There was the time that Alan Alda cartwheeled his way to the stage. There was the time Helen Mirren dropped an uncensored expletive on live TV. There was the time when Joan Rivers and Eddie Murphy cohosted and delivered a rather non-politically correct opening monologue.
And yet Sunday night’s ceremony will likely be the most unusual Emmy Awards in television history. It will be filmed live, as usual, but not on location, as celebrities Zoom in from around the country to present other Zooming-in celebrities with socially distanced awards. (Will they equip the Emmy statuettes with tiny masks? Yes, please.) Whether it turns out to be utterly disastrous or utterly competent – the bar for the Emmys can never be raised higher – remains to be seen, but it will most certainly make a unique and unpredictable viewing experience.
But that said… will the awards themselves be unique and unpredictable? The Emmys have yet to shake their reputation for being staid and repetitive, but the latest pool of nominees suggests that this may yield the freshest crop of winners in years. Some awards are fairly easy to predict; others may lead to surprising upsets.
My reputation for predicting the Emmy Awards has been spotty (I seem to do better with the ultra-predictable Oscars), but the law remains: If you do make any Vegas money off this article, ethical law demands you send me at least half of it.
And here we go…
Outstanding Drama Series
With Game of Thrones out of the picture, the Drama race is finally competitive again. And while most of the series in this list are repeat nominees, we get a fresh newcomer in Disney Plus’ widely praised The Mandalorian. Still, Emmys gonna Emmy, which means that the category is packed with once-buzzy dramas (Stranger Things, Killing Eve, The Handmaid’s Tale) that are now past their prime.
Better Call Saul was one of the strongest shows of the year, but its odds of winning when both Odenkirk and Seehorn were snubbed in the acting categories remain microscopically slim. The year’s most likely victor is Succession, a slick drama that checks all the boxes – critical acclaim, wide audience appeal, and political resonance. (The Roy family and the Trump family have too many parallels to count.) Netflix’s Ozark has also gained momentum this year, but it still looks like a dark horse; the Emmys still have HBO love to spare.
Better Call Saul
The Handmaid’s Tale
Outstanding Comedy Series
Fleabag had a much-ballyhooed win last year, but it’s out of the running, along with consistent Emmy juggernaut Veep. What’s left is a wide assortment of shows with varying levels of quality and online chatter, ranging from hilarious to The Kominsky Method. Returning favorite The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel had its momentum disrupted last year, but it’s back to try again. But so is Schitt’s Creek, a Canadian series that has dramatically increased in critical and audience acclaim since Netflix began streaming it two years ago.
Creek is competing for its swansong year, and Emmy voters have a history of recognizing shows that earn widespread recognition late in the game (Breaking Bad went through a similar phase a few years back). Perhaps Maisel scores a rebound… but 2020 has been a remarkably Schitty year.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Dead to Me
The Good Place
The Kominsky Method
What We Do in the Shadows
Outstanding Limited Series
A few months ago, Mrs. America was on a glide path to sweep the Limited Series category, between its star-studded cast and heavily-charged political drama. The miniseries about conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly and the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment seemed almost lab-engineered to appeal to Emmy voters, and in a normal year, it’s hard to believe anything could stop it.
But this (have you noticed?) is not a normal year, and Mrs. America’s deep dive into 1970s feminism doesn’t quite mesh with the hot-button topics our country has been facing these last several months. Emmy voters pride themselves on picking shows that reflect the current moment, and perhaps no series on TV encapsulates the current debate (or at least has generated as many click-bait articles since June) as well as Watchmen. With its themes about racism and police violence, the series is a perfect choice for Emmy voters who want to show that they’re With It – and it’s just an incredibly well-produced series besides. Despite the prominent competition, this is one of the easiest predictions of the night.
Little Fires Everywhere
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Even acknowledging past victors in this category, I’m predicting a strong night for Succession overall. The only question is whether a vote-split between the two stars competing in this category will allow Billy Porter or Jason Bateman to squeeze through. Still unlikely, as Brian Cox has the recognition edge over Jeremy Strong, and seems poised to emerge the more likely winner.
Brian Cox, Succession
Billy Porter, Pose
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Steve Carell, The Morning Show
Jeremy Strong, Succession
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
A chance to give another award to Jennifer Aniston? How can the Emmys resist? They might, given The Morning Show’s lack of awards gravitas, and the steadily rising power of Ozark and Laura Linney. Olivia Colman has an outside shot as a spoiler, though like Claire Foy, her Queen Liz probably stands a better chance in her second and final go-round next year. Jodie Comer was last year’s victor… but Killing Eve has already had its day.
Laura Linney, Ozark
Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show
Olivia Colman, The Crown
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
A category filled with old pros, but one stands above the rest – Eugene Levy, whose work on Schitt’s Creek (as writer as well as star) has elevated him above the competition. Perhaps Emmy voters decide to go in a different direction – Ramy Youssef, another writer-star and newly-minted golden Globe winner, is on the rise. But if conformity prevails, so will Levy.
Eugene Levy, Schitt’s Creek
Ramy Youssef, Ramy
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Don Cheadle, Black Monday
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Like Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara is an old pro; like him, she’s starring on a long-running show that is only now surging in popularity. With Julia-Louis Dreyfus out of the running, one would expect the category to be competitive again, but none of the other ladies in this category has a prominent level of competition – excepting perhaps Brosnahan, who carries a bit of momentum from her prior Maisel victory. Expect this category to go up the Creek as well.
Catherine O’Hara, Schitt’s Creek
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Christina Applegate, Dead to Me
Linda Cardellini, Dead to Me
Issa Rae, Insecure
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Of all the major categories this year, none are quite as tough to predict as this one. Nearly every actor in this category has a shot at the gold, be it Paul Mescal (who garnered plenty of accolades for Normal People) or Jeremy Irons (who starred in the beloved Watchmen) or Hugh Jackman (who is Hugh Jackman). So I’m going to close my eyes and throw a dart at Mark Ruffalo, a well-known actor with a dual role as twins in I Know This Much is True, and whose acceptance speech will almost certainly include an environmental message that will give Joaquin Phoenix’s “cow kidnapping” speech at the most recent Oscars a run for its money.
Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much is True
Hugh Jackman, Bad Education
Could Also Win:
Paul Mescal, Normal People
Could Still Technically Win I Guess:
Jeremy Irons, Watchmen
Jeremy Pope, Hollywood (sorry dude, no one remembers Hollywood)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Again, this looked like Mrs. America’s year not long ago, with the much-loved Cate Blanchett poised to take the award for her excellent portrayal of Phyllis Schlafly. But Watchmen has gained all the momentum, and Regina King (who has previously won Emmys for American Crime – twice – and Seven Seconds) has become the unquestionable frontrunner. Expect her to plant a fourth Emmy on her shelf this Sunday.
Regina King, Watchmen
Cate Blanchett, Mrs. America
Shira Haas, Unorthodox
Octavia Spencer, Self Made
Kerry Washington, Little Fires Everywhere
The secondary categories are as competitive as the Lead ones, but I’ll book the Supporting Actor wins to Dan Levy and Alex Borstein for Comedy, Billy Crudup and Helena Bonham Carter for Drama, and Jim Parsons and Margo Martindale for Limited Series.
The other major Emmys – Outstanding Variety Series and Competition Program – also boast some beloved shows, but recent years have seen them dominated by Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and RuPaul’s Drag Race, and there’s little indication that either series will see its winning streak disrupted this year.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on those Writing and Directing categories… a man’s gotta know his limitations. Be back here after Sunday night so you can either praise my foresight or laugh at my nonsense.