There hasn’t been a more up in air year in quite a while than in the Drama categories this year, Drama Series in particular. No less than five of the seven nominees are freshman shows and four of them (maybe all five) have a legitimate shot at the top prize. It’s ironic that the only two returning shows here, Better Call Saul and House of Cards, are on the bottom tier with little odds of winning. Better Call Saul fares a bit better than b as it also has corresponding writing and directing nominations. That’s something that puts This Is Us, despite its heavy slate of acting nominations (and a win last weekend), in a precarious spot. It’s been 15 years since a show has won Drama Series without at least one of those and it’s been 11 years since a network show has triumphed here. It’s an uphill battle for the show but its stars have been working the circuit and that the show is the only true breakthrough network hit in years could mark a comeback for networks.
Looking at last week’s Creative Arts Emmys doesn’t help us much. Unlike the last two years where Game of Thrones overwhelmingly dominated there on its way to Drama Series wins, the prizes were quite split. The top four shows: The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, Westworld and The Crown all grabbed a bit of gold. Stranger Things and Westworld won five apiece (with Stranger Things taking casting) and The Handmaid’s Tale and The Crown won three and two, respectively. If anything, The Crown proved to be a bit lackluster here and while many had pegged this an early winner a few months ago should be hard pressed to say so now.
The biggest conundrum is trying to make direct comparisons of ‘but this won this award’ and ‘this won that award.’ Since the Emmys work on a September-May calendar but the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild and Directors Guilds all work on a January-December calendar there are many instances where shows and performances didn’t go head to head. It’s what makes the Emmys tougher to predict sometimes, but also more fun. Fewer precursors and farther in between. Of the industry awards and the Golden Globes we have Stranger Things winning the SAG ensemble, beating The Crown and Westworld as well as Downton Abbey (a multi-winner here) and Game of Thrones. It won the Producers Guild award beating Better Call Saul, House of Cards, Westworld and Game of Thrones. That is huge. The Crown won the Golden Globe against Stranger Things, Westworld, This Is Us and even Game of Thrones. The Writers Guild is even less helpful as This Is Us won Episodic Drama (but is not Emmy nominated for writing) and The Americans won Drama Series (but is not Emmy nominated for Drama Series).
Here’s a quick and handy chart to compare these four awards and their nominees and winners.
So that leaves us with a major blind spot; The Handmaid’s Tale. The show didn’t debut until April 26th but won the Television Critics Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Drama and Program of the Year over Stranger Things and This Is Us. Does it feel risky to predict it? Of course. The last truly female-led series to win was Homeland‘s single win in 2012 that thwarted Mad Men‘s fifth win in a row. You know what the one before that was? Cagney & Lacey in 1986. It’s kind of what makes this year truly exceptional; The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, The Crown and mostly Westworld are female-fronted shows. That’s a big step up from traditional Emmy history. Right now the Emmy Experts are torn; two of us are going for The Handmaid’s Tale, three of us for Stranger Things. But, all five of us have them both at #1 and #2. Stranger Things is buzzy and has the hardware to back a win but The Handmaid’s Tale is topical and frighteningly on point in the current social/political climate. That could be enough. We’ll have to see which of us comes out on top. Or none of us.
The acting categories present some equally difficult predictions and multiple scenarios. Although we are all in agreement that Sterling K. Brown will win Lead Actor for This Is Us, Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) could finally take it in a surprise win the way Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) won the year after most people thought she had her best shot. The Emmys can be weird that way.
In Lead Actress the fight is between Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Claire Foy (The Crown). That’s it. Anyone else would be huge shock and upset (but then, it is the Emmys so…). Foy won the SAG but again, not against Moss. She did, however, beat both Winona Ryder and Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things and Thandie Newton in Westworld (Brown and Newton are Emmy-nominated but in supporting). She also beat Robin Wright (House of Cards) but that shipped has sailed. Both Foy and Moss lost the TCA to Carrie Coon for her dual roles in The Leftovers and Fargo. Coon is nominated for Fargo but in Limited Series/TV Movie. See where that leaves us? It’s virtually impossible to make direct correlations because there simply aren’t enough head to head examples and zero within the industry. But the Emmy Experts are all behind Moss winning on her 8th nomination.
Supporting Actor looks sewn up for John Lithgow as Winston Churchill in The Crown and he won the SAG for this role (in lead). But this is another category that feels open. Even though we all have Lithgow winning we all also have Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us) right behind him. It would be wild for this show to earn three acting wins but fall short of Drama Series but it could happen. Watch out for David Harbour (Stranger Things) too. His SAG speech for Stranger Things‘ win was epic and voters might want to see something huge and rousing again as well as Winona Ryder reactions shots.
Supporting Actress is like Drama Series but even more. Every single nominee, save Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black), is a first time nominee in a freshman show. Aduba was snubbed here last year so there are no returning nominees from 2016. Could Aduba come in an spoil it for everyone here? It’s possible, she’s got a great tape and if the Emmys fall into their tendency for repetition she could get it. That said, the Emmy Experts are torn between Thandie Newton (Westworld) and Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things). Brown could have the edge with being at nearly every damn function imaginable this season, a huge Instagram presence and for owning a truly breakthrough performance. A win for her would make complete sense. Newton benefits from her character’s growth throughout the season and being in the industry for so long. What about Chrissy Metz? The This Is Us actress exploded this year in a major debut and is a Hollywood darling. There’s a great case for her to win as well. Both Ann Dowd and Samira Wiley of The Handmaid’s Tale don’t feel strong enough to win here (especially Wiley) but I could see Dowd eek out a ‘respected character actress’ win.
The directing and writing categories are often split, especially when there isn’t a clear consensus winner like this year. We all feel like Stranger Things will take directing, with Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale right behind. In writing we’re 4/5 for the pilot of The Handmaid’s Tale winning but Fred is seeing a place for The Crown to earn a top award. Short of a domination from either The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things or Westworld (which could happen), these should split. But, never ever forget that Dexter won directing out of nowhere against the Lost finale, Breaking Bad, the pilot of Treme and one of the most celebrated Mad Men episodes ever, the DGA-winning “Man Walks Into an Advertising Agency.” Weird things happen.
Check out the Emmy Experts’ predictions in Comedy and TV Movie/Limited Series/Variety/Reality-Competition and head to the next page for the FINAL 2017 Emmy winner predictions in Drama.