While the Primetime Emmy Awards aren’t typically known for offering gasp-inducing surprises, last year’s ceremony did make an instant star out of The Good Wife’s Archie Panjabi, who walked off with the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, even as most of the crowd gathered said, “Who?” (Those of us who know and love The Good Wife, however, cheered for Kalinda’s win.)
Anything is possible, particularly in some key races (like Panjabi’s category again this year) that are going neck-and-neck as we move into the days leading up to Sunday’s telecast, which will air—for the second year in a row—live from coast to coast.
The winners will be announced on Sept. 18’s live Primetime Emmy Awards telecast on Fox.
But, in the meantime, Jace Lacob and Maria Elena Fernandez offer their predictions of who and what will take home the top prizes in 10 key Emmy races. Will stealth frontrunner Margo Martindale win for Justified? Will Jon Hamm finally take home the Emmy for Mad Men? And will AMC’s period drama four-peat this year? Let’s take a closer look at the major categories.
Outstanding Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)Dexter (Showtime)Friday Night Lights (The 101 Network/NBC)Game of Thrones (HBO)The Good Wife (CBS)Mad Men (AMC)
He Said: The competition in this category is extremely fierce (though we can all agree that Dexter is the least likely to get the win), with strong seasons from returnee The Good Wife and Friday Night Lights (the series’ final outing) and HBO’s newcomers Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones. However, I think that Mad Men will walk away with a fourth trophy this year, following an extremely strong season that had Jon Hamm’s Don Draper bottoming out after losing his family and the one person in the world who knew the real him … and finding a connection with protégée Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss). Add to this the surge of critical acclaim behind the season’s sensational two-hander, “The Suitcase,” and the fact that there’s an innate hunger for anything Mad Men–related (particularly as it doesn’t return until March), and I think we’ll see Matthew Weiner at the podium again this year, accepting the award.
She Said: This could be the year a tie is in order. Hmm. How about two ties? One between Game of Thrones and Mad Men, and another between The Good Wife and Friday Night Lights. OK, I see the gun to my head: Mad Men did have a splendid fourth season, but I think the Academy will welcome a new winner this year and Game of Thrones will take the trophy. (Friday Night Lights, in my heart it’s all you.)
Outstanding Comedy Series
30 Rock (NBC)The Big Bang Theory (CBS)Glee (Fox)Modern Family (ABC)The Office (NBC)Parks and Recreation (NBC)
He Said: I think the bad publicity surrounding Glee (and the creatively subpar season) all but made an Emmy win an impossibility for Ryan Murphy’s Fox musical comedy. In a perfect world, NBC’s bold and inventive Parks and Recreation—arguably one of the most pitch-perfect ensemble casts on television today—would take home the prize (it at least got a nomination this year for a change), but I’m concerned that it’s a little too risky for Emmy voters to embrace. Instead, I think we’ll see another win for the lovely Modern Family, which didn’t suffer through a sophomore season but instead further developed its well-drawn characters and reminded us of why we love the Dunphy-Pritchett clan.
She Said: Just because of Sofia Vergara’s Gloria’s response to a neighbor’s question about the name of her son—“His name is shut up your dumb dog!”—Modern Family will take it home again. But I won’t be mad at all if Parks and Recreation li-tra-lly wins. Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) crying at Lil’ Sebastian’s funeral was priceless.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama
Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire)Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights)Michael C. Hall (Dexter)Jon Hamm (Mad Men)Hugh Laurie (House)Timothy Olyphant (Justified)
He Said: Two words: “The Suitcase.” Hamm has been upstaged in the last few years by Bryan Cranston, but as Breaking Bad isn’t in contention this year, it’s finally (and rightly) Hamm’s turn to shine. And what a season it was for Hamm’s Don Draper, particularly in “The Suitcase,” the episode he’s nominated for, which depicts the tug-of-war between Don and Moss’s Peggy as he avoids making a life-changing phone call, throwing himself into work. Over the course of a long evening, these two argue, open up to one another, and—when Don finally does make the call—reaffirm their innate bond. Hamm’s virtuoso performance here, alternately channeling Don’s arrogance, denial, and heartbreak, is in a class of its own.
She Said: I’m in pain. Not only has Jon Hamm deserved it for a while, he was brilliant in the fourth season of Mad Men. But Timothy Olyphant is a picture-perfect cowboy on Justified, and Kyle Chandler as the heart and soul of Friday Night Lights should have been recognized a long time ago. I’m going to throw a Hail Mary and go with Chandler. The other two men still have a chance to win in the future.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama
Kathy Bates (Harry’s Law)Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights)Mireille Enos (The Killing)Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit)Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
He Said: It’s another tough race here, as the women of drama have turned in some superb performances this year (including Connie Britton’s magnificent final season as Tami Taylor), but I think that out of them all, Julianna Margulies had the best season as a whole, and the episode that Margulies submitted for consideration (“In Sickness”) showcased her range beautifully: steely and resolute (she packed up her cheating husband’s things and found him an apartment during his election-results party!), she was also vulnerable and despondent (as she tells their kids that their dad has moved out and realizes she hasn’t protected them). Margulies’s level of commitment to riding the waves of emotion Alicia is experiencing is astonishing, and she commands the screen with a look, a drawn breath, a quiet stagger down a hallway. Sensational.
She Said: Julianna Margulies was riveting in her understated portrayal of a woman scorned—yet again. Few actresses can do what she does: we empathize with her but never pity her. Still, I am going to go with Connie Britton on this one. The final season of Friday Night Lights featured some of Tami Taylor’s finest moments, like when she angrily whispered, “Eighteen years,” to her husband during a fight, as she allowed uninvited guests into their home. Tami was referring to the number of years she had been Coach Taylor’s supportive wife. Maybe she needs two trophies.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)Steve Carell (The Office)Louis C.K. (Louie)Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory)Matt LeBlanc (Episodes)Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
He Said: Given that this season of The Office was the final appearance of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, who received a season-long swan song in a way, it seems foolhardy not to predict that Carell will walk away with the Emmy as a sort of goodbye present. While The Office has seen far better days, no one can deny the devotion and commitment that Carell has shown to the character of Michael, who finally found true love and left the paper company that appeared to be his entire life at the start of the season. Crass, insensitive, and downright boorish, Michael developed into a man fighting against his loneliness and awkward nature, and Carell gave this man-child a beating heart underneath the “That’s what she said!” humor.
She Said: It may be a sentimental choice at this point, but Steve Carell deserves it for the part he played in changing the face of comedy on television. Besides, his goodbye episode—“Let me know if this ever airs”—was lovely.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy
Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)Tina Fey (30 Rock)Laura Linney (The Big C)Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly)Martha Plimpton (Raising Hope)Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
He Said: In a category filled with boldface names, it’s a tough call to single out one player for recognition. But if there is any justice in Emmy land, the award should go to Amy Poehler for her performance as the ever-optimistic Leslie Knope in NBC’s Parks and Recreation, a midlevel bureaucrat who believes in democracy, doing the right thing, and the power of, er, parks, despite the negativity around her (and even within her own name). Poehler’s continuously expressive performance is a discovery every week, as we see Leslie not as a saintly do-gooder but as a person trying to battle the Kafkaesque political machinery of small-town Indiana … and her own flaws along the way. With a performance as nuanced and wonderful as this, Poehler deserves a trophy for her wall.
She Said: Martha Plimpton shines in her first steady TV job, and I think she will pull the surprise win of the night, even if her Virginia’s English is not so good: “I’m listening, so you get back in there and stop procrasturbating.”
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama
Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age)Josh Charles (The Good Wife)Alan Cumming (The Good Wife)Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)Walton Goggins (Justified)John Slattery (Mad Men)
He Said: The supporting categories this year are proving to be the tightest races, as they’re overflowing with immense talent and promise. All these men are deserving of awards for their respective seasons. (Just look at Walton Goggins’s jaw-dropping performance as Boyd Crowder, or the way that Peter Dinklage perfectly embodies the craftiness and intellectual largesse of Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones.) But I think that ultimately the award will go to The Good Wife’s Alan Cumming, who once again delivers an impassioned and slick turn as the oily and manipulative image consultant Eli Gold, who nonetheless proved he had a beating heart this year, even as he trampled on Alicia’s.
She Said: Do I really have to pick one? For me, it’s a tie between Walton Goggins and Alan Cumming. I’m still mad Goggins was never nominated for his hair-raising work on The Shield, and on Justified he’s just proven what a versatile actor he is. Cumming can play diabolical and lovable in the space of one scene, and that’s hard to beat. Cumming will probably take this.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama
Christine Baranski (The Good Wife)Michelle Forbes (The Killing)Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire)Margo Martindale (Justified)Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife)
He Said: As much as I love all of the actresses nominated here (Baranski! Forbes! Hendricks! Macdonald! Panjabi!), to me there’s one who stands far above all the rest: Margo Martindale. Her breathtaking portrayal of Kentucky drug kingpin Mags Bennett was the stuff of legend, as Martindale channeled her inner brute to deliver a knockout performance, stealing the screen every time she entered the frame. Vicious, cunning, and ruthless to a fault (she brutally hammers her son’s hand when he fails her), Mags Bennett is undone by her own capacity for violence … and her desire to see what the truest mystery of all is—what lies behind the mortal veil—rather than face the consequences of her actions. Escape for Mags—and heartbreak for viewers everywhere—lies at the bottom of a poisoned glass. Martindale, at 60, gives the type of staggering, Shakespearean performance that the medium has been waiting for, and from which it’s impossible to look away.
She Said: Another category packed with wow, but no one came close to the power of Margo Martindale—a force to be reckoned with. What was scarier? The way she softly killed a man with her lethal apple pie or the way she then became obsessed with his little girl? For sure, Martindale is going home with the prize.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)Chris Colfer (Glee)Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family)Ed O’Neill (Modern Family)Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)
He Said: The entire adult male contingent of Modern Family is represented here, and each is equally worthy of the recognition, but I’m going to give a very slight edge to Ty Burrell for his winning performance as dorky Phil Dunphy, an Everyman who is so desperate to appear to be the “cool dad” that he shows us weekly just how decidedly uncool he is. Burrell doesn’t judge Phil, however, but seems to effortlessly embody him with a looseness and lack of inhibition that is extremely hard to pull off on a regular basis.
She Said: I’m going with Ty Burrell, too. His Phil Dunphy had a spectacular second season: “You can insult a lot of things about me: my hair, my voice, my balance-board exercises, but don’t insult my selling. That crosses a line. What line? Oh, you don’t see it? That’s 'cause I just sold it.”
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Julie Bowen (Modern Family)Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)Jane Lynch (Glee)Sofia Vergara (Modern Family)Betty White (Hot in Cleveland)Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
He Said: In another race too close to call, I think it will come down to either Modern Family’s Julie Bowen or Glee’s Jane Lynch, easily the funniest element of the Fox musical comedy and last year’s winner. As Lynch is hosting the Emmys (has an Emmy host ever won on the same evening?) and the tide has turned somewhat against Glee (thanks to some explosive behind-the-scenes tension) and Bowen’s Claire and the show are beloved everywhere, I’ll give the edge to Bowen here. Her Claire manages to be both put-upon and believably neurotic at the same time, but Bowen makes this wife and mother completely sympathetic and endearing, even when she’s engaging in a Strangers on a Train–style swap with her brother to deal with their significant others’ irritating quirks.
She Said: Sofia Vergara had some hilarious turns in the sophomore season of Modern Family, and I think if anyone can steal this from Jane Lynch, it’s her. With gems like “Who wants to live in a world where dogs eat each other? Doggy-dog world is a beautiful world filled with little puppies?” my money’s on her.