The theme for this year’s Emmy Awards:
Now that frequent winner “Mad Men” is out of the drama category, and since the five-year “Modern Family” comedy winning streak was broken last year by “Veep,” it’s delightfully difficult to predict who’ll leave with statues Sunday night. And there’s quality all over the list of nominations, with fine new and newish shows in the running such as “The Americans,” “Mr. Robot,” “Black-ish,” “Silicon Valley,” “Transparent,” and “Better Call Saul.” How does a voter choose between, say, the lovely “Master of None” and the sharp and timely “Veep” without pulling out his or her hair? How to single out Rami Malek, Bob Odenkirk, or Matthew Rhys without undergoing a panic attack? The broadcast of the 68th annual Emmy Awards begins at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC. Here’s a closer look at each of the main categories.
“The Americans” (FX)
“Better Call Saul” (AMC)
“Downton Abbey” (PBS)
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)
“House of Cards” (Netflix)
“Mr. Robot” (USA)
Will win: “Game of Thrones” is the one to beat this year, after winning 12 Emmys last year, one of which was in this category. It doesn’t hurt the show that it is now more of an original series than an adaptation, since the story has gone beyond George R.R. Martin’s books. There could be an upset, with “Mr. Robot” coming off a much-admired first season, but that’s unlikely. Also, the upbeat ending of “Downton” may give it a little bit of edge, but not enough.
Should win: “The Americans” deserves it, for a season that fired on all cylinders. The Emmy voters fought the show for three years, though, and were finally shamed into acknowledging it. That doesn’t bode well for its chances.
Was robbed: It’s hard to know where to begin. Louis C.K.’s “Horace and Pete” was stagey and masterful, “The Knick” was transporting and authentic, and “Happy Valley” was riveting.
“Master of None” (Netflix)
“Modern Family” (ABC)
“Silicon Valley” (HBO)
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
Will win: “Veep” is the one to beat, not only because it is hysterical and cleverly written and perfectly acted but also because we’re in the middle of an election that seems to have taken a cue from its brilliant absurdities. The show — also timely thanks to its female president — won last year, breaking the “Modern Family” streak of five consecutive wins, and it will win again.
Should win: I can’t quibble with “Veep,” which remained top-notch despite the departure of show creator Armando Iannucci. For me, though, “Master of None” was a more well-rounded series. Aziz Ansari’s very personal comedy made me laugh, but it also made me think and feel. “Transparent” also provided lots of feels, but it’s really a drama. And while “Black-ish” had a winning second season, mixing in ideas about race with silly jokes, it suffered from network-sitcom syndrome, the symptoms of which are obviousness, repetitiveness, and sentimentality.
Was robbed: I am a broken record — proudly so — about one of TV’s best family series, “Shameless,” which has never gotten its proper due on the awards circuit. And I continue to fantasize that someday viewers will catch on to the hallucinatory brilliance of “Man Seeking Woman,” as odd as it is. “Girls” has matured beautifully, and “Love” and “Catastrophe” were light yet meaningful pleasures.
LEAD ACTOR, DRAMA
Kyle Chandler “Bloodline” (Netflix)
Rami Malek “Mr. Robot” (USA)
Bob Odenkirk “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
Matthew Rhys “The Americans” (FX)
Liev Schreiber “Ray Donovan” (Showtime)
Kevin Spacey “House of Cards” (Netflix)
Will win: It’s going to come down to Malek and Spacey, and I’m thinking voters will go with Spacey’s hammy performance — and bring him a step closer to the elite EGOT club. Malek’s turn may ultimately be too bleak.
Should win: Rhys is fascinating on “The Americans,” as a man who gets emotionally invested in his various fake lives, including his marriage to Martha. His efforts to protect her were moving.
Was robbed: Steve Buscemi was conflicted as a broken man in “Horace and Pete,” and Travis Fimmel has been consistently mesmerizing as the fading leader in “Vikings.”
LEAD ACTRESS, DRAMA
Claire Danes “Homeland” (Showtime)
Viola Davis “How to Get Away With Murder” (ABC)
Taraji P. Henson “Empire” (Fox)
Tatiana Maslany “Orphan Black” (BBC America)
Keri Russell “The Americans” (FX)
Robin Wright “House of Cards” (Netflix)
Will win: Davis is competing against the same women she beat last year, except for category newcomer Russell. That could mean victory, even if her show is mediocre. Also, Davis held the crowd in the palm of her hand last year during her acceptance speech. The voters will want more of that rousing vibe.
Should win: Again, I’m going with “The Americans.” Russell killed it — and sometimes people — every week on this show, as a steely spy with a deeply buried emotional life. Maslany is mind-blowingly talented, but Russell is undeniable.
Was robbed: Michelle Dockery kept her character, the cool Lady Mary, cool until the end. Sarah Lancashire is the lighthouse on the dark and stormy “Happy Valley.”
LEAD ACTOR, COMEDY
Anthony Anderson “Black-ish” (ABC)
Aziz Ansari “Master of None” (Netflix)
Will Forte “The Last Man on Earth” (Fox)
William H. Macy “Shameless” (Showtime)
Thomas Middleditch “Silicon Valley” (HBO)
Jeffrey Tambor “Transparent” (Amazon)
Will win: Tambor won last year, and he will win again this year. His turn as Maura Pfefferman is one of those extraordinary, unique, and blockbuster performances that’s going to be hard to beat for as long as he is nominated.
Should win: Ansari gave a remarkably human turn, surprising those familiar only with his caricaturish work on “Parks and Recreation.” Middleditch is twitchy fun, and Macy is both comically and dramatically fabulous. But Tambor ought to win, as he creates a brave woman finding a new place in her family.
Was robbed: Rob Delaney is delightful on “Catastrophe” as a boyish but loving husband.
LEAD ACTRESS, COMEDY
Ellie Kemper “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus “Veep” (HBO)
Laurie Metcalf “Getting On” (HBO)
Tracee Ellis Ross “Black-ish” (ABC)
Amy Schumer “Inside Amy Schumer” (Comedy Central)
Lily Tomlin “Grace and Frankie” (Netflix)
Will win: I can’t imagine anyone but Louis-Dreyfus taking this one home, giving her a fifth win for “Veep.” Add to her chances the fact that we may have a female president in the near future. Metcalf is hysterical, Kemper keeps the sun shining in “Kimmy,” Ross is a quirky delight who is so much more than a stock sitcom wife, Schumer is edgy, and Tomlin is as lovable as ever. But Louis-Dreyfus, with her sharp delivery and her focused body language, is the queen.
Should win: Yeah, Louis-Dreyfus, who continues to move from strength to strength.
Was robbed: Emmy Rossum is giving one of the era’s finest TV performances on “Shameless,” even if another Emmy chooses to ignore that fact. Aya Cash has deepened her joyfully cynical character with a clinical depression diagnosis on “You’re the Worst.”
SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA
Jonathan Banks “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
Peter Dinklage “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Michael Kelly “House of Cards” (Netflix)
Ben Mendelsohn “Bloodline” (Netflix)
Kit Harington “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Jon Voight “Ray Donovan” (Showtime)
Will win: Harington, who acted off-screen as well as on by pretending his character was dead, just may take the statue from fellow “Game of Thrones” favorite Dinklage. He’s becoming increasingly heroic and important on the series, which will help him win.
Should win: Voight and Mendelsohn both deserve it, for their seamless performances. But Voight, in particular, is in a class of his own as Mickey Donovan.
Was robbed: It hard to imagine that voters watched “Horace and Pete” and didn’t rush to nominate Alan Alda. Nick Sandow has slowly but surely become a critical presence on “Orange Is the New Black” as Joe Caputo. James Norton was as horrifyingly evil on “Happy Valley” as his “Granchester” leading man was not. And Andre Holland was indelible on “The Knick” as a doctor facing overt and subtle racism.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA
Emilia Clarke “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Lena Headey “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Maggie Smith “Downton Abbey” (PBS)
Maura Tierney “The Affair” (Showtime)
Maisie Williams “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Constance Zimmer “UnReal” (Lifetime)
Will win: Is it possible Smith will win again, as the Emmys bid farewell to the beloved “Downton”? Yes, since the “Game of Thrones” women cancel one another out.
Should win: Headey is remarkable as Cersei, a monster who meets hardship with vengeance. But Tierney is a powerhouse in “The Affair,” bringing dimension to the role of spurned wife.
Was robbed: Sophie Turner has delivered a beautifully calibrated arc on “Game of Thrones,” and is arguably more deserving of note than Williams. Holly Taylor, as Paige on “The Americans,” has carried the show’s biggest theme — learning the truth — on her very able shoulders. And Alison Wright was heartbreaking on “The Americans” as the broken but unbowed Martha. Of all the robberies this year, the snubbing of Wright hurt the most.
SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY
Louie Anderson “Baskets” (FX)
Andre Braugher “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Fox)
Tituss Burgess “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
Ty Burrell “Modern Family” (ABC)
Tony Hale “Veep” (HBO)
Keegan-Michael Key “Key and Peele” (Comedy Central)
Matt Walsh “Veep” (HBO)
Will win: Hale has won two Emmys for his turn as the president’s fussy, needy caretaker, and deservedly so. And because voters are addicted to repeat wins (self-justification?), he’s going to take it despite the fact that his schtick is losing its freshness. Maybe Anderson will take it in an upset.
Should win: Bring on the upset. There is no question in my mind that Anderson deserves this one, for his layered comic performance as a passive-aggressive but loving mother.
Was robbed: Where oh where is Timothy Simons, who is endlessly entertaining as Jonah on “Veep”? I also wish Jeremy Allen White would get recognition as the kid caught between poverty and elite academic intellectuals on “Shameless.” Alex Karpovsky is lovely as the man among misbehaving children on “Girls.”
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY
Anna Chlumsky “Veep” (HBO)
Gaby Hoffmann “Transparent” (Amazon)
Allison Janney “Mom” (CBS)
Judith Light “Transparent” (Amazon)
Kate McKinnon “Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
Niecy Nash “Getting On” (HBO)
Will win: The voters love Janney — hell, everyone loves Janney. And that could easily bring her a third statue for this role, to add to the four she won for “The West Wing.” If she wins, she will be tied with Cloris Leachman as the most Emmy-ed actress in Emmy history. Also, a Janney win lets the voters give one major statue to the networks, who’ve lost all awards footing in recent years.
Should win: I want to say Light, because she had a moving season despite her mannered performance. And McKinnon, who brightens every sketch she’s in. But I support a Janney win; she is funny and likable and appealingly imperfect on “Mom.”
Was robbed: Amanda Peet was a force of nature on the canceled “Togetherness.” She deserved a nod, along with Jemima Kirke, who had a good story line on “Girls,” as Jessa and Adam decided to be crazy together rather than apart.
“American Crime” (ABC)
“The Night Manager” (AMC)
“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (FX)
Will win: “The People v. O.J. Simpson” will win, and that won’t be a shame. Ryan Murphy’s look back in wisdom added racial context and emotional depth to the trial of the 20th century. The performances were uneven, from brilliant (Sarah Paulson) to miscast (Cuba Gooding Jr.), but the script was smart enough and compensated for the weaknesses.
Should win: But “Fargo” was my favorite show of last year. As it moved away from the movie’s story, it was remarkably imaginative and tonally elastic. This is a very strong category: “American Crime” had a rich and disturbing season scoping out all the angles on a high school molestation, “The Night Manager” was a pretty piece of espionage, and “Roots” was a fine remake. But “Fargo.” Yes, “Fargo.”
Was robbed: What is it with Emmy voters and David Simon? They ignored “The Wire,” and now they’ve ignored the extraordinary “Show Me a Hero.” I can’t even.
“A Very Murray Christmas” (Netflix)
“All the Way” (HBO)
“Luther” (BBC America)
“Sherlock: The Abominable Bride” (PBS)
Will win: This is a woeful category. Two of the nominees are essentially mediocre episodes of once great TV shows, “Luther” and “Sherlock,” and one of them, “A Very Murray Christmas,” is essentially a variety special. The prestigious “All the Way” will go all the way.
Should win: “All the Way” is a compelling and brilliantly acted — if overlong — look back at Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act. It’s more substantive and impressive than the other truly competitive nominee, “Confirmation.”
Was robbed: “The Dresser” was certainly better than “A Very Murray Christmas.”
LEAD ACTOR, TV MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES
Bryan Cranston “All the Way” (HBO)
Benedict Cumberbatch “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride” (PBS)
Idris Elba “Luther” (BBC America)
Cuba Gooding Jr. “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (FX)
Tom Hiddleston “The Night Manager” (AMC)
Courtney B. Vance “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (FX)
Will win: Cranston, far from his “Breaking Bad” character, seemed to bring us into the room with Lyndon B. Johnson. He was riveting.
Should win: Elba and former category winner Cumberbatch have been powerful in their roles, but the scripts this time were wanting. Vance was eye-opening as Johnnie Cochran, giving his character more depth than I expected. But still, Cranston was outstanding and deserving.
Was robbed: Ben Whishaw was emotionally raw in “London Spy,” and Malachi Kirby and Rege-Jean Page were gripping in “Roots.”
LEAD ACTRESS, TV MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES
Kirsten Dunst “Fargo” (FX)
Felicity Huffman “American Crime” (ABC)
Audra McDonald “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” (HBO)
Lili Taylor “American Crime” (ABC)
Sarah Paulson “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (FX)
Kerry Washington “Confirmation” (HBO)
Will win: Dunst was a kick as Peggy, managing to be both openly comic and dramatically focused. Huffman was, as usual, memorable, and Washington was just right as Anita Hill. But Paulson, who has been nominated each of the past five years for different roles, will finally win. Her Marcia Clark was an eye-opening turn.
Should win: Paulson, no question.
Was robbed: Riley Keough was artfully numbed out in “The Girlfriend Experience.”
THE 68th PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS
On ABC, Sunday at 8 p.m.