Storylines to watch at Emmys: ‘Ted Lasso’ vs. ‘Barry,’ ‘Succession’ vs. ‘Squid Game’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Emmy Dramas (Part 1)

The 74th annual Primetime Emmy Awards will air on Monday night at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles with the live broadcast starting at 8 p.m. on NBC and on Peacock.

The ceremony will be hosted by “Saturday Night Live” star Kenan Thompson.

Here are some of the top storylines to follow in the major categories:

Outstanding Drama Series

HBO’s family dynasty drama “Succession” enters the night with the most nominations with 25. It also has the cache of having won the top prize two years ago, so with last year’s winner “The Crown” out of the running, we could see “Succession” reclaim its throne.

While the first two seasons powerfully built to Kendall Roy’s gutsy press conference about his father’s media empire, I found Season 3 to be glacially paced and repetitive. Rather than “Succession” repeating, I’d rather see a farewell pick like “Ozark” (Netflix) or “Better Call Saul” (AMC), two crime dramas that had fans buzzing until their final cuts to black.

Also in the running are “Severance” (Apple TV+), giving new meaning to work-life balance; “Yellowjackets” (Showtime) about a teen soccer team surviving a plane crash; “Stranger Things” (Netflix), the sci-fi smash whose best days are behind it; and “Euphoria” (HBO), which feels more like a contender in the acting categories than for the top prize.

As for an upset special, I’m going with South Korea’s “Squid Game” (Netflix) about bankrupt adults competing in deadly children’s games. It’s already made history as the first non-English-language series to be nominated for Outstanding TV Drama. How cool would it be for South Korea to make further history after “Parasite” won at the Oscars in 2020?

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

It’s hard to believe but Brian Cox ( “Succession”) has never won as Logan Roy. Wait, didn’t we see him giving acceptance speeches? Ahh, that was his Best Actor win at the Golden Globes. Co-star Jeremy Strong is nominated again after winning the Emmy two years ago, meaning they could split the vote this year, allowing another actor to slide in for the win.

That leaves us with Jason Bateman, who’s never won as money-laundering Marty Byrde in “Ozark,” and Bob Odenkirk, who’s never won as hotshot lawyer Saul Goodman in “Better Call Saul.” Both have won past Emmys in other categories: Bateman for directing an episode of “Ozark,” and Odenkirk twice as a writer on “SNL” and “The Ben Stiller Show.”

However, the Emmys could opt for new blood by choosing Adam Scott in “Severance” or Lee Jung-jae in “Squid Game” after his big win earlier this year at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Anyone who’s seen his harrowing performance knows that he’s deserving, fearing certain machine-gun death by teetering off-balance during a bloody game of Red Rover.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Last year’s winner Olivia Colman ( “The Crown”) isn’t in the running this year, so a pair of previous winners reemerge as front runners. First, we have fan favorite Zendaya, who won in 2020 for playing a recovering teen drug addict in “Euphoria.” It’s the type of deliciously dangerous role that voters tend to reward, so Zendaya’s rising star may be hard to stop.

The other previous winner is Jodie Comer, who won in 2019 as the psycho assassin in “Killing Eve.” She’ll again battle co-star Sandra Oh, who’s never won despite 10 acting nominations in “Killing Eve,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “SNL.” It’s not a good sign that “Killing Eve” isn’t nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, so I doubt Comer or Oh will win.

That leaves us with Reese Witherspoon for “The Morning Show” (Apple TV+) or Melanie Lynskey for “Yellowjackets,” but the most likely pick to upset Zendaya is Laura Linney as sinister matriarch Wendy Byrde in “Ozark.” She’s won three Emmys in various miniseries and guest roles, but she’s never won the big one in the lead actress category.

Outstanding Comedy Series

On the comedy side, defending champ “Ted Lasso” (Apple TV+) is the front-runner as Season 2 was just as hilarious as Season 1. The writing may have dipped into salacious subplots, but the series took tons of risks by exploring Ted’s panic attacks with a therapist and devoting entire episodes to exploring the lives of the team’s assistant coaches.

However, “Barry” (HBO) is back after a long hiatus between Season 2 and 3 that felt like forever. The show brilliantly juggles the laughs and thrills of a hitman-turned-actor, but it’s never won the top prize. Season 3 could do the job, expanding NoHo Hank and deepening the grudge between Barry and Mr. Cousineau, all with a laugh-out-loud pack of dogs.

My upset pick is ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” shot in a mockumentary style like “The Office.” It’d be a rare win for network TV against streamers like “Only Murders in the Building” (Hulu) and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon) and cable contenders include FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” and HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Hacks.”

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Jason Sudeikis is the defending champ for his lovable American football coach turned British soccer coach in “Ted Lasso.” He could very well repeat, considering he’s doing much heavier lifting in Season 2, trading his hilarious, pollyannaish optimism for deeper character work exploring the root of his panic attacks and underlying personal trauma.

Granted Sudeikis has never had to compete against Bill Hader, who’s never lost as Barry Berkman in “Barry,” winning in 2018 and 2019 before the show’s long break. Could Hader go three for three? After all, his character got deeper and darker this season with violent outbursts toward his girlfriend Sally and a teary “I love you” to mentor Henry Winkler.

If Sudeikis and Hader are deemed more dark than funny, voters could opt for the delightful Steve Martin and Martin Short in “Only Murders in the Building.” The two comedy legends could cancel each other out, making room for Nicholas Hoult in “The Great” (Hulu) or previous winner Donald Glover to win again for “Atlanta” (FX) as it enters its final season.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Finally in the lead actress comedy category, Jean Smart is the defending champ for her role as the veteran Las Vegas stand-up comedian in “Hacks.” She’ll be competing against previous winner Rachel Brosnahan, who won in 2018 as a housewife turned stand-up comedian in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Will the real stand-up comic please stand up?

They’ll battle against Kaley Cuoco in “The Flight Attendant” (HBO), showing range after years of network sitcom work on “The Big Bang Theory,” and Elle Fanning in “The Great” (Hulu), proving that she’s more than just the younger sister of Dakota Fanning with a true breakout role as Catherine the Great in this anti-historical, black-comedy satire.

Still, I’m predicting an actress of color. Issa Rae is overdue for creating and starring in “Insecure,” but my prediction is Quinta Brunson for creating and starring in “Abbott Elementary.” While Janelle James gets the flashier role as the cocky principal, Brunson’s second-grade teacher Janine is the glue that holds the school and the show together.

Follow my live tweets @JFrayWTOP starting at 8 p.m.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Emmy Comedies (Part 2)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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