The Emmys are notorious for two things: repeat winners and unpredictability. Some races are wrapped up long in advance, such as when “Modern Family” won five years in a row between 2010 – 2014 or Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ ongoing streak of Outstanding Actress in a Comedy wins.
But then there are the surprises, and no other awards show features as many wild winners as the Emmys. No one saw Regina King winning last year (for Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie), just as few experts predicted Benedict Cumberbatch would win the year before (for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie). Many more races were contentious down to the end, including last year’s “Veep” and “Game of Thrones” series wins.
These are the races where we may not see the same ol’ faces in the winners’ circle. They’re the races that are too close to call, with just a few days left until we all find out who’s taking home the gold – and who’s going home empty-handed.
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Top Contenders: Viola Davis (“How to Get Away With Murder”) & Robin Wright (“House of Cards”)
There’s been a strong case for both of these fine thespians since before they were nominated, and they could still lose — yes, both of them. Viola Davis is the defending champion, and thus earns prediction points because she’s the proven favorite. “How To Get Away With Murder” has a lost a bit of steam since 2015, however, and Robin Wright has a compelling campaign point: She’s never won. “House of Cards” saw a slight resurgence in Season 4, and that could be enough to finally get the four-time nominee over the hump. And yet, Keri Russell could beat them both, depending on whether the suddenly-hot “Americans” is liked enough to win and not just land nominations. Still, we’re betting Wright’s resume gets her to the podium this year.
Best Guess: Robin Wright, “House of Cards”
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Top Contenders: Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”) & Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”)
In what’s shaping up to be a similar race to the one his co-star is running in the Actress category, Kevin Spacey is betting on an improved “House of Cards” season (as well as the fact he’s never won an Emmy) to get him over the hump in 2016. Standing in his way is Rami Malek, whose performance in “Mr. Robot” grabbed the attention of Academy voters in its first season and has undoubtedly held them rapt in Season 2 (which, it should be noted, aired during Emmy voting). Will voters go for the old, unhonored veteran or the fresh face in a fresh series? Typically, a two-time Oscar winner would hold the edge, but “House of Cards” just doesn’t have the buzz that “Mr. Robot” has.
Best Guess: Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Top Contenders: Tony Hale (“Veep”), Louie Anderson (“Baskets”), & Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)
Perhaps the most confounding race in the lot, Tony Hale, Louie Anderson and Tituss Burgess all have legitimate claims to an edge heading into Sunday’s ceremony. Hale is coming off his second win for “Veep,” and while his character didn’t have a huge arc in Season 5, the “Arrested Development” veteran remains a favorite among voters. Anderson, meanwhile, grabbed rave reviews for his turn in FX’s comedy, “Baskets.” He’s the breakout among the nominees, which could be enough to push him over the edge (along with the network’s influential backing). But then there’s Tituss Burgess — many prognosticators’ pick to win last year — who’s back in the race for Emmy darling Tina Fey’s Netflix series. Any three of them could win, but we’ve got to side with history here (and “Veep’s” towering presence in the Academy).
Best Guess: Tony Hale, “Veep”
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Top Contenders: Allison Janney (“Mom”) & Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”)
This might be us wishing for a tight race more than a race that’s actually that close. Allison Janney has won seven Emmys — seven! — and has shown no signs of slowing down in recent years. (She’s added three trophies in the last two years.) But there’s Anna Chlumsky, again, sitting there with her fourth nomination for “Veep” in a year when the HBO comedy is expected to dominate the comedy categories like never before. Given her lack of recognition, perhaps voters will warm to Chlumsky and accept the fact Janney has already been honored. Still, betting on the TV Academy changing their mind is never a wise choice.
Best Guess: Allison Janney, “Mom”
Lead Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie
Top Contenders: Courtney B. Vance (“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”) & Bryan Cranston (“All the Way”)
Yet another new face taking on a proven veteran, Courtney B. Vance stole the show and became an overnight sensation on “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” His portrayal of Johnnie Cochran did the impossible by humanizing a man who’d become a caricature and reminding everyone why he was one of the most powerful trial lawyers ever to enter a courtroom. Meanwhile, Bryan Cranston has six Emmys. Sure, he also did a magnificent job channeling Lyndon B. Johnson in HBO’s adaptation of “All the Way,” but who are we kidding? There are a lot of elements at play in this race, and we’ll have to wait until a name is called to understand which ones mattered most.
Best Guess: Courtney B. Vance, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”
Variety Sketch Series
Top Contenders: “Inside Amy Schumer” & “Key & Peele”
Two Comedy Central programs are duking it out in the Variety Sketch race. “Inside Amy Schumer” has history on its side, as it won this category last year. Schumer has also nabbed two consecutive Outstanding Lead Actress nominations, but Keegan-Michael Key has nine total nominations without a win, including two nods in the past two years for Outstanding Supporting Actor in “Key & Peele.” His show, meanwhile, has 17 total nominations…and no wins. Now that it’s over, 2016 marks “Key & Peele’s” last shot at gold. We’re betting they get it in this category.
Best Guess: “Key & Peele”
Top Contenders: “Veep” & “Black-ish”
Consider this a warning for an unlikely — but increasingly more possible — scenario in which the very best comedy on television could lose to, well, the No. 20-something best show on TV. Critics were overly generous in reviewing Kenya Barris’ brave (but not overly funny) broadcast “comedy,” and ABC has a track record of winning this category thanks to “Modern Family.” That being said, HBO has a track record for winning, period. “Veep” should hold off the late-charging sitcom, but we’ll be sweating it out until the end (if only for fear of another Emmys injustice).
Best Guess: “Veep”
The 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be held Sunday, September 18 and air on ABC beginning at 7pm ET (4pm PT, local time).