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Five things to watch for at this year’s Emmy Awards

Can ‘Atlanta’ break through? And how will the Glover brothers handle the competition?

It seems like we’re all going to end up sucked into a mushroom cloud or stranded on an ice floe eventually. But right now, we have TV. So let’s rearrange some deck chairs and discuss the Emmys!

The strongest categories are the comedy ones, which are overflowing with good, smart, timely options, so at least we’ll be going to meet our makers with smiles on our faces. Saturday Night Live, with 23 nominations, is favored to bring in a big haul in the variety and comedy categories.

Here are five things to expect from the Sunday night broadcast from CBS, hosted by Stephen Colbert:

  • Stiff competition for outstanding comedy series. I’m wondering how this will shake out, given the nominee list: Atlanta (FX), black-ish (ABC), Master of None (Netflix), Modern Family (ABC), Silicon Valley (HBO), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) and Veep (HBO). Modern Family has been the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ favorite for longer than is justifiable, but Atlanta’s first season was so distinctive and so unlike anything else on television, maybe, just maybe, it will have a shot.
  • The possibility of a really special moment for Lena Waithe. She is the first black woman nominated for best writing in a comedy series for the touching Thanksgiving episode of Master of None. Donald Glover and his brother Stephen Glover are both nominated in this category as well for Atlanta, and frankly, if Stephen wins, it’ll be the best thing for healthy sibling rivalries since the Williams sisters. Donald is nominated in multiple categories though, so maybe they’ll come out even.
  • Some wackiness from Tracee Ellis Ross. Even if she doesn’t win the comedy actress category, Ellis Ross is consistently one of the best people to watch during awards shows. One, her face is elastic, and two, she’s down for just about anything. (Dear Saturday Night Live bookers: Take heed.)
  • A battle between Thandie Newton (Westworld) and Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) for supporting actress in a drama series. I’m giving Dowd the edge with this one, just because Aunt Lydia is the scary dystopian nun who will haunt your dreams forever and ever. But Newton’s work in Westworld was the most impressive I’ve seen in her career.
  • Cutting up from Anthony Anderson if he wins for actor in a comedy series. Remember his interpretive dancing to Ellis Ross’ singing at the 2015 BET Awards? Again, the competition is ridiculous: Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Zach Galifianakis (Baskets), Donald Glover (Atlanta), William H. Macy (Shameless), and Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent).

As far as I know, no one’s figured out a way to clone Michael K. Williams, who co-starred alongside John Turturro and Riz Ahmed in HBO’s The Night Of. So I do have a request for the future, which is that networks start hiring more minority actors (and telling stories about people of color) for the buzzy limited series they’re doing. Aside from comedy, the limited series categories are among the most interesting and have consistently been offering rich, meaty television work.

Big Little Lies was a triumph for Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman. But it didn’t serve Zoë Kravitz nearly as well, and it showed when this year’s Emmy nominations were announced. Bokeem Woodbine shone as Mike Milligan in the second season of Fargo and was nominated for an Emmy, which he lost to Sterling K. Brown for his work in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Fair enough, but after Noah Hawley and company proved they could successfully incorporate a black man into the lily-white world of Fargo, I wish they’d bothered to repeat that decision in its third and most recent season.

This year’s nominees in the Limited Series category: Big Little Lies (HBO), Fargo (FX), Feud: Bette and Joan (FX), The Night Of (HBO) and Genius (National Geographic) are pretty much centered on whiteness, with The Night Of being the sole exception. After last year’s recognition for artists of color, I’d hate to see the Emmys go back to a tokenized status quo.

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the culture critic for The Undefeated. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts, and literature. She's based in Brooklyn.