TV: The 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards – Our Picks
Every September the best shows on American television are recognised at the Emmy Awards. Akin to the Grammys for music and the Oscars for films, the nominees for the Emmys are often predictable and very safe. You won’t see many sci-fi or fantasy shows making the cut and the same goes for soaps or teen dramas. Hard luck to Fringe, Revenge, Gossip Girl and all the other base shows. What the Emmys represent are the most accomplished shows that appeal to people of a certain age (hint: middle) and of a certain class (hint: middle).
In recent years the Emmys certainly have improved in terms of which shows they nominate and how they are judged and there has been a perceptible shift towards thirteen episode cable seasons, from the likes of Mad Men to Breaking Bad. In fact, 2012 is the first year in which no show from a broadcast network has been nominated for Best Drama. Some commentators are arguing that it is much more difficult to sustain a high level of storytelling across twenty-two episodes rather than thirteen and there is some truth to this. Cable and broadcast television are beasts of different natures, with broadcast shows often working within very stringent guidelines on language and sex.
But for better or worse the Emmy nominees are in and while some categories are easier to pick than others, the calibre of every show, actor, director and writer (not to mention the technical side) is extremely high. Serial dramas and comedies have matured greatly over the past few years and the nominees stand testament to this. Below are our picks for some of the categories, the second favourite and the dark horse.
Winner: Mad Men (AMC)
Mad Men has won the Emmy for Best Drama for the past four years and if it wins its fifth consecutive award it will be the only show to ever do so. The Academy loves Mad Men and while the fifth season had its detractors, in this writer’s opinion it was the strongest season so far. Mad Men is bold in a unique way, and even more so in its latter seasons, and with the introduction of Megan as a main player this year Matthew Weiner and co. were able to breathe new life into Don Draper and the show as a whole. With episodes like ‘Signal 30’, ‘Far Away Places’, ‘The Other Woman’ and ‘Commissions and Fees’, Mad Men proved that it can compete at the highest level five years in.
Runner-up: Homeland (Showtime)
The buzz drama of 2011, Homeland picked up the Golden Globe for Best Drama along with a Peabody Award already this year. Across its twelve episodes, Homeland drew viewers into the world of Carrie Matheson, a CIA agent who is convinced US Marine Nicholas Brody has become a secret al-Qaeda agent after being held captive for almost a decade. The game of cat-and-mouse between Matheson and Brody was thrilling and the season was paced perfectly as the show became more and more intense as it rattled towards the finale. Both Claire Danes and Damien Lewis were fantastic in their respective roles and with standout episodes like ‘The Weekend’, ‘The Vest’ and ‘Marine One’, Homeland is the most serious contender for Mad Men’s crown.
The Dark Horse: Downton Abbey (PBS)
Ok, so Downton Abbey isn’t an American show, but it is broadcast in America on PBS and in its first season the Julian Fellows drama swept the miniseries category at the Emmys. For its second season the show is competing in the big leagues. Couple this with the fact that the second season was widely regarded as inferior to the first then you might think it easy to write off Downton Abbey. But America is gripped with Anglo-fever and after the barrage of Britishness in the international press since the Royal Wedding and ending with the London Olympics; those Yanks might just have a soft spot for this very British soap.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Winner: Girls (HBO)
Lena Dunham has hit the zeitgeist with her frank portrayal of painfully middle-class white girls living in Brooklyn. Girls is important because it puts women at the centre of the comedy and makes the relationships between these women the crux of the entire show. And it is genuinely funny, in a distinctly non-sitcom way. Girls is our pick to take Best Comedy because not only is it the darling of critics everywhere, but because it deserves it. No show has been as talked about as much this year as Girls and in some ways it has provided the impetus to look how we perceive women in society and how women view themselves. Or something.
Runner-Up: Modern Family (ABC)
Modern Family has won Best Comedy for the past two years and watching even one episode is enough to show you why. It is the perfect comedy about family. The writing is sterling and the entire cast is excellent, a testament to this being that all six of the adult actors have been nominated for acting awards this year. Modern Family has always been about situational comedy and how the relationships between the three related families develop as a whole and individually. This past season the set-up of some individual episode plots have been more contrived than in past seasons. But Modern Family is still leagues ahead of most shows in how it portrays family in, yes, a modern sense and with two consecutive wins under its belt, Phil Dunphy and co. could well make it number three this year.
Dark Horse: 30 Rock (NBC)
You can never write off 30 Rock. The record-holder for the most amount of Emmys won in one year, the Tina Fey comedy is still going strong six seasons later. With only one season of thirteen episodes ahead, Emmy voters may already be becoming nostalgic for Liz Lemon and co.
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Lead Actor, Drama
Winner: Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Can Bryan Cranston do no wrong? His meth-dealing alter-ego Walter White has won him three consecutive Emmys and each year he just gets better and better. The latest seasons of Breaking Bad have given Cranston so much material and some stellar scenes, exemplified in ‘Crawl Space’, the episode for which he was nominated. A win for anyone else would be a shock.
Runner Up: Damian Lewis, Homeland
Anyone else except Damian Lewis that is! Lewis kept audiences guessing over his motives for most of the first season of Homeland, playing off Claire Danes wonderfully. Lewis has garnered a lot of buzz for his Nicholas Brody and much like Cranston, he was given plenty of excellent scenes. Watch out for him.
Dark Horse: Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
Hugh Bonneville was nominated last year for his turn as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham and while the second season was undoubtedly poorer than the first, Bonneville made the most of it. In particular it was Lord Grantham’s inability to deal with his role, or lack thereof, in the Great War that gave Bonneville his best scenes.
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Lead Actress, Drama
Winner: Claire Danes, Homeland
Widely regarded as the performance of her career, Danes is the front runner to take home the Emmy for Best Actress for her portrayal of Carrie Matheson. Playing the neurotic Matheson with a great deal of sophistication and winning over audiences completely, Danes won the Golden Globe in January for her performance and chances are she will bring the Emmy home too.
Runner Up: Julianna Marguiles, The Good Wife
Marguiles won Best Actress in 2011 for her turn as Alicia Florrick, the wife of a disgraced politician who has to return to the law to support her family. I cannot talk enough about how much I love The Good Wife, from the writing to the cast to the direction; it is easily the best show on broadcast television and more than able to compete with cable shows. Season three of The Good Wife gave Marguiles a chance to explore a whole new side to Alicia, so a second Emmy is a distinct possibility.
Dark Horse: Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
There really are two dark horses in this race, Elisabeth Moss and Glenn Close, but the title has to go to Moss because she has yet to win an Emmy for her portrayal of Peggy Olson on Mad Men. The latest season of Mad Men brought Peggy to the fore. While it has always been clear that Mad Men is as much about Peggy as it is about Don, this was made much more explicit with the major character developments for Peggy in season five. Moss was more than up to the challenge and this could be the year where she finally wins.
Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law
Glenn Close, Damages
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Lead Actor, Comedy
Winner: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Parson won the Emmy in 2011 for his turn on The Big Bang Theory and in a year where there is no serious competition, he looks likely to take it home again.
Runner Up: Louis C.K., Louie
The stand-up Louis C.K. has one of the funniest shows on television that no one watches.. The show revolves around Louie, a recently divorced father of two and the stories are told in segments that are often unrelated, connected by bits of stand-up comedy. The off-kilter format and cult following could see Louis C.K. win big.
Dark Horse: Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Although House of Lies was met with a mixed reception, Don Cheadle was lauded for his role as a slick management consultant Marty Kahn. Cheadle’s on screen chemistry with Kristen Bell and the cool confidence he exuded puts him in with a good chance of winning.
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Lead Actress, Comedy
Winner: Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
The Lead Actress for a Comedy is easily one of the toughest categories of the year. Much buzzed-about newcomers Zooey Deschanel and Lena Dunham are going up against previous winners Edie Falco, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Melissa McCarthy. Who will win? None of the above, or at least that’s what we’re betting. Amy Poehler has shone as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation for the past four years and many critics have lauded her latest season as her best. Poehler brings an incredible likeability to her character that would have suffered in the hands of a lesser actor. If there is Knope in the world, it will be Poehler’s year.
Runner-up: Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
We blame Zooey Deschanel for bringing words like ‘quirky’ and ‘adorkable’ into common usage. We blame Zooey for bright floral dresses and sing-talking and all manner of cute behaviour. Despite all of these issues, it is impossible to resist the charms of Deschanel’s New Girl character Jess. She has great comedic timing and there is a lot of good will out there for her. She might well take home the Emmy to add to that Golden Globe.
Dark Horse: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Starring as Selina Meyers in the US version of The Thick of It, Louis-Dreyfus owned every scene. Playing the VP with just the right level of snark and cynicism, she gave one of the funniest performances of the year. Louis-Dreyfus has numerous Emmys under her belt and although this is a very tough category, she could cause an upset.
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Melissa McCarthy, Mike and Molly
And the rest…
Supporting Actor, Drama
Win: Jared Harris, Mad Men
Runner Up: Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad
Dark Horse: Peter Dinklage, Game Of Thrones
Supporting Actress, Drama
Winner: Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Runner Up: Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Dark Horse: Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Supporting Actor, Comedy
Winner: Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Runner Up: Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Dark Horse: Max Greenfield, New Girl