The most obvious challenger is "Squid Game," the potent, horrifying Korean import that ruled Netflix in the waning months of 2021 and earned its stars, Lee Jung-jae and Jung Ho-yeon, individual honors at this year's Screen Actors Guild Awards. The show itself lost the SAG ensemble award to "Succession," an outcome likely to be repeated at the Emmys. As gripping as it was, "Squid Game's" relentless carnage and bleakness will alienate some voters. Besides: If people want a survival story that trades in horror, the superior "Yellowjackets" is right here, waiting.
Reigning series champ "Ted Lasso" endured the inevitable backlash when its second season ran last summer, with naysayers finding diminishing returns (and laughs) in the wholesome comedy's stretched batch of 12 episodes. But there aren't that many series revolving around decency these days, which makes the Apple TV+ hit stand out among its competitors. Still, it faces many potent challengers, including excellent HBO programs — "Hacks" and "Barry" — that will be running new episodes close to the nominations' voting window.
"Hacks," in particular, could leapfrog "Ted Lasso" if it nails its second season, as it hauled in 15 nominations last year, winning three major prizes — for writing, directing and lead actress Jean Smart. The writing and directing honors indicate that support for "Lasso" might be weak, and that once voters move past the feels, their assessment of the show might be a little harsher. (That whole CinemaCon scene with Olivia Wilde being served legal action papers onstage from Ted Lasso himself, Wilde's ex Jason Sudeikis, might not help, either, even if Sudeikis, per his camp, didn't direct the papers to be delivered in such an un-Lasso-like manner.)
Perhaps it's inevitable that this year's contenders can't come close to last year's set of nominees — "Mare of Easttown," "I May Destroy You," "WandaVision," "The Underground Railroad" and "The Queen's Gambit," which wound up winning. While the limited series format remains the Emmys' prestige offering, streamers and networks have had a difficult time holding viewers' interest for the entirety of their series' often outsize running times. "Scenes From a Marriage," "The First Lady," "Impeachment: American Crime Story," "The Offer," "Pam & Tommy" offered more frustrations than intrigue. Watching these exercises in endurance often made me long for a resurgence in the two-hour TV movie format.
Look for "Maid," "The Dropout," "Dopesick," "The White Lotus" and "Under the Banner of Heaven" to battle for the top honors. Maybe "The White Lotus" is the favorite, as it managed to tell its story of privilege in a concise six episodes. Plus it had Jennifer Coolidge. What's not to love?
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