The Emmy Awards aren’t typically known for shocking anyone, but there are some unexpected twists every now and then. Just look at last year’s surprise Best Actor win for Kyle Chandler for the beloved, barely watched Friday Night Lights, and the look of absolute shock upon the face of Best Supporting Actress winner Margo Martindale.
This year’s races are tighter than ever, especially in the acting categories, where no fewer than seven comedians are battling it out for supremacy in the Best Actress race, and the competition is no less fierce in the supporting categories, where Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn will face off against The Good Wife’s Christine Baranski and Archie Panjabi, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, and Downton Abbey’s Maggie Smith and Joanne Froggatt.
The winners will be announced on Sunday’s telecast of the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on ABC. But before they’re declared, Jace Lacob and Maria Elena Fernandez offer their predictions of who and what will take home the top prizes in 10 key Emmy races.
Outstanding Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)Breaking Bad (AMC)Downton Abbey (PBS)Game of Thrones (HBO)Homeland (Showtime)Mad Men (AMC)
He Said: This year represents some very real competition to the supremacy of four-time winner Mad Men, but despite the presence of potential spoiler Downton Abbey (the Television Academy loves a cultural lynchpin!), political thriller Homeland, and meth-laced Breaking Bad (and for reasons I discuss at long length here), I think Mad Men will once again emerge victorious, making Emmys history with a fifth win for Best Drama.
She Said: AMC will have lots to brag about, but it won’t be Mad Men making them proud. It’s all about Breaking Bad this year. The show’s fourth season was an unforgettable blast and its strong fifth season (however short it was!) makes it fresh in all of our memories. One of the best shows in the history of television needs to be recognized and this is the year. Walter White did not kill Gus Fring for nothing.
Outstanding Comedy Series
30 Rock (NBC)Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)Girls (HBO)Modern Family (ABC)Veep (HBO)The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
He Said: In a perfect world, this award would be given to HBO’s Girls, which captures the impeccable sense of voice, self, and wit of its creator. Girls—created by, written by, directed by, executive produced by, and starring Lena Dunham—crystalizes a very real and yet foreign (for many of us) world: that of 20-something women in Brooklyn. It captures the emotional highs and lows of its foursome with alternating gravity and whimsy, as they ricochet from relationships, consider abortions, and try (and fail) to find work and meaning in their lives. Girls manages to be funny, heartfelt, and soul crushing, often all at once, no small accomplishment for a first-year comedy series. To me, it deserves all of the awards. What will win, however: Modern Family.
She Said: What he said! I so appreciate the singular voice of Girls and it deserves many accolades but Modern Family will win again and I can’t get grumpy about that. That show always makes me laugh and sometimes even touches me. And there’s an adorable French bulldog in it.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama
Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey)Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire)Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)Michael C. Hall (Dexter)Jon Hamm (Mad Men)Damian Lewis (Homeland)
He Said: It’s never going to be Jon Hamm’s year, is it? While I applaud the Television Academy for giving the award last year to Kyle Chandler, if Hamm didn’t win for Mad Men’s “The Suitcase,” he is not likely to ever be handed the statue, sadly. Damian Lewis had a tremendous year on Homeland, portraying Nicholas Brody as a man caught between his country and his duty, between ideology and family. But while each of the contenders is worthy, I have to give the edge to Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston for a fourth consecutive win. Few actors come this close to fully inhabiting their characters as Cranston does with Walter White, and I expect that Cranston will again emerge the victor. He is the one who knocks.
She Said: Like Walter White, Bryan Cranston will finish the evening saying, “I won.” Hopefully, it will be a little more gracious in delivery than the chemistry teacher we love to hate is capable of. But there’s no way the voters could have watched “Crawl Space,” the episode he submitted and not pick Cranston as the winner for the fourth consecutive time. Protest all you want about giving someone else a chance, but that maniacal laugh alone deserves its own little trophy.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama
Kathy Bates (Harry’s Law)Glenn Close (Damages)Claire Danes (Homeland)Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey)Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
He Said: There is some fantastic talent on display in this category, and more than a few past winners. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss once again was at the top of her game with another stellar turn opposite Jon Hamm in “The Other Woman.” Julianna Margulies continues to make The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick compelling and complicated. But if there’s one real lock among the entire Primetime Emmy Awards this year, it’s Claire Danes for her virtuoso turn as Carrie Mathison on Showtime’s Homeland. In the show’s superb first season, Danes imbued a haunting pain to the Cassandra-like CIA agent, rendering Carrie’s struggle with bipolar disorder and with her dogged pursuit of the truth alternately heartbreaking and heroic. This was a spellbinding performance that faced the character’s vulnerability and flaws head on, resulting in a portrait of a woman on the verge of insanity and of unlocking the truth about a terrorist.
She Said: As wonderful as all these women are, it’s all about Claire Danes this year. No one came close to her performance in “The Vest,” the episode she submitted to voters. Watching her as Carrie broke down was chilling and mesmerizing and truly unforgettable.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)Don Cheadle (House of Lies)Louis C.K. (Louie)Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
He Said: I’ll be blunt: I want Louis C.K. to win for his balls-to-the-wall portrayal of, well, a fictionalized version of himself in FX’s superlative comedy Louie. There are few comedies as willing to go to such dark places as Louie, which retains a rare sense of gonzo ‘70s spirit within its bones. His portrayal of single dad/stand up comic “Louis C.K.” manages to be alternately uncomfortable and deeply relatable: an Everyman whose perpetual embarrassments peel away a rigid façade to reveal the true soul of this character underneath. The essential truths that his character kicks up arrive even as he makes you laugh with a look or a tossed-off joke, a sucker punch of caustic humor. Give it to him.
She Said: I understand all of those things and how interesting that would be! But I think Jim Parsons as Sheldon going crazy because he needs a haircut is going to win. Besides, any voters who watch The Big Bang Theory know that Sheldon had a huge sentimental moment in the finale and everyone’s a sucker for that nerd. I think he goes home with his third trophy.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy
Zooey Deschanel (New Girl)Lena Dunham (Girls)Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)Tina Fey (30 Rock)Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly)Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
He Said: This might just be one of the toughest categories in the entire awards ceremony this year, with seven amazing comedic actresses battling it out here. While I love Lena Dunham’s gutsy portrayal of Hannah Horvath on HBO’s Girls, I think Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler deserves to win. While Poehler has always done amazing work, this season—which found Leslie Knope running for a City Council seat—showed her at her funniest, her best, her most accomplished. An acceptance speech becomes a breakthrough for women, a photo on a wall a major milestone, and she imbues Leslie with such optimism, grace, and determination that it’s impossible not to root for her. Having said all of that, I think that the award will instead go to Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The TV Academy loves a Seinfeld star and they love Louis-Dreyfus even more, and Armando Iannucci’s HBO political satire puts her squarely in the winner’s circle.
She Said: Funny women are the best! Leslie Knope won the election and my polls say Amy Poehler takes home the trophy this year. She is everything a leading comedian should be. I know the Academy is crazy about Julia Louis-Dreyfus—and who can fault them for that—but I think Poehler has been in the Emmy shadows for too long and her turn has come.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama
Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey)Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad)Jared Harris (Mad Men)Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
He Said: As much as I love Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Peter Dinklage, and Jared Harris, there is no real reason for a face-off here. We can all agree that Giancarlo Esposito has more than earned his award for his menacing performance as Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring, and with Aaron Paul’s win last year, it looks likely that AMC’s Breaking Bad will again score in the Supporting Actor category.
She Said: Let’s just say, Giancarlo Esposito knows how to make an exit. Ding-boom!. His goodbye on Breaking Bad may have been a creepy awesome boom, but Esposito’s cool cat portrayal of drug kingpin Gus Fring is memorable for so much more than that. Forget the image of half his face, his delivery of “I will kill your infant daughter” will haunt my nightmares for years to come. As hard as it is to choose him over Aaron Paul’s consistent brilliance on the show as the lovable Jesse Pinkman, it’s Esposito’s turn this year.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama
Christine Baranski (The Good Wife)Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey)Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife)Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
He Said: Another category representing a real embarrassment of riches. These are six sensational performances from the past year and it’s impossible to single one out for praise. Christina Hendricks’s incandescent turn in Mad Men’s “The Other Woman” warrants acclaim, given that she made Joan’s decision both valid and heartbreaking. Christine Baranski stepped to the forefront of The Good Wife this year, with Diane the sole adult among a group of squabbling men. But I think all will bow before the Dowager Countess: it’s Dame Maggie Smith for sure.
She Said: Deep in my heart, I would love for Anna Gunn to win. Playing wife to psycho Walter White is no easy feat, and she had one of the best lines of the year on television: “Somebody has to protect this family from the man who protects this family.” Still, Maggie Smith is a total crack-up with plenty of fantastic lines of her own: “Oh, is her cooking so precisely timed? You couldn’t tell.” The winds seem to be blowing in Smith’s direction; how can anyone resist the Countess?
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family)Max Greenfield (New Girl)Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live)Ed O’Neill (Modern Family)Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)
He Said: Wait, four cast members from Modern Family are competing against each other in this category? I’d love for New Girl’s Max Greenfield to win for playing Schmidt, one of the most original characters on television to come out of the 2011-12 season, an alpha male whose bluster hides raging insecurity. But more likely than not it will come down to one of the Modern Family lot. I’m going with Ty Burrell, whose penchant for physical comedy is equal only to the smooth cluelessness of Phil Dunphy’s banter.
She Said: Ty Burrell is so funny. So, so funny, and deserved his trophy last year. This year, though, I’m going with co-star Ed O’Neill. If you didn’t laugh and cry with him as he danced ballet with his granddaughter to ease her nerves at her recital, you’re not human.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory)Julie Bowen (Modern Family)Kathryn Joosten (Desperate Housewives)Sofia Vergara (Modern Family)Merritt Weaver (Nurse Jackie)Kristin Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
He Said: I’m going with Modern Family’s Julie Bowen here, mostly because Sofia Vergara’s performance this past season strayed into an almost strident caricature of Gloria. Bowen manages to make Claire brittle but likeable, forcibly shoved into the role of taskmaster/“straight man”/disciplinarian while her husband gets to crack jokes and retain his sense of child-like wonder. It’s not an easy role to pull off, but Bowen does so, rendering Claire as someone you realize should be in the spotlight more than she is.
She Said: All of these women are hilarious. But I went for Ed O’Neill and now I’m going for Sofia Vergara. Yes, there were times I wanted to yell right back at her. But when Sofia is funny, she’s hysterical. I think the Academy loves Modern Family and will spread the love instead of honoring Julie Bowen again. Ay Jaaay!