Emmy Episode Analysis: Can ‘SNL’ and ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Win More Guest Acting Emmys?

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Emmy season is upon us yet again! Emmy nominations were announced Thursday, July 12th, with “Game of Thrones” leading the pack at 22 nominations. As we speed toward the September 17th telecast, Awards Circuit is taking a look at all of the major categories. Each acting, writing and directing nominee must choose one episode to be judged on. The series nominees all submit six episodes. Each Friday, we will watch all the nominated episodes in a given set of categories and provide a power ranking of the nominees.

Our first week of Emmy Episode Analysis begins with the Guest Acting categories. The twenty-four actors span across seventeen shows on both the Comedy and Drama sides. These awards will be presented a week prior to the live show on September 17th at the Creative Arts Emmys. See below for our category analysis:

Best Guest Actress in a Drama

Viola Davis as Annalise Keating in “Scandal”

Episode: “Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself”

Voters can’t get enough of Annalise Keating. Viola Davis won an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama for the inaugural season of “How to Get Away with Murder.” This made her the first African American actress to win the award. Creator Shonda Rhimes planned a crossover event, putting Davis’s Annalise into the drama of “Scandal” as she teams up with Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). Davis and Washington play off each other incredibly well as both of Shonda’s stars. One scene in a hair salon gives Davis an excellent opportunity to chew scenery and spill the tea on what she thinks of Olivia. Annalise gets a full arc throughout the episode, which helps boost her chances. “Scandal” has won two guest star awards previously (Dan Bucatinsky and Joe Morton) and Shonda was behind Loretta Devine’s shocking win for “Grey’s Anatomy” in this category. It would be wrong to underestimate Davis’ chances here.

Kelly Jenrette as Annie in “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Episode: “Other Women”

It would be great to see how search traffic spiked for Kelly Jenrette’s name after the nominations were announced. The relatively unknown actress got just one pivotal episode in “The Handmaid’s Tale” season two. However, Jenrette made the most of it, as the first wife of June’s (Elisabeth Moss) husband. Annie gets to be the only character with a moral high ground over June. She invokes religion in her parting words as she reminds June of the vows she took with her husband. Jenrette’s role is very small and she’s the relative newbie in this category. Still, her nomination was a bit of a shocker, which points to a strong contingent of fans of this performance.

Cherry Jones as Holly Maddox in “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Episode: “Other Women”

Also guest starring in Jenrette’s episode is veteran actress Cherry Jones. She plays Holly Osbourne, June’s mother (Elisabeth Moss) in flashbacks. Jones crafts a neat bond with Moss in their scenes together. She builds a framework of thinking and reactions within Holly that explain June’s firebrand personality. Still, there’s little to go off of for a win. She shares the episode with Kelly Jenrette, who gets a juicier one scene wonder. Cherry Jones is an esteemed actress, which means she might get more name check votes. However, the category is stacked with legends. It’ll be hard to stand out on name alone.

Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell in “Game of Thrones”

Episode: “The Queen’s Justice”

Diana Rigg gave the performance that launched a thousand memes. Year after year, Rigg received a nomination for her fan favorite role as Olenna Tyrell, the sassy head of the Tyrell family. Past episodes have been little more than Olenna delivering a quip while wearing an ornate headdress. What sets “The Queen’s Justice” apart is it’s Olenna’s big death episode. She’s cornered by Jamie Lannister and forced to surrender. However, she gladly chugs her poison and drops a truth bomb on Jamie. She was the one that killed Joffrey, his and Cersei’s child. Rigg commands every moment she’s in and delivers one of the best moments in “Game of Thrones” acting. Since voters will have no other chance to reward Rigg for her performance, “Game of Thrones” fans will rally around her.

Cicely Tyson as Ophelia Harkness in “How to Get Away with Murder”

Episode: “I’m Going Away”

At age 93, Tyson still acts with the trademark energy and ferocity she’s always had. This marks the third nomination for Tyson in the role of Ophelia, the complicated mother of Annalise Keating (Viola Davis). Her episode, the season opener, finds Annalise trying to put Ophelia in a retirement home. Tyson gets plenty of opportunity to make a ruckus as she fights to live at home. Conversely, she also inhabits Ophelia’s dementia as she relives a particularly traumatizing event from Annalise’s past. Tyson should contend on legendary status alone. However, she also brings the goods as she delivers a potent and satisfying performance.

Samira Wiley as Moira in “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Episode: “After”

Wiley moves down to Guest Actress for her role as Moira in “The Handmaid’s Tale” after netting a Supporting Actress nomination last year. Though Moira appears in fewer episodes this season, she commands more screen time in this episode than she did in her submission last year. We get a rare glimpse into Moira’s pre-Gilead life. Moira falls for the OBGYN she goes to during her surrogate pregnancy. In the aftermath of an attack in Gilead, Moira searches through photos of dead bodies to make sure she is okay. Of the three “Handmaid’s” women, Wiley stands the best chance at winning. She’s a fan favorite on the show and her arc comes across the best in standalone episode format. Still, vote splitting with the other two nominees from her show could prevent her from winning.

Emmy Predictions:

  1. Diana Rigg – “Game of Thrones”
  2. Viola Davis – “Scandal”
  3. Samira Wiley – “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  4. Cicely Tyson – “How to Get Away with Murder”
  5. Kelly Jenrette – “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  6. Cherry Jones – “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

F. Murray Abraham as Dar Adal in “Homeland”

Episode: “All In”

This category’s “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” entry belongs to Abraham. The sinister Dar Adal rears his head in “Homeland’s” penultimate episode. However, he only does so for one quick scene while being visited in jail. Abraham does solid work, but it’s unmemorable in an episode packed with many different plot points being thrown around. This marks the second nomination for Abraham for this character. Margo Martindale won a guest acting award for similarly small time in “The Americans.” However, she had more nominations to her credit for that role prior to the win. Abraham seems unlikely to walk away with a win here.

Cameron Britton as Edmund Kemper in “Mindhunter”

Episode: “Episode 2”

Newcomer Cameron Britton wows in “Mindhunter” as captured serial killer Edmund Kemper. The first few episodes are structured somewhat like “Silence of the Lambs,” an Oscar favorite. Britton’s Kemper comes off as the Hannibal Lecter figure to Holden (Jonathan Groff) and Bill (Holt McCallany). He brings the FBI investigators into his mind in order to help them crack other cases. Britton commits fully to the character’s vocal inflections and physicality. He’s imposing and welcoming at the same time. It’s a performance one doesn’t shake easily because it’s full of such interesting contradictions. In terms of actual performance, Britton leads the pack. However, will his low profile as an actor keep him from winning?

Matthew Goode as Tony Armstrong-Jones in “The Crown”

Episode: “Matrimonium”

Goode benefits from significant (and steamy) screen-time throughout the episode. The philandering Tony beds multiple mistresses (and even a few misters) on his lead up towards marrying Princess Margaret. However, Goode makes the audience fall in love with him as well. He’s charming and sensitive, going against the grain of the stiff London society he’s marrying into. Much of the impact of the episode, however, comes from Queen Elizabeth’s conversations with Margaret about Tony. Goode wins points for being a focal point of the episode’s action. However, he lacks the big showy scene or legendary actor status to net him the win here.

Ron Cephas Jones as William in “This Is Us”

Episode: “A Father’s Advice”

Ron Cephas Jones becomes the second person this season to drop from supporting to guest (the other being Samira Wiley). William memorably died at the end of last season. However, his presence (or lack thereof) looms large in season two. William returns in Randall’s memory for the episode “A Father’s Advice.” Jones is a welcome presence and reminds us that William truly was the heart of the show. Yet, there’s little to go off of unless one was a fan of season one. He could pull out a win in this category if people are very fond of his character. However, people seem equally fond of fellow nominee (and last year’s winner) Gerald McRaney. Also, “This Is Us” dropped in nominations, signaling some may be done with the show.

Gerald McRaney as Dr. K. in “This Is Us”

Episode: “The Car”

Last year’s winner Gerald McRaney attempts to win back to back Emmys this year. Winning twice in the guest acting field is quite rare. Margo Martindale (“The Americans”) is the only one to accomplish this feat this decade. It helps that McRaney’s Dr. K. stands out as the deliverer of tear-jerking moments. This year he’s given a similarly schmaltzy speech as he comforts Rebecca (Mandy Moore) after the Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) death. McRaney sells his grief and makes one grab a second hankie. Many will roll their eyes at some of the greeting card level lines. However, if voters are still feeling sentimental, McRaney could win his second in a row.

Jimmi Simpson as William in “Westworld”

Episode: “Reunion”

It’s great to see a character actor get their due. Jimmi Simpson has turned out quality performances in many small roles, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” most notably. In “Westworld,” Simpson was our audience surrogate who journeyed into Westworld with a friend searching for a good time. Season Two reintroduces his character as less of a doofus and more of a suave businessman. His scene with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) shows that William did fall in love, but had to grow up. It’s very nice, but lacks any sort of fireworks that makes him stand out. As one of the less famous faces in the lineup, Simpson won’t get any name check votes. Fans of “Westworld” who enjoy his character may come to his defenses.

Emmy Predictions:

  1. Cameron Britton – “Mindhunter”
  2. Gerald McRaney – “This Is Us”
  3. Ron Cephas Jones – “This Is Us”
  4. Matthew Goode – “The Crown”
  5. F. Murray Abraham – “Homeland”
  6. Jimmi Simpson – “Westworld”

Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Tina Fey as Host in “Saturday Night Live”

Episode: “Host: Tina Fey”

It’s always a treat when SNL alumns return to the show as a host. Former Weekend Update anchor and writer Tina Fey returns and is quick to bring in famous friends, whom she showcases in her opening monologue. Tina Fey won this category before when she shared the nomination with Amy Poehler. Fey conjures up some good moments. However, it’s far from the quality of the episode when she and Amy hosted.The highlight is obviously her returning for a Sarah Palin sketch. However, that impression comes off a bit more stale than she would hope. Compared to fellow host nominee Tiffany Haddish, Fey pales. However, this clears the way for a possible Haddish win.

Tiffany Haddish as Host in “Saturday Night Live”

Episode: “Host: Tiffany Haddish”

The star of 2017 was unquestionably Tiffany Haddish. The comedienne achieved national success with the hit comedy “Girls Trip,” for which she received critics awards and Oscar buzz. Since then, Haddish has locked down multiple movies, starred in “The Last O.G.,” written a best selling book and gotten to host the MTV Movie Awards. Oh, yeah, and she got to host the best episode of “Saturday Night Live” this season. Haddish slays at the opening monologue, wearing her iconic Alexander McQueen dress. From there on, she’s the focal point of every sketch, stealing each scene. A Street Fighter character named Boo-Boo Kitty emerges as her best moment in the sketches. With SNL consistently winning these categories, Haddish should prepare herself for another trophy soon.

Jane Lynch as Sophie Lennon in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Episode: “Put That On Your Plate!”

Jane Lynch steps into her episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” in a fat suit telling bawdy jokes. It appears like a clear cut bid for the Guest Actress Emmy. As Lynch’s Sophie Lennon nails broad punchline after punchline, the episode takes a turn. Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) gets an invite to Lennon’s home and finds that she’s a high society lady. Her comedy persona is merely an act. Lynch gets a great deal of range with this character. Additionally, the Emmys love Lynch. She’s been nominated 7 out of the past 8 years and has won four awards in that span of time. If the Emmys want to continue to reward her, she has a great shot this year as well.

Maya Rudolph as Judge Gen in “The Good Place”

Episode: “The Burrito”

Maya Rudolph exudes an effortless joy and hilarity whenever she pops up on screen. As an omniscient judge who loves a good test, Rudolph shines. She possesses effortless comic timing as she flaunts her boundless knowledge and also Earthly desires for a burrito and drama. She reads like a flighty Wizard of Oz. Part of the joy in Rudolph’s performance comes from the build up to meeting her character throughout the season. It’s a fun performance that also carries weight in terms of the character’s journey to the Good Place. The premise might also be too high concept for voters.

Molly Shannon as Val in “Will & Grace”

Episode: “Staten Island Fairy”

The best part of the “Will & Grace” reboot is the re-emergence of favorite guest cameos. Molly Shannon was the only returning guest to make the cut at the Emmys. Thankfully, her performance as Val was just as delighfully insane as it was in the original run. Val, an old stalker from the gang’s past, finds herself infatuated with Karen (Megan Mullalley) once Jack runs her over with a car. Shannon gets to be outlandish and zany in ways the Emmys typically respond to. Plus, she has also been nominated for three Emmys (including this one) without winning. If voters want to reward a well-deserved comedienne who still hasn’t gotten her due, Shannon would make a perfect winner.

Wanda Sykes as Daphne Lido in “Black-ish”

Episode: “Juneteenth”

Wanda Sykes returns to this category for the second time in a row for her role in “Black-ish’ as Daphne, Dre’s (Anthony Anderson) no-nonsense boss. Sykes lights up the screen each time she shows up. However, the show gives her very little to do other than deliver clever one-liners. Her episode, “Juneteenth,” involves Dre lobbying to get Juneteenth off to commemorate the end of slavery. Daphne offers up fun retorts about the other white men in the room. However, she never exists as a character outside of these conference room scenes. Voters seem to really like Sykes in this role. However, the show will have to give her more to do if they want her to win.

Emmy Predictions:

  1. Tiffany Haddish – “Saturday Night Live”
  2. Jane Lynch – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
  3. Molly Shannon – “Will & Grace”
  4. Tina Fey – “Saturday Night Live”
  5. Maya Rudolph – “The Good Place”
  6. Wanda Sykes – “Black-ish”

Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Sterling K. Brown as Philip Davidson in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”

Episode: “The Box”

Brown expertly plays with his acting persona as a calm, composed dentist being interrogated for murder. As Andy Samburg and Andre Braugher attempt to break Philip to confess, Brown rebuffs their attempts. Upon gaining the upper hand, he has great fun using Philip’s villainy to break down his interrogators. This builds to an immensely satisfying conclusion that wraps up a really strong bottle episode. The past two Emmy ceremonies have seen Sterling K. Brown win. He’s obviously a favorite. However, will they want to reward him a third time for a show that is not nominated in any other top categories? Peter Scolari (“Girls”), Kathy Bates (“Two and a Half Men”) and Loretta Devine (“Grey’s Anatomy”) all won guest awards for being the sole nominees for their show.

Bryan Cranston as Dr. Templeton in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

Episode: “Running with the Bulls”

After four acting wins on the drama side for “Breaking Bad,” Bryan Cranston returns to the comedy side of the Emmys. In “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Cranston plays Dr. Templeton, Larry David’s therapist who wants little to do with his patient. Cranston has fun playing aloof as he tries to detach from Larry. The episode builds to a really hilarious conclusion that involves the funeral of Larry’s friend’s kid. While the episode is really good, much of the comedy revolves around the situation, rather than Cranston’s performance. It’s not a showy performance in the way that other nominees are more animated and gregarious. This nomination proves the Emmys are big fans of Bryan Cranston. However, he’ll have to settle for a loss here, especially as Lin Manuel Miranda takes votes from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fans.

Donald Glover as Host in “Saturday Night Live”

Episode: “Host: Donald Glover”

Glover charms in his cold open, as he relives his old SNL submissions to be a cast member from years back. The sketches are a fairly mixed bag, with Glover showing a great deal of energy throughout. As an overzealous Jurassic World lawyer and retro 80s R&B singer, Glover works really well. However, reprising his role as Lando Calrissian from the failed “Solo” comes off more as a misstep. What works out in Glover’s favor is Childish Gambino was also the musical guest. Performing in the episode one is hosting has helped out in the past. Justin Timberlake became the first performer from SNL to win a guest acting award.

Bill Hader as Host in “Saturday Night Live”

Episode: “Host: Bill Hader”

In the race between Comedy Guest Actors, Hader triumphs over Glover in terms of the sketches. Hader demonstrates an impressive range of characterizations and impersonations. It’s fun to return to some of his staple characters, such as The Californians and Stefan. A Jurassic Park screen test sketch gives Hader the opportunity to nail Clint Eastwood, Alan Alda and Al Pacino impersonations. Voters clearly love Hader. He was among the first crop of SNL stars to be nominated in the Supporting category. Additionally, his latest show “Barry” did extremely well, earning 10 nominations. If voters want to reward Hader, especially if they vote for Glover in actor, they may vote for him here.

Lin Manuel Miranda as Lin Manuel Miranda in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

Episode: “Fatwa!”

It’s always fun when celebrities play themselves. Lin Manuel Miranda builds on his persona as a perfectionist wunderkind here. He gets a lot of fun bickering with Larry David, particularly around his not-so-welcome friends who stay with David. Yet, some of the best moments Miranda had in this season of “Curb” were in previous episodes. Miranda has already shown himself as an Emmy favorite. He was nominated last year for hosting SNL. However, fellow nominee Bryan Cranston is an even bigger Emmy favorite. Will he be able to mobilize votes over Cranston? Even worse, might they vote split, leaving room for their competition to win?

Katt Williams as Uncle Willy in “Atlanta”

Episode: “Alligator Man”

Katt Williams has been a comedic staple for decades, but has never gotten recognition from awards. Roles in “Norbit,” “Epic Movie” and the later “Scary Movie” films don’t yield critic notices. However, his turn in “Atlanta’s” season premiere shows a new side to his live wire energy. He enters the episode as a man in the midst of an extreme spousal argument. Williams grabs hold of your attention every minute he’s on screen. However, it’s less of a broadly comedic performance in the traditional sense. It’s a sad turn that plays with the comedian’s sordid past. It definitely stands out among the typical SNL options. However, is that enough to pull off a win, especially as Sterling K. Brown also stands out as an interesting alternative comedy choice?

Emmy Predictions:

  1. Bill Hader – “Saturday Night Life”
  2. Sterling K. Brown – “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
  3. Lin Manuel Miranda – “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
  4. Donald Glover – “Saturday Night Live”
  5. Katt Williams – “Atlanta”
  6. Bryan Cranston – “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

Check back next week as we look at the Writing categories for Comedy Series, Drama Series and Miniseries.

Who do you think will win the Guest Acting categories at the Emmys? Make your predictions in the Circuit Center and compare with our predictions.