1. Outstanding Drama Series
Nominees: House of Cards, Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Breaking Bad
Should win: There are some shows missing from this category. For me, I don’t like it that The Good Wife isn’t in the mix; you could also argue that The Americans and Boardwalk Empire deserve to be here (depending on my energy level, I might join you). Or Scandal, the most talked-about show of the networks’ season! But let’s deal with reality, people: These are the choices we have. The strongest contenders, therefore, are Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men — but I will also throw in Homeland (despite its disappointing second season) and House of Cards (for the Netflix novelty factor more than the show itself). Game of Thrones had its breakout season, culminating with the Red Wedding, and there is nothing else like it on television in terms of scale and ambition. If it won, that would be terrific. But I feel like these final episodes (as in, the ones we’re currently watching) of Breaking Bad have finally taken it permanently out of Mad Men’s shadows. The show is one for the ages, and its penultimate episode will be airing during… the Emmys. Give it over to Breaking Bad.
Will win: Because I am an optimist — ha! not really! — I will also say that should win and will win will meet here with Breaking Bad, and that it will take home the Outstanding Drama title.
2. Outstanding Comedy Series
Nominees: Modern Family, Louie, The Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock, Girls, Veep
Should win: There’s something for everyone here: FX’s Louie is challenging and wholly original; Veep is hilarious and profane and weird; 30 Rock had its last season, and it was a really good one; The Big Bang Theory is a phenomenon and a juggernaut of popularity; and Girls is an instigator of fascinating cultural debates. I would love to see 30 Rock win, because this show was consistently funny throughout (so difficult to achieve!), and it gave Tina Fey the primetime platform she deserved (there was a time when that wasn’t a given).
Will win: I want to say 30 Rock or Louie so, so badly. But I can’t. I hope I’m wrong here: Modern Family.
3. Outstanding Actress in a Comedy
Nominees: Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Lena Dunham (Girls), Laura Dern (Enlightened), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)
Should win: There’s no wrong answer in this group — it’s a wonderful assortment, which is rare for the Emmys. But Laura Dern did something on Mike White’s Enlightened that audiences have never seen before. She and White created a beleaguered, unhinged character in Amy Jellicoe; Amy was embarrassing, stubborn, beautiful, selfish, moral, sad, warm, and heroic. (Dern and the show were also consistently funny.) I fear I’ll miss this show and Amy forever.
Will win: Can’t argue with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, though.
4. Outstanding Actor in a Comedy
Nominees: Matt LeBlanc (Episodes), Don Cheadle (House of Lies), Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Louis C.K. (Louie)
Should win: People don’t remember what an underdog 30 Rock was when it came on the air in 2006; the original pilot was not good, you guys. So the fact that Alec Baldwin was able to moor this show with his Jack Donaghy amazingness was so crucial to it finding its footing. I would like to see Baldwin win again. But! I wouldn’t argue with Louis C.K. winning here, especially if Louie doesn’t win for Outstanding Comedy Series. (Last year’s winner, Jon Cryer for Two and a Half Men, wasn’t nominated.)
Will win: I think it’s between Louis C.K. and Jim Parsons (who won in 2010 and 2011). I’ll roll the dice and say Louis C.K.
5. Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Nominees: Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie), Anna Chlumsky (Veep), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), Jane Lynch (Glee), Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
Should win: Jane Krakowski was so perfect on 30 Rock throughout its run, and the finale even gave her a big song to sing (“Rural Juror”: so good). But Anna Chlumsky is delightful on Veep as Amy, one of Selina’s aides. In a cast that generally plays very big and very angry all the time (not a criticism, that’s the tone of the show), Amy seems almost like a normal person — and that feels hard to achieve.
Will win: Modern Family dominates in the supporting actor/actress categories, and could here too. I think the best bet is Julie Bowen or Sofia Vergara: I’ll flip the coin and say Bowen wins for the third year in a row. But if they call Jane Krakowski’s name, which could happen, I will cheer.
6. Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Nominees: Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live), Adam Driver (Girls), Tony Hale (Veep), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Ed O’Neill (Modern Family), Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Should win: What an incredible creature Tony Hale’s Gary is. A total freak. He makes me laugh anytime he opens his mouth or bugs out his eyes.
Will win: It’s not going to happen, though: Ty Burrell or Ed O’Neill of Modern Family will win here. Crapshoot time: Burrell.
7. Outstanding Actress in a Drama
Nominees: Connie Britton (Nashville), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Robin Wright (House of Cards), Claire Danes (Homeland)
Should win: This is a strong category that also could have stood to have Julianna Margulies of The Good Wife and Keri Russell of The Americans in it. Or even, for dreamers, Tatiana Maslany for playing 8,000 different characters on Orphan Black. But last season belonged to Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal. Just a few months ago, Washington was considered a long shot for a nomination, but now that she’s in, she is a strong contender. I want her to win. Her Olivia Pope is such an important leap forward in popular culture, and, as an actress, Washington could be a transformative figure.
Will win: And she could. But I think Claire Danes will.
8. Outstanding Actor in a Drama
Nominees: Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Should win: Am I alone in spending time actively worrying that Jon Hamm will never win an Emmy for playing Don Draper? It’s such an insane possibility, but I increasingly think it is a likely one. The show revolves around Don, it’s made Hamm a star, and, most important, he is amazing on the show and it wouldn’t work without him. Last season, Don completely fell apart. He sometimes even looked terrible. Hamm is unbelievably great in embodying this role. But it’s not gonna happen this year, and maybe not in any year.
Will win: If Breaking Bad is heading toward a Best Drama win, usually the final award of the night, then Bryan Cranston could certainly win for Best Actor again. And he would absolutely deserve that win (I would also bet on him now for next year). I think, though, that Kevin Spacey’s movies-to-TV transition will lure Emmy voters. And I’d be shocked if House of Cards didn’t win at least one major award — Spacey is its best bet.
9. Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama
Nominees: Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Morena Baccarin (Homeland), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Should win: Uh … Monica Potter who wasn’t nominated for Parenthood Are you kidding me, TV Academy! Etc. With that out of the way, I hope that Anna Gunn can win her first Emmy as Skyler White. She continues to rip up the show with her calm-face that is barely hiding a freaking-out-face. Gunn’s Emmys submission episode was “Fifty-One,” which is what all Breaking Bad fans would have selected for her, also. (Skyler in the pool, Skyler telling Walt she’s waiting for him to die: amazing.)
Will win: It could be Gunn’s year. But Maggie Smith will probably win for Downton Abbey.
10. Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama
Nominees: Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
Should win: Mandy Patinkin’s Saul was one of the only things I liked about Season 2 of Homeland. So for that — that he managed to stay out of that plot muck — I would be happy to see him win. Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks, a scene-stealer as Mike, the fixer, would also make me happy. It seems rewarding when a character actor who has been around for years finally gets that breakout role (Margo Martindale in Justified, for example). But Aaron Paul should win again. And not only because he’s actually a lead on this show, but because Paul pours himself into Jesse, and it’s only because of the complicated, sympathy-inducing results that we can root for a murderer and drug dealer.
Will win: I think it’s between Paul and Patinkin. If Patinkin didn’t win last year, maybe that means something about voters’ feelings toward him: I’m picking Paul.
11. Outstanding Movie/Miniseries
Nominees: Political Animals, Phil Spector, The Bible, American Horror Story: Asylum, Top of the Lake, Behind the Candelabra
Should win: Top of the Lake is one of the best works of art of any sort from 2013. Period. It deserves every accolade; I would submit it for the Nobel Peace Prize and a MacArthur “Genius Grant.” It is as close to perfection as a filmed fictional story can be. What I am saying is that I think it should win in this category.
Will win: Behind the Candelabra, however, will.
12. Outstanding Actress in a Movie/Miniseries
Nominees: Laura Linney (The Big C: Hereafter), Sigourney Weaver (Political Animals), Helen Mirren (Phil Spector), Elisabeth Moss (Top of the Lake), Jessica Lange (American Horror Story: Asylum)
Should win: Elisabeth Moss’ performance in Top of the Lake was career-defining. And she’s the female lead on one of the best shows in the history of TV in Mad Men, and is wonderful on that too! But in Top of the Lake, she was masterful and unforgettable. If you haven’t seen Top of the Lake yet, I am jealous of you, but also, what are you doing? Why haven’t you seen it?
Will win: Jessica Lange will likely win again for American Horror Story. She’s batshit and brave and I can’t be upset about Moss losing when Lange is winning.
13. Outstanding Actor in a Movie/Miniseries
Nominees: Matt Damon (Behind the Candelabra), Toby Jones (The Girl), Al Pacino (Phil Spector), Benedict Cumberbatch (Parade’s End), Michael Douglas (Behind the Candelabra)
Should win: This one is a lock. Michael Douglas as Liberace, for god’s sake! I mean, come on.
Will win: Michael Douglas.
14. Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Movie/Miniseries
Nominees: Imelda Staunton (The Girl), Charlotte Rampling (Restless), Ellen Burstyn (Political Animals), Alfre Woodard (Steel Magnolias), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story: Asylum)
Should win: When American Horror Story first began, I thought FX was gaming the system by putting it in the Movie/Miniseries category for the Emmys. I was wrong, though. As we approach its third season, it’s now clear how much this show wholly reinvents itself every year, even when actors return (as Jessica Lange has for each season). And it’s actually great that the actors don’t have to compete with people in the drama series categories. In its second season, Asylum, Sarah Paulson played a lesbian journalist in the 1950s who gets locked up in a mental institution and tortured by Jessica Lange. I mean —
Will win: — give Sarah Paulson the Emmy right now. I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t win.
15. Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Movie/Miniseries
Nominees: John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C: Hereafter), Zachary Quinto (American Horror Story: Asylum), James Cromwell (American Horror Story: Asylum), Scott Bakula (Behind the Candelabra), Peter Mullan (Top of the Lake)
Should win: I know you don’t want me to talk about Top of the Lake again. Believe me, I know. But Peter Mullan, as one of the excellent miniseries’ villains, played Matt Mitcham by exuding both evil and charm.
Will win: James Cromwell for American Horror Story. He’s Babe’s dad. So it’s OK.
16. Outstanding Reality Competition
Nominees: Dancing With the Stars, Project Runway, Top Chef, The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance, The Amazing Race
Should win: Reality competitions have become almost culturally irrelevant. Each one has its fandom, and some of those groups are large. But people don’t talk about the contests the way they used when, say, everyone had an opinion about Adam Lambert on American Idol. How I adored that. It’s sad to me that we’re not like that anymore. Sigh. Anyway! This is all to say that The Voice is close to an exception, in that people do talk about it (though not about the contestants as much as they should, perhaps). It did very well for NBC in both of its cycles last season, and it managed to have new judges rotate in for the spring installment without upending the show. The Voice should win just based on it being nearly socially galvanizing.
Will win: But I don’t think it will. The Amazing Race is the best bet here, now and forever.
17. Outstanding Variety Series
Nominees: Real Time With Bill Maher, Saturday Night Live, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Colbert Report, Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Should win: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart has won 10 times in a row. So let’s not even pretend there’s a should/will decision here! As Americans, we need to face the facts as they are.
Will win: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart!