Emmy voters have had their work cut out for them — or they should have had their work cut out for them, if they’ve been looking closely. This year, there are more worthy Emmy candidates than there are slots in the list of nominations, which will be announced on Thursday morning. It’s a musical-chairs-type situation, which will inevitably leave many of us groaning alongside our full DVRs when our favorites get shut out. The drama categories will be particularly provoking and overstuffed, since, right now, there are so many more good dramas than comedies.
My predictions for the 2013 nominees (the eligibility period is from June 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013) tend to fall into distinct groupings. There are the Inevitables; there are the Contenders; and there is the Fantasy League — the deserving who will make it only in my dreams.
Best drama: “Breaking Bad,” four-time winner “Mad Men,” and last year’s winner, “Homeland,” are locks. If any of them don’t make the list, Emmy watchers will be utterly scandalized (which, of course, we live for). The contenders include the intriguing newcomer “The Americans,” the meticulous and violent “Boardwalk Empire,” a strong season of “Game of Thrones,” and a weak season of “Downton Abbey” that ended with a painful whimper. “The Good Wife,” which had a strong season, along with the less likely “Scandal,” are the only serious network competitors.
Also a contender: “House of Cards,” the Netflix series that was manufactured to be a hit based on — here’s that lovely word — metadata about what Netflix viewers like. An Emmy nomination or two will raise Netflix’s quickly growing reputation as a creator of original programming on the same level as cable channels such as FX, AMC, HBO, and Showtime.
And my fantasy drama nominees? “Vikings,” a transporting period epic that was brutal and, at moments, spiritual, as well as “Southland,” a spellbinding police series that has wrapped for good.
Best Actress, Drama: Claire Danes, who cried and lied her way through a few half-baked plot lines on “Homeland,” is the only inevitable in this category. But there are many strong contenders, including Kerry Washington on “Scandal.” Keri Russell was fire and ice as a Russian spy on “The Americans,” Michelle Dockery was as bittersweet as ever as Lady Mary on “Downton Abbey,” and Elisabeth Moss was at her best reaching for control on “Mad Men.” Julianna Margulies was, as always, the wary, intelligent center of “The Good Wife.” Other contenders: the emotionally resonant Connie Britton on “Nashville,” the cool Robin Wright on “House of Cards,” and the overly praised Vera Farmiga on “Bates Motel.”
Two months ago, Tatiana Maslany of “Orphan Black” was in my fantasy league, for her extraordinary work as a number of clones. But since then she won a Critics’ Choice Television Award, which may have put her on the map for Emmy voters. Still a fantasy nominee, though: Emmy Rossum, so moving as the brave but flawed older sister on “Shameless.”
Best Actor, Drama: Three-time winner Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad,” Jon Hamm of “Mad Men,” and last year’s winner, Damian Lewis of “Homeland,” are inevitable. The contenders include Jeff Daniels, who is the most full-bodied character on “The Newsroom”; Matthew Rhys, who is perfectly conflicted as a spy who wants to come in from the cold on “The Americans”; Timothy Olyphant as the shrewd Raylan Givens on “Justified”; Steve Buscemi as the heartless boss on “Boardwalk Empire”; and Michael C. Hall on “Dexter.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Bacon landed on the list; he’s the best thing on the cheesy “The Following.”
In my fantasy league: Travis Fimmel, so charismatic on “Vikings”; Matthew Macfadyen, who brings flawed humanity to “Ripper Street”; and William H. Macy, who is so authentic on “Shameless.”
Best Comedy: “Modern Family” is, of course, inevitable; the show has won the last three years. “Girls,” “Louie,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “30 Rock” — which had a strong final season — are also gimmes. For some reason, the Emmys have only nominated the sweetly mocking “Parks and Recreation” once. What’s up with that? It is a contender for its fifth season, along with the likable “New Girl.” “Arrested Development,” a favorite that returned as a diminished thing, may also get a nod, and add to a possible Netflix show of strength.
“Veep” is a contender, and a very worthy one. The show found itself during the second season, as a warped inversion of “The West Wing.” The lovely “Enlightened” will get a nomination, of course — you know, when pigs fly.
Best Actress, Comedy: Among the sure things, Julia Louis-Dreyfus of “Veep” is too, too funny as the careering, ever-cursing vice president. Tina Fey of “30 Rock,” Amy Poehler of “Parks and Recreation,” and Lena Dunham of “Girls” are also locks. The contenders include Edie Falco as the self-destructive heroine of “Nurse Jackie,” Zooey Deschanel as the queen of quirk in “New Girl,” and Mindy Kaling, so relentlessly superficial in “The Mindy Project.” For my fantasy pick: Laura Dern, as the tortured-but-working-on-it Amy Jellicoe in “Enlightened.”
Best Actor, Comedy: We can assume that Alec Baldwin of “30 Rock,” Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory,” and Louis C.K. of “Louie” will once again get nods. Alas, Jon Cryer from “Two and a Half Men,” who has won as both a supporting and a lead actor for the show, will also inevitably be on the list. Contenders include Matt LeBlanc in “Episodes,” Jake Johnson in “New Girl,” and Matthew Perry in the canceled “Go On.”
Supporting Actors and Actresses: TV has so many ensemble casts, the supporting categories are among the most competitive. The “Modern Family” actors will, as usual, dominate on the comedy side, with Merritt Wever from “Nurse Jackie” and Max Greenfield from “New Girl” all likely contenders.
My fantasy league includes Adam Driver, so complex on “Girls,” DJ Qualls as the sweet weasel with muscular dystrophy on “Legit,” and Eliza Coupe as the ultra-competitive Jane on the canceled “Happy Endings.” Oh, and as always, Jason Gann deserves note for “Wilfred.” In my book, he’s a lead, but he was submitted as a supporting actor to increase his slim chances.
In the supporting categories for drama, “Mad Men” and “Downton Abbey” will fill many slots, along with Peter Dinklage of “Game of Thrones” and Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad.” Anna Gunn, so potent on “Breaking Bad,” is a strong contender, along with Jennifer Carpenter from “Dexter” and Mandy Patinkin from “Homeland.”
The list will also include Michelle Fairley from “Game of Thrones,” Bobby Cannavale from “Boardwalk Empire,” Jeremy Allen White on “Shameless,” and Kiernan Shipka, whose work as Sally on “Mad Men” has developed beautifully — that’s my fantasy.
And all my fantasies will come true, at least until the alarm clock rings.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.