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2022 Emmys Preview: Handicapping the Drama Categories

Succession leads the field with a whopping 25 nominations. Can anyone else compete?
  • Photos: HBO, AMC
    Photos: HBO, AMC

    Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz. Over the coming weeks Joe will be looking at the competition in each of the major categories at this year's 74th Annual Emmy Awards. This week: Drama Series.

    For better or worse, sweeps have been the recent trend at the Emmys. Two years ago, Schitt's Creek won every single major award in the comedy categories. Last year, The Crown did basically the same thing among dramas. If there's any show that's going to pull a similar feat at the 2022 Emmys, it's HBO's Succession, which picked up a boatload of nominations: 25, in all.

    So what does that mean for everybody else? 2021-22 was a very strong year for TV, and the drama categories represent some of the year's very best, including freshman series like Severance, Yellowjackets, and Squid Game. They're up against veteran series going out with either a bang (Better Call Saul), a whimper (Killing Eve), or a trusty blue filter (Ozark).

    So which shows are poised to triumph in each of the three top drama categories?

    Outstanding Drama Series

    • Better Call Saul (AMC)
    • Euphoria (HBO)
    • Ozark (Netflix)
    • Severance (Apple TV+)
    • Squid Game (Netflix)
    • Stranger Things (Netflix)
    • Succession (HBO)
    • Yellowjackets (Showtime)

    The Frontrunner: With 25 total nominations — more than any other single program this year — and a record-setting 14 acting nominations, you'd be crazy not to call Succession the heavy favorite. After winning Outstanding Drama Series in 2020, it wasn't eligible last year, and the show that won in its place — Netflix's The Crown — isn't eligible this year, leaving the lane wide open.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: In the incredibly unlikely scenario that Succession doesn't triumph, it probably won't be last-gasp efforts by Better Call Saul or Ozark that do, and although the youth appeal of Euphoria and the thrill of the first season of Yellowjackets make them stand outs, they probably don't have enough support to win. The true spoiler is probably Squid Game, which was a legitimate phenomenon in its first season and could harness whatever non-Succession momentum exists out there.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: Unlikely as it might be, Better Call Saul winning its first Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series mere weeks after its series finale would be a big and sentimental moment.

    Stat to Chew On: Even though Netflix's nomination-total slide over the last two years has made for bad headlines, three nominated dramas is nothing to sneeze at. This is the fifth consecutive year that Netflix has had multiple nominees in the Outstanding Drama Series category, the longest such streak since NBC had eight consecutive years of multiple nominated dramas, during the 1995-2002 heyday of E.R. and Law & Order.

    Prediction: Get ready for Succession to tell the rest of the nominees to f*ck off.

    Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series

    • Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde on Ozark
    • Brian Cox as Logan Roy on Succession
    • Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun on Squid Game
    • Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman on Better Call Saul
    • Adam Scott as Mark Scout on Severance
    • Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy on Succession

    The Frontrunner: Jeremy Strong triumphed for Succession two years ago, after Kendall spent half of Season 2 as a kicked puppy and sang the world's cringiest rap song for his dad. Season 3 was even more impressive for Strong, and after that whole dust-up with the New Yorker profile, so many celebrities came rushing to Strong's "defense" that one imagines he's amassed quite a fan club in the industry.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: There are a few ways that Strong's repeat Emmy bid could falter. One is that his on-screen dad Brian Cox could snatch the trophy away, which would feel all too appropriate. There's also Lee Jung-jae, who won the Screen Actors Guild award over both Cox and Strong back in February. And then there's also the sentimental option…

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: The reasons to root for Bob Okenkirk to finally bring home an Emmy for his portrayal of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman are plentiful. It would be the culmination of almost 15 years of amazing work. It would also be an amazing TV moment for an actor who recovered from an on-set heart attack and returned to the role fans love him for.

    Stat to Chew On: With his nomination in this category, Lee Jung-jae became the first Korean actor to be nominated for an Emmy.

    Prediction: It's by no means a lock, but with Jeremy Strong performing at an even higher level than when he won, he's probably got the edge.

    Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series

    • Jodie Comer as Villanelle on Killing Eve
    • Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde on Ozark
    • Melanie Lynskey as Shauna Sadecki on Yellowjackets
    • Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri on Killing Eve
    • Reese Witherspoon as Bradley Jackson on The Morning Show
    • Zendaya as Rue Bennett on Euphoria

    The Frontrunner: Honestly? This race is incredibly wide open. Last year's winner was Olivia Colman for The Crown, so that can't happen again. The year before, the trophy went to Zendaya in a shocking turn of events that places her at the head of the pack this season — especially with Euphoria showing up even stronger in its overall nomination tally for its second season.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Here's where things get very interesting,. The only nominee we can probably count out is Witherspoon, since even Morning Show fans are puzzled why she got nominated over co-star Jennifer Aniston. Elsewhere, this is Laura Linney's last chance to win an Emmy for Ozark (although she's won four times for other projects.) Killing Eve ended on a bum note for many fans, making the nominations for Comer and Oh somewhat surprising, but the Emmys have been in love with that show long past the point when it fell out of favor with critics, so don't count out a last-gasp win for either actress. The most likely spoiler — bordering on co-favorite with Zendaya — might be Melanie Lynskey, who won the Critics Choice Award in this category earlier this year and gave a tremendously endearing speech that might have Emmy voters looking for a repeat.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: Perhaps the biggest feel-good win in this field would be Sandra Oh, who is now on her 10th Emmy nomination for acting, without ever having won. Although she'll likely have plenty more chances to vie for a trophy, this is her last hurrah as Eve Polastri, the role for which she was widely expected to win back in 2019. (Her Killing Eve co-star Jodie Comer won instead.)

    Stat to Chew On: None of this year's six nominees were nominated last year, marking the first time there's been zero carry-over from one year to the next in this category since way back in 1965. (The Emmys radically changed format that year, with only one category for performances across all genres and formats.)

    Prediction: This one is a real toss-up and could go in any direction, but I'm putting my chips on Melanie Lynskey to walk away an Emmy winner.

    The 74th Primetime Emmy Awards are scheduled to air September 12th on NBC.

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, Better Call Saul, Euphoria, Ozark, Severance, Squid Game, Succession, Yellowjackets, Bob Odenkirk, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Jodie Comer, Laura Linney, Lee Jung-jae, Melanie Lynskey, Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Oh, Zendaya