Emmys 2024: Could This Be the Year of the Underdogs?

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Photo Source: Shane Brown/FX

The Emmy Awards have a reputation for being predictable. When the same shows dominate year after year, it can seem like the nominees list is predetermined. But even though it’s inevitable that we’ll see tons of nods for “The Bear” and “The Crown,” there’s still hope that some underdogs will sneak into the races—particularly in the acting categories. 

Lead actress in a comedy has its stalwarts, but the powerhouses could be going up against some newcomers in 2024. Last year, Quinta Brunson won for playing dedicated second grade teacher Janine Teagues on “Abbott Elementary,” so she’ll undoubtedly be in the running again. She’ll likely be going head-to-head with Jean Smart, who has already secured two Emmys for playing the domineering Deborah Vance on HBO’s “Hacks,” and arguably delivered her best performance yet this season. The pair will likely face off against Ayo Edebiri for her turn as ambitious chef Sydney Adamu on FX on Hulu’s “The Bear.” Though she previously won in the supporting actress category, this year, she’s been submitted as a lead. 

But who might make a surprise appearance? It’s a long shot, but it would be great to see Devery Jacobs from “Reservation Dogs” compete in this category. The FX on Hulu show, which centers on a group of Indigenous teens and their community on an Oklahoma reservation, garnered near-universal acclaim over the course of its three-season run, which ended last September. But so far, it’s failed to gain Emmys traction. 

It’s absolutely time for the Academy to recognize the series, and honoring Jacobs’ performance as Elora Danan Postoak would be a great way to do so. The actor, who also wrote and directed on the show, turned in a deeply felt portrayal of a girl at a crossroads; along the way, she never lost the wry humor that defined the character. 

There’s also a good chance that “SNL” alums (and good friends) Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph will go head-to-head for their performances on Apple TV+’s “Palm Royale” and “Loot,” respectively. Another potential usurper could arrive from Down Under: Harriet Dyer of Binge and Foxtell’s “Colin From Accounts,” which she created alongside her husband (and co-star), Patrick Brammall. 

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Dyer stars as Ashley, a medical student who flashes her boob at Gordon, a cute microbrewery owner, causing him to accidentally injure a dog with his car. In the wake of the accident, the two enter into a quasi-relationship in order to save the pup. As you might expect from a real-life couple, the two actors share a wonderful chemistry. Dyer in particular is a comedic wonder; there’s a scene involving poop that’s ridiculously funny.

In the lead actor in a comedy category, Jeremy Allen White will likely win his second Emmy for his performance as tortured chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto on “The Bear.” (He’s also won basically every other award he’s been up for.) A group of comedy vets—Larry David for the final season of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Steve Martin and Martin Short for Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building”—will probably round out the category.

Jacobs’ “Reservation Dogs” costar D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai would be a welcome surprise nominee. Voters could also be drawn to Jharrel Jerome’s work on Prime Video’s “I’m a Virgo.” (The actor previously won lead actor in a limited series for Netflix’s “When They See Us.”) Jerome emotionally grounds his unusual character, a 13-foot-tall Black teen named Cootie.

I'm a Virgo

Courtesy Prime Video

The drama series races experienced a shakeup when Hulu on FX’s “Shōgun,” which was originally slated to be a limited series, announced a second season. Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks’ critically acclaimed historical epic seems poised to take over for HBO’s “Succession” as the Emmys’ drama juggernaut (especially if the Academy’s affection for Netflix’s “The Crown” has waned during its final season). 

Hiroyuki Sanada’s work as Lord Toranaga on “Shōgun” could very well win him the Emmy, and Cosmo Jarvis may also make an appearance in the category for his turn as British interloper John Blackthorne. 

The reign of “Shōgun” could spell bad news for stars on the nominations bubble, such as Tom Hiddleston (“Loki”), Morgan Spector (“The Gilded Age”), and Walton Goggins (“Fallout”). However, Sanada and Jarvis could have major competition from Oscar winner Gary Oldman for his turn as Jackson Lamb on the Apple TV+ spy drama “Slow Horses,” which has been quietly amassing a dedicated group of fans. 

Anna Sawai of “Shōgun” will likely net a leading actress in a drama nomination alongside Emma Stone, who’s looking to follow up her Oscar win for “Poor Things” with an Emmy nod for “The Curse.” Benny Safdie and Nathan Fielder, who co-created and star on the exquisitely bizarre Showtime series, could also sneak into their respective categories. 

Carrie Preston may make an unexpected appearance in the lead actress race for her delightful turn as the titular lawyer-cum-sleuth on CBS’s “Elsbeth”—especially since the Academy is often eager to reward a network television hit. 

Baby Reindeer

Credit: Ed Miller/Netflix

The acting in a limited series or movie categories have also experienced a late-in-the-race shakeup. For a while, it looked like the lead actor competition would be a battle between Jon Hamm (“Fargo”) and Andrew Scott (“Ripley”); but then Netflix’s “Baby Reindeer” entered the picture. Based on a true story, Richard Gadd’s miniseries about a man (Gadd) and his stalker (Martha Scott) became such a phenomenon that it’s hard to call it an upstart; but it feels like a shaggier entry than its more polished opponents. That said, it wouldn’t come out of the blue if Gadd, who based the show on his own experiences, ends up winning the category.

Gunning could also take home the statuette for supporting actress, though it’s mostly a battle among heavy hitters—including Oscar winners Jodie Foster (as an Alaskan cop investigating a horrifying crime on HBO’s “True Detective: Night Country”) and Brie Larson (as a brilliant scientist-turned–TV host on Apple TV+’s “Lessons in Chemistry”). But don’t discount two other Oscar—and Emmy—winners: Kate Winslet for her turn as a mad dictator on HBO’s “The Regime” and Jessica Lange for the Max TV movie “The Great Lillian Hall,” in which she plays a Broadway actor grappling with a failing memory. 

All we can hope is that we’ll have something unexpected to talk about when nominations are announced on July 17.

This story originally appeared in the June 20 issue of Backstage Magazine.