The outstanding actor/actress in a drama award arrives toward the end of any Emmys telecast but this week — as we look at the key races of the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards (Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS/2) — let’s start with them instead.
ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder,” ABC) A great actress, Davis has already won an Emmy and already has made history, as the first black woman to nab this award.
Claire Foy (“The Crown,” Netflix) By humanizing Queen Elizabeth II, Foy instantly captured the hearts of viewers and Golden Globe voters (she won).
Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” Hulu) Six times a bridesmaid (for “Mad Men”), not yet the bride. But Moss captured everything in the performance of enslaved Offred, most notably today’s zeitgeist.
Keri Russell (“The Americans,” FX) There’s some Claire Underwood in Elizabeth Jennings, but Russell has added a whole lot more, notably a mother, a wife, and a spy.
Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld,” HBO) Fine performance as a park “host” who slowly learns who (or what) she is, and adjusts. Wood was both dynamic and subtle.
Robin Wright (“House of Cards,” Netflix) Her newly minted President Claire Underwood is fashioned from titanium, her inner core shadows and fog. But not too foggy. Recall her fifth season closing line: “My turn.” Will Sunday finally be her turn?
SHOULD WIN: Moss. Enough already! All those years bypassing Peggy on “Men?” Even the rarely shamed voting body of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences must feel some remorse over that serial oversight. That miscarriage is about to be corrected.
WILL WIN: Moss. This performance and this role is what’s called a “meta” one, because it speaks to the current political climate. The Emmys will want to make a statement, too.
ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us,” NBC) Had a great year in 2016, first with “American Crime Story” (for which he won an Emmy) and then followed by his culture-bending role in “Us” as tortured father and son, Randall Pearson. I love Brown. I love Randall. But I also love another actor who I believe finally deserves this award. Read on to find out who.
Anthony Hopkins (“Westworld,” HBO) Oscar winner and four-time nominee has a couple of Emmy wins in minor categories from many years ago. Emmy voters love prestige actors, especially with English accents. He comes with both.
Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul,” AMC) Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill is one of the most riveting, complex characters on TV — an ambitious lawyer thwarted by his own brother (played by Michael McKean, equally brilliant last season) and by his own demons. His performance in the third season was the best yet.
Matthew Rhys (“The Americans,” FX) Speaking of great English actors, Rhys is overdue here to be recognized for a role that needs no introduction, thanks to his mastery of it.
Liev Schreiber (“Ray Donovan,” Showtime) This is Schreiber’s third straight nomination for “Ray” and rarely do multiple passovers suddenly turn into wins (see: Moss). But they do happen.
Milo Ventimiglia (“This Is Us,” NBC) Ventimiglia is wonderful in the role, but his Jack Pearson simply doesn’t have (yet) the stature of these other performances.
SHOULD WIN: Odenkirk. He turned Jimmy into a tragic hero with a huge heart and self-destructive flaws. But the Emmys still think of him as a “comic” actor.
WILL WIN: Brown. The Emmys want to hand a big award to “This Is Us,” even though best drama may not be that one. (Although we'll see -- "Us" could still pull this out). But a Brown win will make up for that. Brown's great, and deserving. If he wins and "Us" too, then there's always next year for Odenkirk and "Saul."