Who will scoop Emmy awards on Sunday? Our critics go head to head

Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Amy Schumer? Jeffrey Tambor or Aziz Ansari? As TV’s finest get set for their big night, Brian Moylan and David Schilling assess their chances in the first of a short series

Read part two of our critics’ verdicts

Outstanding lead actor in a comedy

Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Will Forte, The Last Man On Earth
William H Macy, Shameless
Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Jeffrey Tambor
Jeffrey Tambor: vacillating between confusion, acceptance, anger and pathos. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Moylan: It seems like Jeffrey Tambor has his second Emmy win all tied up for playing Maura (nee Mort) Pfefferman on Amazon’s breakout series. He’s certainly deserving, vacillating between confusion, acceptance, anger and pathos sometimes in the same scene. However, this is an especially packed category with many possible spoilers, especially critics’ favorite Aziz Ansari.

Schilling: Tambor is the easy choice. To borrow a reference from the NFL, this is like picking the New England Patriots to win the AFC East. It’s close to a foregone conclusion that Tambor has this category to himself for as long as Transparent is on the air. As such, I’m using this opportunity to lodge a protest vote in favor of Will Forte, the star and lead creative visionary behind the most unique sitcom on TV. The Last Man on Earth somehow combines sci-fi with relationship comedy and genuine pathos on a weekly basis. Forte’s performance is the nexus of all that. He has a unique ability to make the audience love him and hate him in equal measure in every scene.

Moylan: Sorry, but I don’t understand your sports references, but choosing anyone other than Tambor is like choosing the Red Sox to win the Super Bowl – it might be amusing to think it could happen, but it’s never really going to. If we’re talking about who should win, my vote is for Thomas Middleditch, who blends physical comedy and excellent acting the same way Tom Brady blends manliness and an Uggs endorsement deal. (Am I doing this football thing right?)

Outstanding lead actress in a comedy

Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Laurie Metcalf, Getting On
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

Amy Schumer: putting her glad rags back on?
Amy Schumer: putting her glad rags back on? Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Moylan: The biggest problem with the Emmys is that it always awards the same people year after year, making it more boring than driver’s ed taught by a murmuring monk. That’s not to say that Julia Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t deserve to win for the fifth year in a row for her genius Selena Meyer, and she certainly will, it just would be nice for someone like Tracee Ellis Ross, who spins gold 22 weeks a year on a much more traditional sitcom get some recognition.

Schilling: You’re two for two on the safe choices, Moylan. Amy Schumer has not won an acting Emmy for Inside Amy Schumer yet. The ubiquitous nature of her presence in the media for the last three years makes this a surprising statistic, but also one that is destined not to last for much longer. With the uncertainty around whether or not the series will return, it seems an opportune time to reward her acting work. This will be one of those, “Oh, you’re almost too famous to be here” awards that the Emmys love to hand out.

Moylan: I may be picking safe choices, but if we’re choosing who is going to win, the Emmys loves a safe choice. I don’t agree with them always, but there you have it. The problem with Schumer is she has been absolutely everywhere and I think that the backlash is starting (especially considering the controversy she’s facing for a writer’s rape jokes). Also, the last season of Inside Amy Schumer was really weak and almost seemed like an afterthought to everything else she has going on. And since we’re talking about “too famous to be here” awards, Lily Tomlin deserves one far more than Amy Schumer, even though her show is just as weak.

Outstanding lead actor in a limited series or TV movie

Bryan Cranston, All The Way
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock
Idris Elba, Luther
Cuba Gooding Jr, The People v OJ Simpson
Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager
Courtney B Vance, The People v OJ Simpson

Courtney B Vance: getting his hands on hardware?
Courtney B Vance: getting his hands on hardware? Photograph: Prashant Gupta

Moylan: This is a category of winners. Between Cranston, Cumberbatch, Elba, Gooding and Hiddleston they have won five Emmys, two Golden Globes, one Oscar, and Taylor Swift’s heart (before losing it again). But Courtney B Vance is the one who will be the winner this year as part of The People V OJ Simpson’s absolute sweep of the limited series categories.

Schilling: I apologize for being a contrarian the last two categories. No one likes an awards show prognostication hipster. Courtney B Vance deserves this one, even in such a stacked category. Matching the charisma of Johnnie Cochran is not an easy assignment for any actor, but Vance claimed every aspect of that role, imbuing it with humor, rage and sadness. This is my favorite TV performance of the year, from my favorite drama of the year. Color me mystified that Cuba Gooding Jr’s lacking portrayal of OJ Simpson made the cut, though. I wrote extensively about how far away from the real Simpson he got, and I fear that having two actors from the same mini-series in this category could split the vote and cost Vance the Emmy.

Moylan: I totally agree about Gooding, who hasn’t found an opportunity to be the worst thing about any project he’s in, including Radio. (Remember Radio? Please don’t say you remember Radio.) I’m surprised he got nominated as well and I don’t think that Vance has to worry about him stealing votes. Hey, let’s not forget that this category has three gentlemen or color vying for a trophy. Take that, #OscarsSoWhite.

Outstanding lead actress in a limited series or TV movie

Kirsten Dunst, Fargo
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Sarah Paulson, The People v OJ Simpson
Lili Taylor, American Crime
Kerry Washington, Confirmation

Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark: the surest thing since Reagan’s second term
Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark: the surest thing since Reagan’s second term. Photograph: BBC/Fox

Moylan: Congratulations, Sarah Paulson, on your first Emmy win. This is the surest thing since Reagan’s second term, Beyoncé winning all the VMAs for Lemonade and Kanye West writing “Kanye West” when he votes for president this November. I feel bad for everyone else nominated, because they have no shot at all.

Schilling: Confirmation was fine. American Crime was little-seen and didn’t make much of a dent in the cultural conversation. Real talk, I didn’t see Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. I guess I was too busy binging season two of Daredevil, like a freakin’ nerd. I think this is between Paulson and Kirsten Dunst. Sarah Paulson wins, because People vs OJ Simpson is going to clean up every single one of these mini-series/TV movie awards. Honestly, it’ll be a bloodbath. The whole cast and crew might as well be seated in folding chairs on the stage, since that’s where they will spend most of the evening.

Moylan: My heart really goes out to Kiki Dunst who gave one of the best television performances of the year on Fargo. Her final scene in the back of the police cruiser trying to explain her crimes will be seared in my memory forever. If it weren’t the year of OJ she’d finally have a trophy of her own.

Outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie

Jesse Plemons, Fargo
Bokeem Woodbine, Fargo
Hugh Laurie, The Night Manager
Sterling K Brown, The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
David Schwimmer, The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
John Travolta, The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

Sterling K Brown
Sterling K Brown Photograph: Christopher Polk/NBC

Moylan: Expect Sterling K Brown to ride the wave of OJ actors (with middle initials!) taking home statues.

Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series

Niecy Nash, Getting On
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Judith Light, Transparent
Gaby Hoffmann, Transparent
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Allison Janney
Allison Janney Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Moylan: My mind is telling me Allison Janney, but my body is telling me Niecy Nash.

Outstanding supporting actress in a drama series

Maura Tierney, The Affair
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Lena Headley, Game Of Thrones
Emilia Clarke, Game Of Thrones
Maisie Williams, Game Of Thrones
Constance Zimmer, UnREAL

Constance Zimmer
Constance Zimmer plays the ‘evil’ Quinn on UnREAL. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Moylan: This race is too close to call, so I beg the Academy to vote for the amazing Constance Zimmer.

Outstanding supporting actress in a limited series or movie

Melissa Leo, All The Way
Regina King, American Crime
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Hotel
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Hotel
Jean Smart, Fargo
Olivia Colman, The Night Manager

Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt
Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt. Photograph: Fox

Moylan: With no People v OJ Simpson nominees in the category, this could be Fargo’s only win and Jean Smart was devastating as a tough mob matriarch.


Dave Schilling and Brian Moylan

The GuardianTramp

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