Your 2018 Emmys Crash Course

A roundup of all The Atlantic’s best stories to get up to speed in time for TV’s biggest awards show

The Emmys hosts, Colin Jost and Michael Che
The Emmys hosts, Colin Jost and Michael Che (Jordan Strauss / Invision for the Television Academy / AP Images)

The 70th Primetime Emmys are just a day away, and the annual awards show has already made history with a slew of first-time nominations and an EGOT win for John Legend. But before the main event kicks off on Monday, get up to speed with this roundup of pieces by Atlantic writers about the biggest shows, stars, and networks that are vying for a golden statuette.

Consider this your Emmys 2018 crash course.

Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Game of Thrones (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Most Nominated

Seven years after its premiere, HBO’s Game of Thrones is still leading the pack, with 22 Emmy nominations, though it’s followed closely by two other fan favorites, Westworld and Saturday Night Live, which have scooped up 21 nods each.

Game of Thrones is competing for another Outstanding Drama Series award, which it has already won twice. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, and Lena Headey are all nominated for their supporting performances as the Lannister siblings in the fantasy show’s seventh and penultimate season. (For a refresher on everything that happened in Westeros last year, read our writers’ reviews here.)

Another HBO hit, the puzzle-obsessed drama Westworld, is also vying for the top drama prize; its second season led to lead-acting nominations for Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, and Evan Rachel Wood, as well as a supporting-actress nomination for Thandie Newton. This year, our writers unpacked every episode, while The Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber wrote about the show’s complicated exploration of virtual reality.

NBC’s Saturday Night Live, a veteran in the Emmys circuit, boasts nominations for the main cast members Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, and Kenan Thompson. Alec Baldwin, whose Donald Trump impressions “got under Trump’s skin,” also received a nod for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

With 20 nominations, The Handmaid’s Tale is relatively fresh off its Season 2 finale, which Sophie Gilbert called “maddening.” The Hulu series, which won eight Emmys last year, continued to tackle deeply relevant topics such as reproductive rights, sexual assault, and immigration and family separation in its latest season. In addition to a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series, which it won last year, the show garnered acting nods for Ann Dowd, Alexis Bledel, Yvonne Strahovski, and Joseph Fiennes. Elisabeth Moss could also be a repeat winner for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series trophy.

FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace, the second season of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s American Crime Story, rounds out the list of the top five most nominated shows. Set in the ’90s in Miami, the series, which picked up 18 nods, melds visual opulence and societal critique with sensitivity as it depicts the murder of the famed fashion designer.

Will Keen, Claire Foy, and Matt Smith in The Crown (Coco Van Oppens / Netflix)

The Streaming Heavyweights

With shows like The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon haven’t let the big cable and broadcast networks forget the growing dominance of streaming TV.

Netflix boasts a whopping total of 112 nominations. With popular shows like The Crown, Stranger Things, and GLOW, the streaming giant edged out HBO’s 108 nominations. In the second season of Peter Morgan’s The Crown, Claire Foy reprises her role as Queen Elizabeth II as she grapples with her continually changing role within the monarchy. (Gilbert describes The Crown as “Netflix’s best superhero show,” one that’s unflinchingly detailed in its depiction of the British monarch.) The Crown is in the running for Outstanding Drama Series, while Foy may take home a lead-actress award. Matt Smith and Vanessa Kirby are also nominated for their supporting performances.

Stranger Things, a contender for Outstanding Drama Series, saw its gripping second season take a dark turn, exploring the aftereffects of physical and emotional trauma through a new monster even more frightening than the Demogorgon of Season 1. Both Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour are nominated for their supporting roles as Eleven and Jim Hopper, respectively.

Netflix’s Godless also raked in nominations in the limited-series-or-movie category. When it premiered, Gilbert wrote about how the “quietly revolutionary” drama challenges the mythology of the Old West as an embodiment of American values, and more honestly depicts history in a “stylish, cinematic” way.

Liz Flahive and and Carly Mensch’s GLOW rounds out Netflix’s slate of most nominated shows. The second season about the ’80s women’s-wrestling league is notable for how it explores the friendship between Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin), and the myriad complications—and opportunities—for women in the workplace.

For Amazon, the breakout dramedy series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel garnered five comedy nominations. The newest show from the Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is insistently cheerful, propelled by Rachel Brosnahan’s strong performance as Midge Maisel. (Caitlin Flanagan posits that Mrs. Maisel may, in fact, “be the first woman who really does have it all.”)

Sandra Oh in Killing Eve (BBC America)

The Firsts

John Legend can officially add an EGOT to his lengthy list of accomplishments. Last Sunday, he became the first black man to have the title when he received a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special for Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, which he co-produced and starred in. (The co-producers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice also reached EGOT status with their collective Emmy win.)

Also making history is Sandra Oh, who is the first Asian woman to be nominated for a lead-actress role in a drama series. Oh stars as the MI6 investigator Eve Polastri in BBC America’s Killing Eve, a subversive, dark, and stylish show. This isn’t Oh’s first Emmy nod (she received five supporting-actress nominations as Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy), but her Killing Eve role could lead to her first Emmy win on Monday.

New to the Emmys circuit are Darren Criss, Penélope Cruz, and Ricky Martin, who all received their first-time acting nominations for their performances on The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Issa Rae, who is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, is also poised to win her first Emmy as Issa Dee in her breakthrough HBO show Insecure, which follows two black women as they navigate life and love in modern day Los Angeles. (In an interview with Julia Ioffe, Rae discussed the L.A. films and shows that have influenced her writing.)

The industry veteran Kenan Thompson is also finally being recognized for his work as the longest-running cast member on Saturday Night Live (which wrapped a middling 43rd season this summer, as David Sims wrote). Along with his co-star Aidy Bryant, who is up for her first supporting-actress award, Thompson was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

Sean Hayes, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, and Megan Mullally in Will & Grace (Chris Haston / NBC)

A Year of Reboots

What’s old is new, and this year’s Emmys is recognizing the number of rebooted shows that have adapted—successfully or not—to current cultural conversations.

Netflix’s Queer Eye, an updated take on Bravo’s early-2000s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, found massive popularity with its new Fab Five. The second season premiered in June (just four short months after the wildly successful first season), and won a Creative Arts Emmy last Sunday for Outstanding Structured Reality Program.

Max Mutchnick and David Kohan’s early-’00s sitcom Will & Grace reemerged last September with Eric McCormack and Debra Messing reprising their titular roles. Season 9 maintains the NBC show’s “merrily slapstick and absurdly wacky” nature, as Megan Garber observes, but there’s a noticeably darker undertone as story lines reference Donald Trump and contemporary politics. Megan Mullally and Molly Shannon are both up for acting awards.

And then there was Roseanne. The ABC comedy was rebooted with the full cast in March, but a racist tweet from the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, ultimately led the network to cancel the series in May. At the time, Sims argued that ABC knew it was taking a gamble with Barr, who had already made a number of racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic statements prior to the show’s reboot. Though the network is pursuing a different revival about the Conner family without Barr, Laurie Metcalf is still up for a supporting-actress Emmy for her role as Jackie in the reboot.

The 70th Primetime Emmys, hosted by Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost and Michael Che, will air on September 17 at 5/8 p.m. PT/ET on NBC. Stay tuned for The Atlantic’s coverage on Monday, where our culture writers will analyze the biggest moments from the awards show.