As I said back in January, this should be the most exciting Emmy drama race in years. Longtime nominee Downton Abbey is over. Game of Thrones (which has won the last two years) is ineligible. And, even better, there are fully seven shows I would consider shoo-ins for a first-time nomination literally any other year. When you consider how rare it is to have that much turnover in an Emmy series category, well, there are going to be a lot of snubs on the outside, looking in.
I've identified 22 shows I think have something like a better than 5 percent shot from the lengthy, lengthy list of possible nominees (which you can see here -- warning, PDF). Okay, two of them are just shows I wish would get in which won't. But the other 20 -- there's a universe where I could see them being nominated. I won't do full predictions in this newsletter but will before the Emmy nominees are announced.
Here the shows are in alphabetical order. (The last show I cut was Narcos. Netflix just has too much stuff.)
The Americans (FX, previous nominee in 2016)
This is such a weird year that the buzz for The Americans went from shoo-in for a nomination, to possible winner, to battling for its life, and almost none of that has anything to do with the fact that this was a bit of a comedown season for the show. Still, even if season five had its issues, I would hesitate to drop this show from my predictions for two big reasons: the first is that it's still got a lot of momentum off last year's nomination and off the general sense that it's heading toward the end. The second is how early it comes in the alphabet, which helps a lot when you have dozens of show titles to wade through. (Seriously. There's some evidence of this with Emmy voters.) I don't think this is a 100 percent lock, but I think it's relatively safe.
Pros: Prior nominee. People generally like it and the people involved in it. It still has "the end is coming" buzz. The alphabet.
Cons: People didn't like season five as much as the prior three.
Better Call Saul (AMC, previous nominee in 2015 and 2016)
Saul's third season has run a little under the radar, all things considered, but it should be helped by having a buzzy finale air right in the middle of the voting period. It's also got the still-powerful Breaking Bad bloc voting for it (presumably), and it, too, comes toward the beginning of the alphabet.
Pros: Prior nominee. People really like the people involved in it. People still love Breaking Bad. The alphabet.
Cons: It's just a little quiet. Season two should have added a couple of major noms from season one and just didn't. Despite 14 nominations, it still hasn't won a single Emmy.
The show saw a nice hike in buzz in season two, thanks to tighter plotting and the performance of newcomer Asia Kate Dillon. But the field's probably just too crowded, even with the occasionally powerful Showtime in its corner.
Pros: Showtime. It has an all-star cast.
Cons: It hasn't seemed to break out beyond the circle of people already watching Showtime and/or Billions.
If the final season had been better, you could almost see this jumping into the series race in a less competitive year. But it was a mess, and it won't do that.
Pros: The people who like this show, really really like it. It's gotten major nominations in other categories.
Cons: There just aren't enough people who like it (because it's not very good).
The Crown (Netflix)
Netflix is blowing Emmy campaigning wide open this year, by renting out a big space in LA and letting Emmy voters attend any number of events there. It's also promoting basically everything it has, with everything it can throw at voters, with its seemingly unlimited amounts of cash. And yet there's this teasing suspicion at the back of my head that there are some versions of the drama nominees list where this is the only Netflix show on there. That probably won't happen, but even if Netflix's in-your-face strategy somehow flops, this show just too easily slots into the Downton slot.
Pros: It's about British people and good (a dynamite combo!). Downton Abbey is gone, but its voters aren't. Performances that are sure to be nominated. Netflix is great at campaigning.
Cons: I don't know? Brexit? This one is probably the surest thing, to my mind.
In the year of our Emmy 2002, a Billy Bob Thornton vehicle co-starring William Hurt and Maria Bello, from the pen of David E. Kelley, would be the biggest Emmy threat imaginable. But it's 15 years later.
Pros: There are some older Emmy voters who ate this up...
Cons: But almost certainly not enough of them.
The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
CBS has been campaigning for this one surprisingly aggressively, given how much of an outsider it is. But The Good Wife was an Emmy darling for a while there, and this first season was surprisingly potent. You have to figure Christine Baranski will finish somewhere in the top 10 of the drama actress race through sheer inertia alone, as well. (Don't get me wrong; she's really good. I just don't know if she's giving one of the top 10 dramatic lead actress performances on TV.) It's an outsider, but less of one than you might think.
Pros: Of all of the big players, it's probably the most "traditional" drama, which will help it somewhat. The Emmys have always loved legal shows and Christine Baranski.
Cons: It's an outsider in an overstuffed year. The Good Wife was popular with the Emmys but last managed a series nod in 2011.
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
This isn't happening, but oh if I were in charge...
Pros: There is a world where I get to pick the nominees, and it gets lots of them.
Cons: This is not that world, last I checked.
The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
The biggest wild card of them all. I can see this getting double digit nominations. I can also see it getting just one (for Elisabeth Moss, who's pretty safe for a nomination, to my mind). It's definitely a major contender, and Hulu is pushing it hard. But the hard sell can backfire as often as it succeeds. Still, the show feels timely to voters in a way that others just don't (see our next two!), and it had the good fortune of being the breakout critical hit of a tough spring. I suspect it's in, but I don't think it will get those double digit nominations. Probably more like six or seven.
Pros: A vote for The Handmaid's Tale is a vote against authoritarianism, wink wink, nudge nudge! Exquisitely well-made. Beautifully acted. But if this gets in, the politics will have carried it over the finish line.
Cons: Can Hulu do this? They haven't exactly inspired confidence before. Maybe Emmy voters didn't like that one episode about Nick?
Homeland (Showtime, previous winner in 2012, previous nominee in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016)
Homeland clearly has a solid fanbase, but I suspect the way the show felt a touch exhausted in season six (which could never shake the notion that it was meant to take place in a world where Hillary Clinton won the election) means it's on its way out. Still, if there's a totally random returning nominee, Homeland wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. It's a tenacious bugger.
Pros: Prior nominee. The people who love it love it. It's topical, I guess!
Cons: It's probably not topical enough. Season five got very few nominations overall. It just feels like it's time for it to drop out.
House of Cards (Netflix, previous nominee in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016)
Guess what? If I forced myself to make predictions, I'd leave this show on the outside looking in for many of the same reasons as Homeland. It feels like the worm has turned on this one, just a bit, especially with many of its safest nominees in the guest acting categories no longer eligible. Then again, I have never quite understood the love for this one, so I might be underestimating it again.
Pros: Prior nominee. It has movie stars in it! It's topical, I guess!
Cons: It's probably not topical enough. Season four's nominations total was bolstered by guest noms, which are hard to carry forward. Even with all of Netflix's money, it's very, very, very hard for a network to get two shows nominated in a category and almost impossible to get three. And Netflix has four major contenders. Something's gotta give.
The Leftovers (HBO)
This is more likely to be nominated than you'd think, while still probably not likely to be nominated. I suspect if HBO had put its full weight behind it, it would have gotten in with a handsome suite of supporting nominations. (I was at the Academy screening of the finale. There are people who love this show within ATAS.) But Westworld exists, and the network might tear itself in two. Still, if this somehow squeaked in, I would be the happiest boy.
Pros: It's a great television show that just had a great final season, and it's not hard to see it getting some key backup nominations like writing and directing.
Cons: It's probably too far behind the other shows to catch up. Westworld exists.
The internet loves this show, but I just haven't heard much about it since it ended, probably because the finale was a touch soft. This feels like more of a player in the tech categories. (The same goes for American Gods, which I cut from this list for largely similar reasons.)
Pros: Visionary something or other. Noah Hawley.
Cons: It's a superhero thing, and the Emmys still remember what happened when they nominated Heroes -slash- have terrible genre bias.
Mr. Robot (USA, prior nominee in 2016)
Another wild card, though less of one than I might like. Remember in the immediate wake of season two when the story surrounding the show was that it had had some creative struggles but had rebounded in the back half of the season? Yeah, pretty much all anyone remembers now are the creative struggles. The show could have overcome that by having season three on the air during voting, especially if it was a good season, but it's not going to be back until fall.
Pros: Prior nominee. Rami Malek is almost certainly getting back in and could win again. It actually is topical and timely.
Cons: Season two had issues, and the issues are all anybody remembers, perhaps unfairly.
Orange Is the New Black (Netflix, prior nominee in 2014 [comedy] and 2015)
There was a time last summer when I would have predicted this to get in on the strength of season four, which was the most acclaimed, most talked about season of the show since its first. And then the fifth season aired and kinda sucked all the air out of the room, which is not what you want to do when the competition is as fierce as it is this year.
Pros: A much loved season that reached the show's full potential. Prior nominee. Uzo Aduba will probably sneak in there again, right?
Cons: The Emmys completely left this off the map in 2016, and the arrival of season five (which isn't technically eligible until 2018, but nobody said this was fair) has hurt the show, I reckon.
The Path (Hulu)
Hulu pushed this really hard last year, and it has Aaron Paul and Hugh Dancy and Michelle Monaghan and you never know!
Pros: Haha, you know.
Cons: I don't think it can happen.
Here's another "if I made the nominees" pick that won't get in. You should go watch the entire run on Netflix though!
Pros: It's an utterly brilliant TV show that was not appreciated in its own time. I could see some sort of scenario where a writing nomination happened.
Cons: But I have to perform so many mental gymnastics to make that happen that I'm quite aware it won't.
Sneaky Pete (Amazon)
Every so often, somebody tries to tell me Sneaky Pete has a shot, which is why it's on this list.
Pros: Every so often, somebody tries to tell me Sneaky Pete has a shot. Amazon needs something to push here.
Cons: I don't think Sneaky Pete has a shot.
Stranger Things (Netflix)
It's too bad I'm about to explain why 13 Reasons Why won't be Emmy nominated, because these last three shows all have very similar storylines, while being wildly different. They're all breakout sensations. They're all shows that have some big, obvious Emmy handicap. And they're all shows that probably will be nominated where I simultaneously wouldn't be surprised by a snub (whereas, say, a snub for The Crown would very much surprise me indeed). Stranger Things is probably the one I feel most confident about, oddly enough. (I say oddly because lots of prognosticators are lining up This Is Us to win.) Its PGA and SAG wins are good indications the industry has at least checked it out, and it has that Netflix muscle behind it. Still... there's a lot of Netflix out there.
Pros: Has won some industry awards. Breakout hit. People generally seem to like those kids! Netflix is backing it heavily.
Cons: Too much Netflix? The genre thing could be a heavy lift, though I think it's going to be a little less of one here than for, say, Westworld. The Emmys have done sci-fi-lite many times.
13 Reasons Why (Netflix)
This isn't getting nominated, but you could sort of imagine a world where it was. The Emmys don't generally like teen stuff unless it breaks out in a big way, and you can't say this didn't do that. Also, Netflix.
Pros: Breakout hit. Netflix.
Cons: It's about #teenz. Probably too much controversy.
This Is Us (NBC)
As I hinted above, I'm more skeptical about this show than many Emmy prognosticators. I'm still predicting it to get in, but the whole "nobody nominates network dramas any more" thing gives me pause. It kind of reminds me of Empire, which a lot of people thought was a shoo-in, too, until it wasn't. Granted, that was a soap, and this is a family drama. But for as much as the Emmys have ignored soaps over the years, they've ignored family dramas almost as much. This is a big enough, breakout enough hit that I think it will probably get a boatload of nominations. But I can't shake my doubts.
Pros: It's the biggest new hit of the year in most of the metrics TV people care about (go away, Bull). It makes people cry. It has lots of great performances. "A family drama but structured like Lost" just sounds like an Emmy winner on some level.
Cons: It's on a broadcast network. Not everybody is over the moon for it. Family dramas aren't the Emmy cinches they seem like they should be.
It's sort of fitting we save this one for last, because it's the biggest "IDK!" to me. It's going to get a boatload of technical nominations, and HBO is pushing it hard, which usually means nominations in top categories as well. But doesn't it feel like this show aired so long ago? Yes, Stranger Things aired further back on the calendar, but that series felt like it got a second wind from all those awards wins, where Westworld didn't, not really. I would never dare predict against HBO (and, at present, I have this in). But I don't know that I would be predicting this if it were the exact same show on literally any other network, including Netflix. It's cool, cerebral sci-fi about the coming robot apocalypse. Not exactly an Emmy self-starter.
Pros: It's on HBO! It's a handsome show with great performances that a lot of people loved a lot. Also, it's at the end of the alphabet, which can help. (The Emmys choose random categories to display to voters backwards alphabetically.) It's hard to imagine an Emmy drama list without HBO on it.
Cons: This one feels like it faded a bit in the back stretch, and it's going to have some heavy problems with genre. Like I said: IDK!
Ask me to predict right now, and I think I'd come up with something like this for my top 10:
1.) The Crown
2.) The Americans
3.) Better Call Saul
4.) Stranger Things
5.) This Is Us
6.) The Handmaid's Tale
8.) House of Cards
9.) The Leftovers
10.) Mr. Robot
But the only one of those I'd dare put money on is The Crown.
Clock's ticking. See you in July.
Our Friday mailbag feature is a lot of fun! Please email me your questions over the course of the week, and I'll pick a few to answer. I'll always answer at least three per week, unless I just don't have the material. For ease of inbox search, please put "mailbag" somewhere in the subject line of your email. Thanks!
Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox