Sunday's Emmy Awards will honor the best achievements in television over the past year — and as we all know, it's increasingly difficult to stay caught up on all the shows that make a big splash heading into awards season. So we've put together this handy guide to 10 episodes of TV — aka less than 10 hours of programming — that will make you an expert on the nominees ahead of the big event. So get watching!
Major Nominations: Drama Series; Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Anthony Hopkins); Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Evan Rachel Wood); Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Jeffrey Wright); Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Thandie Newton)
Episode to Watch: "The Bicameral Mind"
It's difficult to pick just one episode that illustrates why Westworld earned a whopping 22 Emmy nominations (tying it with Saturday Night Live for the most-nominated program this year), but if you're paying attention to the biggest races, look no further than the Season 1 finale "The Bicameral Mind." In addition to being one of the episodes producers submitted to be considered for a drama series nod, it was also submitted in the directing and lead actress categories (the latter for Wood). In particular, the episode is a showcase for Wood's performance as Dolores, one of the "hosts" of the mysterious titular fantasyland. A spoiler warning though: "The Bicameral Mind" pulls back the entire curtain about what's going on in Westworld, so if you want to theorize for yourself it's probably best to start from the beginning!
Major Nominations: Limited Series; Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon); Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Judy Davis, Jackie Hoffman); Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Alfred Molina, Stanley Tucci)
Episode to Watch: "And the Winner Is..."
Travel back to the 1963 Oscars in the fifth episode of Ryan Murphy's exploration of the feud between Joan Crawford (Lange) and Bette Davis (Sarandon), which also received individual nods in the limited series writing and directing categories. The tension between the dramatized versions of Crawford and Davis is deliciously palpable as Joan schemes to steal the spotlight from Bette on Oscars night, despite not receiving a nomination. Fortunately there isn't as much animosity between Sarandon and Lange as they prepare to face off in the limited series lead actress race on Sunday.
Major Nominations: Limited Series; Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon); Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley); Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Alexander Skarsgard)
Episode to Watch: "Living the Dream"
With five acting nominations under its belt, not to matter nods for writing, directing and series, Big Little Lies is also difficult to narrow down to just one episode. But "Living the Dream," the third installment in HBO's adaptation of Liane Moriarty's novel, coalesces the dynamic among the four women at the heart of the show. In particular, Dern's desperate Renata and Witherspoon's maddeningly chirpy Madeline shine in this episode, which also sets up the show's central mystery and gives us a horrifying glimpse into the marriage of Celeste (Kidman) and Perry (Skarsgard, who used this as his For Your Consideration episode) as they attend couples counseling.
Major Nominations: Drama Series; Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Sterling K. Brown, Milo Ventimiglia); Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Ron Cephas Jones); Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Chrissy Metz)
Episode to Watch: "Memphis"
Though most of this year's major Emmy nominees (and all the other episodes on this list) require some sort of subscription service, there's no excuse if you've yet to watch This Is Us. NBC's breakout drama hit — the only broadcast show to earn a drama series nod this year — was a standout among last season's crop of freshman shows and received 11 nominations total. "Memphis" is pretty universally acknowledged as Season 1's best episode, especially for the chemistry between fictional father-son duo Randall (Brown) and William (Jones). Make sure you have your tissues handy. You'll have to choose a different episode (we'd suggest the pilot) to check out Metz and Ventimiglia's acting chops, but while "Memphis" features a limited perspective, it proves why This Is Us has struck a chord with so many.
If there's anything that can be considered a "shoo-in" at Sunday's Emmy Awards, it is Elisabeth Moss' well-deserved win in the drama lead actress category for her tour de force performance in Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale. Again, spoiler-phobes may not want to jump straight to the Season 1 finale, but not only does it highlight the full range of Moss' excellent performance as her character Offred gets life-changing information, it's the episode supporting actress nominee Samira Wiley submitted for consideration as well.
Major Nominations: Limited Series; Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Riz Ahmed, John Turturro); Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Bill Camp, Michael K. Williams)
Episode to Watch: "The Art of War"
In addition to being Michael K. Williams' FYC episode, "The Art of War" also nabbed a nomination for directing. The fourth episode of HBO's limited series ramps up the friendship (or is it?) between Naz (Ahmed) and his prison buddy/mentor Freddy (Williams). The Night Of originally aired way back at the beginning of the year, so even for viewers who are looking to get a refresher before the Emmys, this is a great episode to revisit.
Major Nominations: Comedy Series; Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Anna Chlumsky); Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Tony Hale, Matt Walsh)
Episode to Watch: "Groundbreaking"
Will the Emmys' love for Veep continue this year? The long-running series is seeking a three-peat in the outstanding comedy category after winning the past two years, and Louis-Dreyfus may take home her whopping sixth trophy for her portrayal of Selina Meyer, a politician whose incompetence makes her endearing. (Imagine that!) "Groundbreaking" was the episode submitted by both Louis-Dreyfus and her co-nominee Chlumsky, and the Season 6 finale chronicles Selina's political career through the years in flashbacks, as she and her present-day team prepare for the groundbreaking of what will be her library. And it provides the perfect launching pad for what will be the show's seventh and final season.
Major Nominations: Drama Series; Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Kevin Spacey); Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Robin Wright); Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Michael Kelly)
Episode to Watch: "Chapter 65"
Another veteran nominee, House of Cards is a long shot to take home any prizes in the acting categories this year. But the Season 5 finale takes Frank and Claire Underwood's (Spacey and Wright) Machiavellian quest for absolute power to new heights — and proves why Kelly, who was upped from a guest actor to supporting actor this year — completely deserved his nod.
Arguably the most buzzed-about show of 2017, Netflix's Stranger Things is the runaway favorite to take home the drama series award, especially after it took home the casting award at the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend. Brown could also become the youngest Emmy winner ever as a long-shot contender for drama supporting actress. See what all the fuss over the teen star and the show itself is about with "The Bathtub," the penultimate Season 1 episode in which Brown's Eleven ventures into the "Upside Down" to look for the missing boy Will. In addition to Brown's understated performance as Eleven, the episode is representative of all the elements of the show that captured viewers' hearts and minds: supernatural creepiness, '80s nostalgia, kids working together to catch some bad guys, and of course, a killer soundtrack.
Episode to Watch: "Assassins"
"Assassins" was the FYC episode for both of The Crown's representatives in the acting category, and it's easy to see why. The ninth episode of Season 1 features Winston Churchill (Lithgow) announcing his resignation and having his portrait painted for his 80th birthdya, as well as Queen Elizabeth (Foy) growing increasingly distant from her husband Philip. In particular, Lithgow embodies Churchill in a way we haven't seen before, in what may prove to be a career-defining performance - which is saying something, given Lithgow's already impressive pre-Crown resume. Foy, meanwhile, will be looking to take home her second award for the series after winning a Golden Globe earlier this year.
The 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards air Sunday at 8/7c on CBS.
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