Early Emmy predictions: Look for a 'Handmaid's Tale' repeat and a big night for 'Atlanta'

Oprah Winfrey, left, and "Handmaid's Tale" star Elisabeth Moss after Winfrey presented the show the drama series Emmy last year. (obert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“Game of Thrones” is back. “The Americans” is departing. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus is sadly absent.

How will these changes affect this year’s drama and comedy series races? Here’s a set of early predictions for the Sept. 17 ceremony, which I’ll update the week of the ceremony.

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DRAMA SERIES

“The Americans”

“The Crown”

“Game of Thrones”

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

“Stranger Things”

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“This Is Us”

“Westworld”

Winner: “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Analysis: “Game of Thrones” won this Emmy in 2015 and 2016 before vacating the category last year for an extended break. It’s nominated here for the first part of its seventh and final season, a perfectly fine run of episodes that set the table for an ending that will either be jaw-dropping or upsetting or some combination of both.

I’m guessing voters will wait and send “Thrones” out in style next year, giving “Handmaid’s Tale” a second consecutive series honor. Yes, “Thrones” pulled in two additional nominations (22 to “Handmaid’s” 20), but “The Handmaid’s Tale” delivered a stronger season, further exploring Gilead’s moral rot as well as the difficulties involved in resisting and changing a totalitarian regime. Plus, it gave us Radio Free Oprah. How can it lose?

Elisabeth Moss, star of "The Handmaid's Tale." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

LEAD ACTRESS, DRAMA

Claire Foy, “The Crown”

Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”

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Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”

Keri Russell, “The Americans”

Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”

Winner: Moss

Analysis: Is a six-way tie possible? I suppose there has to be one winner among these six stellar nominees, and it’s hard to bet against Moss repeating for beautifully capturing all the crushing despair and resounding fortitude her character experienced throughout the season.

Oh, the first woman of Asian descent to earn a nod in this category, could play spoiler, given the outpouring of love that greeted her nomination. If “Eve” maintains its momentum in its second season, I think she’ll win here next year.

Matthew Rhys, nominated for "The Americans." (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

LEAD ACTOR, DRAMA

Jason Bateman, “Ozark”

Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”

Ed Harris, “Westworld”

Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”

Milo Ventimiglia, “This Is Us”

Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld”

Winner: Rhys

Analysis: It’s certainly possible that I’ll eventually change this pick because A) Brown has won Emmys two straight years for two different shows and was popular enough to pull in a nomination for a third program (a guest spot on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) this year and B) “The Americans” has won only two Emmys for its previous five seasons, both going to popular favorite Margo Martindale.

But … “The Americans” deserves something for its near-perfect final season (and for its consistent excellence over its six-year run), doesn’t it? It’s difficult to separate Rhys and Russell, partners on-screen and off-, for their work as the married Russian spies crushed by the collective toll of their profession. Both deserve Emmys. Rhys has a somewhat clearer path. Not to meddle in this election, but voters know what they need to do.

Yvonne Strahovski, a first-time Emmy nominee for "The Handmaid's Tale." (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA

Alexis Bledel, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Ann Dowd, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Lena Headey, “Game of Thrones”

Vanessa Kirby, “The Crown”

Thandie Newton, “Westworld”

Yvonne Strahovski, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Winner: Strahovski

Analysis: Dowd won last year for her nuanced “Handmaid’s Tale” villain, and voters could look to the actress playing the show’s other evil woman this time around. Strahovski was good in the show’s premiere season, but she was an absolute revelation in its second as her character, an architect of Gilead, finally grasped the utter hell of the world she helped create.

While Strahovski made Serena Waterford the show’s standout character this season, there are two other “Handmaid’s” actresses nominated in the category, both of whom won Emmys last year. (Bledel took the guest actress trophy.) That could splinter the vote and give the win to “Westworld” standout Newton, who, like Moss, owned a powerful mother-daughter reunion scene this year. Newton’s show did receive 21 nominations. This could be a spot for a win.

David Harbour, nominated for "Stranger Things." (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA

Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”

Joseph Fiennes, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

David Harbour, “Stranger Things”

Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”

Matt Smith, “The Crown”

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”

Winner: Harbour

Analysis: John Lithgow won the Emmy here last year for his towering turn as Winston Churchill on “The Crown,” preceding Gary Oldman’s Oscar win for his Churchill by a good six months. Lithgow’s turn on “The Crown” was a one-and-done, leaving the door open for the well-liked Harbour or, if “Handmaid’s Tale” sweeps, maybe Fiennes. And you can’t discount two-time winner Dinklage’s chances, either.

But I’d guess that with “Stranger Things” earning nominations for series, writing and directing, there’s enough support for the show to put Harbour, so good as the haunted Jim Hopper, onstage. (Plus, you know he’d give a great speech.)

Brothers Stephen, left, and Donald Glover celebrate "Atlanta's" victories at the Emmys' Governors Ball last year. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

COMEDY SERIES

“Atlanta”

“Barry”

“black-ish”

“Curb Your Enthusiasm”

“GLOW”

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

“Silicon Valley”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Winner: “Atlanta”

Analysis: “Veep,” series winner for the last three years, is sidelined because of star Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ breast cancer treatment. “Atlanta” should easily fill the vacancy. After earning six Emmy nominations and winning two last year (Donald Glover won for lead actor and directing), the FX series pulled in a leading 16 noms for its second season. It was the only series to receive multiple nominations for both writing and directing, a strong indication of bedrock support across the academy. First-time recognition for cast members Brian Tyree Henry and Zazie Beetz also speaks to its strength. “Barry” and “Mrs. Maisel” delivered fine first seasons, but I think “Atlanta” has this Emmy in the bank.

Rachel Brosnahan stars in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

LEAD ACTRESS, COMEDY

Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”

Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Allison Janney, “Mom”

Issa Rae, “Insecure”

Tracee Ellis Ross, “black-ish”

Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

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Winner: Brosnahan

Analysis: Louis-Dreyfus has won this Emmy six straight years for “Veep,” and I’d imagine she’ll win it again when the series returns next year for its seventh and final season. In the meantime, looking at the overall support for the shows, this figures to be a contest between three-time nominee Ross and newcomer Brosnahan, who won the Golden Globe for “Mrs. Maisel” earlier this year. Given the quality of her work and her prominence on a show that deftly explores female empowerment, I’d expect Brosnahan to prevail.

Donald Glover accepts the Emmy for lead actor comedy at the 2017 Emmys. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

LEAD ACTOR, COMEDY

Anthony Anderson, “black-ish”

Ted Danson, “The Good Place”

Larry David, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

Donald Glover, “Atlanta”

Bill Hader, “Barry”

William H. Macy, “Shameless”

Winner: Glover

Analysis: With “Atlanta” dominating the comedy nominations, it’s hard to pick against Glover, who won last year and earned five nods this year for the series as a producer, writer, director and actor and another one for his guest spot on “Saturday Night Live.”

Hader picked up five nominations too — in all the same categories as Glover — and, arguably, has a more challenging role, playing “Barry’s” morally conflicted hit man and aspiring actor. Hader would be a great choice, but I think it’s going to be a big night for “Atlanta.”

Kate McKinnon attends the 2017 Emmys. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY

Zazie Beetz, “Atlanta”

Alex Borstein, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Aidy Bryant, “Saturday Night Live”

Betty Gilpin, “GLOW”

Leslie Jones, “Saturday Night Live”

Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”

Laurie Metcalf, “Roseanne”

Megan Mullally, “Will & Grace”

Winner: McKinnon

Analysis: I guess I’m making the boring pick here, mostly because if voters loved “Saturday Night Live” enough to give it 21 nominations, they’re going to be inclined to once again reward its most valuable player.

But with eight(!) nominees, there’s an abundance of options, many of them quite worthy. A case could easily be made for the veteran Borstein (also nominated for voicing Lois Griffin on “Family Guy”) for her perfect, droll delivery on “Mrs. Maisel.” Her character, Susie, is the mentor and champion that Midge Maisel deserves and that we all wish we had.

And I wouldn’t put it past voters to reward the revered Metcalf, who pulled in the sole nomination for the canceled “Roseanne.” A lot of people wanted to see her on the podium earlier this year at the Oscars for “Ladybird.”

Henry Winkler received an Emmy nomination for his turn in "Barry." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY

Louie Anderson, “Baskets”

Alec Baldwin, “Saturday Night Live”

Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Brian Tyree Henry, “Atlanta”

Tony Shalhoub, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Kenan Thompson, “Saturday Night Live”

Henry Winkler, “Barry”

Winner: Winkler

Analysis: There’s so much good will out there right now for Winkler, both for his career and his hilarious, heartfelt turn as the narcissistic acting teacher on “Barry.” This is Winkler’s sixth nomination — three of them for his iconic role on “Happy Days” — and he has never won. Look for that to change, which would provide a major highlight for this year’s ceremony — a standing ovation and a collective thumbs up.

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