Note the phrasing here: These are picks for who I think should win the Emmy Awards that will be handed out on Sunday night. (I’ll do a “Who Will Win” predictive column on Thursday.) This year, it’s frequently going to come down to Old(er) Pro versus New Blood in many categories. Compare your “shoulds”—those you think deserve to win, versus those will win based on everything you know about Emmy Awards past—with my hopes and dreams.
Lead Actor in a Drama:
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
SHOULD WIN: BOB ODENKIRK. I love Odenkirk’s performance in the second season of Saul so much, I get misty-eyed thinking of him standing in that copy store, frantically trying to pull off a scam to undermine his brother and help the woman he loves. One of the TV season’s most affecting, subtle interpretations of yearning and desperation.
Related: 6 Great Moments in Emmy History
Lead Actress in a Drama:
Claire Danes, Homeland
Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
Taraji P. Henson, Empire
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Keri Russell, The Americans
Robin Wright, House of Cards
SHOULD WIN: KERI RUSSELL. Russell has been strong in every Americans season, but her performance this year ought to result in a prize. Her taut, disciplined Russian spy, Elizabeth, became more richly detailed, and she played her increasing ambivalence with deftness.
Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie:
Bryan Cranston, All the Way
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
Idris Elba, Luther
Cuba Gooding Jr., The People vs. O.J. Simpson
Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager
Courtney B. Vance, The People vs. O.J. Simpson
SHOULD WIN: COURTNEY B. VANCE. Bryan Cranston had the showier showcase as LBJ (and played it very well indeed), but Vance had the trickier challenge: to play a showy man — Simpson defense attorney Johnnie Cochran — in a manner that didn’t go over the top. Vance accomplished this with an assurance as smooth as one of Cochran’s courtroom suits.
Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie:
Kirsten Dunst, Fargo
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grille
Sarah Paulson, The People v. O.J. Simpson
Lili Taylor, American Crime
Kerry Washington, Confirmation
SHOULD WIN: SARAH PAULSON. If I had to pick one category that’s a lock, it’s this one. Paulson should and will win here, I believe, for her febrile portrayal of prosecutor Marcia Clark. Working with tricky time-period hairdos and a real-life subject who radiated tense control, Paulson managed to make Clark a multidimensional woman onscreen.
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series:
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Will Forte, Last Man on Earth
William H. Macy, Shameless
Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
SHOULD WIN: ANTHONY ANDERSON. It’s hard for a guy who plays the co-head of a household on a network TV show to be viewed by Emmy voters as the most worthy candidate in this category, and so Anderson deserves it all the more. He’s funny in his own right, but he’s also an excellent straight man for the jokesters who make up his TV family.
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series:
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tracee Ellis Ross, black-ish
Laurie Metcalf, Getting On
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
SHOULD WIN: TRACEE ELLIS ROSS. For me, it comes down to Ross or Louis-Dreyfus: In different ways, they provided a solid season of laughs playing women stretched to their limits. What tips the balance is the simple fact that Louis-Dreyfus has won a sufficient number of times to allow Ross’s worthy performance to now be rewarded.
Outstanding Comedy Series:
Master of None
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
SHOULD WIN: VEEP. It had its funniest season yet, which is really saying something for one of the most riotous, joke-dense comedies around. Best current use of an ensemble cast as well.
Outstanding Drama Series:
Better Call Saul
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
SHOULD WIN: THE AMERICANS. This was the year when the secrets about the parents’ Russian-spy deception tore painful wounds into the Jennings family, and when Elizabeth and Philip found their marriage strained to the breaking point. Freeing itself from a couple of subplots that had begun weighing it down, The Americans was let loose to be the dazzlingly adroit piece of grown-up drama it’s always wanted to be.
Outstanding Limited Series:
The Night Manager
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
SHOULD WIN: FARGO. I had a hard time choosing between Fargo and The People v. O.J. until I thought: Which of these limited series would I ever entertain watching again? Then the decision was relatively easy. Not only is the ensemble acting immensely satisfying, and not only is producer-writer Noah Hawley’s fine puzzle-making story structure a pleasure, but Fargo also possesses a rare-for-TV humanism that the marvelously told but ultimately sordid story of Simpson could not help but lack.
The 68th Primetime Emmy Awards will air on Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on ABC.