In the past Emmy voters were notorious for rewarding the same performances year after year. The past couple of years however have seen a lot of changes from removing blue ribbon panels in favor of the entire membership voting, embracing the popular vote, and a rapid rise in membership. All of these changes have the opportunity to keep the Emmys fresh and fewer repeat winners. The drama lead acting categories are the perfect categories to represent these changes.
Both Sterling K. Brown and Elisabeth Moss are nominated again after winning last year but how likely is it that they both win and who is first in line to pull off an upset?
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Sterling K. Brown has quickly become one of the most well-liked names in television which is surprising seeing as most audiences were first introduced to him in 2016. Since then he has won two Emmys and is up for two more this year both as the returning winner for This Is Us as well as for her guest role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. His popularity is enough to propel into being a major contender in the lead actor race. He’s had an emotional second season this time as Randall & Beth go through the process of fostering a teenage girl in by far the most heart-wrenching storyline of the season.
Complicating Brown’s chances of a third Emmy is the fact that his on-screen dad, Milo Ventimiglia, also had a strong season and was the watercooler character of the year as fans finally discovered how Jack died in the massive post-Superbowl episode. A good portion of This Is Us fans might want to spread the wealth this year and vote for Ventimiglia especially since Brown already has two Emmys. The question also needs to be asked of how much the actors branch even likes This Is Us, especially after an extremely disappointing lack of nominations for the rest of the Pearson family.
Matthew Rhys has the opportunity to benefit from a potential vote split among the This Is Us cast (as well as the Westworld leading men) and win the first Emmy of his career. There seems to be a lot of excitement for the final season of The Americans as everyone finally catches up with the critics’ favorite. His path to his first Emmy is similar to another cult favorite that went on to surprisingly win lead actor and writing in its final season after years of being criminally ignored, Friday Night Lights.
The rest of the lead actor lineup likely doesn’t have the momentum to pull off an upset. Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright are both representing Westworld but the sophomore season is far too divisive to win a major award this year. Ozark is a sleeper hit for Netflix but Bateman angered a lot of people in his now infamous interview with the rest of the Arrested Development cast where he defended Jeffrey Tambor.
Likely Frontrunner – Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Still In The Running – Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
In The Conversation – Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Elizabeth Moss has had a whirlwind of a second season that has highlighted some of her most emotionally and physically taxing work ranging from the opening scene at Fenway Park to June reuniting with her daughter and giving birth to her son while on the run. This is the performance of her career one that will go down to define it in the same way of Don Draper and Jon Hamm or Walter White and Bryan Cranston. It only helps that Moss has been non-stop on the campaign trail championing the series as whole as an executive producer highlighting the complexities of the show and why it’s so vital in today’s political climate.
The difference between the actor and actress race this year is that the actress race doesn’t have one clear alternative, instead it has several. Three beloved performances are in their final seasons and another is a long overdue actress back with a surprise sensation and a chance to make Emmy history.
If this year’s race was less crowded there would be a good chance that Claire Foy pulls off an upset. Her reign as Queen Elizabeth has come to an end after two seasons and there has been a huge push to reward her for it. She’s won the SAG award for the past two years and the actor branch acknowledged the The Crown in a major way this year with four acting nominations. On top of all that 2018 is shaping up to be a major year for Foy with her taking over as Lisbeth Salander and earning Oscar buzz for First Man.
Working against Foy is the fact that she isn’t the only actress vying for recognition in her final season. Tatiana Maslany, who pulled off an upset two years ago, is back for the final season of Orphan Black. Kerri Russell is also going to pull in votes for the final season of The Americans and she is fresh off of a TCA win that gave her a boost right before voting. With three well-liked actresses in their final seasons (whether for their performance or the show as a whole) it makes it harder for any specific performance to ride that specific narrative.
Complicating the category even further is just how popular Killing Eve has become. The BBC America drama is the only scripted show to grow in both key demos every week since Nielsen introduced live+3 over a decade ago. Oh is also a previous 5-time nominee for her work on Grey’s Anatomy and a lot of voters are eager to finally reward her. This year probably isn’t her year but if Killing Eve continues to gain momentum next year she can easily win her first Emmy in 2019.
Projected Frontrunner: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Don’t Count Out: Claire Foy, The Crown
Dark Horse: Kerri Russell, The Americans