Every September, Emmy Awards watchers get very serious about exactly which stars and shows will score that coveted golden statuette (it's a winged woman holding up an atom, and is a little over a foot tall, FYI).
When critics make their awards-show predictions, they are probably more like fans than you might think! Critics can guess who will win, but it’s actually more fun wishing for the excitement of an upset — not that they want anyone to lose (of course!). But professional couch potatoes, at least on paper, mean business about which nominees should come out on top.
Here, Us Weekly TV critic John Griffiths lays out his thoughts on this year’s probable winners — along with his personal should-wins — across the Emmy’s top drama and comedy categories. You can see for yourself who triumphs when Jimmy Kimmel hosts the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards live from L.A. on ABC Sunday, September 18, at 8 p.m. ET. Maybe you have your own guessing game going!
BEST DRAMA SERIES
Will Win: Game of Thrones
Last year’s victor in this category only upped its spectacle, with scrupulous Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) siccing her fire-breathing dragons on enemies and ruthless Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) sending up the Sept of Baelor in a plume of purple smoke!
The sweeping medieval fantasy’s sixth season did strike as slow-going here and there, but now that Emmy voters are on board with the mighty juggernaut and its impassioned characters, they’ll keep sailing. This is especially true with resident hero Jon Snow (supporting actor nominee Kit Harington) returned from the dead, and bolder than ever.
Should Win: The Americans
There’s no place like home — but where is home? In the Cold War drama’s fourth and best-yet round, 1980s Soviet spies Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) saw their double lives as a happily married American couple come close to being exposed — and that drama came out as provocative and tense as a rolling grenade.
Killing people they like, handling a stolen bioweapon like a hot potato, teaching their sweet teen daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) how to spy on neighbors — the duo’s work made existence unbearable for them. But Rhys and Russell are so committed as the loving, if complicated, duo, fans no doubt wrung their hands trying to map out ways they could escape their crazy-world predicament.
Maybe go back to Russia? That doesn’t sound enticing. Defect and someday become pundits on CNN? Hmmm, not sure about that one either. Anyway, this is TV’s most relevant and important drama.
Also-rans: Better Call Saul, Downton Abbey, Homeland, House of Cards, Mr. Robot
Will Win: Veep
This White House satire bagged the Emmy last year. And lifted by new showrunner David Mandel (Curb Your Enthusiasm), its wit soared even higher in season 5. And star Julia Louis-Dreyfus again hit every punch line, character gaffe and "f--k!" with precision as (default) POTUS Selina Meyer. The show’s idea of a special Thanksgiving episode: Selina pardons two turkeys that her vegan daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) named Drumstick and Cranberry. Given Hollywood’s penchant for sticking it to Washington, D.C., and the ridiculous real-life presidential race, this Emmy darling will win in a landslide — barring any voting-machine hacking, of course.
Should Win: Veep
In addition to the reasons above, Veep is flat out the funniest and sharpest of all the nominees. (While Transparent can be mordantly amusing, it’s more of a drama — witness this current season’s plot turn involving a devastating suicide.)
Also-Rans: Black-ish, Master of None, Modern Family, Silicon Valley, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Will Win: Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
As Elliot Alderson, a paranoid and drug-addicted hacker out to undo the most nefarious of the 1 percent, the soft-spoken Malek imbued his character with electrifying currents of righteous indignation and desperation. He’s a natural, talented and intense breakout star with a big future. The only mitigating factor here: It’s not always easy navigating a new show with an increasingly unwieldy premise. (Indeed, some of the twists and turns proved to be just figments of Elliot’s delusional mind.)
Should Win: Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Rhys couldn’t be more empathetic as Philip, an unhappy Soviet spy feigning — and wanting — an American life. Loving husband and dad and killer, the agent is a walking ball of PTSD, and the actor lets us feel his dread and his hunger to hope.
Also-rans: Kyle Chandler (Bloodline), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Will Win: Robin Wright, House of Cards
Wright had her juiciest plotline yet on the political conspiracy drama: Her First Lady Claire Underwood ascended to vice-presidential candidate alongside husband Frank (Kevin Spacey)! Wright, a master of lacing power madness with melancholy, seized the day … even as the hit became overbaked.
Should Win: Keri Russell, The Americans
The former Felicity favorite is uncanny as ’80s spy Elizabeth, capturing the woman’s love for her family and devotion to her homeland with a genuinely eerie realism. Fellow nominee Tatiana Maslany gets a lot of due credit for playing a diverse bunch of clones on Orphan Black, but Russell was no less impressive this season here. Elizabeth, after all, is a once-innocent Russian woman turned Soviet spy pretending to be an American housewife — often taking on other aliases and getups for her skullduggery. She slips into all of those identities with efficiency and gravitas.
Also-rans: Claire Danes (Homeland), Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder), Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Will Win: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
The nicely understated Tambor, last year’s champ here, again embodied wry, seventysomething transgender woman Maura Pfefferman. Tambor scores!
Should Win: William H. Macy, Shameless
Vote for Frank Gallagher! If Emmy’s going to give out comedy trophies for heartbreaking work, Macy — a three-time nominee here — more than deserves one. In season 5, his boozy character, Frank, nearly dies (again), is shaken out of his stupor by love, then watches said new love drown. Really, it’s all more hilarious than it sounds, thanks in part to Macy, who fits into his role now like an old, defiantly floppy shoe.
Also-rans: Anthony Anderson (Black-ish), Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Will Forte (Last Man on Earth), Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley)
ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Will Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
The former Seinfeld star has enjoyed a four-year winning streak, so why not make if five — especially with her topping her own flair for foiled-again comedy? She made POTUS Selina’s neglect of a giant zit on her face alone a hilarious cautionary tale (Hillary Clinton, are you watching?). And none of Louis-Dreyfus’ rivals holds any major momentum.
Should Win: Laurie Metcalf, Getting On
The resurgent Metcalf, a three-time supporting actress Emmy winner for Roseanne back in the day, landed three Emmy nominations this year (the verdicts for the other two — for guest actress in a comedy series — were already announced, and she won neither). Louis-Dreyfus has obviously been rewarded for her acerbic and bumbling character, so it’d be heartening to see Metcalf get honored for her rich turn as a not dissimilar would-be hero in this departed hospital comedy. As Jenna, a nervy and nervous doctor — and, um, stool researcher — she showed all of the Veep star’s agitated humor and added in some true, poignant humanity. Would Selina give up a kidney?
Also-rans: Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish), Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer), Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)
The 2016 Emmy Awards ceremony airs on ABC Sunday, September 18, at 8 p.m. ET.
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