We are currently about a decade into the supposed new “Golden Age” of television, and not only has quality picked up tremendously over the past 10 years or so, as a viewer you’ve got more varied top flight options available than ever. Whether you like businessmen or bikers in your drama, comedy with social relevance or goofy pratfalls, you can probably find it somewhere on TV’s eight million channels (or live streaming) as we speak.
On Sunday, September 22, the Primetime Emmy Awards will honor the best and brightest of the small screen for the past year. But before that, the suits and ties running the show need to winnow the field and announce some nominees on July 18.
While myself and the esteemed Chad Campbell may not catch every show on TV, between the two of us, we cover the good stuff pretty well (also, I’m currently watching Mistresses on ABC). We dusted off our tuxes a bit early and kicked back and forth what names we think might get read in a few weeks and how we feel about that.
Outstanding Drama Series
2012 Winner: Homeland
Other 2012 Nominees: Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Mad Men
Ben Morse: I’ve never watched Homeland—it’s on my list!—but as the reigning winner with what I understand to be another strong season under its belt, I imagine it’s a shoo-in. Boardwalk Empire seems to have deflated somewhat, so that could go either way, while Downton Abbey seemed to polarize. Is Breaking Bad eligible? Did it air new episodes? If so I’d imagine it gets recognition as it rounds the corner toward conclusion; ditto for Dexter.
I dug the first season of Games of Thrones, then thought the second was the pits with way too many characters and a stubborn insistence to focus on all of them, making the season the equivalent of watching somebody walk across a room in 12 boring installments. I chose to tap out on watching this season, so while I’ve heard it’s gotten better, I have my doubts and would not be heartbroken to see it not make the cut; there are other shows more deserving.
On the flipside, though I know not everybody shares this sentiment, I think Mad Men has been on fire the past two seasons since shuffling the deck in Don’s marriage and making some other sweeping changes. This year may have been the best yet in my eyes, with an impressive emphasis on the changing era across the board—everything from political commentary to wardrobe—plus great new characters and bold twists like the big merger. I’d love to see Mad Men not only get on the board here, but maybe snake the win.
If I had my druthers, I’d love to see Parenthood and Sons of Anarchy, two of the best shows on TV—and boy could I not have picked two more different shows—get some due. House of Cards was also really strong, but I’m not positive if the Netflix format will be an issue. The Americans could also be a dark horse.
Chad Campbell: Homeland’s second season was widely inconsistent. The first half started with numerous great tense moments but the overall arc of the second half faltered and dived deeper into implausibility. I see this overall step back having the most effect in Homeland repeating in this category than in the individual awards sections. I still think it is a shoo-in to be nominated and I would nominate it myself, but it is by no means a slam dunk to repeat.
Breaking Bad is eligible for the first part of season five that aired last summer and is most certainly worthy of a nomination. The eight episodes we were given carried a unique depth to them even if they felt like a setup to the final series of episodes airing this summer.
I would expect Game of Thrones to be nominated again. I felt season three was a significant step up from season two based on the strength and execution of the book elements reflected on the television screen. The final nominees seem like toss ups as I can see any number of the following being nominated: Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, The Americans, or Justified. If I had to offer up a guess I would wager on Downton Abbey and The Americans just to put a new contender in the category. If I was doing the nominations, I would add The Americans and Boardwalk Empire. The latter being on my list based on the strength of the back half of season three and the coming together of the numerous plot points.
Having said all of that, I still think Mad Men is the favorite. Even though this season would probably be my second least favorite of the series run, I struggle to find a series I would place ahead of Mad Men. The Emmy committee has shown a reluctance to acknowledge the series of Breaking Bad, and I don’t see any shows having enough momentum to overtake the Mad Men stalwart.
Outstanding Comedy Series
2012 Winner: Modern Family
Other 2012 Nominees: 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girl, Veep
Ben Morse: Modern Family may not be the most daring comedy on television—nowhere close—but it remains consistent in quality and it has won this the last three years, so it remains the show to beat. 30 Rock will get the victory lap nomination for its last season, but it won’t win. I’m over Big Bang Theory and its played out jokes, but my wife says it improved this year and it’s a safe bet in a category not known for risks. Veep slipped slightly after a strong freshman outing, but it’s got the pedigree to stay in the race and even its lame episodes are better than most other shows.
Girls was the awards show darling last year, but after critics and fans panned a lot of the choices Lena Dunham and company made—what was that Patrick Wilson episode about? Where did the OCD come from?—I’ll make a semi-bold prediction it gets blanked here.
New Girl seems to be the new trendy show so I think it will get nominated; I dig it, but I do think the general public lets bad episodes slide more often than not, though there were less this season than last. The Mindy Project started slow then got really good, so maybe not this year but next. I’d love to see The League get recognized, but if it hasn’t happened yet, I’m not crossing my fingers.
My two favorite comedies of the year won’t come anywhere near this category barring a crazy Arrested Development-like twist…hmm, maybe it’s not impossible. Ben & Kate cracked me up and I think could have been solid, but Fox pulled it before it ever found its audience. In my view there was no better written, better acted funny show on TV than the recently-cancelled Happy Endings, but as the ratings fell, I scrutinized a bit and came to see that a lot of the humor really is directed at a very niche audience which I happen to be a part of demonstrated by the fast moving dialogue peppered with 90’s pop culture references; I will, nonetheless, have my fingers crossed.
Chad Campbell: This feels like a very status quo category to me. Modern Family is probably uncorking the champagne on another win as we speak. I can’t see anything even rivaling them in this category. 30 Rock, Veep, and Big Bang Theory will remain as nominees. Curb Your Enthusiasm is not eligible. This again leaves two spots open and the most compelling argument in this category to me is whether Girls will repeat. I detested much of the second season and thought a ton of the momentum was halted for the series. HBO’s audience and critics seem to have agreed with me. I would love to see Parks and Recreation and Louie get the other two nominees as recognition for their outstanding work. This seems like a year where this could happen, but I think it is more likely for New Girl to slip into an open spot. I could also see an outside chance of The Office being nominated as a lifetime achievement award. Still at the end of the day, I see no reason why Modern Family won’t reign supreme.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
2012 Winner: Damian Lewis (Homeland)
Other 2012 Nominees: Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
Ben Morse: As with Drama Series, I think Damian Lewis gets in again, Steve Buscemi drops out; Jon Hamm hangs in there and then Bryan Cranston and Michael C. Hall make it if their shows qualify. That last point is of additional importance here because I think if Cranston is eligible he takes it to put a bow on a great character. If they’re out, I’d love to see Hamm take home a statue because I can’t believe he never has.
Matthew Rhys would be an interesting choice here, as I only watched the pilot of The Americans, but he was excellent and has strong buzz. I know The Newsroom splits people into passionate camps—I love it—but if anybody from that show could sneak it, it would be Jeff Daniels. The real wild card—no pun intended—could be Kevin Spacey for his superlative turn on House of Cards.
Chad Campbell: This is the second toughest category for me as I see great talent like Timothy Olyphant not even making my personal top six. Cranston, Hamm, and Lewis feel like sure bets. All three submission episodes for those guys (I would assume they will be “Say My Name,” “Favors,” and “Q&A”) are amazing showcases of their wonderful talent. I see Steve Buscemi and Kevin Spacey also being in line for nominations. Buscemi is certainly worthy given his role in season three of Boardwalk Empire at humanizing Nucky and Spacey is the huge movie star that the Emmys crave over.
The other candidate is tricky and revolves around Jeff Daniels, Michael C. Hall, Hugh Bonneville, and Matthew Rhys. Of these contenders, Rhys is my favorite and I was pleasantly surprised by how brilliant he was in The Americans.
If I was listing the candidates, I would certainly nominate Aden Young from Rectify. His performance as a death row inmate being cleared of murder and reentering a small Georgia town was stunning. There is a scene of him in his old attic listening to old mix tapes he made in the early 90’s that is strictly haunting. Young played this role where it feels like he is an alien from outer space returning a world he is not familiar with. It seems unlikely than an actor from a lowly Sundance Channel drama will be nominated but there is a precedent. In 2008, Bryan Cranston shocked the world by winning his first best actor Emmy in a field that included three time winner James Spader and established nominee Hugh Laurie. I would commend the Emmys for nominating Young and honestly as great as Hamm, Cranston, Lewis, and Rhys were, Young was my favorite male acting performance on the year.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
2012 Winner: Claire Danes (Homeland)
Other 2012 Nominees: Kathy Bates (Harry’s Law), Glenn Close (Damages), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
Ben Morse: Things are wide open here as Kathy Bates and Glenn Close are out—right?—plus I haven’t heard much buzz about Michelle Dockery lately. It will likely be a two lady race between Claire Danes and Julianna Margulies per usual, but it would be great to see Elisabeth Moss split the difference, as she gets better every year on Mad Men.
My pick to slip into one of the open spots would be Monica Potter, who turned in a heartfelt storyline dealing with cancer on Parenthood that could alternate between funny and tear-inducing on a time; she deserves it. The rest of the field seems pretty weak, but maybe Keri Russell for The Americans, Emily Mortimer for The Newsroom or Katey Sagal for Sons of Anarchy nudges in? Again, depending on how its Netflix status affects House of Cards, Robin Wright could earn a well-deserved nod here too.
Chad Campbell: Shockingly, I think Glenn Close is still eligible for the last season of Damages that aired on DirectTV. Given the lack of buzz, I don’t see here as a likely candidate but the field is fairly weak for this category and she is an established star. Danes, Margulies, and Moss seem like sure bets and I would put Danes as the overwhelming favorite.
The person I am championing for in this category to get nominated is Keri Russell. Any residual feelings from Felicity should be erased by her calculated nature as a Russian double agent. Another person I wish would be given a chance is Emmy Rossum from Shameless. Shameless has a decent amount of faults but at its core is the performance of Rossum doing amazing work keeping a family together at her tender age.