The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards will take place on Sunday, September 22. Here are A.V. Club deputy TV editor Danette Chavez’s predictions of the winners of the major series awards, as well as some wishful thinking and shout-outs to worthy programs overlooked by the Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences. Watch for our Emmys liveblog and news coverage on Sunday.
Outstanding drama series
Prediction: If Game Of Thrones seemed unbeatable last year, returning as it did from a 13-month slumber to lay waste to the Outstanding Drama Series competition, then a win this year seems inevitable. HBO’s epic fantasy drama was uneven, to put it mildly, in its final outing (though not in the performances), but it’s now been four months since “The Iron Throne” aired, and the series finale still comes up in lunch and watercooler conversations around the world. The series already picked up 10 Creative Arts Emmys over the weekend, including wins for special visual effects and casting in a drama series. There’s also a certain amount of inertia involved—Game Of Thrones has already taken home the gold statuette in this category on three other occasions, including in 2018, so the odds that the Television Academy would miss a chance to reward the show one final time look slim to none. Returning nominees Better Call Saul and This Is Us shouldn’t be counted out entirely, and there’s a chance upstarts like Succession or Pose could nab top honors (fellow first-time nominee Bodyguard is out of its depth here), but we think David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are already clearing room on their trophy shelves.
Preference: There are few shows like Pose, which boasts as much heart as trans talent on and off screen, so the fact that this gorgeous period drama from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals earned a nod with its first season already feels like a win. The FX series delivered some of TV’s most jaw-dropping moments in recent memory, with only figurative pyrotechnics and singular costuming. Pose’s debut was assured and inspired, so a victory on Sunday isn’t exactly outside the realm of possibility. But what’s much more likely is that Game Of Thrones will fly off with the prize.
Overlooked: Lodge 49 proves you don’t need tomes of plot and a multimillion-dollar effects budget to make immersive TV. AMC’s sunny (in both setting and outlook) series features the same caliber performances as you’ll find in the nominees listed above; like perennial nominee Better Call Saul, Lodge 49 also explores our relationship to our work, unfulfilling and otherwise. Although it skirts any kind of succinct description, Peter Ocko and Jim Gavin’s drama about finding an identity amid crumbling institutions is just about the most inviting show on TV.
Outstanding comedy series
Prediction: In the year of the great half-hour show, it’s no surprise that the Outstanding Comedy Series contest is where the drama is really at: Barry and Fleabag had exceptional second seasons, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel returned as charming as ever this year. The Good Place finally got a series nomination (for its penultimate season), and though it premiered in January, the incredibly poignant Russian Doll hasn’t lost any momentum. Schitt’s Creek has been delighting PopTV viewers for years, making its nomination well deserved. This is all without addressing the elephant in the room—HBO’s Veep. But though Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a heavy favorite in her category, Veep’s final season didn’t really come together until its final moments. In any other year, the legacy show might manage to win, but the competition from Barry and Fleabag—both of which seemed to refute the very notion of a sophomore slump in their respective second seasons—may be too much. Though there’s a chance The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will be invited back onstage a second year in a row, Barry’s bold and near-perfect execution (not to mention its additional nominations) make it the most likely to be rewarded come Sunday.
Preference: This is one year where I’m relieved that someone else is making the decision, because having to pick between Russian Doll and Fleabag season two is my Sophie’s choice. Both series devastated me and filled me up again; both series featured a lead performance that put others to shame.
Outstanding limited series
Prediction: Here’s another race that’s a tad closer than Outstanding Drama Series. The nuclear winter of Chernobyl made us forget the summer heat, while Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us ensured we’d remember the endemic inequities that led to this real-life miscarriage of justice. Gillian Flynn and Jean-Marc Vallée’s Sharp Objects adaptation paired an exceptional cast with a look at intergenerational trauma, and Escape At Dannemora created a ’70s-style urban thriller seven weeks in a row. While Ryan Murphy has practically set up residency in this category, he doesn’t have any shows in contention this year. Fosse/Verdon may not have been the showstopper that theater kids were hoping for, but it featured a pitch-perfect performance from Michelle Williams as the eponymous Tony winner (well, one of them). Awards groups love an inside look at show business, and the tempestuous relationship between Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse is Hollywood legend. So don’t be surprised if the Emmy walks off in a pair of jazz hands.
Preference: The all-too-true story at the center of When They See Us isn’t the only thing that makes it necessary viewing: A lot of things had to go right to bring this tale of horrific wrongdoing to life. DuVernay’s direction is caring and unflinching, and everyone in the cast from the relative newcomers to character actors like Niecy Nash turns in a wrenching performance. Even if it were a work of pure fiction, When They See Us isn’t to be missed.
Outstanding variety talk series
Nominees: 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: A win here for Last Week Tonight With John Oliver also feels like a foregone conclusion—the HBO talk/news satire show has a great track record, with three consecutive wins in the last three years, plus two brand-new Creative Arts Emmys for technical direction and picture editing. Full Frontal With Samantha Bee has kept its inquisitive fires burning, but the conventional wisdom about incumbents will probably hold, especially since the only notable element of The Late Late Show With James Corden—the viral Carpool Karaoke bits—is free to garner acclaim in the variety special categories.
Preference: Last Week Tonight is the frontrunner with good reason, but it’s hard for me to get too excited about this category as a whole.
Overlooked: There’s far too little variety in this category, especially when Hasan Minhaj has been giving a masterclass on hosting an incisive and informative news/talk show on Netflix’s The Patriot Act. And, as this is my final year to do so, I have to grumble about the ongoing indifference to Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, which was canceled earlier this year. The show never sought to present definitive solutions, but rather, to engender discussion. At a time when virtually everyone claims to want thoughtful discourse, Problem Areas was quietly doing that work, interviewing activists, students, journalists, and public officials on how to effect positive change. It will be sorely missed (by those of us who tuned in every Friday).
Outstanding variety sketch series
Prediction: To paraphrase one of the nominees, if there’s two things I know, it’s awards voting and exactly what’s going to happen in the future. Saturday Night Live has a few 2019 Creative Arts Emmys under its belt already, along with two wins for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series for the last two years, which makes it, boringly enough, the safest bet in this category. That’s despite the fact that At Home With Amy Sedaris has stepped up its demented, lovingly crafted game, or that Documentary Now! deserves the win for the “Original Cast Album: Co-Op” alone. Compared to SNL, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America? is on the other end of both the innovation and political spectrum, which would make it a surprising, though not likely, choice.
Overlooked: I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson is probably a little too strange for the Television Academy, but this Netflix sketch series was a much-needed blast of fresh air, just as cringe-inducing as it was uproarious. One of the highlights, “Focus Group,” provided a long-delayed breakout for Ruben Rabasa.
Outstanding reality-competition program
Prediction: The competition program category has offered anything but a real contest since its inception, with the Emmy nods split among just three competitors: The Amazing Race, The Voice, and Top Chef. But this could finally be the year that things get interesting: RuPaul’s Drag Race has built up a full head of steam (ahem) with a 2018 win in this category, as well as four Creative Arts Emmys this year, including host (with the most) honors for RuPaul. Drag Race looks like the one to beat, but then again, its middling season 11 squandered much of the momentum that was regained by season 10. Which is why Nailed It! could give RuPaul’s queens some serious competition—Nicole Byer is a winsome host, and the show’s good-natured showcasing of our foibles (especially in the kitchen) is almost as endearing as The Great British Baking Show’s frequent displays of solidarity.
Preference: Nailed It! may be new on the scene, but it already feels a bit repetitive. But given that it took me a moment to remember who emerged as the “winnah” of RPDR season 11, I’m just not as eager as I have been in previous years to see it win. To quote RuPaul: “Meh.”
Overlooked: In its 17th season, Project Runway rose like a phoenix from the ashes of mergers and allegations. Although Karlie Kloss is no Heidi Klum, new mentor and former Project Runway winner Christian Siriano more than filled Tim Gunn’s fashionable shoes, providing invaluable insight. Season 17 married the old and new, maintaining a diverse model roster while tweaking the editing to wring more suspense from the designs’ reveals. The show was not only at its best—it should also have been at the top of this list.
Outstanding directing for a drama series
Nominees: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Game Of Thrones—“The Iron Throne”; David Nutter, Game Of Thrones—“The Last Of The Starks”; Miguel Sapochnik, Game Of Thrones—“The Long Night”; Lisa Brühlman, Killing Eve—“Desperate Times”; Jason Bateman, Ozark—“Reparations”; Adam McKay, Succession—“Celebration”; Daina Reid, The Handmaid’s Tale—“Holly”
Prediction: I don’t think Game Of Thrones has a lock on every category for which it’s been nominated, but it has a real chance—three, in fact—of winning Outstanding Directing For A Drama Series. Whatever its shortcomings were in the writing and characterization, “The Iron Throne” is both easier to follow than the impenetrable darkness of much of “The Long Night,” and it’s also much more visually interesting than “The Last Of The Starks.” The shot of Daenerys appearing to flap her dragon wings before a trepidatious Jon Snow is one of the most memorable of the final season, so “The Iron Throne” will probably take home the gold. Even if voters have learned to adjust their screens to properly watch an episode of Ozark, they might as well just give it to “The Long Night.” The Handmaid’s Tale’s “Holly” is more of a showcase for Elisabeth Moss and Cherry Jones than it is Daina Reid.
Preference: “The Iron Throne,” I guess?
Outstanding directing for a comedy series
Nominees: Alec Berg, Barry—“The Audition”; Bill Hader, Barry—“ronny/lily”; Harry Bradbeer, Fleabag—“Episode 1”; Mark Cendrowski, The Big Bang Theory—“The Stockholm Syndrome”; Amy Sherman-Palladino, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—“All Alone”; Daniel Palladino, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—“We’re Going To The Catskills!”
Prediction: Thank god for this infinitely more interesting field of competitors (The Big Bang Theory notwithstanding). The Fleabag season-two premiere recalls the series’ theatrical roots in the best way, and could offer some stiff competition. As last year’s winner, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Amy Sherman-Palladino has the odds, but given the overall year he’s having, Bill Hader could very well win for “ronny/lily,” which was just about more thrilling and darkly funny than anything else this year. The tonal shifts and the extensive stunt choreography never proved to be too much, either for the viewer or the director.
Preference: I thought “ronny/lilly” was fantastic, so I will be content if Hader wins. Barry might not have the beautiful color palette of an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but in this case, it was far more stylish.
Overlooked: I was more than a little disappointed that Russian Doll’s Leslye Headland, Jamie Babbit, and Natasha Lyonne were left out of this category. “New York City as a character” is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but this directing trio gave it new, multidimensional life (and on a budget). If that isn’t worthy of at least a nomination, I don’t know what is.
Outstanding directing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special
Nominees: Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal; Johan Renck, Chernobyl; Ben Stiller, Escape At Dannemora; Jessica Yu, Fosse/Verdon—“Glory”; Thomas Kail, Fosse/Verdon—“Who’s Got The Pain”; Ava DuVernay, When They See Us
Prediction: These nominees have style to spare: Stephen Frears turned his feature-making lens to the small screen for A Very English Scandal, while Ben Stiller revived ’70s urban thrillers on Escape At Dannemora. Fosse/Verdon’s Thomas Kail and Jessica Yu helped bring the show’s iconic pairing, complete with resumés, to life. Johan Renck showed admirable restraint and deserves recognition for capturing the devastation of Chernobyl without ever wading into misery porn. But the combination of name recognition, a sturdy Netflix campaign, and seamless direction makes Ava DuVernay the top contender this year.
Preference: Although I was a late Chernobyl adopter, I’m torn between Renck’s and DuVernay’s work. But the way the latter handled the passage of time on When They See Us gives her an edge.
Outstanding writing for a comedy series
Nominees: Bill Hader, Alec Berg, Barry—“ronny/lily”; Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag—“Episode 1”; Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, Stacy Osei-Kuffour, Pen15—“Anna Ishii-Peters”; Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, Russian Doll—“Nothing In This World Is Easy”; Allison Silverman, Russian Doll—“A Warm Body”; Josh Siegal, Dylan Morgan, The Good Place—“Janet(s)”; David Mandel, Veep—“Veep”
Prediction: What we have here is another crowded field: People are still quoting “Janet(s)” in casual conversation; the Fleabag season-two opener of “This is a love story,” accompanied by Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s devilish smile is so simple yet perfect; and despite its title, a show called Pen15 produced one of the most poignant episodes of the year. “ronny/lily” is brutally efficient, but “Nothing In This World Is Easy” features some of the most intriguing and effortless world-building. Russian Doll will get two stabs at it, but I think David Mandel’s “Veep” is going to walk away with the prize. The episode has its series-finale status and the show’s legacy going for it, but mostly, it completed the big, profane jigsaw puzzle that was the show’s seventh season in a way that was both shocking and rewarding. Also, not for nothing, but “Veep” gave us the mad queen we deserved, so it’ll be Mandel who walks the iron throne, er, dais.
Preference: Again, I’d find it difficult to actually vote with my gut here, because “Nothing In This World Is Easy” and “Episode 1” are both wonderful premieres. But “Warm Body” introduces Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) to Alan (Charlie Barnett)… and then there’s “Janet(s).”
Outstanding writing for a drama series
Nominees: Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz, Better Call Saul—“Winner”; Jed Mercurio, Bodyguard—“Episode 1”; David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Game Of Thrones—“The Iron Throne”; Emerald Fennell, Killing Eve—“Nice And Neat”; Jesse Armstrong, Succession—“Nobody Is Ever Missing”; Bruce Miller, Kira Snyder, The Handmaid’s Tale—“Holly”
Prediction: Despite being one of the most divisive episodes of Game Of Thrones, “The Iron Throne” will probably win. Succession has certainly caught on among critics, but I’m not sure its first season made enough of an impact. It’s strange to think Killing Eve places squarely in the middle here, especially after its brilliant first season, but Emerald Fennell has struggled to recapture Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s magic.
Preference: “Winner” is an exceptional episode of Better Call Saul, building to a transformation but not the transformation we’ve been waiting for since the show premiered.
Outstanding writing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special
Nominees: Russell T. Davies, A Very English Scandal; Craig Mazin, Chernobyl; Brett Johnson, Michael Tolkin, Escape At Dannemora—“Episode 7”; Brett Johnson, Michael Tolkin, Jerry Stahl, Escape At Dannemora—“Episode 6”; Steven Levenson, Joel Fields, Fosse/Verdon—“Providence”; Ava DuVernay, Michael Starrbury, When They See Us—“Part Four”
Prediction: Sweet Charity might just earn some “Providence” for Joel Fields, Steven Levenson, and Fosse/Verdon. Not only was it a great capper for this limited series, but it also gives Michelle Williams and Gwen Verdon a spotlight like no other. Escape At Dannemora’s final acts are gripping, but there’s no business like writing about show business, certainly not when it comes to bringing in the accolades.
Preference: “Part Four” of When They See Us is bittersweet, providing the first real sense of relief in the series. Ava DuVernay and Michael Starrbury ensured that the Exonerated Five were flesh-and-blood characters, not just avatars for injustice.