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Emmys 2021: Nomination predictions in all the key categories
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Emmys 2021: Nomination predictions in all the key categories

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Guy Pearce, left, and Kate Winslet in HBO's "Mare of Easttown."

Guy Pearce, left, and Kate Winslet in HBO's "Mare of Easttown." (Sarah Shatz/HBO/TNS)

Primetime Emmy nominations arrive Tuesday morning on the heels of a second consecutive socially distanced campaign season full of Zoom conversations, drive-in events and even the occasional mixer featuring actual contact, like a "Small Axe" dance party that wasn't exactly straight out of "Lovers Rock" (no sweaty swaying; attendees wore illuminated headphones and grooved to the music solo) ... but, hey, at least they could get out of their cars. (And there was an open bar.)

Elton John made a surprise appearance at a "Pose" Rose Bowl event ("I am Elektra," he proclaimed in a nod to Dominique Jackson's ballroom diva), and Kathryn Hahn and Anthony Mackie revved up a Rose Bowl Marvel night. Jason Sudeikis charmed voters at the Ford Amphitheatre a couple of days after wrapping shooting the second season of "Ted Lasso," though he didn't bring biscuits. That's not quite cause for relegation ... but it's close.

The pandemic kept things largely virtual though, and, more important when it comes to nominations, sidelined several shows from competing. "Stranger Things," "Better Call Saul," "Ozark," "Killing Eve" and last year's drama series winner, "Succession," all had their filming interrupted by COVID-19, leaving plenty of openings and a likely coronation for "The Crown." That would be Netflix's first series to win an Emmy.

What should we expect on nominations morning? Anticipating good news for "Mare of Easttown," let's pop open a Rolling Rock, unwrap a hoagie or three and look into the future.

Limited series

  • "I May Destroy You"
  • "Mare of Easttown"
  • "The Queen's Gambit"
  • "The Underground Railroad"
  • "WandaVision"

Possible snub: "WandaVision"

Possible surprise: "Small Axe"

You could put together a field of the limited series that won't be nominated — "The Good Lord Bird," "It's a Sin," "The Undoing," "Genius: Aretha," "Fargo," probably "Small Axe" — and it'd still be superior to the shows that will earn nods in the barren drama series category. Outside of "Black Panther" at the 2019 Oscars, Marvel properties haven't been awards favorites. But "WandaVision" events drew big crowds at the Rose Bowl and online, and its occasional flourishes of invention might be enough to sell it to voters averse to the MCU formula.

Limited series/TV movie actress

  • Kate Winslet, "Mare of Easttown"
  • Anya Taylor-Joy, "The Queen's Gambit"
  • Michaela Coel, "I May Destroy You"
  • Thuso Mbedu, "The Underground Railroad"
  • Elizabeth Olsen, "WandaVision"

Possible snub: Mbedu

Possible surprise: Cynthia Erivo, "Genius: Aretha"

As most of the year's best limited series put women front and center, this category is just as brutally competitive as the series group. I'd think that Mbedu, a star in her native South Africa, will earn a nomination, along with maybe a couple of other members of the "Underground Railroad" cast. But I don't have a strong sense of just how many voters made it past the series' violent first episode (an escaped slave is caught, whipped and set on fire) to appreciate the extraordinary craft and storytelling in Barry Jenkins' deeply felt adaptation of Colson Whitehead's novel. The voters I've spoken with who've seen the series in its entirety have a passion that convinces me it'll probably do just fine.

Limited series/TV movie actor

  • Ethan Hawke, "The Good Lord Bird"
  • Hugh Grant, "The Undoing"
  • Paul Bettany, "WandaVision"
  • Jeff Daniels, "The Comey Rule"
  • Leslie Odom Jr., "Hamilton"

Possible snub: Daniels

Possible surprise: Ewan McGregor, "Halston"

The "Hamilton" troupe is indeed eligible in the acting categories, even though the filmed version of the 2016 stage performance, which premiered on Disney+ last July, is competing in the prerecorded variety special category. The eligibility ruling is weird and, in the eyes of some, wrong as "Hamilton" is not a TV movie or limited series. But, hey, I guess that even with 11 Tonys, a Grammy, a Pulitzer, a Kennedy Center Honor and more accolades than I have room to mention, Lin-Manuel Miranda needs an Emmy too. Or, more accurately, the Emmys need Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Limited series/TV movie supporting actress

  • Julianne Nicholson, "Mare of Easttown"
  • Kathryn Hahn, "WandaVision"
  • Letitia Wright, "Small Axe"
  • Marielle Heller, "The Queen's Gambit"
  • Jean Smart, "Mare of Easttown"
  • Weruche Opia, "I May Destroy You"

Possible snub: Opia

Possible surprise: Renee Elise Goldsberry, "Hamilton"

This will likely be one of two noms for Smart, the other being for her lead turn on the HBO Max comedy "Hacks." But its costar Nicholson who will likely win this Emmy, as the final episode of "Mare" served as a showcase for a turn that left us sobbing on the floor right with her. ("It's Mare! She knows! She's on her way here! She knows!") Still, due respect to Smart, because falling out of a chair isn't as easy at it looks. That kind of talent makes her an easy favorite to win for "Hacks."

Limited series/TV movie supporting actor

  • John Boyega, "Small Axe"
  • Bill Camp, "The Queen's Gambit"
  • Evan Peters, "Mare of Easttown"
  • Donald Sutherland, "The Undoing"
  • Brendan Gleeson, "The Comey Rule"
  • Daveed Diggs, "Hamilton"

Possible snub: Diggs

Possible surprise: Aaron Pierre, "The Underground Railroad"

I've been extoling Steve McQueen's "Small Axe" movie anthology for months, and in a perfect world, it would be an unstoppable Emmy force. Its five movies contain countless great performances, all of which were submitted in the supporting categories. Boyega's generous screen time playing Leroy Logan, the trailblazing Black police officer in the series' third entry, "Red, White and Blue," makes him a shoo-in. I'm also partial to Shaun Parkes, as he delivered the best close-up acting of the year in the final moments of "Mangrove," the "Small Axe" courtroom drama. I respect Sutherland's eyebrow work as much as anyone. But not if it means Parkes doesn't receive his due.

Drama series

  • "The Crown"
  • "The Mandalorian"
  • "Bridgerton"
  • "The Handmaid's Tale"
  • "Lovecraft Country"
  • "This Is Us"
  • "Pose"
  • "The Boys"

Possible snub: "The Boys"

Possible surprise: "Perry Mason"

All those drama series openings aren't necessarily a bad thing if voters reward "The Boys," Amazon's dark, daring evisceration of superhero tropes and modern-day America. But if the dull (though well-acted) "Perry Mason" makes it in instead, I'll sue for emotional distress.

Drama actress

  • Emma Corrin, "The Crown"
  • Olivia Colman, "The Crown"
  • Uzo Aduba, "In Treatment"
  • Jurnee Smollett, "Lovecraft Country"
  • Elisabeth Moss, "The Handmaid's Tale"
  • Mj Rodriguez, "Pose"

Possible snub: Rodriguez

Possible surprise: Phoebe Dynevor, "Bridgerton"

It's a mix of perennial favorites (Moss, Aduba, Colman, maybe Sarah Paulson for "Ratched") and worthy newcomers (Smollett, Dynevor) and Rodriguez, never nominated though always in the conversation for her turn as the founder and mother of the House of Evangelista. With "Pose" closing up shop after its third season, I think voters will make sure she receives an invitation.

Drama actor

  • Rege-Jean Page, "Bridgerton"
  • Josh O'Connor, "The Crown"
  • Billy Porter, "Pose"
  • Matthew Rhys, "Perry Mason"
  • Jonathan Majors, "Lovecraft Country"
  • Sterling K. Brown, "This Is Us"

Possible snub: Majors

Possible surprise: Pedro Pascal, "The Mandalorian"

Did Pascal remove the Mandalorian's helmet often enough to warrant a vote? It still seems a stretch to think that the costumed actor will receive a nomination, though his line readings were superb and his mustache always on point. Meanwhile, don't be completely shocked if Brown's co-star Milo Ventimiglia returns and earns a fourth nomination. The "This Is Us" fan base might be shrinking as the series nears the end, but it's a passionate, loyal group.

Drama supporting actress

  • Gillian Anderson, "The Crown"
  • Helena Bonham Carter, "The Crown"
  • Emerald Fennell, "The Crown"
  • Erin Doherty, "The Crown"
  • Yvonne Strahovsky, "The Handmaid's Tale"
  • Samira Wiley, "The Handmaid's Tale"
  • Ann Dowd, "The Handmaid's Tale"
  • Cynthia Nixon, "Ratched"
  • Wunmi Mosaku, "Lovecraft Country"

Possible snub: Mosaku

Possible surprise: Tatiana Maslany, "Perry Mason"

With these supersize supporting categories, anything is possible, including four women from "The Crown" making the cut. Anderson and Carter have garnered most of the acclaim, but Fennell nailed Camilla Parker Bowle's confidence and gets a bump thanks to the three Academy Award nominations (and one Oscar, for original screenplay) she earned for "Promising Young Woman." And Doherty was given some raw, vulnerable moments this season playing Anne. Meanwhile, "The Handmaid's Tale" cast figures to make a bit of a comeback, though there's plenty of other directions voters could go, including following Elton's endorsement of Jackson.

Drama supporting actor

  • Michael Kenneth Williams, "Lovecraft Country"
  • Tobias Menzies, "The Crown"
  • John Lithgow, "Perry Mason"
  • Bradley Whitford, "The Handmaid's Tale"
  • Giancarlo Esposito, "The Mandalorian"
  • Anthony Ramos, "In Treatment"
  • Chris Sullivan, "This Is Us"
  • Jonathan Bailey, "Bridgerton"

Possible snub: Bailey

Possible surprise: John Benjamin Hickey, "In Treatment"

"In Treatment" is an actors showcase, so it's easy to see both Ramos and Hickey earning nominations, though competition here is fierce with three-time winner Whitford and six-time champ Lithgow in the mix. Then too there's Williams, a three-time nominee, including one for his legendary turn as Omar Little in "The Wire." No Black actor has ever won this category, but with Williams' strong work on "Lovecraft Country," that could soon change.

Comedy series

  • "Ted Lasso"
  • "Hacks"
  • "The Flight Attendant"
  • "PEN15"
  • "Girls5eva"
  • "Cobra Kai"
  • "black-ish"
  • "The Kominsky Method"

Possible snub: "Cobra Kai"

Possible surprise: "Master of None"

Is a series a comedy if it barely delivers a smile, much less a genuine laugh? That's the question voters pondered as they considered "Master of None," which made some very deliberate choices for its third season: its boxy aspect ratio, filming the episodes in artfully composed static wide shots that are held for loooong periods of time and, yes, excising the comedy in telling the story of a queer woman looking to have a baby with her partner. There's room for debate about whether the show's aesthetic works. But you can't argue that this season is a comedy, making its placement in these categories strange, even though it fits with its prior categorization.

Comedy actress

  • Jean Smart, "Hacks"
  • Kaley Cuoco, "The Flight Attendant"
  • Renee Elise Goldsberry, "Girls5eva"
  • Tracee Ellis Ross, "black-ish"
  • Jane Levy, "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist"

Possible snub: Levy

Possible surprise: Robin Thede, "A Black Lady Sketch Show"

Comedy submissions dipped from last year, and because a category's nomination numbers depend on the number of entries, we're looking at a smaller slate for comedy acting — five for leads, seven for supporting. (The drama acting nomination numbers are the same as last year: six for leads, eight for supporting.) Anyway, this could be disappointing news for bubble contenders like Allison Janney ("Mom") and Maya Erskine ("PEN15"), though hopefully not for Thede and her exhilarating work on "A Black Lady Sketch Show."

Comedy actor

  • Jason Sudeikis, "Ted Lasso"
  • Michael Douglas, "The Kominsky Method"
  • Anthony Anderson, "black-ish"
  • Kenan Thompson, "Kenan"
  • Ted Danson, "Mr. Mayor"

Possible snub: Danson

Possible surprise: Ralph Macchio, "Cobra Kai"

How's this for an old-school group? And one alternative is Macchio, who is ... [checking notes] 59 years old??? How is that possible? Another is William H. Macy for the swan song season of "Shameless." Macy has 12 Emmy acting nominations, though his last nod for "Shameless" came three years ago. A nom would be a nice parting gift, but I don't see it happening.

Comedy supporting actress

  • Hannah Waddingham, "Ted Lasso"
  • Rosie Perez, "The Flight Attendant"
  • Juno Temple, "Ted Lasso"
  • Kate McKinnon, "Saturday Night Live"
  • Cecily Strong, "Saturday Night Live"
  • Hannah Einbinder, "Hacks"
  • Zosia Mamet, "The Flight Attendant"

Possible snub: Mamet

Possible surprise: Paula Pell, "Girls5eva"

For a show about a folksy American dude taking over a men's soccer team that mostly takes place on athletic fields and inside a testosterone-filled locker room, "Ted Lasso" is often at its best when focusing on its women — Waddingham's conflicted team owner whose defenses are broken down by biscuits and Temple's stereotype-shattering model. Their characters' unlikely friendship was one of the show's many surprises.

Comedy supporting actor

  • Brett Goldstein, "Ted Lasso"
  • Kenan Thompson, "Saturday Night Live"
  • Michiel Huisman, "The Flight Attendant"
  • Bowen Yang, "Saturday Night Live"
  • Brendan Hunt, "Ted Lasso"
  • Ray Romano, "Made for Love"
  • Nick Mohammed, "Ted Lasso"

Possible snub: Hunt

Possible surprise: Paul Reiser, "The Kominsky Method"

That leaves us with all the "Ted Lasso" men, including Jeremy Swift's delightful turn as Higgins, the charming, compliant communications director. I think at least three make it in. Four might be a stretch, particularly with competition from the likes of the names above and the trailblazing Alex Newell ("Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist"), Laurence Fishburne ("black-ish") and T.R. Knight ("The Flight Attendant"). Come to think of it, three might be a stretch. But if you can't be optimistic about "Ted Lasso," then you've missed the point of the show.

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