Emmys 2014

08.22.14

What's TV's Best Drama? 'True Detective,' 'Game of Thrones,' and Our Emmy Predictions

Will voters shower Breaking Bad with farewell trophies, or is the enthusiasm for True Detective impossible to beat? Our picks for who will and who should win in the Emmy drama races.

How dark and brooding are you feeling?

That’s the question, basically, being asked of Emmy voters in this year’s drama races, with nominees dominated by cable TV’s now-notorious crop of slow-burning dark dramas. (You’d think the Golden Age of TV would emit at least a little bit of shine and lighten up these shows a bit, wouldn’t you?)

So with the final season of Breaking Bad, the epic season of Game of Thrones, and the short-but-impactful first season of True Detective all facing off, who will and who should win? Here’s our best, wild estimates.

Drama Series

Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

The wild popularity of Game of Thrones, in general, should mean that the enthusiasm bleeds over at least a bit to Emmy voters, but the show hasn’t typically done well in the major categories (one supporting win by Peter Dinklage as an exception). But with another dazzling battle setpiece to flaunt this year amidst a stronger-than-ever season, Game of Thrones might be a bigger threat in this category that pundits think.

What pundits think, however, is that this is a two-way race between Breaking Bad and True Detective. At the start of the year, it would have seemed ludicrous to bet that any series but Breaking Bad stood a snowman’s shot in hell of winning this, with the AMC drama’s swan song rising to a gorgeously bleak, operatic quality in its last stretch of episodes. But the rousing response to True Detective and the macho-leaning tendencies of the Emmy voting body could elevate the breakout HBO series to victory, particularly considering a recent trend of anointing freshman dramas after stellar first seasons (Mad Men and Homeland both won in their first years).

As interesting and worthy True Detective is, however, it’s hard to lose hope that Breaking Bad’s stellar finale won’t get the recognition it deserves.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Bryan Cranston—Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels—The Newsroom
Jon Hamm—Mad Men
Woody Harrelson—True Detective
Matthew McConaughey—True Detective
Kevin Spacey—House of Cards

People were shocked—shocked!—when Jeff Daniels took home this trophy last year. But they shouldn’t have been. Had they forgotten how crazy popular Aaron Sorkin was with the TV Academy, and what suckers voters are for big, grandiose speechifying monologues, like the one Daniels delivered in The Newsroom pilot? But don’t expect Daniels to repeat this year, as, just like Best Drama, this is a race between Breaking Bad and True Detective.

Matthew McConaughey, flying his McConaissance banner high as he rides in on his A-list Movie Star horse, will win for his work on True Detective.

Bryan Cranston should win for signing off from one of the greatest roles in television history with a grandiose acting performance. But the Emmys haven’t recently had much interest in handing out farewell trophies to departing actors—James Gandolfini, Martin Sheen, and Steve Carell all lost for final seasons most pundits predicted they’d win for. That means that Matthew McConaughey, flying his McConaissance banner high as he rides in on his A-list Movie Star horse, will win for his work on True Detective.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Lizzie Caplan—Masters of Sex
Claire Danes—Homeland
Michelle Dockery—Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies—The Good Wife
Kerry Washington—Scandal
Robin Wright—House of Cards

Claire Danes won this award the last two years. Obviously. She’s freaking brilliant on Homeland. Even though everyone hated the last season of the show and Emmy voters were decidedly chilly toward it this year, she could still win again because her acting is that undeniable on it. But we don’t think she will.

If we’re going to rule who should win instead, it’s Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black but OH THAT’S RIGHT she was snubbed. Julianna Margulies on The Good Wife is the most deserving of the nominees, scorching every scene in a standout season of the CBS drama and submitting a killer episode for voters to judge. But the voters also inexplicably snubbed The Good Wife for Best Drama, hinting that they might have some ridiculous block for seeing how brilliant the show is. That means it’s Robin Wright who will probably win.

She didn’t have much to do in Season Two of House of Cards and I still can’t decide if it’s her acting or her haircut that’s impressing all of us. But the episode she submitted, where she says she was raped in a televised interview, is crazy good. Give that hair an Emmy!

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Jim Carter—Downton Abbey
Josh Charles—The Good Wife
Peter Dinklage—Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin—Homeland
Aaron Paul—Breaking Bad
Jon Voight—Ray Donovan

Jon Voight is surprisingly my favorite in this category. He’s playing a role on Ray Donovan that he could so easily have phoned in, but instead has made exceptional and nuanced and unexpectedly rich. It would also be fun if Josh Charles picked up this award for his best season—well, half season :(—on The Good Wife.

A hunch says that this is where Game of Thrones wins its big award this year, as Peter Dinklage had one of the series’ most intriguing (and actor-y) arcs this season of the show. But Aaron Paul has won in this category twice before, and this is the one category where Breaking Bad nostalgia doesn’t have to compete with True Detective upstart enthusiasm, meaning that a farewell prize should definitely be headed his way.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Christine Baranski—The Good Wife
Anna Gunn—Breaking Bad
Joanne Froggatt—Downton Abbey 
Lena Headey—Game of Thrones
Christina Hendricks—Mad Men
Maggie Smith—Downton Abbey

At every awards show (Emmys, Golden Globes, SAGs) this has been the hardest category to predict, because you carefully watch each actress’s submission and make an educated judgment and then—NOPE!—it’s Maggie Smith for the win. Except for when you expect her to win again, and Anna Gunn comes out of nowhere and wins the award she’s long deserved (as she did last year). So what to think this year?

Christine Baranski is perennially nominated here, even when—though she’s always regal and amazing on The Good Wife—she doesn’t deserve to be. That’s not the case this year. Oh does she deserve this nomination, and maybe even this award with her stellar aftermath-of-Will grief work. A strong case could made for Lena Headey, whose performance is so effortlessly complex on Game of Thrones that you’re sometimes not aware how impressed you should be of it. And these actresses are all adjudicated based on one singular episode submission, of which Joanne Froggatt has a doozy, with the first in her rape arc on Downton Abbey.

But bearing in mind that this is supposed to be all about the episode and the fact that it’s Breaking Bad’s final season, we suspect that Anna Gunn will take it again this year—her episode submission, “Ozymandias,” is just about the best showcase an actress could ask for.