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Emmys Preview: Is It Safe to Get Your Hopes Up for Billy Porter?

Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series is poised to be one of the most closely-watched contests this year.
  • Billy Porter photographed during a June 14, 2019 appearance on The View. (Walt Disney Television/Paula Lobo)
    Billy Porter photographed during a June 14, 2019 appearance on The View. (Walt Disney Television/Paula Lobo)

    The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards are coming at us in just a short few weeks. And whether you're gearing up for an office pool or just playing a private game of "toldja so" with the know-it-alls on Twitter, it's good to know how the races are shaping up. It's so much better to go into an awards show being able to tell the favorites from the underdogs. Then, when a Melissa McCarthy or a Merritt Wever or a Kyle Chandler end up winning, you'll have an even better appreciation of what this moment means to the people involved.

    With that in mind, Primetimer is breaking down this year's major Emmy categories. Who are the favorites? The underdogs? What's the story for each of these races?

    Lead Actor in a Drama is one of those categories that most interestingly opened up with the exodus of buzzy dramas into the next year of eligibility. While many expected a nomination ot two for Brian Cox and/or Jeremy Strong for Succession, instead the two This Is Us leads stuck around, and one very deserving long shot made the cut. Suddenly, a race without a frontrunner became the category where Billy Porter was suddenly a contender. But he'll have to fend off Netflix's chosen drama and a beloved actor who's thus far gone Emmy-less. This should be an exciting category, and maybe the only one where Game of Thrones is an afterthought.

    Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series

    • Jason Bateman in Ozark
    • Sterling K. Brown in This Is Us
    • Kit Harington in Game of Thrones
    • Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul
    • Billy Porter in Pose
    • Milo Ventimiglia in This Is Us

    Last Year's Winner: Matthew Rhys won for the final season of The Americans, leaving Sterling K. Brown as the only 2019 nominee who's won this category before.

    Nominees' Pedigree:

    • Bob Odenkirk: 15 In addition to eight total nominations for Better Call Saul (acting and producing), Odenkirk has been an Emmy-nominated writer for Saturday Night Live, Mr. Show, and The Ben Stiller Show, for which he won his very deserved lone Emmy award.
    • Jason Bateman: 7, which includes two Best Actor nominations eight years apart for Arrested Development.
    • Sterling K. Brown: 5 He's won twice, once for This Is Us, and once for his breakthrough performance as Christopher Darden in The People vs. O.J. Simpson.
    • Milo Ventimiglia: 3 With apologies to Gilmore Girls and Heroes, all three of Milo's nods have come for This Is Us.
    • Kit Harington: 2 Harington's only previous Emmy nod came three years ago in the Supporting Actor category.
    • Billy Porter: 1 While he's a Tony-winning Broadway star, this is Porter's first Emmy nod.

    The Frontrunner: The awards experts at Gold Derby are split among three actors, but the majority have Billy Porter winning his first Emmy for his knockout performance as Pray Tell in Pose.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: This might be one of the most up-in-the-air categories this year, so "likely" is relative. If you'd asked me on nomination day, I'd have pegged Porter as the stalking horse, considering Ozark, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, and This Is Us ALL showed up better in the other categories. But Porter's star is ascendant, and the episode he submitted — where Pray organized a benefit concert for the AIDS wing of the hospital — is a great emotional showcase. If I'm to pick one most-likely spoiler, I'd caution everyone not to underestimate Ozark. Not only has Bateman been nominated in Best Actor for each of its first two seasons, but also Best Directing. The Emmys really like him.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: Hands down, the sentimental option is Bob Odenkirk, who's been playing Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill for a decade. He's been nominated for every eligible Better Call Saul season, and now the category is as wide open as it's been for him. The one big drawback to an Odenkirk win is that we haven't gotten a new Saul episode since early October. The buzz has gone cold.

    Stat to Chew On: Lead Actor is the only Drama category where Netflix hasn't won an Emmy (Claire Foy for The Crown in Lead Actress, Uzo Aduba for Orange Is the New Black in Supporting Actress, and Ben Mendelsohn for Bloodline in Supporting Actor), so Jason Bateman would complete the quartet.

    Prediction: I guess the question is: do you trust the Emmys. Me, I've been burned so many times before. The stars certainly seem to be aligning for Billy Porter to win what would be a truly groundbreaking victory for queer actors of color, and an incredibly deserved victory besides. You'd like to think that would be enough. I worry about a Jason Bateman upset that would have scores of Twitter users cursing Ozark out loud. I'll predict Billy Porter, but I'll prepare for disaster.

    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: 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Ozark, Pose, This Is Us, Billy Porter, Bob Odenkirk, Jason Bateman, Kit Harington, Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown