AMC's other prestige drama, which sat on the sidelines last year, returned with what many considered its strongest season to date. But was it strong enough to stop Mad Men from becoming the first drama series in history to win five years in a row?
THE GOOD WIFE
The drama remains CBS and broadcast TV's best — and likely only — chance at a drama series nomination. And with good reason. The show’s third season, which deftly handled the coupling and subsequent breakup of Will and Alicia, was every bit as compelling as the two that preceded it.
Showtime's new breakout hit is riding such an enviable wave of acclaim that it is arguably the only series other than Breaking Bad that has a real shot at ending Mad Men's reign.
SONS OF ANARCHY
Were it not for the number of strong new shows vying to break into the drama series category this year, FX's biker series might have been able to sneak into the race, finally: Its fourth season was that solid. Unfortunately for the show, as well as for standout cast members Charlie Hunnam and especially Maggie Siff (the Mad Men alumna who got better and better, the worse things got for her character, Tara Knowles), the best chance of a nod is for series' female lead Katey Sagal who is seeking her first Emmy nomination.
Season 4 of TNT’s gritty L.A.-set police drama was its most taut and compelling to date — with Det. Lydia Adams concealing her pregnancy, Officer Jessica Tang concealing evidence that would implicate her in a bad suspect shooting, and Officer Ben Sherman crossing all kinds of ethical boundaries in his attempts to protect the teenage daughter of a street prostitue. Dark stuff, to be sure, but Southland handled it with an unflinnching observer’s eye that rivaled any drama on television in the last year. If Emmy ignores the cult favorite again, call 9-1-1 and report a felony-level snub.
THE WALKING DEAD
Given Emmy's longstanding bias against genre shows (see also: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Fringe) and the fact that AMC's monster hit wasn't nominated last year, when its freshman season generated such deafening buzz, it's highly unlikely that it will get a nod this year.
For three seasons now, the industry consensus about NBC's community-collegiate comedy has seemed to be that it's smart, innovative, funny … and just too far-out for its own good. But, after its fans campaigned for its return to the schedule, and creatively it scored over and over (first with a send-up of Ken Burns' The Civil War and then with a Law & Order spoof), the tide may finally have turned. But the recent ouster of creator Dan Harmon and his publicized feud with co-star Chevy Chase may prove distracting for Academy voters.
Lena Dunham's freshman comedy initially took some heat for lack of diversity and allegations of nepotistic casting, but the focus of discussion has now returned to the fact that, at the end of the day, the show is drop-dead, deadpan funny. And, since the industry's infatuation with the fresh-faced series (and, for that matter, its creator/star) never wavered, it probably stands an even better chance of returning HBO to the comedy race than the cable network's last nominee, the aging Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The two Critics Choice nods the show picked up (for Casey Wilson and Damon Wayans Jr.) certainly raises the ABC comedy’s kudos profile, but will it be enough to get the attention of Emmy voters? As amahzing as that would be, it’s probably a long-shot.
As one of the season's few new comedy breakouts, Fox's freshman is all but automatically moved to the Emmy shortlist for a nod.
PARKS AND RECREATION
If any show really poses a threat to Modern Family, it's this one. NBC's local-government send-up is coming off not just its best season yet, but one that's so superlative that some critics have taken to calling it the best comedy on television. So, obviously, a nomination is a given. And a win? A definite maybe.
For our money, ABC’s rookie suburban satire is the most underrated comedy on the air. In a less crowded field of contenders, it would be a shoo-in for a best series nod. It’s best hope for Emmy love is probably for supporting actress (and Critics Choice nominee) Cheryl Hines.
It has been suggested that Ryan Murphy's kinky FX chiller should be competing as a drama series (like Downton Abbey this year), not a mini-series (like Downton Abbey last year). But the anthological nature of the spookfest suggests that it is, in fact, right where it belongs. In any case, in this less crowded category, it's much likelier to be recognized with a nod. Ordinarily, prior nominees Dylan McDermott (a contender for The Practice in 1999) and Connie Britton (up twice for Friday Night Lights) would stand a great chance of being acknowledged as well. But the general consensus is that, if any cast member is going to be singled out, it's going to be scene-stealing Jessica Lange (herself a three-time nominee and a winner in 2009 for Grey Gardens, to say nothing of her Golden Globe and SAG Awards for American Horror Story).
As gloriously bleak as PBS' adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic was, it flew mainly under the radar — with one notable exception: its Miss Havisham, Gillian Anderson. She was widely considered to be too young to play the infamously horrific crone. But, given Emmy's long love affair with the actress — she's been nominated five times and won in 1997 for The X-Files — it would be a mistake to count her out.
BBC America's Cold War-era drama scored not only as a nail-biter but also as a pitch-perfect period piece on par with the likes of Mad Men. In addition, it's coming off three Golden Globe nominations. So, to put it mildly, it's looking good for an Emmy nod or two, in particular for its male lead, Wire alum Dominic West as the smoothest operator this side of Don Draper.
Though it hasn't sparked the kind of hoopla that some other projects have (think: Downton Abbey), this dark crime drama did earn its leading man, Idris Elba, a nod following its first go-'round last year. And, coming off a Golden Globe win this year, at very least he seems like a safe bet to receive another Emmy nomination.
Most of the attention that PBS' spy yarn has received thus far has been focused on its star, Bill Nighy — a Golden Globe nominee for his portrayal of an MI5 agent whose discovery of a cover-up paints a target on his back. However, writer-director David Hare should be considered a contender as well, not only because of the quality of the film but also because it marks his first feature-length directorial effort since 1997's The Designated Mourner.
Were the Emmys only about quality and not politics, star wattage and network muscle, a win for PBS’ superlative detective update would be … well, elementary. On every level — writing, directing, acting — the episode submitted for consideration (the first of Season 2, "A Scandal in Belgravia") is triumphant. At the very least, it — and its Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch — should receive a nomination (Last year, the show's only major nod was for writing).
After nine straight nominations with zero wins, Fox’s ratings juggernaut is developing a reputation as the Susan Lucci of the reality-competition set. And while the show’s reinvigorated 2011 installment (its first with a rebooted, Cowell-less judges’ panel) was widely viewed as its best hope to finally break that losing streak, the recently concluded (and talent-rich) Season 11 proved that, in the words of Randy Jackson, Idol could still be very much in it to win it.
Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
Another perennial nominee (from 2006-2011) that’s still looking for its first win, DWTS enters the race on the strength of a season that was less about hot-button contestants of the Bristol Palin/Chaz Bono variety, and more about a fun, evenly matched field of hoofers. That Kumbaya vibe may have been a relief to the DWTS faithful, but the subsequent lack of buzz might once again relegate the show to bridesmaid status.
RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo)
Okay, it’s got an ice cube’s chance on a hot summer sidewalk of stealing a nomination from its higher-profile competitors, but Logo’s bawdy, buzzy, bitchy hootenanny really deserves some consideration for using sequins, wigs, and the campiest guest-judging lineup in TV history to create deliciously unpredictable TV magic. To paraphrase the show’s titular host(ess): “Don’t f*** it up, Emmy!”
So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
It may not pull the ratings of its sister show, Idol, but SYTYCD has a higher degree of difficulty — drawing a mass audience for a dance competition that’s not constructed around pre-existing celebrities. And while Emmy may smell a little blood in the water thanks to Fox’s decision to trim SYTYCD‘s results show from its current installment, the show’s glorious Season 8 — with its exquisite Melanie-vs.-Sasha finale — made for sublime television.
The Voice (NBC)
Last year, NBC proved it’s not an automatic suicide mission to launch a reality singing competition in the midst of Idol season. And Season 2 of The Voice proved there’s legs to the show’s mix of blind auditions, spinning chairs, and A-list judges. True, palpable tension between Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine may not have been great for the mentors’ individual reputations, but that controversy — and a diverse crop of vocalists — should be enough to earn the show an initial Emmy nod.
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Pro: He's made good at the Emmys after all three of Bad's previous seasons. And some consider his work in Season 4 to be his strongest yet.
Con: Um… er… ARE there any? Good luck, everybody who's not named Bryan Cranston!
Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy
Pro: In Sons' strongest season to date, he was a revelation.
Con: If Katey Sagal can’t get a nomination, Hunnam's chances fall somewhere in the range of "slim to none" to "just none."
Pro: Beyond the fact that AMC's monster mash is a megahit, its hero acted his guts out, especially early in the season, when his character's son was shot.
Con: Since Emmy reacts to genre shows like zombies do mannequins — it just passes them by — the deck is stacked against Lincoln.
William H. Macy, Shameless
Pro: In its second season, the Showtime drama gained momentum and a higher profile, which should translate into better odds of a nod for its star.
Con: Should translate to better odds for Macy. But unfortunately won't. The show was passed over for its first season, and this time around, competition in this category is arguably stiffer.
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Pro: Cheadle's gleeful portrayal of a damage-control master who'll do anything to close a deal — but can't do much to stop his family from imploding — is the best part of the Showtime series.
Con: Like we said, Cheadle is the highlight of Lies… but the rest could use some help. The show's haphazard nature may obscure Cheadle's good work.
Louis C.K., Louie
Pro: C.K. is heading up a show unlike any other comedy on television right now, and his nomination last year shows that Emmy voters are paying attention.
Con: That said, comedy is subjective; if this year's nominating committee doesn't dig his self-deprecating and scatological riffs, it probably won't want to nominate him, either.
Garrett Dillahunt, Raising Hope
Pro: Sweet-talking the coffee shop clerk? Trying to impress Burt's long-lost parents? Caring for a seeing-eye pig that turns into dinner? Dillahunt rocked it all.
Con: Sweetly dumb characters like Burt are tough to play convincingly and even tougher to get credit for.
Joel McHale, Community
Pro: The outstandingly creative show is finally getting the recognition it deserves, and McHale is a huge part of that. (And no, that's not just extreme narcissism talking.)
Con: The controversy surrounding creator/showrunner Dan Harmon's recent ouster, as well as his public dustup with star Chevy Chase, may distract Emmy voters from McHale's spot-on performance this season.
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Pro: Last year's winner hilariously forged the final frontier this season when Sheldon made contact with idol Spock.
Con: There's no reason not to re-nominate him, unless… BAZINGA?!?
Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation
Pro: Scott made Ben's highs (becoming Knope 2012's campaign manager) into gut-busters and his lows (sobbing after splurging on a Batman costume) even funnier.
Con: Despite the show's several seasons of strong ensemble work, Amy Poehler (Leslie) has been the only Pawnee player so far to grab Emmy's attention.
Pro: Her performance as terrorist hunter Carrie Mathison was one of the most celebrated of the year – in any medium. Her Golden Globe win in January only further cemented her frontrunner status.
Con: Voters might resent the perception that she’s a lock and throw their support behind Mad Men‘s long-overdue Elisabeth Moss.
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Pro: One of the six best actress slots will undoubtedly go to a leading “Lady” from PBS’ exclamation-pointed period piece. And none of them are more deserving than the ingenue who makes Mary such a memorable study in corseted sadomasochism.
Con: However deserving Dockery may be, the nod is still likelier to go to the show’s matriarch, Elizabeth McGovern.
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Pro: Last year’s winner used Season 3 to remind us why she won.
Con: None. She’s a lock for a nod.
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Pro: Blessed with a very eventful season for her Peggy, Moss has delivered time and time again. And again. And again. Seriously, she doesn’t miss a beat.
Con: Co-star Jessica Pare is also entering the lead actress race, meaning she could siphon some votes away. That is, if voters are blind, deaf and dumb. Moss should be unbeatable, “Zou Bisou Bisou” be damned.
Emmy Rossum, Shameless
Pro: Her omission from the lead actress race last year was met with rioting in the streets. Surely, at least a few Emmy voters bore witness to it.
Con: That rioting that went on in the streets… may actually have gone on mainly in my head.
Katey Sagal, Sons of Anarchy
Pro: Creatively speaking, FX’s biker drama popped a wheelie this season, which bodes well for the actress that many consider to be its “gateway nominee.”
Con: Emmy doesn’t seem to like motorcycles.
Laura Dern, Enlightened
Pro: As a New Age self-helper seething with tamped-down corporate rage, Dern portrays Amy's dueling natures with the balance of a perfectly executed yoga pose. Also helping her Emmy odds: The Golden Globe she picked up in January.
Con: We called Dern's Amy "the most tantalizingly/unapologetically unlikable lead character in recent memory," and that was when we were arguing for the show's renewal! If Emmy voters feel the same way, they may not give Dern a second thought.
Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
Pro: We refuse to use "adorkable" in this plug; nonetheless, quirky Deschanel really has made an art form out of melding cute, smart and awkward.
Con: Given Girl's positive press and critical success, there's really no reason its leading lady shouldn't make the slate. Not nominating her, however, would require a whole lot of cash for the d-bag jar.
Lena Dunham, Girls
Pro: Dunham had us hooked the moment Hannah tried to turn her unpaid internship into a real job and wound up getting fired instead. The series' writer, executive producer, sometime director and star is unafraid to make her character look bad, which of course makes us love her all the more.
Con:Girls' all-white cast, full of famous people's kids, got some negative attention at the beginning of the season; if Emmy voters tuned out because of it, they missed Dunham's best stuff.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Pro: The PSAs! Smilegate! The spilled pregnancy-test pee! Whether she's engaged in physical comedy or stumbling to cover up a press rumor, two-time Emmy winner (and 12-time nominee) Louis-Dreyfus’ hilarious turn as Selina Meyer has “award-worthy role” written all over it.
Con: None. She’s a shoo-in.
Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope
Pro: Plimpton was nominated last year for her portrayal of Virginia, Hope's (non-senile) matriarch, and she was even better this season.
Con: Someone’s gotta get cut to make room for all the new blood. (Side Note: Let’s hope it’s not her.)
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Pro: Poehler's been nominated for the past two years, and Leslie's campaign and love life — both controversial — created even more chances for hilarity this season.
Con: With such a stellar season behind her, there's Knope way Poehler won't be asked back to the Emmy party.
Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Pro: The ups and downs of Will's affair with Alicia, along with his eventual suspension from practicing law and the shadows of his gambling addiction, gave Charles plenty to play with this season. After last year's nomination, this could be his time.
Con: Honestly, there's not much working against the talented actor. He's doing solid work in a solid show, and he's a good, safe bet.
Pro: As a seriously scary meth mogul masquerading as an upright citizen, Esposito ruled the AMC drama this season. And now that Gus is [SPOILER ALERT] no longer with us, this could be Esposito's last chance at a statue for a while.
Con: The Emmys have smiled on Breaking Bad numerous times in the past. If fatigue has set in, Esposito has less hope for an award than Gus has of passing the pearly gates.
Shawn Hatosy, Southland
Pro: As Sammy returned to patrol after the death of pal and partner Nate, Hatosy's performance was truly one of L.A.'s finest.
Con: If Hatosy is pitted against co-star Michael Cudlitz, they may cancel each other out.
Joel Kinnaman, The Killing
Pro: Amazing acting keeps us coming back to The Killing, even when the story's pace goes from snail to glacial. Kinnaman's portrayal of recovered-addict-turned-detective Holder is a huge part of that; let's hope Emmy voters agree.
Con: If the Killing lands any nods — and that’s a big if — it’ll probably be for lead actress (and ’11 nominee) Mireille Enos.
Pro: Playing loose cannon and kinda-mad genius Walter — as well as his parallel, Walternate — is equal parts high drama, sci-fi intrigue, and human connection, sometimes all in the same scene. Noble nails it every time.
Con:Fringe is science fiction, not traditionally an Emmy magnet.
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Pro: Paul's Jesse may not have become the teacher in this past season, but he's certainly working his way up to TA — and Paul's portrayal of his character's dangerous dealings, all done with Walter's well-being in mind, was captivating. Plus, he nabbed an Emmy for the role in 2010.
Con: He nabbed an Emmy for the role in 2010. The Academy may want to spread the wealth.
Max Greenfield, New Girl
Pro:How I Met Your Mother's Neil Patrick Harris carved an awesome Emmy niche for himself as a caddish supporting actor, and we can easily see Greenfield slipping right into it.
Con: Most of New Girl's buzz was about star Zooey Deschanel; while she's a lock for a nomination, Greenfield and his bros are less of a sure thing.
Simon Helberg, The Big Bang Theory
Pro: What does a guy have to do to get Emmy voters' attention, go into space? Done. It's time for the long-overlooked Helberg to get some kudos of his own.
Con: With co-stars Johnny Galecki (Leonard) and Jim Parsons (Sheldon) getting the most Bang buzz, Helberg will likely find his Emmy chances flaming out like a rocket upon reentry.
Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation
Pro: This season, Offerman has climbed even higher on his own Pyramid of Greatness as Ron Swanson, Pawnee's deadpan Parks & Rec head.
Con: Offerman's portrait of laconic Ron was overlooked by Emmy voters for the past three years. We’re starting to give up hope.
Danny Pudi, Community
Pro: If any member of the Community cast gets nominated, it'll likely be stellar scene-stealer Pudi.
Con: "If any member of the Community cast get nominated…" that’s a really big if.
Pro: After an Oscar win (for co-writing The Descendants' adapted screenplay), the man who plays Greendale's flamboyant Dean Pelton has more than earned an Emmy bookend.
Con: If the nominations do fall in Community's favor, we're thinking Danny Pudi or Donald Glover will get the nod before Rash does.
Damon Wayans Jr., Happy Endings
Pro: Wayans Jr.'s Critics' Choice Television Award nomination for his portrayal of girlyman Brad could be a precursor to some sweet Emmy lovin'.
Con: The Endings‘ cast will likely be squeezed out by a few Modern men.
Morena Baccarin, Homeland
Pro: Baccarin's portrayal of a down-to-earth, conflicted wife and mom is a thing of beauty, and she's unafraid to be emotionally (and sometimes physically) naked.
Con:Homeland lead Claire Danes has gotten a lot of press; buzz about Baccarin, though positive, is much quieter and could affect her chances.
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Pro: Crossed by Ted and with Gus gunning for her family, Skyler spent the season spinning. Gunn was mesmerizing.
Con: Emmy's love for Breaking Bad hasn't extended to its ladies, at least not yet.
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Pro: Between booting Greg and becoming partner, Hendricks has turned in some fine performances in the show's fifth season.
Con: If Emmy voters didn't like the tawdry way Joan became a Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce partner, they may be disinclined to give her portrayer the credit she deserves.
Regina King, Southland
Pro: Lydia's soul-searching last season led to her pregnancy this season, and allowed King to show us another side of the tough lady cop. Emmy loves that kind of stuff.
Con: As Lydia, King's a workhorse: steady, reliable… and not likely to be feted by the Academy.
Kelly MacDonald, Boardwalk Empire
Pro: The way MacDonald played Margaret's devotion and calculation made Mrs. Nucky supremely watchable this season.
Con: Can't think of one. She’s a lock.
Maggie Siff, Sons of Anarchy
Pro: Everything that led up to Tara becoming SAMCRO's new First Lady — the realization that she and Jax were never getting out of Charming, her possibly-career-ending injury, her psychotic break — put Siff in good stead for a statuette.
Con: If the Academy has it in its heart to grace a gritty, basic cable drama with a supporting actress nomination, it may go with Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn over Siff.
Cheryl Hines, Suburgatory
Pro: Hines' portrayal of image-obsessed mama Dallas is even more entertaining than her performance on Curb Your Enthusiasm, for which she received two nods.
Con:Suburgatory's amazing ensemble may actually work against Hines' chances; Allie Grant, Carly Chaikin and Ana Gasteyer are just as deserving, and rather than single one actress out, Emmy voters may avoid the group all together.
Gillian Jacobs, Community
Pro: After the way she played Britta's battles with Chang and her failed attempt at grief counseling, it's no wonder that Jacobs recently nabbed a Critics' Choice Television Awards nomination.
Con:Community and its cast are Emmy long-shots.
Melissa Rauch, The Big Bang Theory
Pro: Rauch was admirable in a season-long wedding arc that ended right as Bernadette saw new husband Howard launch into space.
Con: It's the same problem that will likely plague co-star Mayim Bialik: Because they're on a show about nerdy guys, the ladies — no matter how talented — tend to fade into the background.
Eden Sher, The Middle
Pro: Sher has a knack for playing Sue's middle-child neuroses with a winning, unflagging optimism. Plus, a guest-host spot on The View revealed her fun, up-for-anything side.
Con: Because Sher's more established co-stars tend to get the little buzz that The Middle generates, she's at a disadvantage for making the nominee list.
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Pro: Wiig's post-Bridesmaids season was also her last one on the NBC institution; there's a good chance that Emmy voters will reward the rising star's seven-year run with a nomination.
Con: See above. There's almost no way the thrice-nominated Wiig's name won't be announced on nomination morning.
Casey Wilson, Happy Endings
Pro: Wilson's had some a-mah-zing scenes this season, as Penny figured out that she did, indeed, have feelings for Dave. Also, her character can be so pathetic, it'd be a crime not to toss a nod Wilson's way.
Con:Endings hasn't been able to attract Emmy's attention yet, making it all the easier to abbrev Wilson right out of the competition.