Scaling Emmy heights is tough in the era of so-called peak TV, with the volume of shows matched by lofty expectations from academy voters.
Good isn’t enough for comedies and dramas, which need to resonate with the current political and social zeitgeist. Actors who also pull off the high-wire act of writing and directing collect more respect and trophies.
Talent aside, a lavish marketing campaign helps in a crowded field: With as many as seven or eight nominees in some key categories, about 14 percent of the TV academy vote can determine who gets a trophy, according to awards website Gold Derby.
So is it “Game of Thrones” (with a leading 22 nods, but the majority technical ones) or “The Handmaid’s Tale” for best drama? Will Donald Glover repeat as best comedy actor for “Atlanta” or could Bill Hader of freshman “Barry” be an upset winner?
The comedy arena is the big unknown: It’s wide open with two-time winner “Veep” and its star, six-time comedy actress champ Julia Louis-Dreyfus, sitting this one out.
Despite such daunting wild-card factors, we’re still game to predict who will win, and who should, at the ceremony airing on NBC at 8 p.m. EDT Monday, Sept. 17. It’s hosted by “Saturday Night Live” players Michael Che and Colin Jost.
Here’s AP Television Writer Lynn Elber and Entertainment Writer Mark Kennedy’s guesses in the glamour categories.
Should win: “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It remains true to its unsparing vision of a poisoned society, daring us to watch or choose blind ignorance. No other show matches its demands with equal rewards.
Will win: “The Handmaid’s Tale.” For many viewers and voters, it’s got that zeitgeist thing down pat.
Should win: “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Even though the second season was more brutal than the first, it went beyond the source material brilliantly. “Game of Thrones” may have returned to claim its crown with a visually stunning season, but the zeitgeist is indeed firmly in Gilead.
Will win: “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Should win: “Atlanta.” Auteur TV at its best, with star Donald Glover the series’ creator as well as creative force, winning Emmys last year for acting and directing. But does it include enough punchlines per dramatic moments for voters?
Will win: “Atlanta.” While worthy freshman competitor “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” offers a female-empowerment vibe and more wisecracks, the series set in the 1950s can’t compete with the contemporary edge of “Atlanta.”
Should win: “Atlanta.” The show, led by Glover’s Hall of Fame abilities, has added audiences and nominations in its second season and has given many Americans a view into a world they hadn’t known.
Will win: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” This is safer, sad to say.
ACTOR, DRAMA SERIES
Should win: Matthew Rhys, “The Americans.” Rhys’ somber, conflicted depiction of Soviet spy Mischa, aka American family man Philip Jennings, grounded the now-ended series. Time to honor him, comrades.
Will win: Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us.” Brown was the only network drama series cast member to win last year, with cable and streaming gobbling all the other awards. And his tender-hearted family man is as affecting as ever.
Should win: Remember when Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” finally won his Emmy on his eighth and last attempt? How he crawled onto the stage to accept his trophy, out of relief and exhaustion? Maybe Rhys will do the same this time. He deserves to after six brilliant seasons of “The Americans.”
Will win: Brown. Emmy voters like to ride a winner — hello, Julia Louis-Dreyfus! — and Brown’s perpetually unsure brother-dad-son on “This Is Us” is a portrait both lovingly comedic and dramatically empathetic.
ACTRESS, DRAMA SERIES
Should win: Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve.” The five-time Emmy nominee for “Grey’s Anatomy” gives an intense, visceral performance in this female version of a mano a mano spy thriller and shines anew.
Will win: Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Moss won the trophy last year for her portrayal of an unbroken victim, and her steeliness remains magnetic.
Should win: Keri Russell. No disrespect to Moss, but she has her Emmy. This is the last chance for Russell, who played a ferocious Russian mole as well as a tender wife and mother on “The Americans.”
Will win: Moss. In her second season as Offred, there seemed less dialogue but her eyes managed to convey horror, red-hot anger and resignation, all at once.
ACTOR, COMEDY SERIES
Should win: William H. Macy, “Shameless.” Must Macy’s damaged, erratic patriarch Frank Gallagher clean up his act or die for Macy to get the award he so richly deserves, and has been denied him four times? Is that a rhetorical question?
Will win: Donald Glover, “Atlanta.” He’s a master of performance as well as seriocomic storytelling, bringing his searching young character to life with nuance and without cliche. Give the man a second Emmy.
Should win: Agreed. Glover. Macy’s a worthy competitor but Bill Hader is too much of a dark horse.
Will win: Glover. Totally.
ACTRESS, COMEDY SERIES
Should win: Rachel Brosnahan is dazzling as a betrayed wife who finds her voice in witty and cathartic stand-up rants. Brosnahan is the right interpreter for creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s post-“Gilmore Girls” realism.
Will win: Brosnahan. A breakout charmer in the right vehicle.
Should win: No Louis-Dreyfus this time, so the Emmys will crown a new comedy queen for the first time in six years. TV moms Tracee Ellis Ross and Allison Janney have been patient. But Pamela Adlon in “Better Things” is a raw, unflinching, loving portrait of a modern, messy middle-aged one.
Will win: Brosnahan, who delivers a mannered, winning performance — as a mom, naturally.
Should win: “Patrick Melrose.” Actor-producer Benedict Cumberbatch’s passion project (based on Edward St Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical novels) is a flawlessly executed exploration of a tormented man and his past.
Will win: “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” Producer Ryan Murphy knows how to work the big canvas, as he proved with Emmy-lavished “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
Should win: “The Looming Tower.” Mixing fact and fiction to trace the messy U.S. response to the rise of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, the series bites off a lot but delivers deftly.
Will win: “Gianni Versace.” The “American Crime Story” franchise, like Murphy’s horror anthology series, is just too hard to beat, being equal parts lurid and fascinating.