The Emmys are upon us, and it wouldn’t be an awards show if our critics didn’t have strong and possibly arbitrary opinions about who should take home a gold statue or two this year. Here’s where they duke it out. Are you – and Emmy voters – on Team Ryan or Team Saraiya? (Play along: The full list of nominees is .)
SEE MORE: From the September 12, 2017, issue of Variety
I will brook absolutely no contenders besides FX’s ” Saraiya: Atlanta,” which was my No.1 show of 2016. And it’s not like I don’t like other shows. But none of them even come close – except, possibly, for HBO’s non-nominated “Insecure.”
Ryan: No disagreement here. The second season of “Master of None” certainly had some strong moments, and I’m a fan of some of the other shows on the list. But this award has to go to “Atlanta.” It just has to.
Saraiya: This is such an interesting category. Five new series, three genre shows – uncharted territory for the Academy.
Ryan: I agree, I think the winner of the category will serve as something of a litmus test, revealing a lot about the thinking of the Academy’s membership. Do they want to cheerlead a popular hit like “This Is Us” or “Stranger Things,” shows that are very accessible and have a big pop-culture footprint? To be clear, I don’t actually have a problem with that tendency – in this world of micro-niches, sometimes it’s nice to have a show that connects in a big, broad way. The other option is for the Academy to reward shows that display the usual trappings of well-appointed prestige drama, and then the Emmy would go to either “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “The Crown,” which in my mind are the other leading contenders. Personally, I’d be fine with either “Stranger Things” or “Handmaid’s” winning – they’re tonal opposites but so well-grounded in emotionally resonant performances.
Saraiya: I’d be disappointed if “Stranger Things” won. It’s an interesting show, but ultimately didn’t really break through the noise for me the way that it did for many others. My bitterest critic within feels that the best dramas of the year were overlooked, but if I’m picking favorites, I’m most partial to the inspiring dystopia of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which prompted some of my most aghast viewing of the year.
Ryan: I hear you. “Handmaid’s” is my pick as well.
Saraiya: There’s only one choice, in my mind.
You do mean ” Ryan:Big Little Lies,” ground zero for the Kidman-aissance, right?
Saraiya: I do. I think “Big Little Lies” broke into the mainstream, with its phenomenal central performances, in a way that the other limited series never quite managed. Part of my adoration of the series is that it took what is essentially a women’s beach read and found the rich interplay of personalities underneath. To my mind, Kidman didn’t go anywhere long enough to require a renaissance – call me old-fashioned, but she’s a star that doesn’t fade – but as her debut to the small screen, opposite fellow Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies” makes for especially wonderful watching.
Ryan: I agree. The whole thing hit that sweet spot between commercial and contemplative, and though every performer did great work, many of “Lies” more serious themes hinged on Kidman’s nuanced, powerful performance.
Saraiya: I was so prepared to dismiss this category entirely, but then they nominated one of my favorite episodes of 2016.
And I do hope ” Ryan: Black Mirror ” wins, because the other entries in this category aren’t nearly as strong overall.
Saraiya: Agreed. “San Junipero” has the advantage of having two incredible leads in Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis – and one of “Black Mirror’s” rarest gifts: A happy ending.
Ryan: And to that I merely add, “Yay!”
LEAD ACTOR, COMEDY
Ryan: I’ve already written that I think Anthony Anderson should win. He’s doing extremely varied work as Dre Johnson on “Black-ish,” and it’s time the Academy voters recognized his versatility. But I would also be OK if the award goes to the creator and star of “Atlanta.” The understatement of Donald Glover’s performance is impressive – and it’s worth noting that quite often, he played the straight man brilliantly and frequently made space for his co-stars to have big moments.
Saraiya: Both Glover and Aziz Ansari impressed me more as writers than performers, and though I think Anderson is great on “Black-ish,” I think like Ansari he’s playing a version of himself that doesn’t seem like a breakthrough. My pick is, unexpectedly, Zach Galifianakis: “Baskets” is a really weird show, and not for everyone, but Galifianakis’ immersion in his sad-clown role is kind of uncanny.
Ryan: I enjoy a delightful left-field pick! But I’m sticking with my choices.
LEAD ACTOR, DRAMA
Saraiya: It’s Bob Odenkirk’s year. IT’S BOB ODENKIRK’S YEAR, MO.
Ryan: YOU ARE HAVING A LOT OF EMOTIONS ABOUT THIS! Which is understandable. This was definitely my favorite season of “Better Call Saul” – for my money, it was the most compassionate and painful season, but in good ways. So it would be fine with me if Odenkirk brought home the statue, but Sterling K. Brown is the leading contender here, in my view. How does he bring me inside his character’s psychological state so masterfully, every single time? I have no idea, but it’s truly a gift.
Saraiya: I like Sterling K. Brown a lot. But Odenkirk’s still my pick. He’s been delivering such fantastic complexity as Jimmy McGill, and this season he was heartbreaking. “Better Call Saul” – even more than “Breaking Bad” – is about making choices in a morass of moral relativity. And Odenkirk, as a comic actor now doing drama, is somehow perfectly suited to the challenges of playing that.
LEAD ACTOR, MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Saraiya: Given how stacked this category is for the actresses, it’s a little embarrassing how the men measure up by comparison. Some great performers here, but most I’ll forget about in a few years. The only exception for me is Riz Ahmed, who came out of nowhere (for me) to steal every frame in HBO’s “The Night Of.” Watching him interpret Nas – and convincingly play him both as naive kid and as hardened criminal – was absolutely chilling. I love that this performance put him on the radar for mainstream audiences, and I hope to see a lot more of him.
Ryan: Completely agreed. Naz’s transformation – internal and external – was fascinating to witness. Ahmed’s performance was certainly the most memorable thing about “The Night Of.”
LEAD ACTRESS, COMEDY
Ryan: “Black-ish” continued to offer very strong episodes this past season, many of them highlighting the work of Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow. She was phenomenal – her gift for physical comedy continues to amaze, but Rainbow’s also fast with a quip and believably compassionate and down to earth. It’s a lot to tie together, but she does it so gracefully. The other real contender for me is Pamela Adlon, who was a revelation in “Better Things,” which emerged as one of my favorite shows of last year. I can’t choose, please help!
Saraiya: Ross all the way. Which is not to say I do not really admire Pamela Adlon, but I have a feeling next year we’ll be pushing for Adlon to win based off her stronger performances in “Better Things,” season two.
LEAD ACTRESS, DRAMA
Saraiya: Honestly, Claire Foy deserves this award. I bet it’ll go to Elisabeth Moss – who is incredible, don’t get me wrong. But Foy is just magnificent.
Ryan: It’s a tough choice: Foy definitely did very good work in a role that could have seemed like a cardboard cut-out, but was not, thanks to her charisma and intense dedication. That said, I have to go with Moss here. The way she was able to convey Offred’s fear, yearning, anger and grit was simply incredible. Put simply, “The Handmaid’s Tale” just does not work with anyone but Moss in that role, while I think that a number of skilled British actresses could have turned in the kind of crisply intelligent work that Foy did.
LEAD ACTRESS, MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Saraiya: And here it is: The most ridiculously stacked, brilliantly talented category in television history. I feel sorry for Emmy voters who have to make a choice here; it feels like anyone you choose, it’s a crime.
Ryan: Having to choose here is just not OK. It’s too difficult. Having said that, I’ve got to go with Nicole Kidman, who was revelatory in “Big Little Lies.” Every single second she was on the screen, her character was transfixing. Fight me!
Saraiya: Kidman is magical, so there’s not a lot to fight. Those therapy scenes alone are just shattering. But this all being said, allow me to express my sincerest admiration for her co-star, Reese Witherspoon, who I think takes on a trickier and more socially reviled role: The aggressive, performatively parenting stay-at-home mom.
Ryan: Either woman winning would work, but honestly, the ideal solution is a tie. Then we all go to the beach!