Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
There will be a rather large shakeup in this race, even though four of the seven nominated actors are returning from last year. None of them (Bob Odenkirk, Matthew Rhys, Liev Schreiber and Kevin Spacey) has won before in the category, but they have a real shot this year in the absence of reigning champ Rami Malek, whose work on Mr. Robot this season didn’t draw a nomination after criticism of the show’s sophomore outing. But for one of these vets finally to take home the Emmy, they’ll have to overcome some stiff new competition.
Sterling K. Brown
This Is Us
Brown is the only one of this bunch to have taken home an Emmy last year, albeit for his supporting work in the limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. He is back as a breakout from the ensemble of NBC’s This Is Us but might have a tough time overcoming competition from his own co-star in that show, Milo Ventimiglia.
HBO’s sci-fi adaptation led all drama series with 22 noms including this one for the veteran Oscar winner delivering a precise and chilling performance. His very presence in this race for the first time classes up the joint and makes him a major threat, but total screen time is somewhat limited.
Better Call Saul
The spinoff from multiple Emmy winner Breaking Bad has become a staple at the Emmys, as has its star, who has really run with this role and made it his own in ways that most sequels—or, in this case, prequels—rarely allow. Odenkirk is one to watch here, especially as the series gets increasingly complex.
Rhys and the show finally broke through in the Emmy race last year after being a critical darling for its entire run. Although the penultimate season of the series failed to make the Drama Series Emmy list this year, a win here would be a fitting tribute for Rhys, who delivers in every episode.
Schreiber is a favorite of the Actors branch, who keep returning him to the competition even when it seems he might be down and out. Don’t bet on it. Ray Donovan provides him a unique opportunity to shine in a more traditional kind of series role, tough and dependable each and every season.
House of Cards
This is Spacey’s fifth consecutive nomination for playing the slippery Francis Underwood in the venerable political series. But you have to wonder: If he hasn’t won it yet, will he ever? The show is still getting love from Emmy with multiple nominations, even if the events depicted are overshadowed by the goings-on in the real Washington D.C.
This Is Us
A bit of a surprise inclusion, voters plucked this never-nominated star out of the ensemble of NBC’s smash family drama. A win would be a first for an actor whose entire role is essentially played in flashback. He’s also facing off against his co-star Sterling K. Brown, which might be a liability.
PETE’S PICK: Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
A rich and varied field of veteran stars highlights this impressive collection of performances. Jonathan Banks of Better Call Saul has been overdue since his Breaking Bad days; David Harbour is great in the wonderfully creepy Stranger Things, but he’s overshadowed by the kids; Ron Cephas Jones had a stunner of a death episode in This Is Us; Michael Kelly is a staple in House of Cards; Mandy Patinkin is just about singlehandedly flying the flag for the one-time Emmy darling Homeland; and Jeffrey Wright is solid as always in Westworld. But if multiple Emmy winner John Lithgow, a SAG Award winner for his role as Winston Churchill in The Crown, doesn’t also take this prize for his bulging mantle of awards, I will be shocked.
WINNER: John Lithgow, The Queen