Emmys 2012: Handicapping the Outstanding Drama Series Race — Plus: Our Pick to Win!

For the first time in ages, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the drama series Emmy will be given to Mad Men on Sunday. Though in any other year AMC’s crown jewel could probably eke out a victory, even in the wake of its uneven (and duly criticized) fifth season, this year it faces especially formidable competition. Not only are there new shows winning accolades (such as Showtime’s Homeland), but a certain old rival (fellow AMC series Breaking Bad) had its strongest season yet.

Which contender will actually strike gold? While you formulate your opinions, here’s our assessment of all the nominees’ chances followed by our final, fearless prediction:

RELATED | TVLine Readers’ (Emmy) Choice Results Are In 

Boardwalk Empire
Obviously, HBO’s Prohibition-era drama is a solid show–this is, after all, its second nomination in this category. But in spite of the series’ quality, the buzz it generates is decidedly quiet. Last season’s murder of Michael Pitt’s baby-faced mobster, Jimmy Darmody, woke viewers up, but only briefly. So, by the time Emmy voters started filling out their ballots, it was already out of sight, out of mind, and, by extension, out of luck. The longest of the long shots.

Breaking Bad
The smart money says that this is the show that will finally beat Mad Men. Since its debut, the meth-fueled drama has been gaining momentum every season, both creatively and critically, and its last season was hands-down its most, pardon the pun, addictive. In addition, Emmy voters have already expressed their admiration for series stars Bryan Cranston (a three-time winner for his work as chemistry teacher/drug czar Walter White) and Aaron Paul (a 2010 supporting actor victor for his portrayal of Walt’s sidekick, Jesse). (This year, they also gave a nod – perhaps as a parting gift? – to Giancarlo Esposito.) So, sitting on a total of 13 nominations, Breaking Bad is–to put it mildly–looking good.

Downton Abbey
Ironic, isn’t it? PBS elected to pull its mega-popular period piece from the miniseries/made-for-TV movie category (which it won in 2011) and submit it in the more competitive drama series race. Yet the lords and ladies can’t be counted out. Though Downton’s second season was deemed subpar, viewers still ate it up like it was tea and scones. Even Emmy voters didn’t seem fazed by its diminished quality, giving it 16 nominations (only one fewer than Mad Men). In the end, its real stumbling block could be an unspoken reluctance on the part of Hollywood to give the year’s top prize to a show that isn’t even made in America, much less Hollywood.

Game of Thrones
The trouble with HBO’s violent fantasy is that, even if it was an absolutely perfect hour of television, unless a viewer watches it religiously (and attentively), it’s dauntingly difficult to follow. Its plots are so labyrinthine, its cast so huge that it’s a challenge to keep it all straight. (“Who belongs to what house now?”) Certainly, Emmy voters seem a little confused: Only one member of the sprawling ensemble – last year’s supporting actor winner, Peter Dinklage – was recognized this year. As Melisandre might say, not a good omen.

In its first season, Showtime’s counterterrorism drama was so good that it had critics cracking their thesauruses in search of new synonyms for “sublime.” Emmy voters took notice, too: Both Claire Danes (who just won the Golden Globe) and Damian Lewis were nominated. The only factor working against the show is its new-kid-on-the-block status. If voters decide not to award the statuette to Mad Men for a fifth time in a row, they might give it to returning favorite Breaking Bad before they will to a freshman entry.

Mad Men
Pretty much everyone had a gripe about the goings-on at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce this season. There was too much Megan, some said. There wasn’t a “Suitcase” episode, groused others. It just wasn’t that… great. But you would have to be higher than Roger Sterling got on his LSD trip to write off the show’s chances of bagging another drama series Emmy. Coming off back-to-back-to-back-to-back wins, Men still nabbed more nominations than any other series (17), and the late-season shocker that made supporting actress nominee Christina Hendricks’ Joan first a prostitute, then a partner at the agency, sparked the kind of debates for which any show would kill. So is Men vulnerable to an upset? Yes. But a loss is also not a fait accompli.

Who Will Win: Downton Abbey

The 64th annual Primetime Emmy ceremony airs this Sunday at 8/7c on ABC. 

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  1. marge says:

    Aus! Can we please get a ballot for the office pools??

  2. Really? Downton? I think it’s Breaking Bad this year.

  3. Ben says:

    I seriously hope Downton Abbey doesn’t win, it was an absolutely awful series (after such a great first) and doesn’t deserve to win over the other excellent shows.

    If it doesn’t win I hope it doesn’t go back to the mini-series next year, as if it steals it from Parade’s End (seriously watch it when it comes to HBO, the best period drama I’ve seen in years) I will not be happy. Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall are flawless and hopefully shoo-ins for next year’s Best Actor/Actress awards.

  4. YowzaPowza says:

    It’s not going to be Downton Abbey. It’ll be Breaking Bad this year. It has all the buzz. Nobody is talking about Downton this time around.

  5. Louise says:

    Downton Abbey? Bloody hell. Breaking Bad all the way.

  6. Jaz says:

    Well Downton Abbey certainly couldn’t be nominated for best miniseries/tv movie for a second time, the Drama category was it’s only bet.

    I find it curious that everything you say about Breaking Bad is positive and everything you say about Downton is negative, yet you think DA will win.

    Out of all the nominations I only watch GOT and DA, so I’d say neither of them have a chance LOL

  7. Saint Alicia says:

    How is it that TVLine is all on Downton’s jock when it’s the least deserving nominee and has received the most widespread criticism anyhow…
    Gonna go with Breaking Bad or Homeland.

  8. Dani says:

    I think the smart money is still on Mad Men. It might not have been the most even of seasons, but there was still enough in there to warrant it taking the Emmy. Next year Breaking Bad will probably end its winning streak or maybe the year after as Gilligan ties things up. Homeland will be the one to look out for when when both of them are brought to a close in the next couple of years, and it’s even more established.

    The Downton Abbey nom was tokenism. It’s a quaint show, but it’s just not on a par with any of the others in my opinion. Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire are great shows, but they’re too much of an acquired taste.

  9. Girish says:

    If Downton Abbey wins, a man will have his revenge on all the Emmy voters.
    Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Homeland all deserve to win, but I’m rooting for Game of Thrones! Also, Peter Dinklage and Giancarlo Esposito!

  10. Sareeta says:

    Game of Thrones was the most entertaining and well-acted, so it would be my pick. Homeland was well-acted and I would be happy to see Claire Danes get recognition, but it doesn’t deserve best drama series. Same with Boardwalk: a handful of brilliant scenes, very strong supporting cast, but overall not very strong. I think it’ll go to either Mad Men or Breaking Bad. Of the two, I think Breaking Bad deserves it. I will be so angry if Downton wins. It’ll prove Emmy voters are decaying old people who have no taste.

    • I agree with you. While I don’t watch any of the other shows, I don’t think Homeland is that great, even though Claire Danes is AMAZING, FANTASTIC, and the strongest lock in the competition as Carrie Mathison!

  11. Mursal says:

    As much as I love Downton (the series 3 premiere is great btw), its second season just doesn’t compare to Homeland’s first season. I think Homeland has this one in the bag.

  12. sue says:

    id really like boardwalk to win last season was pretty good!

  13. Emily says:

    Wait, what? How did this article come to the conclusion that Downton Abbey would win…?

  14. Britta Unfiltered says:

    I just can’t believe it would be Downton Abbey. The second season was not very good. There are probably a lot of voters who still really enjoyed it, but I believe there are enough voters out there who recognized the decline in quality of that show that it couldn’t win. Just my personal belief and hope.
    Breaking Bad is such a great show, but that’s another one I’m not sure can win. Mostly because the thematic element of the show is so dark, I think a lot of voters just can’t go that dark to vote for a win. And I think they would prefer to reward that show for its performances.
    I think it’s between Mad Men and Homeland. I picked Homeland for the win, but I’m going off more instinct than actual reason. Reason would say it’s going to Mad Men as they were given so many nominations, particularly in the acting and writing categories, and I believe voters the love the idea of the show breaking the record for most consecutive wins. They had bad episodes this season for sure, but if you look at the episodes they submitted, they put all their best episodes in. (Codfish Ball is borderline). If there are voters out there who are only following the submitted episodes and don’t watch the entire season, that could hurt Homeland’s and Breaking Bad chances because the skipping around to just watch 5 or 6 episodes could be confusing to follow the storylines. Mad Men wouldn’t really have that kind of problem. Logic tells me Mad Men will win. My heart tells me Homeland will win.

  15. cjeffery7 says:

    Downton Abbey? Really? I love Downton to death, but if it’s not Mad Men, it’s gonna be Breaking Bad. Homeland would be the underdog FTW.

  16. marc says:

    Who are these people who say Mad Men’s fifth season wasn’t “great”? It sure was. Maybe even the best season they did so far. No Suitcase? Yeah, but it had “Far Away Places” and “Commissions and Fees” instead.

  17. nick1372 says:

    I think that Homeland will win last year. Critics loved it, and found problems with this year’s seasons of Downton Abbey and Mad Men. But don’t rule out Breaking Bad, though.
    Homeland: 24%
    Mad Men: 22%
    Downton Abbey: 21%
    Breaking Bad: 20%
    Game of Thrones: 9%
    Boardwalk Empire: 4%

  18. anna says:

    I think Homeland will win. It just seems to be the kind of show that wins for its buzzy first season. MM winning yet again would be SO boring.

  19. Shaun says:

    GoT always gets the shaft because it’s a Fantasy….forgot how much I hate the Emmy’s

  20. Alexis says:

    Breaking Bad has so much buzz – the fact that it aired new episodes during the voting period certainly helps, and the cast has been seen at all the major events this year and scored some really good press.
    But, and this is a painful but, the Emmy voters really love Downton Abbey. It makes them feel like they have class or something.

  21. Olive says:

    Game of thrones is only hard to follow for lazy viewers.