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2012 Emmy Preview

By on September 21, 2012
The cast of Season Four of Breaking Bad, nominee for Best Drama Series (Image © AMC)

The cast of Season Four of Breaking Bad, nominee for Best Drama Series (Image © AMC)

When it comes to the major awards shows, it’s always more fun to complain about your favorites being ignored than to applaud nominations that justly reward excellent work. And it always seems like the Emmys—far more than the Oscars—are a few years behind the curve. Every year when the nominations are revealed there are loud protestations from the loyal fanbases of series that have been passed over. Sometimes this is a function of hindsight: fans of The Wire, a series quickly gaining a reputation as the greatest television drama in history, are fond of pointing out that the series only received two nominations (and zero awards) during its run—both in writing categories. Fans of the cult comedy Community see their show as the most innovative series on the air, but for the Academy voters it’s just too weird.

The Emmys tend to reward the same series every year. Part of this is a reflection of the serialized nature of the medium—if The Sopranos is excellent one season it’s not likely to be garbage the next. Often a series or actor will maintain a high enough level of quality to deserve repeated awards, but that singular focus leaves other deserving nominees winless.

For the past four years, Mad Men has won the Best Drama Series award, the most high profile award in television. For those of you keeping track, that means that Mad Men has won the award every year that it was eligible—shutting out excellent competitors like its AMC neighbor Breaking Bad.

This year, Breaking Bad has more buzz than Mad Men, as many people caught up to the series on Netflix ahead of the fifth season, and realized what a truly excellent series it has been all along. In retrospect, Breaking Bad should have taken the Emmy for its superb second and third seasons, which were beaten by seasons of Mad Men which seem bland in comparison. This year’s awards place the pulpy, violent fourth season of Breaking Bad against Mad Men’s fifth season, its best yet. The fifth season of Mad Men set aside much of the Draper family domestic drama to focus on Joan, Lane, and Pete—characters linked by their desperation. Mad Men may have been stronger this year than Breaking Bad, but as Walt is fond of saying, “nothing stops this train.” Right now is Breaking Bad’s pop culture moment, and the Emmys won’t want to look that out of touch by passing it by.  Likewise, the British series Downton Abbey received multiple nominations for a relatively weak second series, because the brilliant first season became a phenomenon on Netflix.

The cast of Modern Family, nominee for Best Comedy Series (Image © ABC)

Downton Abbey’s wealth of nominations reflects the most annoying tendency in Emmy nominations. Often the nominations are merely a pile-up of nominees from a small selection of shows. This year, very adult member of the cast of Modern Family has been nominated for a supporting acting award, a move that reflects both a canny negotiating tactic by the cast itself (by nominating themselves all as supporting they are able to better make the case that they should be paid equally, an argument that is continuing to halt production of the fourth season) and the fact that Emmy voters appear to be watching no other comedy on television. Certainly Nick Offerman or Adam Scott of Parks and Recreation deserved a spot, or Jim Rash as the resplendent Dean Pelton on Community.

Some series will just never break through to mainstream recognition, but often those oversights are offset by recognition in below-the-fold categories like writing and direction. Community’s only major nomination this year is in a writing category, where it will be a likely winner for the mind-bending multiple timeline episode “Remedial Chaos Theory”, though it faces stiff competition from the trendy (and good) Lena Dunham for Girls, Amy Poehler for Parks and Recreation, and Louis CK for his genre-bending series Louie.

It may be frustrating that more people are watching Modern Family than Louie, or that CSI will always have been watched by an larger audience (several times over) than The Wire, but with each awards ceremony comes a new chance for recognition, even in small ways, of those series that defy audience expectations, even if the eventual winners are so often safe picks.

So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at the nominations in the major categories, and you can make your own call. Who do you think will be the big winners this Sunday? Sound off in the comments below.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Mayim Bialik in The Big Bang Theory
Kathryn Joosten in Desperate Housewives
Julie Bowen in Modern Family
Sofia Vergara in Modern Family
Merritt Weaver in Nurse Jackie
Kristen Wiig in Saturday Night Live

Kathryn Joosten may very well take a posthumous award for her work on Desperate Housewives (Joosten died this past June), a role she’s already been recognized for twice by the Academy, but Kristen Wiig’s name recognition in the wake of Bridesmaids should keep the award from either Joosten or Bialik, who provides a bit of much-needed spontaneity to The Big Bang Theory.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Ed O’Neill in Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson in Modern Family
Ty Burrell in Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet in Modern Family
Max Greenfield in New Girl
Bill Hader in Saturday Night Live

Greenfield has taken Schmidt, potentially a one-note bimbo, and turned him into the most unpredictable character on TV. He deserves recognition for his work, but look for the Academy to finally honor Ed O’Neill for decades of under-appreciated comedic genius.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Jim Parsons in The Big Bang Theory
Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm
Don Cheadle in House of Lies
Louis CK in Louie
Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock
Jon Cryer in Two and a Half Men

I’d like to think that Jon Cryer’s inclusion in this category is merely a ruse for the television gods to capture and destroy him, ensuring that we are never again subjected to another season of Two and a Half Men. Unfortunately, this is just Hollywood rewarding him for playing nice while Charlie Sheen flipped out. Anyway, he won’t get an award for that—look for Parsons to repeat.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Lena Dunham in Girls
Melissa McCarthy in Mike & Molly
Zooey Deschanel in New Girl
Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation
Tina Fey in 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep

This category, maybe more than any other, truly reflects the excellent work being done in comedy today, which means that the typical Emmy voter will not have seen a minute of any of these shows. They will, however, recognize Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s name—look for her to win over the more deserving Poehler.

Comedy Series

The Big Bang Theory
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Modern Family
30 Rock

This category, on the other hand, reflects the very safe tastes of the mainstream. The edgiest show in this collection, 30 Rock, is several seasons past its prime, and the trendiest one, Girls, still has some growing to do. Modern Family will take this one.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad
Giancarlo Esposito in Breaking Bad
Brendan Coyle in Downton Abbey
Jim Carter in Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones
Jared Harris in Mad Men

If anyone else even tried to accept this award, Gus Fring will silently walk to the podium and slit their throats. Esposito is a lock.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Anna Gunn in Breaking Bad
Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
Joanne Froggatt in Donwton Abbey
Archie Panjabi in The Good Wife
Christine Baranski in The Good Wife
Christina Hendricks in Mad Men

Christina Hendricks was given one of the most controversial storylines in Mad Men’s history, and played it with damaged grace, but Maggie Smith is a living legend, and brought a wicked spirit of fun to an otherwise stilted second series of Downton Abbey.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Glenn Close in Damages
Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey
Juliana Marguiles in The Good Wife
Kathy Bates in Harry’s Law
Claire Danes in Homeland
Elisabeth Moss in Mad Men

The Academy loves to recognize film stars who go “slumming it” in television, so there’s an excellent shot that Close or Bates may take this, especially because this is their last chance to reward Close for Damages. It’s more likely that the award will go to Juliana Marguiles again, but any of the nominees have an excellent shot—this is the biggest toss-up of the night.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire
Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall in Dexter
Hugh Bonneville in Downton Abbey
Damian Lewis in Homeland
Jon Hamm in Mad Men

There is an entire generation of incredible basketball players who never won a championship because they hit their peak during the time that Michael Jordan was in the league—Jon Hamm knows how they feel. Bryan Cranston has won this award every season that he was eligible for his performance as Walter White(the long delay between seasons three and four left an opening for Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights at last years’ ceremony).Hamm was excellent this season, but Bryan Cranston is redefining television acting.

Drama Series

Boardwalk Empire
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
Mad Men

Mad Men had its sharpest year yet, but Breaking Bad has the buzz and the momentum. For the first time in four years Matthew Weiner will not be onstage at the end of the night.

The 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on ABC this Sunday, September 23rd at 7pm Eastern time/4pm Pacific.