By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fantasy or realism? That's the question at the Emmy Awards this year as voters choose whether to reward television dramas and comedies that provide comfort and escapism, or bleaker fare that echoes troubled times.
Dragons and castles saga "Game of Thrones" and heart-tugging family drama "This is Us" square off against chilling series "The Handmaid's Tale" and Cold War spy show "The Americans" for the highest honors in television on Monday.
Comedies have changed since "Cheers" and "Friends" in the 1990s. This year, the absurdist hip-hop-inspired "Atlanta" and "black-ish," which both delve into race in contemporary America, compete for best series against the sunny 1950s housewife tale "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and Larry David's chronicle of everyday annoyances in "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
"What's fascinating about the Emmys this year is that they are really a reflection of the pressing ideas of our time," said Tom O'Neil, editor of awards website GoldDerby.com.
"In the big races, it's the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter," O'Neil said.
Drama series frontrunner "The Handmaid's Tale" featured disturbing scenes of women being raped, mutilated, beaten and drowned in its vision of a near-future patriarchal society in which women are forcibly separated from their children.
Fan favorite "Game of Thrones," a medieval fantasy of warring knights, is seen as the biggest challenger to "Handmaid's Tale" for the top Emmy prize."If people are voting for something a little more light-hearted and easier to go down, then 'This is Us' would be the spoiler," said Indiewire executive editor Michael Schneider.
Elsewhere, the grisly limited series "The Assassination of Gianni Versace" throws a spotlight on serial killings and homophobia in the 1980s, while Laura Dern is seen as the favorite to take home an Emmy for her role in the television film "The Tale" about child sexual assault.
Comedy series front-runners "Mrs. Maisel" and "Atlanta" could not be more different from each other in tone.
"Mrs. Maisel," about a mother who turns to stand-up comedy after a divorce, is an exuberant period piece with a dash of early feminism.
"Atlanta," created by and starring actor-singer Donald Glover, is set in a hard-scrabble community on the margins of the city's hip-hop culture.
"This season of 'Atlanta' was so inspired," said Schneider. "The fact that it is a good story for representation, with a predominantly African-American cast, would be a strong message to send to give the top prize to that."
The Emmy Awards will be handed out at a ceremony on Monday in Los Angeles.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Leslie Adler)