USA Today critic picks Emmy winners in acting categories

Who will take home the major Emmy Awards Sunday (ABC, 8 ET/5 PT), hosted by Jimmy Kimmel?

USA TODAY TV critic Robert Bianco looks at who probably will — and who certainly should — take home the trophies in top acting categories, along with best comedy, drama, limited series and movie.

Which TV series will win Emmys?

Print your own Emmy winners scorecard

Drama series
The Americans (FX)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Homeland (Showtime)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Mr. Robot (USA)

Should win:The Americans

Will win: Game of Thrones

Comedy series
Black-ish (ABC)
Master of None (Netflix)
Modern Family (ABC)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Transparent (Amazon)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Veep (HBO)

Should win: Black-ish

Will win:Veep

Actor, drama series
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline (Netflix)
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot (USA)
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul (AMC)
Matthew Rhys, The Americans (FX)
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan (Showtime)
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards (Netflix)

Should win: Rami Malek
Will win: Rami Malek

This is Kevin Spacey’s fourth straight nomination in this category, which might make him the sentimental favorite if it were a role that inspired sentiment. Still, even if voters' hearts were leaning Spacey's way, Malek’s performance was so special, and so jarringly different, than anything else on TV that he should be very hard to beat. And if, by chance, someone does pull an upset and beat him, I’d rather it were Rhys, whose work has been overlooked for too long.

Actress, drama series
Claire Danes, Homeland (Showtime)
Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)
Taraji P. Henson, Empire (Fox)
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America)
Keri Russell, The Americans (FX)
Robin Wright, House of Cards (Netflix)

Should win: Keri Russell
Will win: Viola Davis

Make no mistake: Last year’s winner, Davis, is a fabulous actor, and a second win by her should generate few complaints. But while her performance was as good as ever, the writing just did not make as good or varied a use of her talents — which could open the door for Russell, who had her best season yet as a woman torn between her duty to her country and her child.

Actor, comedy series
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish (ABC)
Aziz Ansari, Master of None (Netflix)
Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
William H. Macy, Shameless (Showtime)
Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley (HBO)
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent (Showtime)

Should win: Jeffrey Tambor
Will win: Jeffrey Tambor

In some ways, this category simply isn’t fair. What Tambor is given to do in Transparent is richer and far more dramatic than anything his competitors are allowed to offer. That, however, is not his fault, just as it’s not his fault that his repeat victory will come at the expense of Anderson and Ansari, either of whom might have won were Tambor not in the race. But he is, and he deserves the Emmy.

Actress, comedy series
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)
Laurie Metcalf, Getting On (HBO)
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish (ABC)
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie (Netflix)

Should win: Tracee Ellis Ross
Will win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Nothing against Louis-Dreyfus, who is one of TV’s brightest stars and who continues to turn in a comic tour de force in Veep. But that tour has netted her four Emmy wins in a row, and it just feels like that’s enough. Surely this is one of those times the Emmys can move on to someone new without hurting anyone’s feelings — and that someone should be Ross, who is her show’s emotional center.

Supporting actor, drama series
Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul (AMC)
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Kit Harington, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Michael Kelly, House of Cards (Netflix)
Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline (Netflix)
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan (Showtime)

Should win: Jonathan Banks
Will win: Kit Harington

This is another category for which a repeat win — in this case, for Dinklage — should not be ruled out. Still, it does seem that most of the Thrones attention this season went to Harington, and most likely that will be enough to push the Emmy his way. My vote would go to Banks, but then, that could be true almost any year.

Supporting actress, drama series
Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey (PBS)
Maura Tierney, The Affair (Showtime)
Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Constance Zimmer, UnREAL (Lifetime)

Should win: Constance Zimmer
Will win: Lena Headey

There’s always a chance, of course, that the Thrones trio will cancel each other out, handing the Emmy to, say, Smith — who should never be underestimated. But the Emmy oddsmakers seem to favor Headey, and in this case, I'm loathe to fight the odds.

Supporting actor, comedy series
Louie Anderson, Baskets (FX)
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
Ty Burrell, Modern Family (ABC)
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Tony Hale, Veep (HBO)
Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele (Comedy Central)
Matt Walsh, Veep (HBO)

Should win: Louie Anderson
Will win: Tony Hale

This was not Hale’s best season on Veep, and his was not the best supporting performance on the show. But that may not stop voters from rewarding him yet again. Which is a shame, because Anderson’s gender-bending performance was the best in the category, and the best of his career.

Supporting actress, comedy series
Anna Chlumsky, Veep (HBO)
Gaby Hoffmann, Transparent (Amazon)
Allison Janney, Mom (CBS)
Judith Light, Transparent (Amazon)
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Niecy Nash, Getting On (HBO)

Should win: Judith Light
Will win: Allison Janney

Or maybe it’s the other way around. That’s how close these two terrific actors are — and how good their material was.

Limited series
American Crime (ABC)
Fargo (FX)
The Night Manager (AMC)
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Roots (History)

Should win: The People v. O.J. Simpson
Will win: The People v. O.J. Simpson

If American Crime, Fargo, Night Manager or Roots could have been shoehorned into the movie category, where the competition is fairly weak, any one of them would have been favored to win. But here, up against the year’s most powerful production, they all seem destined to share second place.

Movie
A Very Murray Christmas (Netflix)
All the Way (HBO)
Confirmation (HBO)
Luther (BBC America)
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (PBS)

Should win: All the Way
Will win: All the Way

In a year when none of the nominated movies count as great, All the Way and Confirmation at least rank as “very good.” In a tossup, go with All the Way.

Lead actor, limited series or movie
Bryan Cranston, All the Way (HBO)
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (PBS)
Idris Elba, Luther (BBC America)
Cuba Gooding, Jr., The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager (AMC)
Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)

Should win: Courtney B. Vance
Will win: Courtney B. Vance

It seems almost criminal — and criminally foolish — to bet against Cranston, who brilliantly recreated his Tony-winning role in All the Way.  But by forcing us to see Johnnie Cochran through new eyes, Vance was equally remarkable in the far better production, and that should push him through.

Lead actress, limited series or movie
Kirsten Dunst, Fargo (FX)
Felicity Huffman, American Crime (ABC)
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (HBO)
Sarah Paulson, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Lili Taylor, American Crime (ABC)
Kerry Washington, Confirmation (HBO)

Should win: Sarah Paulson
Will win: Sarah Paulson

Wow. This is a collection of performances for the ages. But if there’s one person who seems to be a lock this year — and one performance that deserves that honor — it’s Paulson. She was, quite simply, astounding.

Supporting actor, limited series or movie
Sterling K. Brown, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Hugh Laurie, The Night Manager (AMC)
Jesse Plemons, Fargo (FX)
David Schwimmer, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
John Travolta, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)

Should win: Sterling K. Brown
Will win: Sterling K. Brown

Though goodness, Plemons was good, too.

Supporting actress, limited series or movie
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Hotel (FX)
Olivia Colman, The Night Manager (AMC)
Regina King, American Crime (ABC)
Melissa Leo, All the Way (HBO)
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Hotel (FX)
Jean Smart, Fargo (FX)

Should win: Jean Smart
Will win: Jean Smart

Though I'd be OK if Colman or King slipped in there instead.


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