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Squid Game Is Suddenly a Dark Horse Favorite at the 74th Emmys

Nominations are still months away, but some leading contenders are coming into focus.
  • Squid Game's Lee Jung Jae is leading contender at the 74th Emmy Awards following his recent SAG win. (Photo: Netflix)
    Squid Game's Lee Jung Jae is leading contender at the 74th Emmy Awards following his recent SAG win. (Photo: Netflix)

    Hollywood may be knee-deep in the lead-up to the 94th Academy Awards, but along the way buzz has begun building for this year's early Emmy contenders. We asked Primetimer managing editor Joe Reid (who's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz) to give us an early lay of the land.

    Traditionally it's been the unfortunate fate for TV shows that they end up almost completely swallowed up by the movies at the SAG Awards. It makes sense: we're all in the throes of Oscar fever, movie stars are glitzier and more glamorous (though that's not always the case anymore), and the TV season is still very much in progress. Still, amid all this year's Oscars hype for Jessica Chastain and Will Smith and the cast of CODA, there was actually a lot to celebrate for some of TV's biggest shows at last weekend's SAG Awards, particularly Squid Game, Netflix's South Korean survival drama that became a sensation last fall and which took home three SAG Awards, the most of any other TV show.

    As the SAGs tend to portend the Oscars, it's natural to wonder what Squid Game's triumph means for its possible Emmy chances later this year. The Emmy eligibility window runs through the end of May, so while we're still several months away from having a complete picture of all eligible shows, we do have a pretty good idea of what's set to premiere over the next few months, which means this year's top Emmy contenders are starting to shape up. The big SAG night for Squid Game — and also Succession, which took home the award for Outstanding Drama Series Ensemble — put the spotlight on TV Dramas, so that's what I'll be looking at in this first in a series of early Emmy previews.

    The big question is whether Squid Game has now catapulted itself to the top of the Emmys race. It was already expected to be a major contender given that Netflix has been touting it as their #1 show of all time. The only thing that might have held it back was the fact that it doesn't have Hollywood stars in it. But the SAG Awards may have neutralized that deficit, with stars Lee Jung-jae and HoYeon Jung triumphing in Lead Actor and Lead Actress, in addition to the show's win for Best Stunt Ensemble. Lee and Jung gave tremendously charming speeches that seemed to be big hits with the celebrities in the room.

    Really, at this point the only thing standing between Squid Game and true frontrunner status is Succession, which has retained all the buzz from its third season last fall — especially after it ended on such a thrilling note. Succession's triumph in Best Ensemble, paired with Brian Cox's appreciative and globally conscious acceptance speech likely keeps it at the front of the pack.

    What the rest of that pack ends up looking like when Emmy nominations come out in July is anybody's guess, mostly because 90% of last year's Emmy nominees in the drama categories won't be eligible to compete this year. When it comes to the Emmys, the best predictor for future success is past success, and without that guidepost, this year's nominations could be pretty surprising. Consider this:

    Last Year's Outstanding Drama Series Nominees

    • The Crown
    • The Boys
    • Bridgerton
    • The Handmaid's Tale
    • Lovecraft Country
    • The Manadlorian
    • Pose
    • This Is Us

    Of this list, ONLY Bridgerton and This Is Us will be eligible to compete this year. Lovecraft Country was canceled, Pose ended after its third season, and the others — The Crown, The Boys, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Mandalorian — won't be back with new episodes until after the eligibility window closes in May. This impacts the acting categories as well, which will also be pretty much entirely swept clear of last year's nominees. Only TWO performers — This Is Us stars Sterling K. Brown and Chris Sullivan — will be eligible to be nominated again this year. (Bridgerton star Rege-Jean Page was a nominee in 2021, but he isn't in the show's new season.)

    So what does that mean for this year? For one thing, expect big things for Succession (which wasn't eligible last year). Emmy voters tend to reward a small number of shows in the acting categories (last year saw multiple noms go to cast members of The Crown and Ted Lasso), which plays right into one of Succession's biggest strengths: its deep ensemble. Expect both Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong to repeat their 2020 nominations in Lead Actor, and for 2020 Supporting Actor nominees Kieran Culkin, Nicholas Braun, and Matthew Macfadyen to possibly even be joined by Alan Ruck, while Sarah Snook and probably J. Smith-Cameron will show up in Supporting Actress.

    Squid Game, meanwhile, should easily snag an Outstanding Drama nomination, and will likely see nominations for SAG winners Lee Jung-jae and HoYeon Jung, as well as O Yeong-su, Park Haw-soo, and Heo Sung-tae.

    The SAG Awards were also a pretty good indicator that, despite negative reviews for its second season, The Morning Show will likely remain in the thick of the awards conversation. SAG nominees Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Billy Crudup could all be in contention once again, and season two newcomer Julianna Margulies is a heavy early favorite. Whether the Morning Show's coattails will still be long enough to include 2020 nominees Steve Carell and Mark Duplass promises to be an interesting open question over the next few months.

    One last SAG indicator was the Ensemble Cast nomination for Paramount's Yellowstone. With its most recent fourth season, TV's most-watched-least-talked-about series has tipped over into mainstream awareness, and this could well be the year the Emmys start paying attention as well, with Kevin Costner a possible contender in the Best Actor race, and Kelly Reilly in the mix for Supporting Actress.

    Of course, this far out from the eligibility deadline, there are quite a few other possible contenders. Some have already aired their seasons, some are airing now, and some will premiere over the next few months. A quick breakdown:

    Already Aired

    Succession, Squid Game, The Morning Show, and Yellowstone, as discussed above.

    Yellowjackets completed its hugely well-received debut season on Showtime in January and could score nominations for its stars, particularly Melanie Lynskey and Christina Ricci.

    Euphoria just completed its second season, which puts Zendaya back in the mix after her surprise Emmy triumph in 2020.

    Currently Airing

    This Is Us is in the middle of its final season, and although it's nowhere near the cultural talking point it once was, it's still going to end up in the thick of the Emmys conversation, even if there isn't much chance of a farewell surge in nominations.

    Killing Eve is currently airing its fourth and final season. Sandra Oh has been nominated for each of the previous three seasons, and Jodie Comer has joined her for two.

    The Gilded Age has been enjoyed a bit more than it's been respected, but Julian Fellowes had a golden touch with the Emmys when it came to Downton Abbey, so we wouldn't rule it out.

    Severance will likely take a back seat to big kahuna The Morning Show when it comes to Apple TV+'s Emmy campaigning, but the critics are majorly behind this one.

    Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty joins a crowded HBO stable campaigning for Emmys, but it's a big, starry cast, and L.A.-based Emmy voters do love their Lakers.

    Law & Order returned to NBC for its 21st season, and while it's not likely to return to the Emmys' good graces, it would be foolish to fully discount an 11-time Outstanding Drama nominee.

    Premiering Soon

    Better Call Saul returns for the first half of its sixth season on April 18th, and you can expect a wave of good vibes after Bob Odenkirk's on-set heart attack delayed production last year.

    Ozark dropped the first half of its fourth and final season on January 21st, and will premiere the final batch on April 29th. The show has been an Emmy powerhouse for a few years now, so expect Laura Linney, Jason Bateman, and Julia Garner to contend once again.

    Bridgerton returns for its sophomore season on March 25, and while Rege-Jean Page won't be around this time, there's every chance that audiences find themselves obsessed once again.

    Stranger Things will only get the first half of its fourth season out before the May 31st deadline, but it received Outstanding Drama Series nominations for each of its first three seasons.

    Gaslit is the Starz series based on the first season of the Slow Burn podcast, focusing on the Watergate break-in and the Nixon administration's cover-up. It's a starry affair, headlined by Julia Roberts and Sean Penn, and with an April 24th premiere, it's positioned to be one of the last big premieres before the Emmy cut-off.

    Obi-Wan Kenobi premieres on Disney+ on May 25th, and if it's well received — far from a given after seeing the response to The Book of Boba Fett — it could end up occupying The Mandalorian slot on the Emmy ballot.

    Nominations for the 74th Emmy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, with the ceremony to follow in September.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer 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, Bridgerton, Gaslit, Killing Eve, Law & Order, The Morning Show, Squid Game, Succession, This Is Us, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, Yellowjackets, Yellowstone