The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards take place tonight, September 17. The following are A.V. Club TV editor Erik Adams’ predictions for the winners of the acting awards, mixed in with some wishful thinking.
Outstanding lead actress in a drama series
Prediction: Let’s just get reckless right off the bat: I think Sandra Oh is going to win best actress for Killing Eve. Yes, logic dictates that Elisabeth Moss will repeat for The Handmaid’s Tale, but the second season of that show was an ordeal, and I don’t think it or its star is coming into the Emmys with quite the cachet they had last year. Killing Eve, meanwhile, was the sleeper hit of the spring, buoyed tremendously by Oh’s lead performance as a great intelligence agent whose greatness goes frequently overlooked, something the five-time nominee for Outstanding Supporting Actress could certainly sympathize with. The show’s springtime run should leave the show fresh in voters’ minds—and unlike fellow April debut The Handmaid’s Tale, there should be some positive connotations with those fresh memories. The only way an Oh win could be any sweeter is if she shared the prize with Eve’s homicidal shadow, Jodie Comer.
Preference: All that said, and knowing that I’m repeating myself: Keri Russell. The intensity. The inner turmoil. The smoking. Anything Russell wins for The Americans is bound to feel cumulative (see below), but she also dragged Elizabeth Jennings to hell and back in the show’s final season, as compelling a depiction of someone caught between loyalties (and stabbing her way out of the bind) as I’ve ever seen.
Outstanding lead actor in a drama series
Nominees: Jason Bateman, Ozark; Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us; Ed Harris, Westworld; Matthew Rhys, The Americans; Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us; Jeffrey Wright, Westworld
Prediction: It’s going to come down to one of the two This Is Us guys, right? And then whichever post Crock-Pot path touched the most hearts: that of the father who perished in the fire, or that of the son who carried his example forward. Let’s get back to playing it safe and assume that Sterling K. Brown makes it two for two for his portrayal of Randall Pearson.
Preference: Because, otherwise, I’ve read enough pro-Matthew Rhys sentiment in the days leading up to the awards to drive a guy to some pretty wild conclusions. He was so good for the entirety of The Americans, but he really showed just how much the weight of keeping various secrets—from his wife, from his best friend, from the friendly folks down at the travel agency—can affect a person emotionally and physically.
Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series
Prediction: A Donald Glover repeat, on a night when Glover could also win another best director trophy, and add ones for writing and best comedy. Earn wasn’t the center of Atlanta’s universe during the second season, but Glover made his time on screen count, deeply invested in his character’s evolution from stunted to stunter.
Preference: And then in the season’s standout episode, he coated his face with prosthetics and gave one of the 2010s most unhinged television performances. Glover and Bill Hader would be neck-and-neck in this category, if it weren’t for a soft-boiled-ostrich-egg-powered boost from Teddy Perkins.
Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series
Prediction: Just as nothing stops Midge Maisel from storming the Gaslight Café on the night that launches her career in comedy, Rachel Brosnahan has been hurtling toward best actress honors from the moment Amazon uploaded the Mrs. Maisel pilot.
Preference: Many times in recent television history, a show as wet behind the ears as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will win its performers a Golden Globe; oftentimes, these shows will be a small handful of episodes into their run when they manage that feat. But even though I’d only made it through the first half of Mrs. Maisel by the time Brosnahan took the Beverly Hilton stage this January, her magnetism in those episodes had been enough to make me think, “Yeah, I can get behind her Emmy win eight months from now.”
Outstanding supporting actress in a drama series
Nominees: Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale; Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things; Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale; Lena Headey, Game Of Thrones; Vanessa Kirby, The Crown; Thandie Newton, Westworld; Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale
Prediction: Having graduated from guest star to regular in season two, Alexis Bledel now enters the Handmaid’s supporting player fray alongside returning champion Ann Dowd and up-and-comer Yvonne Strahovski. (And leaving room for her cast mate and hopefully future fellow Little America resident Samira Wiley to pick up this year’s guest actress honors.) If inner-show competition doesn’t split the vote, it’s Strahovski’s year—giving Serena Joy more sympathetic shades was a bad look for The Handmaid’s Tale, but great for Strahovski’s performance of Serena’s particular type of villainy.
Preference: In all the cast turnover from The Crown, I’ll be saddest to see Vanessa Kirby go. Yes, Claire Foy is regal poise defined, but Kirby’s just so much fun as the perpetually cross black sheep of the House Of Windsor.
Outstanding supporting actor in a drama series
Nominees: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game Of Thrones; Peter Dinklage, Game Of Thrones; Joseph Fiennes, The Handmaid’s Tale; David Harbour, Stranger Things; Mandy Patinkin, Homeland; Matt Smith, The Crown
Prediction: What a snooze this category is. I’m struggling to remember where Game Of Thrones left the boys of House Lannister, despite Peter Dinklage’s and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s deep reserves of charisma; Joseph Fiennes and Matt Smith are both up here for playing two fine forms of detestable. Could it be Chief Hopper’s year?
Preference: I’d like it to be. David Harbour went from the charming rogue of Stranger Things’ first season to key heroic player in season two, and the father-daughter dynamic he struck up with Millie Bobby Brown was one of the best parts of Stranger Things 2. And if he wins an Emmy, there’s always the possibility that he’ll accept the award with a dance.
Outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series
Nominees: Louie Anderson, Baskets; Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live; Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta; Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live; Henry Winkler, Barry
Prediction: All signs point to Henry Winkler being this year’s decades-overdue winner, his first Primetime Emmy in six nominations. (He has two Daytime Emmys to his name.) He’s doing some of the best, funniest work of his career as Barry’s acting coach, Gene Cousineau, the odds (all of Barry’s odds, really) ever in his favor thanks to the fact that Hollywood loves to see itself reflected in its screens.
Preference: Two thumbs up and one “Ayyy!” for a Winkler victory, provided that Gene doesn’t become a rubber-stamped Emmy favorite down the line. Because, otherwise, Brian Tyree Henry is out-acting everybody on TV on Atlanta, and he’s got the rapidly saturated IMDB page to prove it. He’s hilarious in Albert “Paper Boi” Miles’ resting state of mildly irritation, but there was so much of season two that tested the full spectrum of his emotional range, from the fear of getting lost in the “Woods” to the fury he lets out after being dragged around town all day with half of a haircut. When the tension of the show’s tangled business/family relations finally rises to the surface in “North Of The Border,” Henry handles it in a way that should surprise viewers who’ve only known Paper Boi for two seasons, and a cousin who’s known Al his entire life.
Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series
Nominees: Zazie Beetz, Atlanta; Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Aidy Bryant, Saturday Night Live; Betty Gilpin, GLOW; Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live; Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live; Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne; Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
Prediction: Not only is Kate McKinnon coming off of two previous wins in this category, but she’s now playing multiple members of the Trump administration, some of the president’s cable-news cheerleaders, and the jowly investigator who could take them all down. She’s proof that the sketch series still has its star-making Midas touch—and that should extend to another Emmy for McKinnon, who’s almost certainly going to get a separate spotlight moment to do some heavily costumed sparring with her Weekend Update cohorts Colin Jost and Michael Che.
Preference: For another worthy performance that alternates between multiple personas, look past the three SNL nominees in the direction of GLOW’s Betty Gilpin. She’s a delight in the guise of the grinning patriot of the show’s bootstrapping wrestling promotion, and a complex foil (in and out of the ring) to the show’s ostensible lead, Alison Brie. Honestly, Gilpin’s such a driving force of the show’s second season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in the lead actress category next year—she gave a strong performance in season one, but the academy hasn’t even voted on her best work yet.
Outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie
Nominees: Jessica Biel, The Sinner; Laura Dern, The Tale; Michelle Dockery, Godless; Edie Falco, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders; Regina King, Seven Seconds; Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Cult
Prediction: Laura Dern was the Emmys’ best supporting actress in a limited series in 2017, and she’ll follow that up with a lead actress Emmy for The Tale, director Jennifer Fox’s examination of her childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a running coach in the 1970s. Dern plays Fox as she confronts her trauma and the story she’d been telling herself about it for decades, with Dern uncovering the painful truth of the matter in time with the audience.
Preference: The Year Of Dern keeps rolling on in 2018. Can you imagine a filmmaker placing this amount of trust in an actor other than Dern, one without her depths of sensitivity and expression? Would you trust anyone else to guide you through such upsetting (and upsettingly relevant) subject matter? The Tale isn’t the type of thing you’ll want to revisit, but Dern’s work in it lingers.
Outstanding lead actor in a limited series of movie
Nominees: Antonio Banderas, Genius: Picasso; Darren Criss, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story; Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Melrose; Jeff Daniels, The Looming Tower; John Legend, Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert; Jesse Plemons, Black Mirror: “USS Callister”
Prediction: People didn’t talk as much about the second season of American Crime Story as they did the first, but when they did, they usually brought up Darren Criss, and his manipulative, menacing embodiment of Andrew Cunanan.
Preference: Criss’ revelatory turn in The Assassination Of Gianni Versace is on the shortlist of the year’s best performances, limited series or otherwise. You’ll never look at teen heartthrob Blaine Anderson the same way again.
Outstanding supporting actress in a limited series or movie
Nominees: Sara Bareilles, Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert; Penélope Cruz, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story; Judith Light, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story; Adina Porter, American Horror Story: Cult; Merritt Wever, Godless; Letitia Wright, Black Mirror: “Black Museum”
Prediction: I think this one’s going to be determined by star power (and a previous Oscar win), which Penélope Cruz brought to a Versace role whose impact on the story and other characters outweighed the amount of screen time she wound up getting.
Preference: But Judith Light is in even less of The Assassination Of Gianni Versace, and she paints an entire fresco of Meredith Miglin’s life in the proud way she carries herself; the energy that carries over from home-shopping segments to Meredith selling the idea of her charmed home life; and that absolutely heartbreaking moment when she discovers a cornerstone of that life, her marriage to Chicago developer Lee, was a lie—and it’s been brought to a vicious end by a total stranger.
Outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie
Nominees: Jeff Daniels, Godless; Brandon Victor Dixon, Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert; John Leguizamo, Waco; Ricky Martin, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story; Édgar Ramírez, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story; Michael Stuhlbarg, The Looming Tower; Finn Wittrock, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Prediction: I wanted to like Godless more than I did; the academy seems to have loved it. Jeff Daniels’ one-armed, sermonizing villain probably has this one all sewn up.
Preference: Jesus Christ Superstar’s version of Judas Iscariot demands a lot of an actor: You need to bring vulnerability to a historical figure whose first name is synonymous with “traitor,” and you need some powerful pipes for some of the rock opera’s biggest songs. Brandon Victor Dixon met these demands, and more, in a live production that introduced him to an audience several times larger than the number of people who managed to see him play Aaron Burr on Broadway.