"Game of Thrones" or "The Handmaid's Tale"? "Atlanta" or "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"?
The best drama and comedy series races for television's highest honours are too close to call ahead of Monday's Emmy awards, where the field is so packed with quality contenders that some shows may leave empty-handed.
Monday's ceremony isn't just about the winners. "Saturday Night Live" stars Michael Che and Colin Jost host for the first time on an evening where barbs about U.S. President Donald Trump and other topical issues are expected to feature.
"They are outrageous political satirists and if they don't shine on stage in that way, people will be disappointed," said Tom O'Neil, editor of awards website goldderby.com.
HBO's crowd-pleasing medieval series "Game of Thrones" goes into Monday's ceremony with a leading 22 nominations, but awards pundits say it faces a strong challenge from streaming service Hulu's bleak "The Handmaid's Tale" for the best-drama series Emmy.
The latest season of "Game of Thrones" aired almost a year ago and may suffer for being out of sight and out of mind, IndieWire Executive Editor Michael Schneider said.
"'Handmaid's Tale' is a newer show. It won last year (in its first season) and it still feels very timely and part of the conversation," he said.
"Handmaid's Tale" star Elisabeth Moss could also be a repeat Emmy winner. Yet the drama actress field is particularly strong with contenders Claire Foy as the quietly formidable Queen Elizabeth in Netflix royal series "The Crown," Keri Russell in her final turn as a ruthless Russian spy living as an ordinary American housewife in FX's "The Americans", and Sandra Oh, who could become the first woman of Asian descent to win a best-actress drama series Emmy, in BBC America's "Killing Eve."
While the Emmys are known for surprises, some actors appear to be shoo-ins for the statuette. Donald Glover is expected to be named best comedy actor for "Atlanta," the absurdist FX show about life on the margins of the hip-hop community, which he also created. "Atlanta" could also win best comedy series.
"It's very daring. It's not a conventional comedy in any way," O'Neil said of the show.
Rachel Brosnahan is widely favoured as best comedy actress for playing an exuberant 1950s housewife who turns to stand-up after her husband leaves her in Amazon's "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," while Darren Criss is a favourite in his role as a gay serial killer in FX's limited series "The Assassination of Gianni Versace."
NBC's sentimental family show "This is Us" could bring repeat honours for Sterling K. Brown as empathetic dad Randall Pearson.
"Sterling K. Brown is a shoo-in whenever there is an award. People just love him," said Schneider.
Veterans returning to the spotlight include former "Happy Days" star Henry Winkler as a self-important acting coach in HBO's satire "Barry," Tony Shaloub in "Mrs. Maisel" and former "Cheers" actor Ted Danson for comedy "The Good Place."
The Emmy Awards will be broadcast live on M-Net channel 101 DStv on Tuesday, 18 September at 2am, with a delayed additional airing on the same day at 9pm.Reuters