"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.
The Emmy Awards will be handed out in Los Angeles on Monday in a ceremony broadcast live on NBC.
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 favored 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 favorite 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 honors 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."
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Jonathan Oatis) ((email@example.com; 213 955 6811;))