting, with Tom Rob Smith’s scripts aiming not to retell the story of Andrew Cunanan’s killing spree (most details of which can never be fully known), but instead using it as a lens to refract an allegory about the societal ills of homophobia and entitlement—a movingly acted tragedy that’s shot in a way that’s as beautiful as any of Versace’s designs. It stands Medusa head and shoulders above the competition.
Overlooked: Which is a lot of purple prose to say that, Versace aside, this category is just stupid this year. Jessica Biel wowed voters with her performance in The Sinner, but that wasn’t enough to pull a series nomination along with it? Godless’ dusty meandering resonated with more academy members than the bone-chilling drama of The Terror? At least Twin Peaks snuck its way into the directing and writing categories, the oddball’s last resort. (Where it probably won’t win.) As FBI special agent Dale Cooper once said, “What year is this?”
Outstanding variety talk series
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, The Late Late Show With James Corden, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert
Prediction: Four years after the academy split Outstanding Variety Series into a better representation of modern variety TV—talk shows and sketch comedy—I’m unsure if it’s done anything to make this particular field more competitive. It’s just a tough ask in categories dominated by programs that are part of nightly, weekly, or catching-up-the-morning-after-on-YouTube routines. The underlying impact is the feeling of “Well, of course” that sets in when Last Week Tonight With John Oliver three-peats, despite the continually excellent and vital work the show does in the field of squeezing entertainment out of timely and timeless despair.
Preference: The Emmys don’t need any more categories, but also, maybe it’s time to mark the distinction between the shows that are lobbing well-crafted, deeply researched commentary bombs once a week, and those that are putting something new onscreen every weeknight? For its ability to keep up with the rapidly diminishing half-life of the news cycle, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert should get an Emmy. Barring that: Maybe hazard pay for the writers?
Overlooked: An additional variety talk category might also address the fact that the format was in a boom period this year, which had zero impact on the pool of nominees. There’s a whole shadow category to be built from the topical shows that got canceled too soon (The Break With Michelle Wolf and The Rundown With Robin Thede), the continued spread of the Daily Show diaspora (Problem Areas With Wyatt Cenac), Viceland’s rewarding strategy of converting popular podcasts into TV (Desus & Mero, The Trixie & Katya Show), and some guy named David Letterman (My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman).
Outstanding variety sketch series
At Home With Amy Sedaris; Drunk History; I Love You; America; Portlandia; Saturday Night Live; Tracey Ullman’s Show
Prediction: The flipside of those Variety Talk gripes is that Variety Sketch turned out to be a surprisingly vibrant addition to the Emmys, an award seemingly custom-made for the Emmys’ ultimate champion that Saturday Night Live has only won once so far. But the cutting edge of cable sketch has dulled in recent years, and although season 43 failed to grab as many headlines as its predecessor, it did contain the back-to-back triumphs of the John Mulaney and Donald Glover episodes—and Tiffany Haddish has already taken home an Emmy for her November 2017 hosting stint.
Preference: On the opposite end of the spectrum from SNL’s big tent are the kitschy little quarters of At Home With Amy Sedaris, the truTV series that combines its host’s genuine flair for crafting and entertaining with the cracked comedic sensibility she’s previously brought to Strangers With Candy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and The Heart She Holler. It’s the Outstanding Variety Sketch series that could both brighten an Emmy ceremony and your personal Emmy party!
Overlooked: The Chris Gethard Show’s whole thing was about doing whatever you want regardless of acceptance from mainstream gatekeepers like Emmy voters. But its adventurousness and the feeling of community that sprung up around it are prime examples of what TV (and especially TV in this connected age) is capable of, the kind of thing that’s right in line with the values of a body devoted to celebrating and furthering the medium. Not that anyone should care what they think.
Outstanding reality-competition program
Nominees: The Amazing Race, American Ninja Warrior, Project Runway, RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Voice
Prediction: Here’s the other Emmy that’s stuck in a rut; whereas Variety Talk could do with further stratification, Variety’s Daniel D’addario suggests Outstanding Reality Competition could stand with some consolidation. Only three series have ever won this award, and only two of them have done it more than twice: The Amazing Race and The Voice. And The Voice is coming into 2018 with three consecutive wins. Seems like another lock for the show where the judges have always and will always be a bigger draw than the singers.
But but but: There is a challenger on the rise, and it is RuPaul’s Drag Race. The omnidirectional high-camp reality parody has evolved into one of the grande dames of genre, and its 10th season was a graceful act of saving face following a lackluster All Stars installment. The safe money’s on The Voice, but here’s where I’ll throw caution to the wind. One of these years, Drag Race will be Outstanding Reality-Competition Program—why not this year?
Preference: I mean, c’mon. Did you see a more Emmy-worthy moment in a reality show this year?
Overlooked: Really, what’s most missing from the reality-competition winner’s circle is a little bit of fun. I hope Making It shows up here next year. The kitchen chaos of Nailed It! would’ve been a worthy warm-up.
Outstanding directing for a drama series
Nominees: Stephen Daldry, The Crown—“Paterfamilias”; Alan Taylor, Game Of Thrones—“Beyond The Wall”; Jeremy Podeswa, Game Of Thrones—“The Dragon And The Wolf”; Kari Skogland, The Handmaid’s Tale—“After”; Jason Bateman, Ozark—“The Toll”; Daniel Sackheim, Ozark—“Tonight We Improvise”; The Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things—“Chapter Nine: The Gate”
Prediction: Rule of thumb for divining best drama direction awards in the 2010s: Go with the Game Of Thrones battle. “Beyond The Wall” wins, even if humanity doesn’t.
Preference: Anything but the Ozark episodes, in which I can’t imagine any directorial ingenuity is legible through the low lighting and blue filters. Of the other nominated shows arriving to be slaughtered by Game Of Thrones’ dead, I would’ve favored different episodes for each: The Crown’s whizzbang “peer sneer,” The Handmaid’s Tale’s time among the ghosts of The Boston Globe, and Stranger Things’ Jurassic Park/Aliens romp at the lab.
Outstanding directing for a comedy series
Nominees: Donald Glover, Atlanta—“FUBU”; Hiro Murai, Atlanta—“Teddy Perkins”; Bill Hader, Barry—“Chapter One: Make Your Mark”; Mark Cendrowski, The Big Bang Theory—“The Bow Tie Asymmetry”; Jesse Peretz, GLOW—pilot; Amy Sherman-Palladino, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—pilot; Mike Judge, Silicon Valley—“Initial Coin Offering”
Prediction: With two episodes nominated, the odds are in Atlanta’s favor. Donald Glover’s the incumbent, but he won for the flash, format-busting “B.A.N.,” which has more in common with the haunted house Hiro Murai built for “Teddy Perkins” than the understated coming-of-age tale in “FUBU.”
Preference: It’s “Teddy Perkins,” which like so much of Murai’s work on Atlanta, demonstrates that there’s not much difference between the act of sustaining tension for a laugh versus doing the same for a scream. Each of the nominated pilots would be a good pick, too, for the way each immediately nails the look and feel of their respective world—with the edge to Bill Hader’s work on “Chapter One: Make Your Mark,” which encapsulates so much of the weird, fragile tone of Barry while giving the jokes plenty of room to breathe.
Overlooked: Brooklyn Nine-Nine took a lot of risks when it looked like there wasn’t any light at the end of its tunnel, and director Maggie Carey kept the riskiest of those—the active-shooter installment “Show Me Going”—on balance from start to finish.
Outstanding directing for a variety special
Nominees: Stan Lathan, Dave Chappelle: Equanimity; Michael Bonfiglio, Jerry Seinfeld: Jerry Before Seinfeld; Glenn Weiss, The Oscars; Marcus Raboy, Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life; Hamish Hamilton, Super Bowl LII Halftime Show Starring Justin Timberlake
Prediction: Another safe bet: It’ll be the other award show, and since the typically livelier Tonys missed the cut, go with an Oscars gig from veteran Glenn Weiss that might not have come in on time, but did manage to get Best Picture right on the first try.
Preference: There’s not much novelty to Marcus Raboy’s handling of Steve Martin And Martin Short: An Evening You’ll Forget For The Rest Of Your Life—it’s the typical live-on-tape mix of wide shot, medium shot, close-up shot, repeat. But there’s just so much to Martin and Short’s stage revue that the scale of the task is tremendous, and Raboy’s handling of it laudable.
Overlooked: Not a fresh observation from me, but: John Mulaney looks swamped at the top of Kid Gorgeous At Radio City. But as the act unfolds, Mulaney’s performance palpably ramps up to fill the storied concert hall (it’s the J.J. Bittenbinder bit that really does it), and Alex Timbers meets him on the way up to keep the thing feeling intimate.
Outstanding directing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special
Nominees: Ryan Murphy, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime—“The Man Who Would Be Vogue”; Scott Frank, Godless; David Leveaux and Alex Rudzinski, Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert; Craig Zisk, The Looming Tower—“9/11”; Barry Levinson, Paterno; Edward Berger, Patrick Melrose; David Lynch, Twin Peaks: The Return
Prediction: Apples, meet orange, meet the cosmic fruit that grows from the evolution of the arm, then chalk up another victory for American Crime Story, thanks to Gianni Versace’s last morning stroll and the operatic flair of Ryan Murphy’s work on “The Man Who Would Be Vogue.”
Preference: This feels like Twin Peaks’ best shot at an Emmy: Raise all the quibbles about The Return that you want, but there’s no denying it’s an audio-visual triumph channeled through the unified and singular vision of co-creator David Lynch. Take another look, sonny, because it’s never gonna happen again.
Outstanding writing for a comedy series
Nominees: Donald Glover, Atlanta—“Alligator Man”; Stefani Robinson, Atlanta—“Barbershop”; Bill Hader and Alec Berg, Barry—“Chapter One: Make Your Mark”; Liz Sarnoff, Barry—“Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast And Keep Going”; Amy Sherman-Palladino, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—pilot; Alec Berg, Silicon Valley—“Fifty-One Percent”
Prediction: There’s always a consolation prize to be expected in the writing and directing categories, and since Atlanta seems destined for Best Comedy gold, Mrs. Maisel’s rat-a-tat scene-setter is the show’s best, non-Rachel Brosnahan shot at an Emmy in the main ceremony—and an overdue acknowledgment of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s gift for gab.
Preference: It’s another embarrassment of riches in a comedy category, a great sign of where TV’s peak creative energies currently lie. Narrowing things down, “Barbershop” is a superbly scripted descent into crosstown Atlanta madness, and “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast And Keep Going” contains Barry’s boldest twists and that killer coda at the Shakespeare festival. For what it means to the overall picture of the series, I’d pick “Chapter Seven.”
Outstanding writing for a drama series
Nominees: Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, The Americans—“START”; Peter Morgan, The Crown—“Mystery Man”; David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Game Of Thrones—“The Dragon And The Wolf”; Bruce Miller, The Handmaid’s Tale—“June”; Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Killing Eve—“Nice Face”; The Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things—“Chapter Nine: The Gate”
Prediction: Similarly, I can see Killing Eve taking home honors for acting and writing; Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s script for “Nice Face” sets the parameters for the show’s cat-and-mouse game in enticing fashion: MI5 agent Eve’s story of overlooked talent beginning in the haze of an epic hangover; assassin Villanelle’s pathological behavior sold in a single tip of an ice cream dish. There’s also a great sense of the stakes in the scenes from Eve’s cozy, quirky domestic life, the sort of thing Villanelle would shatter without batting an eye—because the eye is where the hairpin goes in.
Preference: But hey, what a surprise: I’d rather see this go to Americans showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg. Give it to “START” for that scene with Stan in the parking garage alone, the devastatingly effective confrontation that The Americans held off until it was absolutely necessary.
Outstanding writing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special
Nominees: Kevin McManus and Matthew McManus, American Vandal—“Clean Up”; Tom Rob Smith, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story—“House By The Lake”; William Bridges and Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror—“USS Callister”; Scott Frank, Godless; David Nicholls, Patrick Melrose; Mark Frost and David Lynch, Twin Peaks: The Return
Prediction: Will The Assassination Of Gianni Versace make it a clean sweep? Not if the avenging dork of “USS Callister” has anything to do with it. William Bridges and Charlie Brooker couldn’t have picked a better time to flip the scripts on toxic fandom and tech-titan worship, all while crafting a thrilling science fiction throwback that, while conforming to the conventions of the space adventures of yore, still fits within Black Mirror’s dystopian outlook. Black Mirror episodes are not movies, but “USS Callister” will win the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special.
Preference: But how great would it be if that award went to “Clean Up,” the American Vandal finale that muddies the solution to the first season’s graffiti mystery but crystalizes the show’s clear-eyed view of high school—and then spray-paints one last giant dick across the whole, expertly detailed true-crime parody?
Outstanding writing for a variety special
Melinda Taub, Samantha Bee, Pat Cassels, Mike Drucker, Eric Drysdale, Mathan Erhardt, Miles Kahn, Nicole Silverberg, Ashley Nicole Black, Joe Grossman, Sean Crespo, Razan Ghalayini, Tyler Hall, Allana Harkin, Paul Myers, Halcyon Person, and Mike Rubens—Full Frontal With Samantha Bee Presents: The Great American* Puerto Rico (*It’s Complicated); John Mulaney, John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City; Michelle Wolf, Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady; Patton Oswalt, Patton Oswalt: Annihilation; Steve Martin and Martin Short, Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life
Prediction: Netflix probably already has a spot on its shelf staked out for Hannah Gadsby’s win in this category next year. Nanette’s win will be preceded by a more straightforward approach to the tricky topics that can be effectively addressed through stand-up comedy: Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation.
Preference: Annihilation packs a wallop, and it’s all thanks to the way Oswalt structured it, surrounding the material about grieving the death of his wife, Michelle McNamara, with a standard stand-up routine and some disarming crowd work, then ending it all on the type of elaborately filthy bit that he says McNamara loved most of all.