This year, “Mad Men” could make Emmy history. Right now it has four statues for best TV drama, as do “The West Wing,” “L.A. Law,” and “Hill Street Blues.” If it comes away from tonight’s Emmy ceremony with a fifth, the AMC series — which is set in the 1960s but focuses on our contemporary response to that decade — will become the most celebrated drama in the history of television.
It’s this kind of streak that distinguishes the Emmys and all of the other back-patting fests that honor TV. You’re not going to find any movie, album, theatrical production, or music video taking home the same award across the years, no matter how much you wish “Annie Hall” or “The Godfather” could have had their victories on a repeat loop. They win, they take their bows, and they get tucked into history, fodder for future pop culture classes and Top 10 lists. The same artists may win in future years, but not for the same material.
Television, on the other hand, is about the ongoing creation of a show from week to week, season to season. It’s a medium that lends time and space to storytellers, and the Emmys celebrate that characteristic. They honor the constancy of shows and performers as they stretch forward — “Frasier” won five for best comedy, for instance, and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” has won nine for best variety series. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences acknowledges all the work that goes into shows year in and year out; it would hardly be fair if only new series were eligible. Good shows get better, great shows get worse, and the Emmys are designed to recognize that natural flux.
But repeat nominations and wins can also be the bane of the Emmys. Sameness creeps in. Often, this year’s Emmys look like last year’s Emmys, with only a handful of newcomers (this time they include “Girls,” “Homeland,” and “New Girl”) among the familiar names (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and faces (Alec Baldwin). By the end of a single Oscar season, I’m tired of the nominees and their thank-yous; I was sick of “The Artist” before I even saw it. Likewise, after consecutive years of Kelsey Grammer, or Tony Shalhoub, or the makers of “Modern Family,” or even one of my favorites, Tina Fey, I am ready to move on. The thrill is gone, too, when the likes of Matthew Weiner and his “Mad Men” family take the stage one more time; the surprise meter is hovering around nil.
Despite the exhaustion that comes with replication, the Emmys do offer a convenient bird’s-eye view of good TV. Yes, some of the greatest shows, including “The Wire,” “Homicide: Life on the Street,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” have been underrepresented, if not invisible. But still, the long list of nominees serves as a curated presentation of what’s out there. Here are a few predictions about the current crop before the ceremony, which airs tonight at 8 on Channel 5 with host Jimmy Kimmel.
“Game of Thrones”
Will win: This is the year four-time winner “Mad Men” won’t prevail. And that’s OK; this is the one year the drama doesn’t deserve it. Compelling and rich, the season was nonetheless unfocused. Also, voters won’t want it to be the show that breaks the four-win record. “Homeland” and “Breaking Bad” are the two main contenders, and I’m thinking that, despite the difficult subject matter, “Breaking Bad” will take what it deserves. “Homeland” will surely get its props in the acting categories. Dark horse: “Downton,” which is in the series rather than the mini-
series categories for the first time. It’s probably too British, and the second season was less distinguished than the first; but it is an American sensation that, judging from the show’s 16 nominations, is dear to many voters.
Should win: “Breaking Bad” is not only the best show that aired during the eligibility period (June 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012), it’s near the top of TV’s all-time best list. Each episode is a gem, bold enough to move slowly without sacrificing a second of suspense. Voters have honored “Breaking Bad” actors, but acting is only one part of this finely written, gorgeously shot, expertly directed series.
Was robbed: “Justified,” “Shameless”
Hugh Bonneville, “Downton Abbey”
Steve Buscemi, “Boardwalk Empire”
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”
Michael C. Hall, “Dexter”
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”
Damian Lewis, “Homeland”
Will win: If Hamm didn’t win last year for his spectacular work in the episode “The Suitcase,” a year when Cranston wasn’t in the running, then logic suggests he won’t win this year. Logic, though, suggests that Cranston will win his fourth statue. The Academy loves him.
Should win: I was riveted by Lewis, who played a maybe-maybe-not terrorist with mind-blowing ambiguity. While Cranston still carries “Breaking Bad,” the super-subtle Lewis and his Zen anxiety impressed me the most.
Was robbed: Timothy Olyphant,
William H. Macy
Kathy Bates, “Harry’s Law”
Glenn Close, “Damages”
Claire Danes, “Homeland”
Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”
Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife”
Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men”
Will win: Sorry, Dockery, who is a revelation in “Downton” as the tragic, brave Mary. But Danes will win this one, and she deserves it. It is possible, I suppose, that the Academy might give it to Bates, always beloved. But then Bates may have already gotten her bouquet last week, when she was honored as best guest actress for “Two and a Half Men.”
Should win: With “Temple Grandin” and now “Homeland,” Danes is emerging as a top-tier talent. Her portrayal of a bipolar CIA agent built to a spellbinding crescendo.
Was robbed: Emmy Rossum,
SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA
Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad”
Giancarlo Esposito, “Breaking Bad”
Brendan Coyle, “Downton Abbey”
Jim Carter, “Downton Abbey”
Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
Jared Harris, “Mad Men”
Will win: What a rich category. No losers here, but I’m thinking Esposito will take the prize for his unforgettable turn as velvety villain Gus Fring.
Should win: Harris was deeply moving as a lonely man burying himself in debt. And as Mr. Bates, Coyle was heartbreakingly stoic. But Esposito drove “Breaking Bad” forward with his understated, cold fury.
Was robbed: Michael Pitt, Dean Norris
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA
Anna Gunn, “Breaking Bad”
Maggie Smith, “Downton Abbey”
Joanne Froggatt, “Downton Abbey”
Archie Panjabi, “The Good Wife”
Christine Baranski, “The Good Wife”
Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men”
Will win: Dame Maggie. Hendricks had a strong season. But no “Mad Men” actor has ever won an Emmy; voters must see the series as only a writer’s showcase. And Smith is Smith. She was one of the best things about the second season of “Downton.” She slings zingers like nobody’s business. The voters will want to give “Downton” something this year, and this will be their opportunity.
Should win: Honestly, Gunn deserves some love. She gave us a woman trying to make the best of a bad situation, who succeeded temporarily. This summer, she played the other side of that optimism — another knockout performance that will surely bring her a nod at next year’s awards.
Was robbed: Lena Headey
“The Big Bang Theory”
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Will win: “Modern Family” will win. It’s such a relatable series, and while it’s not always at its best, it’s consistent enough. The voters love this show, and none of the competition is strong enough to change that.
Should win: I think “Girls” ought to win, but I’m secretly glad it won’t. Why? I hate the thought of Lena Dunham taming down the show for a broader audience. Controversial and cringe-based, “Girls” belongs a little below the radar. And anyway, there’s always next year.
Was robbed: “Parks and Recreation,” “Louie,” “Enlightened,” “Community”
Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”
Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”
Louis C.K., “Louie”
Jon Cryer, “Two and a Half Men”
Larry David, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory”
Will win: Jim Parsons will win his third statue. He has brought such a sweet and tart twist to the nerd stereotype, it’s hard to complain. Also, since the cable networks own the drama and movie categories, voters may think of comedy as a place to show love to the networks.
Should win: Louis C.K. deserves to win. Yes, he plays a version of himself, like Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and James Van Der Beek on “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23.” But he acts, too, evoking the kind of pathos and confusion not generally found on TV comedies.
Was robbed: Joel McHale
Zooey Deschanel, “New Girl”
Lena Dunham, “Girls”
Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”
Tina Fey, “30 Rock”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Melissa McCarthy, “Mike & Molly”
Amy Poehler, “Parks & Recreation”
Will win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus will win, and that’s just fine. She is endlessly amusing as the envious, powerless, petty vice president. The 13-time nominee is one of TV’s funniest actresses.
Should win: The show doesn’t get much buzz, but Falco was special in “Nurse Jackie” as Jackie struggled to stay sober and forgive herself. And Dunham was painfully excellent as a narcissistic, sheltered college grad. Still, Poehler deserves to win for her performance as a politically ambitious and yet absolutely lovable heroine — the opposite of Louis-Dreyfus’s character. She was delightful as the center of the show’s expert spoofery.
Was robbed: Laura Dern
SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY
Ed O’Neill, “Modern Family”
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, “Modern Family”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Eric Stonestreet, “Modern Family”
Max Greenfield, “New Girl”
Bill Hader, “Saturday Night Live”
Will win: The voters seem to be spreading the love among the “Modern Family” cast members from year to year, and this will be O’Neill’s moment in the sun. Famously snubbed for “Married . . . With Children,” O’Neill brings a lovely warmth to the ensemble, if not laugh-out-loud moments. Greenfield is a dark horse in this category, after stealing “New Girl’’ from star Zooey Deschanel.
Should win: Burrell won last year, and I’d be happy to see him do it again. He has taken the clichéd clueless-dad character and expanded and deepened it. He can be both touching and hysterical, and his physical comedy is top-notch.
Was robbed: Adam Pally,
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY
Mayim Bialik, “The Big Bang Theory”
Kathryn Joosten, “Desperate
Julie Bowen, “Modern Family”
Sofia Vergara, “Modern Family”
Merritt Wever, “Nurse Jackie”
Kristen Wiig, “Saturday Night Live”
Will win: Joosten will most likely win, months after dying from lung cancer. Emotions, and the fact that she was sharp on “Desperate Housewives,” will put her on top. Also, a Joosten win would double as a farewell to the canceled show. If not, Vergara will take home the prize.
Should win: Wiig was the best thing about “SNL,” but my vote goes to Wever. She has been a sweet and original presence on “Nurse Jackie” all along, but last season her character, Zoey, matured without losing her innocent charm. Of all people, Zoey was Jackie’s rock.
Was robbed: Casey Wilson,
MINISERIES OR MOVIE
“American Horror Story”
“Hatfields & McCoys”
“Hemingway & Gellhorn”
Will win: The kinky and at times nonsensical “American Horror Story” got the buzz, but “Game Change” will win during this election season. Like many of HBO’s political movies, it was smart, entertaining, and never too satirical to be dramatic. Plus, the cast was sharp, especially Julianne Moore. Possible spoiler: “Sherlock.”
Should win: The second rounds of “Luther” and “Sherlock” were admirable. But “Game Change” was a pure pleasure.
Was robbed: “The Hour”
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