Emmy Episode Analysis: Who Wins In Wide Open Series Races?

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It’s finally here, the weekend of the Emmys ceremony.

The Creative Arts Emmys doled out their awards this past weekend. This helps give us a picture of where the overall ceremony may go. This year looks very exciting, as many of the top series categories are anywhere but sewn up. In fact, Drama Series features five new series, each of with a legitimate shot of winning.

Each series nominee submits six episodes to be judged on. From these six, voters receive a pair of episodes from each nominee. Limited Series and TV Movies require voters to watch the entirety of all the nominees. For the purposes of this article, all submitted episodes were watched. When making your Emmy predictions, make sure to check out our coverage of the other Emmy categories.

Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.

Outstanding Drama Series

“Better Call Saul”

Submitted Episodes: “Chicanery,” “Fall,” “Lantern,” “Mabel,” “Off-Brand,” “Witness”

Despite coming off of an Emmy juggernaut, “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul” still hasn’t broken through. This year happens to be the show’s strongest. The battle of brothers between Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean) builds in satisfying and complex ways over the submissions. “Chicanery” stands out as the best of the bunch, if not the year. The AMC show continues to see its nomination count rise. The show adds its first Directing nomination to its roster this year. After two years of seven nominations each, this year finds “Better Call Saul” up to eight. Still, the show has yet to win an award, except tangentially for a short form Los Pollos Hermanos Training Video. It may pick up a major one, but not Series.

“The Crown”

Submitted Episodes: “Wolferton Splash,” “Hyde Park Corner,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” “Gelignite,” “Assassins,” “Gloriana”

Few projects appear to be more tailor-made for awards. The British period piece focuses the weight of power the royal family and ruling class feel. It tackles this subject with the stiffest of stiff upper lips. The show boasts some of the strongest and glossiest production values around. Stakes are always high, whether its the state of Britain’s global affairs or the Queen’s relationship with her sister. However, the show is easily the driest of the seven nominees. Many love the show, as seen by its nomination count. Yet, others will be turned off by the dry approach. “Downton Abbey” was able to win in the Miniseries category, but lost DramaSeries every year it was nominated. “The Crown” may face a similar fate.

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

Submitted Episodes: “Offred (Pilot),” “Birth Day,” “Late,” “Jezebels,” “The Bridge,” “Night”

Hulu finally breaks into the Series race. Based on the novel of the same name, “The Handmaid’s Tale” captures the sound, fury and terror of today in its bleak depiction of the future. The submitted episodes do a great job balancing world building with satisfying character payoffs. Of the seven nominated drama series nominees, only “The Handmaid’s Tale” has two nominations in drama series, illustrating support for the show. There’s a bleakness that may put off people. However, the stellar performances and production values captivate at every turn. While it did not win the most Creative Arts Emmys, it did pick up three, including the high profile Guest Actress win for Alexis Bledel. Quality, coupled with present day relevance, could inch the freshman series to a win over other high profile nominees.

“House of Cards”

Submitted Episodes: “Chapter 53,” “Chapter 55,” “Chapter 56,” “Chapter 63,” “Chapter 64,” “Chapter 65”

“House of Cards” seems to have its best seasons in its rearview mirror. That’s not to say there isn’t quite a bit that works in the fifth season of the popular Netflix show. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright continue to deliver stellar work and powerful monologues. The final three episodes, which were wisely submitted, sets up a change in power that is quite interesting for the show. Yet, despite continued nominations, “House of Cards” hangs on by a thread in the top category. With so many new shows dominating the conversation, “House of Cards” watches its Drama Series win hopes evaporate.

“Stranger Things”

Submitted Episodes: “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers,” “Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street,” “Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly,” “Chapter Four: The Body,” “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub,” “Chapter Eight: The Upside Down”

The 80s nostalgia continues to be alive and well, now more than ever. Despite airing over a year ago, “Stranger Things” still haunts the cultural lexicon. The show exhibits plenty of support across the Emmys as well. “Stranger Things” tied “Westworld” in winning five Emmys during the Creative Arts ceremony, the most of any program. However, will the show translate this into above the line wins? The genre nature of the show hurts it in the top category. There are plenty of other big budget new shows to take the directing win. With only eight episodes in the season, however, the show was forced to submit most of the season. This could make everything seem more cohesive to voters new to the show.

“This Is Us”

Submitted Episodes: “The Big Day,” “Jack Pearson’s Son,” “Memphis,” “Moonshadow,” “Pilgrim Rick,” “Pilot”

It’s been a while since a network show has been such a critical and commercial juggernaut. From the moment the “This Is Us” trailer broke records on YouTube, NBC realized it had something special. NBC succeeded in highlighting some of the more emotional moments of the season. However, the polarizing finale “Moonshadow” sticks out like a sore thumb. Fans of the show will likely still rally around it for the win, however. Yet, without a writing and directing nomination, perhaps we are overestimating its chances of winning. The show comes off more of a populist choice, rather than a critic’s choice.

“Westworld”

Submitted Episodes: “The Bicameral Mind,” “Chesnut,” “The Original,” “Trace Decay,” “Trompe L’Oeil,” “The Well-Tempered Clavier”

With “Game of Thrones” out for a year, HBO feels overjoyed that their sci-fi wester, “Westworld” became quite a hit in the meantime. The show takes place in a western themed park where visitors can let loose on their hedonistic impulses against the robotic townsfolk. However, things get complicated as the robots seek to become sentient. For all its hype, “Westworld” often comes across as a pretentious, HBO styled telling of “Jurassic World.” Yes, I meant “Jurassic World,” not “Jurassic Park.”Still, the show holds the most nominations for any show on the drama side. On top of that, the show possesses the most wins at the Creative Arts Emmys (five). Both of those distinctions were predicted for a show that is as expensive and technically impressive as “Westworld.” However, with “Game of Thrones” dominating the past years, maybe voters have the taste of the visually ambitious.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  2. “Stranger Things”
  3. “This Is Us”
  4. “Better Call Saul”
  5. “House of Cards”
  6. “The Crown”
  7. “Westworld”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  2. “Stranger Things”
  3. “Westworld”
  4. “This Is Us”
  5. “The Crown”
  6. “Better Call Saul”
  7. “House of Cards”

Outstanding Comedy Series

“Atlanta”

Submitted Episodes: “B.A.N,” “The Big Bang,” “The Jacket,” “Streets on Lock,” “The Streisand Effect,” “Value”

No freshman comedy has captured the zeitgeist this year quite like “Atlanta.” Watching the episodes, it’s easy to see why. Each of the nominated episodes highlight different aspects that make the show work. Including bottle episodes, such as “B.A.N” and “Value” spotlights supporting characters doing great work. This makes voters feel they aren’t just voting for “the Donald Glover show” but for a whole cast and crew. However, it may not be the most easily accessible show for voters. Indeed, it wasn’t until a rewatch that I fell for the show. Yet, with all the buzz surrounding it, it’s possible voters will truly give the show a chance.

“Black-ish”

Submitted Episodes: “Being Bow-Racial,” “40 Acres and a Vote,” “God,” “Lemons,” “Name Game,” “One Angry Man”

While other shows stray away from politics, “Black-ish” tackles these discussions head on. In being a family sitcom, “Black-ish” picks six episodes that all deal with difficult conversations families have to have. Donald Trump’s presidency, the existence of God, gender, bi-racial identity and civic duty all pop up in some form or another in the submissions. Voters looking for a bit of weight to go with their comedy should respond positively to “Black-ish.” However, lack of support for the show in other categories makes a win look less likely. The fact that “Lemons” could not break into writing or directing makes “Black-ish’s” chances look extra thin.

“Master of None”

Submitted Episodes: “The Dinner Party,” “First Date,” “New York, I Love You,” “Religion,” “Thanksgiving,” “The Thief”

Aziz Ansari’s breakout Netflix hit returns for an even more stellar second season. The submitted episodes takes the audience through Italy and various perspectives of New York. In particular, the “New York, I Love You” and “Thanksgiving” bottle episodes stand out as highlights. “Master of None” benefits in that most of the submitted episodes do not require one to be familiar with the show. However, the competition is stiff this year and the show missed out on a directing nomination. The show has some stake in the competition, but will most likely have to wait until next year for a shot at the win.

“Modern Family”

Submitted Episodes: “The Alliance,” “Five Minutes,” “The Graduates,” “Pig Moon Rising,” “Ringmaster Keifth,” “Weathering Heights”

Can one ever count out a five time Emmy award winning show? Few shows have shown their age quite like “Modern Family.” The show still rings some laughs thanks to a mostly game ensemble. However, the comedy of errors schtick present in each episode looks a bit worse for wear. “The Alliance” does a good job as it establishes new depth to characters that don’t often interact. Yet, the others still involve the same tired premies. Three families elaborately lie to each other only to watch their schemes crash and burn just in time for a voiceover monologue about family. There’s a reason the show’s nomination count dwindles each year.

“Silicon Valley”

Submitted Episodes: “Customer Service,” “Hooli-Con,” “The Keenan Vortex,” “Server Error,” “Success Failure,” “Terms of Service”

The submitted episodes highlight the absurd nature of the show and its portrayal of the tech community. However, for those that follow the show, the tropes will grow more stale. There’s little to differentiate the seasons. With HBO putting more of its support behind frontrunner “Veep,” this looks to be the also ran of the year. However, the show broke out with more nominations in the directing category. Yet, star Thomas Middleditch found himself snubbed in lead actor despite being nominated last year. The show has yet to win an above the line category. That trend looks as if it will continue this year as well.

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Submitted Episodes: “Kimmy Gets Divorced,” “Kimmy’s Roommate Lemonades,” “Kimmy is a Feminist,” “Kimmy Does A Puzzle,” “Kimmy Pulls Off a Heist,” “Kimmy Googles the Internet”

Few shows have a more absurd, yet infectiously positive energy than “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” “Kimmy Schmidt” wisely submits two of the more buzzed about episodes of the show. Tituss’ Lemonade routine and Maya Rudolph’s guest role as Dionne Warwick consistently delight. It’s hard to tell to what degree Emmys like the show. It consistently nets acting nominations. Yet, none of the three seasons have earned a writing or directing nomination. Tina Fey’s “30 Rock” dominated the category for three straight seasons. However, perhaps the Emmys haven’t warmed to her humor again.

“Veep”

Submitted Episodes: “Blurb,” “Georgia,” “Groundbreaking,” “Justice,” “Omaha,” “A Woman First”

Selina Meyer keeps losing in “Veep.” Yet, she keeps winning with the Emmys. The show’s biting wit comes off with the right bit of acidity across the submitted six episodes. “Groundbreaking,” in particular, paints a more layered picture of Selina as we jump back and forth in time. With three directing and two writing nominations, “Veep” appears to be a juggernaut. As the two year reigning incumbent in this category, it will be hard to dethrone this HBO laugher. Winning three Creative Arts Emmys, it was one of only two series in this category to receive a win (“Master of None” won Single Camera Picture Editing). There’s formidable competition in this category, but it would be foolish to be against Emmy’s pet show.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “Master of None”
  2. “Black-ish”
  3. “Unbreakable Kimmy Scmidt”
  4. “Veep”
  5. “Atlanta”
  6. “Silicon Valley”
  7. “Modern Family”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “Veep”
  2. “Atlanta”
  3. “Master of None”
  4. “Silicon Valley”
  5. “Black-ish”
  6. “Unbreakable Kimmy Scmidt”
  7. “Modern Family”

Outstanding Miniseries

“Big Little Lies”

IMDB Synopsis: The apparently perfect lives of three mothers of first graders unravel to the point of murder.

There was no more riveting, engrossing program on television this year than “Big Little Lies.” The miniseries delves into the squabbles and drama of a group of 1st grade Moms through the lens of an impending murder. What’s not apparent from the first episode is how these conflicts unearth intricacies involving rape, domestic abuse and sexism. Even more revolutionary is the theme of female kinship, which comes to light in an astounding and profoundly affecting conclusion. “Big Little Lies” mixes soap with important issues to make a one of a kind limited series. HBO holds the frontrunner position with this popular favorite. However, other programs have their own pockets of support which could surprise given the opportunity.

“Fargo”

IMDB Synopsis: Various chronicles of deception, intrigue and murder in and around frozen Minnesota. Yet all of these tales mysteriously lead back one way or another to Fargo, ND.

FX’s anthology series based on the 1996 classic Coen Bros film inspired much critical praise in its first season. This resulted in a win for Miniseries and Director for that first season. Season two, however, saw a little less praise and no wins above the line. With quality taking another hit in season three, it stands to reason the show will have a tough time breaking through buzzier titles. Leads Carrie Coon and Ewan McGregor do their best to elevate a central mystery that rarely comes together. The production values consistently impress. However, the setting and tone grow tired upon repetition. Will next season breathe life back into an idea that seems to be losing its luster?

“Feud: Bette and Joan”

IMDB Synopsis: An anthology series centering on famous feuds, including Bette Davis & Joan Crawford and Prince Charles & Princess Diana.

Emmy loves few things more than Old Hollywood and Ryan Murphy. Combining the two seemed to be the ultimate Emmy cocktail they would lap up. In many ways, the show was a great success. On the surface it took a frothy look at one of the greatest celebrity feuds of all time – Joan Crawford vs. Bette Davis. Yet, what makes the show interesting is how it contextualizes it around the sexism and ageism in the industry at that time. On paper the show seems to have it all for an Emmy voter. Yet, “Big Little Lies” took the wind out of its sails in terms of star studded, female friendly drama. Murphy and Old Hollywood devotees will hold out for the show, but it doesn’t stack up to the competition.

“Genius”

IMDB Synopsis: The life story of Albert Einstein, one of history’s greatest minds. From his days as a young adult to his final years we see his discoveries, his loves, his relationships, his causes, his flaws and his genius.

National Geographic roars onto the scene with this biographic series of Albert Einstein. “Genius” ping pongs between Einstein’s early years as a rebellious, yet brilliant, student and an irascible older man making discoveries in the face of adversity. Rush earns quite a bit of praise for his showy, yet effective, performance. While chock full of information, the show clicks only intermittently. Many found themselves riveted and National Geographic has done its part to get the show out there to people. However, it remains to be seen if the small, yet passionate, fanbase is large enough to stage an upset. Perhaps if the Emmys are feeling traditionally male focused and biopic focused, this could prevail.

“The Night Of”

IMDB Synopsis: After a night of partying with a female stranger, a man wakes up to find her stabbed to death and is charged with her murder.

Over a year ago, HBO’s “The Night Of” captivated and engrossed many over its limited run. The murder mystery had all the makings of a trendy sensation. Riz Ahmed currently sits as the big discovery of the year thanks to his sympathetic, yet shifty, central performance. Out of all the nominees in the category, “The Night Of” walks into the ceremony with the most wins at the creative arts Emmys. The show holds four wins – Cinematography, Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. While other programs nabbed multiple wins, the haul for “The Night Of” shocks. Could the HBO mystery pull off an upset? It’s unlikely, but not out of the question.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “Big Little Lies”
  2. “Feud: Bette and Joan”
  3. “The Night Of”
  4. “Genius”
  5. “Fargo”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “Big Little Lies”
  2. “Feud: Bette and Joan”
  3. “The Night Of”
  4. “Genius”
  5. “Fargo”

Outstanding TV Movie

“Black Mirror – San Junipero”

IMDB Synopsis: In a seaside town in 1987, a shy young woman and an outgoing party girl strike up a powerful bond that seems to defy the laws of space and time.

Excuse me as I continue to dry my tears. “Black Mirror” excels at bringing heightened reality to life in ways that still feel instantly relatable. “San Junipero” magnifies that strength, crafting a story that is part sci-fi masterclass and two parts epic romance tearjerker. The skillful work of the production team makes the opening seem as if we are watching an 80s set lesbian romance between a shy girl and a wild beauty. Yet, as we learn more about the world and function of “San Junipero,” the story deepens. Sci fi flourishes never distract, but always add stakes to the central relationship. The writing nomination for the episode shows support for “San Junipero.” This may manifest in a surprising, yet worthy, first win for the Netflix show.

“Dolly Parton Christmas of Many Colors”

IMDB Synopsis: An unexpected blizzard threatens the Parton family, while at the same time Dolly’s father (and his kids) make sacrifices to raise enough money to finally buy his wife the wedding ring he could never afford to give her.

Few shows balance a little girl sticking her foot in a toilet and harrowing depictions of a family starving on Christmas night. However, few people have had the life that Dolly Parton has had. The NBC family TV movie surprises as a nominee in this category. In many ways, its hard to see who fell for the overly “aw shucks” goodness, unless my Grandma is an Emmy voter. Yet, like most things Dolly puts her name on, the show exhibits tremendous heart and optimism. There’s not a prayer that will get this a win, but it’s inclusion is more warranted than people may otherwise assume.

“Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

IMDB Synopsis: An African-American woman becomes an unwitting pioneer for medical breakthroughs when her cells are used to create the first immortal human cell line in the early 1950s.

Oprah Winfrey, despite being one of the richest women in the world, never gets the acting credit she deserves. A vast majority of what makes “Henrietta Lacks” engrossing and interesting, other than the inherent story matter, comes from Winfrey. Her performance as Lacks’ daughter Deborah plays every card in the “acting” book. However, Winfrey manages to wring authenticity out of each moment. The film comes off the page in a more cinematic way than the book paints. Rose Byrne paints Rebecca Skloot in a more even light, when the book comes off much more self serving. However, there’s something stilted and rushed in the delivery of the material. Winfrey commits, Byrne and Reg E. Cathy try, but the film achieves only causing altitude flight. The powerful combination of Winfrey and HBO holds all the Emmy hopes of the project. However, even Winfrey not getting an acting nomination speaks volumes.

“Sherlock: The Lying Detective”

IMDB Synopsis: Sherlock goes up against the powerful and seemingly unassailable Culverton Smith – a man with a very dark secret indeed.

“Sherlock” cements itself as the perennial nominee of this campaign. Each year, it breaks into this category submitting one of its long form episodes. Yet, what separates this year’s submission? Strangely, much of the episode separates our dynamic duo – Sherlock and Watson. This quells much of the energy and fun of the piece. Cumberbatch spends most of the episode drugged, which does energize the proceedings. Yet, few things about the central mystery shock beyond the final moments. Over the past two years, Sherlocks keeps tricks up his sleeve. Last year, the show surprised when it won Best TV Movie despite only one other win that year, Supporting Visual Effects. However, with one of the weakest submissions yet, this year shouldn’t see a similar trick.

“The Wizard Of Lies”

IMDB Synopsis: A chronicle of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which defrauded his clients of billions of dollars.

Awards bait tends to get a bad name. Putting Robert De Niro in the role of Bernie Madoff directed by Barry Levinson sounds like your Father did a mad lib and sent it to a casting director. Yet, the film comes off much better than that description sounds. De Niro and Pfeiffer perfectly inhabit their roles as the Madoff couple. Even more interesting is the choice to focus on the family’s reaction to Bernie’s Ponzi scheme. Alessandro Nivola, criminally snubbed, gives one of the best performances of the year as Bernie’s weary son. All the Emmy bait and big names will drum up plenty of votes. Not to mention it has HBO behind it. Nevertheless, it may lose out to something with a bit more buzz, like “Black Mirror.”

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “Black Mirror – San Junipero”
  2. “The Wizard of Lies”
  3. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
  4. “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”
  5. “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “Black Mirror – San Junipero”
  2. “The Wizard of Lies”
  3. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
  4. “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
  5. “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”

Who do you think will win the big prizes at the Emmys? Share with us in the comments.