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Three essential TV episodes to watch before Sunday's Emmys

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  • Gerald McRaney and Milo Ventimiglia, both nominated for Emmys, star in the premiere episode of NBC's "This Is Us," a front-runner for the top prize at Sunday's Emmys.

    Gerald McRaney and Milo Ventimiglia, both nominated for Emmys, star in the premiere episode of NBC's "This Is Us," a front-runner for the top prize at Sunday's Emmys.
    Courtesy of NBC

 
 

The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, which air at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, on CBS, honor the past year's best television. Here are my choices for three essential episodes you should seek out before the big show:

'This Is Us' 1x01 ('Pilot')

The only traditional-network show to be nominated for best drama series is my pick to win, not only because it would buck the cable/streaming wave, but because this first episode is overwhelmingly emotional. NBC's multigenerational tale of an unorthodox family has cemented Sterling K. Brown as a star (he's nominated for best actor in a drama), but this premiere episode belongs to guest star Gerald McRaney. The 70-year-old veteran of "Major Dad" won the guest-actor Emmy at last weekend's Creative Arts Emmys ceremony, and rightly so; his performance as the world-weary doctor who helps Jack and Rebecca Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia, nominated, and Mandy Moore) through a difficult childbirth may have been the single best of TV's past year.

Available for free at NBC.com.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis star in "San Junipero," an installment of the Netflix sci-fi anthology "Black Mirror" that's competing Sunday in the TV movie category at the Emmys.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis star in "San Junipero," an installment of the Netflix sci-fi anthology "Black Mirror" that's competing Sunday in the TV movie category at the Emmys. - Courtesy of Netflix
'Black Mirror' 3x04 ('San Junipero')

Competing in the TV movie category thanks to "Black Mirror's" long-form anthology format, this installment of the Netflix sci-fi shocker begins as a tale of young lovers in an '80s bar and reveals itself as something much more poignant. (I dare not spoil it.) Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw couldn't crack their star-studded acting category (Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange AND Reese Witherspoon?!?), but you'll fall in love with them. Hard. Just don't expect the rest of this bleak series to make you feel this good.

Streaming on Netflix.

Best-actress nominee Evan Rachel Wood stars in HBO's "Westworld," which, along with "Saturday Night Live," was nominated for 22 Emmys this year.
Best-actress nominee Evan Rachel Wood stars in HBO's "Westworld," which, along with "Saturday Night Live," was nominated for 22 Emmys this year. - Courtesy of HBO
'Westworld' 1x01 ('The Original')

Former suburbanite Jonathan Nolan's ambitious HBO adaptation of the Michael Crichton film has 22 nominations this year -- and it already won five last weekend. The premiere episode introduces us to all four of its acting nominees: Anthony Hopkins (lead in a drama), Evan Rachel Wood (lead), Jeffrey Wright (supporting) and Thandie Newton (supporting). It also introduces a mysterious theme-park world of cowboys, outlaws and killer robots.

Available on demand at HBO, and streaming on HBO GO and HBO NOW.

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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