Emmy Experts Typing: Can anything unseat ‘Succession’?

Welcome to Emmy Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Emmy race — via Slack, of course. This week, we debate what could possibly upset Best Drama Series frontrunner “Succession.”

Christopher Rosen: Hello, Joyce! It’s Friday and the air quality has returned to normal so what better time than the present to talk about this year’s Emmys drama race? We’ve spent a lot of time — some might argue “too much time,” but I’d counter with “there’s never enough time” — typing and talking about “Succession” this year. With good reason: The show has become an Emmys juggernaut and its final season stuck the landing in numerous ways. It’s all but assured of winning Best Drama Series once again and could even break its record for acting nominations in a single year. Things are looking up for newly installed Waystar CEO Tom Wambsgans! But much like last year, there does seem to be a strong genre contender biting at the HBO drama’s loafer heels. I type, of course, of “The Last of Us,” a show I really enjoyed even if it made me feel absolutely terrible every week. What a bummer! But despite the bleak nature of “The Last of Us,” the show definitely hit: The video game adaptation dominated the headlines during its nine-episode first season and further buttressed online culture’s collective swooning for star Pedro Pascal and helped Bella Ramsey — who broke out on “Game of Thrones” and absolutely crushed the little-seen gem “Catherine Called Birdy” last year — break out even bigger. If you told me “The Last of Us” would end up with the most nominations this year out of any show other than “Succession,” I’d believe it. Nominations for directing, writing, multiple crafts categories, and numerous guest stars (including potential winners in Nick Offerman and Melanie Lynskey) are all in play. And if we get to Emmys night and Pascal and Ramsey are the frontrunners to win the lead acting categories, let’s just say I wouldn’t be stunned. But does that make “The Last of Us” a dark horse to win series? We kind of saw this last year with “Squid Game” as the genre alternate to “Succession,” and despite some big wins, it couldn’t take down the CE-Bros. So I don’t expect “The Last of Us” to win this time either. But do you agree that it has the best case to beat “Succession” if someone were foolish enough to make one — or is there another drama series I’m sleeping on?

joyceeng: I feel like the affection for “The Last of Us” over-indexes online and that’s making people overconfident in it. Don’t get me wrong — it is safely in series and will get a whole bunch of nominations, including for Pascal and Ramsey, but at this moment, it’s still untested awards-wise, so I’m not going to put it in the No. 2 spot ahead of 10-time winner “The White Lotus,” which was an even bigger hit in Season 2 and also has an acting category pretty much locked up. “The White Lotus” got 20 nominations last year and it probably won’t be too far off from that number this year, even though it has to compete in drama now and likely won’t get five slots in an acting category again. Put it this way: I don’t think there’ll be a huge disparity in nom totals between “The Last of Us” and “The White Lotus.” The categories they hit will hopefully offer more clarity as to who’s going for silver, but that’s still a month away. I also wouldn’t even qualify “Squid Game” as the genre alternate last year — it was just the alternate that happened to be a genre show (the other potential runner-up was “Severance,” another genre show), and it showed that it was with its directing win. As we’ve discussed, triple noms are a death knell in directing and the trophy then goes to the probable series runner-up. That fate can befall “Succession” again this year. Could “The Last of Us” win directing? Sure. But so can Mike White again. So right now, I’d still peg “The White Lotus” as the (distant) alternate to “Succession.” It also wouldn’t surprise me if “The Last of Us” winds up following a similar path as “Severance,” which had comparable online support. It was a popular pick in directing for the Ben Stiller-helmed finale — its best episode — and I remember, in the wake of the finale, lots of people predicting it to win writing over “Succession.” That deflated over time, but several pundits were still calling the upset. In the end, “Severance” didn’t win anything above the line, while “Squid Game” beat it and “Succession” in two categories, and I can see “The Last of Us” having to watch its HBO brethren split the drama prizes. And for all the declarations that Pascal would benefit from a triple “Succession” split, he’s “only” in fourth place in the odds. Is this just another case of a lack of updates? Maybe, but Kieran Culkin has eclipsed him after being a late lead entry.

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Christopher Rosen: There’s definitely a big push online to have Pascal win — and with the triple “Succession” nominees all but assured in Best Drama Actor, it’s easy to imagine a vote split. But I kind of think Culkin remains safely ahead. He’s absolutely out there this season – his Actors on Actors with Claire Danes that published on Friday is a delight — and it definitely feels like anyone who watched “Succession” would put him over Cox and even Strong in terms of performance in the final season. Not that Strong did anything wrong — in fact, his best work of all time probably occurred in the final two episodes. But Culkin elevated Roman throughout the series and especially in the final season. Roman had an emotional arc that was unmatched and even when he rubbed noses with a far-right fascist, the performance still allowed viewers to understand why he made those decisions. I’m in the tank for Culkin — and I know you are too — but it kind of feels undeniable. And for those who might think Roman is too unlikeable to win, might I suggest looking at Joel on “The Last of Us,” whose actions – while debatable – are pretty ugly and upsetting. We’ve gone a whole column without mentioning “Better Call Saul,” which is maybe indicative of its chances. But can you make the case for Bob Odenkirk winning in a “Succession” vote-split upset?

joyceeng: You know I love me some “Better Call Saul,” but no. As you recall, while the last six episodes of the show were airing last summer, there was a sense that the acclaim, sentiment and recency bias would push Odenkirk over the line last year. I did not fall for it because I know better since the voters burn “Better Call Saul” year after year. Remember they even dropped him completely in 2020. Rude af. It sucks, but the only hardware he will have to show for this role he immaculately played for 13 years are three Critics Choice trophies. I just need a win in any category so “Better Call Saul” can be called an Emmy-winning series, but I have no expectations anymore so I won’t be disappointed. Earlier this week, HBO canceled “Perry Mason,” a hardly shocking development but sad nonetheless as Season 2 was vastly superior to its freshman outing and teed up an interesting third season that now will never be. I’ve been hopedicting Matthew Rhys since forever and logic says I should drop him, but I probably won’t until July 11. Do you think the drama actor lineup will just be the chalk top six of triple “Succession,” Pascal, Odenkirk and Jeff Bridges?

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Christopher Rosen: I don’t, because I currently have Diego Luna in there for “Andor.” But I’m also not entirely out on Dominic West for “The Crown”? We’ve talked and typed about the mixed response for the fifth season, but the category is wide-open spaces. Luna seems like a stronger bet because “Andor” is going to be a strong show, right? But West has the thing in this race which no one else in the category can stake a claim: playing a real historical figure, an awards season fixture as strong as vibranium. I’m not going to predict it but if it happened, I won’t be surprised. If you had to pick a long shot for drama actor beyond the top six plus Luna, who would you land on?

joyceeng: Obviously my guy Matty R., who’s ninth in the odds. The cancellation is notgreatbob.gif, but I wouldn’t hold it too much against him when people have literally won for canceled shows, and we are not talking about him winning here. The top five seem pretty solid — though you can anti-dict Cox — and it’s really that last spot that’s for the taking. Paddy Considine is another popular prediction, but you know I’m not high on “House of the Dragon.” No shade to him, but I can’t remember the last time someone discussed West’s performance on “The Crown.” We’ve floated the possibility of Imelda Staunton getting snubbed because of the ostensible apathy toward Season 5, so I personally wouldn’t go out on a limb for him. The “Yellowstone”-verse duo of Harrison Ford and Kevin Costner are hovering around the top 10, but after voters rejected SAG ensemble nominee “Yellowstone” and “1883” last year save for a couple of crafts noms for the latter, I’m not going to go there either. This ain’t my first rodeo.

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