You’ve heard it before: We’re smack in the middle of a golden age of TV. That means there are always episodes of great shows awaiting you on your viewing device of choice. And it means there is no shortage of strong material competing in this year’s Emmy Awards ceremony, which airs Monday night on NBC. The live event will be crammed with worthy contenders and — cough, “Killing Kennedy,” cough — a few not so worthy.
Will “True Detective” spoil what could easily be a huge farewell party for the great “Breaking Bad”? Will “Orange Is the New Black” be the new “Modern Family”? There are a few mysteries heading into this year’s Emmy Awards. And that’s a good thing. No one wants to watch a competition that doesn’t contain a few tight races.
“Breaking Bad,” AMC
“Downton Abbey,” PBS
“Game of Thrones,” HBO
“House of Cards,” Netflix
“Mad Men,” AMC
“True Detective,” HBO
Will win: “Breaking Bad” is considered one of the best series ever made, one of the rare dramas that didn’t let up in quality throughout its run. And it has only one drama-series win. The competition is fierce in this category, with “True Detective” and “Game of Thrones” coming up from behind, but “Breaking Bad” will have a second statue to bookmark the series.
Should win: I hope “Game of Thrones” wins one of these years. It’s quite a stunning achievement. The Television Academy isn’t fond of genre shows — see: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and “Orphan Black” — even though many sci-fi and fantasy series are broader than their genre implies. But this year, “Breaking Bad” went out on top and deserves the prize.
Was robbed: Three of the best shows of the year were FX’s “The Americans,” CBS’s “The Good Wife,” and History’s “Vikings.” The “Downton Abbey” slot rightfully belongs to one of them.
LEAD ACTOR, DRAMA
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad,” AMC
Jeff Daniels, “The Newsroom,” HBO
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men,” AMC
Woody Harrelson, “True Detective,” HBO
Matthew McConaughey, “True Detective,” HBO
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards,” Netflix
Will win: I’m afraid McConaughey fever is going to infect Emmy voters. Just as his work in “True Detective” helped McConaughey win an Oscar, his Oscar for “Dallas Buyers Club” will bring him an Emmy. I’m in the minority who think he overacted on the HBO series, delivering a stylized performance without much emotional impact. If it’s not McConaughey, it’ll be Cranston, although voters will recall that he has already won three times for his brilliant turn as Walter White.
Should win: I was blown away by Harrelson, who was as naturalistic and believable as McConaughey wasn’t. He was the best reason to watch what ended up being a rather pretentious cop series.
Was robbed: Travis Fimmel is remarkable in “Vikings,” with his all-knowing smirk and Zen leadership style. Michael Sheen is the repressed center of “Masters of Sex,” Matthew Rhys brings an electric energy to “The Americans,” and Demian Bichir is a melancholy hero on “The Bridge.”
LEAD ACTRESS, DRAMA
Lizzy Caplan, “Masters of Sex,” Showtime
Claire Danes, “Homeland,” Showtime
Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey,” PBS
Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife,” CBS
Kerry Washington, “Scandal,” ABC
Robin Wright, “House of Cards,”
Will win: Wright stands a chance, because she is the best thing about “House of Cards.” But I think Margulies and her bottled-up character will take the day, after a juicy arc this season. Enthusiasm for “Homeland” has subsided, as the show’s careful plotting has grown absurd, which may taint Danes, who has won the past two years.
Should win: Caplan can be mannered and overly precise in her diction. But she has built a complex character, both sexually aware and intellectually aspirational, who is believably ahead of her time. I’d like to see her win.
Was robbed: Tatiana Maslany from “Orphan Black,” of course. And Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men,” who has given Peggy one of TV’s most nuanced across-seasons journeys.
SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA
Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad,” AMC
Jim Carter, “Downton Abbey,” PBS
Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones,” HBO
Josh Charles, “The Good Wife,” CBS
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland,” Showtime
Jon Voight, “Ray Donovan,” Showtime
Will win: These were all strong performances, particularly Dinklage, Paul, and Charles, whose broken but unbowed Will Gardner was murdered. But Voight will win, and not just for his long Hollywood history. He is the Boston thug who keeps “Ray Donovan” interesting.
Should win: Voight fits this role like a glove. There’s not a false note in his performance.
Was robbed: Jeffrey Wright was a potent addition to “Boardwalk Empire,” as the intellectual Harlem gangster. And Dean Norris deserved a final nod for his complex work on “Breaking Bad.”
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA
Anna Gunn, “Breaking Bad,” AMC
Maggie Smith, “Downton Abbey,” PBS
Joanne Froggatt, “Downton Abbey,” PBS
Lena Headey, “Game of Thrones,” HBO
Christine Baranski, “The Good Wife,” CBS
Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men,” AMC
Will win: Gunn will take this one, for her mind-blowingly good work in her submitted episode, “Ozymandias.” She was under-acknowledged until last year, when she won; there’s no denying her now.
Should win: Baranski was top-notch this season, as she lost her friend and partner Will and opened up her heart to Alicia. And Headey was chilling. But still, Gunn was the best.
Was robbed: Two “Americans” actresses stood out — Alison Wright as the deceived Martha and Annet Mahendru as the profoundly conflicted Nina.
“The Big Bang Theory,” CBS
“Modern Family,” ABC
“Orange Is the New Black,” Netflix
“Silicon Valley,” HBO
Will win: “Orange Is the New Black” will break up the four-year winning streak of “Modern Family.” Some voters may think the Netflix show belongs in the drama categories, and they would be right. But it’s the best of the lot.
Should win: I’m a huge fan of “Veep,” and the third season was pure dynamite. But “Orange” has an emotional grounding and a social consciousness that gives it an edge.
Was robbed: “Shameless” jumped into the comedy categories this year, which is ridiculous. But it’s one of TV’s best series — last season was arguably its best — and it deserves recognition no matter what slot it gets put into.
LEAD ACTOR, COMEDY
Louis C.K., “Louie,” FX
Don Cheadle, “House of Lies,” Showtime
Ricky Gervais, “Derek,” Netflix
Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes,” Showtime
William H. Macy, “Shameless,” Showtime
Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS
Will win: I have a feeling Parsons is going to win his fourth Emmy for this role. And he has created an indelible and endearing character and reinvented geek clichés.
Should win: But . . . none of the actors in this category comes close to Macy, who, like Voight in “Ray Donovan,” fully inhabits his character. He gives a performance for the ages as the childish, selfish, slippery alcoholic. C.K. was better than ever this season in an ongoing story line that showed his vulnerability. But: Macy.
Was robbed: Andy Samberg is winning in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” both childlike and charming. His chemistry with Andre Braugher is impressive. I’d have given him the Cheadle slot.
LEAD ACTRESS, COMEDY
Lena Dunham, “Girls,” HBO
Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie,” Showtime
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep,” HBO
Melissa McCarthy, “Mike & Molly,” CBS
Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation,” NBC
Taylor Schilling, “Orange Is the New Black,” Netflix
Will win: If anyone but Louis-Dreyfus wins, it will be Schilling, who was the solid center of “OITNB.” But Louis-Dreyfus will take her third statue for this role.
Should win: And Louis-Dreyfus deserves every inch of that statue. She has gone from TV strength to TV strength in the years since “Seinfeld,” and her work on “Veep” is a culmination of all her experience and comic expertise. I love Poehler, and Falco is awesome. But no one makes me laugh like Louis-Dreyfus.
Was robbed: Laurie Metcalf was a laugh riot as a doctor on HBO’s small, twisted “Getting On.” And Emmy Rossum had her best season so far on “Shameless,” which is saying a lot.
SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY
Andre Braugher, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Fox
Adam Driver, “Girls,” HBO
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, “Modern Family,” ABC
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family,” ABC
Fred Armisen, “Portlandia,” IFC
Tony Hale, “Veep,” HBO
Will win: Braugher is so enjoyable on this show, he will persuade voters. His seriousness is seriously funny.
Should win: Braugher has finally broken away from his history of heavy roles. His perfect comic timing is surprising, and delightful.
Was robbed: As the delinquent who came out of the closet this season on “Shameless,” Noel Fisher was pitch-perfect. And Timothy Simons, as the creepy Jonah on “Veep,” delivered zingers like nobody’s business.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY
Mayim Bialik, “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS
Julie Bowen, “Modern Family,” ABC
Allison Janney, “Mom,” CBS
Kate Mulgrew, “Orange Is the New Black,” Netflix
Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live,” NBC
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep,” HBO
Will win: Emmy voters love Janney, as they ought to. At last week’s creative arts Emmy ceremony, she won a guest actress prize for “Masters of Sex.” She’ll have a two-fer this year.
Should win: Mulgrew was one of the revelations of “OITNB” as a woman whose passions run high and whose memory is unforgiving.
Was robbed: Last year’s winner, Merritt Wever, had a great season on “Nurse Jackie,” as the empowered Zoey tried to save her mentor.
“American Horror Story: Coven,” FX
“Bonnie and Clyde,” A&E
“Luther,” BBC America
“The White Queen,” Starz
Will win: “Fargo” took the Coen brothers movie and broke it wide open. It will win.
Should win: And it ought to win, for its expertly twisted comic tone, its gorgeous cinematography, and a set of performances strong enough to get us to forget the original.
“Killing Kennedy,” National Geographic
“Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight,” HBO
“The Normal Heart,” HBO
“Sherlock: His Last Vow,” PBS
“The Trip to Bountiful,” Lifetime
Will win: “The Normal Heart,” with its all-star cast and historically important AIDS theme, is inevitable.
Should win: And indeed, it was a powerful film that captured the complexities of AIDS activism in the 1980s.
LEAD ACTOR, MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “Dancing on the Edge,” Starz
Martin Freeman, “Fargo,” FX
Billy Bob Thornton, “Fargo,” FX
Idris Elba, “Luther,” BBC America
Mark Ruffalo, “The Normal Heart,” HBO
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock: His Last Vow,” PBS
Will win: Cumberbatch is beloved, but “The Normal Heart” is probably going to sweep. So I’m thinking Ruffalo’s the winner.
Should win: Ruffalo was excellent indeed, but I had so much fun watching Freeman get dragged into murder — or was he? He was truly extraordinary.
LEAD ACTRESS, MINISERIES OR
Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story: Coven,” FX
Sarah Paulson, “American Horror Story: Coven,” FX
Helena Bonham Carter, “Burton and Taylor,” BBC America
Minnie Driver, “Return to Zero,” Lifetime
Kristen Wiig, “The Spoils of Babylon,” IFC
Cicely Tyson, “The Trip to Bountiful,” Lifetime
Will win: How absurd to see Wiig’s spoofery up against Tyson’s acting. Tyson’s the one.
Should win: And it’s hard to quibble with that, especially since Lange has already been honored for her work on “American Horror Story.”Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.