On August 29, Betty White will win her seventh Emmy, Neil Patrick Harris will likely win his first, and I will suffer a stroke if 30 Rock wins its fourth Outstanding Comedy Series trophy. Of course, now that Barack Obama is president and Tina Fey is no longer required to stump for him on SNL as Sarah Palin, will Emmy finally and mercifully annul its relationship to 30 Rock, the most seizure-inducing show on television since Mary Hart? If so, which show among the six nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series is the Alice that stands to slay Fey's Jabberwocky—nominated for a measly 15 awards this year after setting the all-time record last year with 22? And what about Mad Men? The most dapper, zeitgeist-y, cinephile-pleasing program of our post-Sopranos generation, Mad Men has won the Outstanding Drama Series prize two years in a row, but is it time to finally give it to the other, superior AMC drama in this category for, not least of which, refusing to wear its themes so transparently on its manicured sleeves? Because it's impossible to tell just how much an Emmy voter takes into account a whole season's achievements (or lack thereof) when filling out their ballot, and how much they base their picks off of the individually submitted episodes, your guesses are as good as mine, which I offer below—not so humbly and with more than a dash of wish-fulfillment—two weeks before the big night.
Outstanding Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Will Win: If you're among the half-dozen people in the world who can't stomach the belligerently scripted and paced 30 Rock, there was no pleasure in watching the Emmys play out for three long years as a fulsome prom party for Tina Fey. This year, though, we seem bound for a changing of the guard: Modern Family, which has the ratings to match its critical plaudits, is not only the funniest and most touching comedy on television, but a reminder of what other great "family" shows like The Office, Arrested Development, The Wonder Years, and Malcolm and the Middle were capable of at the pinnacle of their creative output.
Should Win: Modern Family by a mile.
Could Win: Glee, and not just because it's the most zeitgeist-y program in the bunch. Though evasive, bizarrely uneven, and downright inexplicable from episode to episode (it's only consistency is its inconsistency), the show does artfully repackage cliché sitcom tropes and touchingly consider its characters' plethora of identity issues. It's also tastefully lurid and frequently gut-busting, as in Finn remembering how he once ran over a mailman every time he tries to stave off ejaculation—the best running gag of this past TV season. Because of the show's frustrating repetitiveness (how many times can the same character leave glee club only to come back after some heartfelt but suspicious appeal from a fellow member?), you get a sense that Glee's lifeline may be a short one, so its time seems now or never.
Should Have Been Here: For too long we've taken The Simpsons for granted. Its mid-to-late-'90s episodes are still above reproach, and though the show is still somewhat hit or miss, for at least three seasons now it's given us more than a few surreal and poignant flashes of its former, more consistent glory (this year's highlights: "O Brother, Where Bart Thou?," "Stealing First Base," "The Squirt and the Whale").
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Matthew Morrison, Glee
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Steve Carell, The Office
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Will Win: Jim Parsons. Because Larry David has a harder time than Tina Fey disguising the fact that he's a one-note performer, albeit a good one. Because Matthew Morrison is simply riding the Glee bandwagon. Because some Emmy voters may be opposed to giving Tony Shalhoub a fourth Emmy for his work on Monk, even though people who don't care for the program still have nothing but good things to say about the actor. Because they'll probably give it to Steve Carell next year. Because Alec Baldwin is just coasting at this point.
Should Win: I don't watch The Big Bang Theory or Monk, Matthew Morrison's smile and hair shouldn't be considered a performance mode, and it hurts to watch Baldwin on 30 Rock, even if that's no fault of his own, so I have to go with either Steve Carell or Larry David. This was not his brightest year at The Office, as evinced by his submitted episode ("The Cover Up"), but Carell manages to show us a new side of Michael Scott's surprisingly gentle and heartwarming soul with every provocation the character inanely sets into motion—even if I still appreciate the more provocative manner in which David's Curb Your Enthusiasm clown makes me squirm.
Could Win: Tony Shaloub or Alec Baldwin.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Lea Michele, Glee
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures Of Old Christine
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Toni Colette, United States of Tara
Will Win: Edie Falco doesn't repeat herself, and it shows. She's better in Nurse Jackie's superior second season, but even in the first you got a real sense of her titular character's existential resistance to life. In Falco's very capable and nuanced hands, Jackie's failure as a mother and a wife and how it runs counter to her triumphs as a very responsible and unselfish nurse allowed for this show to be seen as a reasonably complex study of addiction.
Should Win: Edie Falco.
Could Win: If Lea Michele were as competent an actress as she is a singer, she would have had this one in the bag. She could still ride the Glee bandwagon to a victory, but her character is also less sympathetic than, say, America Ferrara's Ugly Betty. Toni Colette still has the showiest role, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus will engender some sympathy (what with The New Adventures of Old Christine having been cancelled), but they already have Emmys for their parts, so Amy Poehler could prevail.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Chris Colfer, Glee
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Jesse Tyler, Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Will Win: The gayest Emmy category of the year is also the toughest to call. Jon Cryer already won this two years ago, so he's probably just along for the ride, and always-the-bridesmaid Neil Patrick Harris will likely be rewarded for his guest spot on Glee, so if the Modern Family guys split votes, Chris Colfer could pull out on top. Still, if Colfer is very much the heart of Glee, he's practically a sub-supporting presence on the show. Of course, given that his character's identity-changing "Laryngitis" episode was submitted, will that even matter?
Should Win: Eric Stonestreet is the most gleefully batty performer in this group. His character is such a credibly erratic force of nature you never know if he's going to show you his heart or his teeth at any given moment—not just from scene to scene, but from shot to shot. He has an expert's sense of comic timing, and his frequent misunderstandings with his lover (played by fellow-nominee Jesse Tyler) are among the highlights of any Modern Family episode, including the submitted "Fitzbo" episode.
Could Win: Ty Burrell.
Should Have Been Here: Rico Rodriguez of Modern Family deserved an Emmy the moment he explained to his parents and his elementary school principal how he called Nolan Gould's Luke his nephew.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jane Lynch, Glee
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Kristin Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
Will Win: I'm not convinced yet that Jane Lynch can play anything other than Sue Sylvester types, and I resent how unrealistically her character is shoehorned into some episodes of Glee, but as a performer she has the sophistication and power of a dry martini. Here's hoping she thanks Madonna when accepting her Emmy.
Should Win: Kristin Wiig. Uh-huh.
Could Win: Kristin Wiig or Julie Bowen.
Outstanding Drama Series
The Good Wife
Will Win: I was going to call this for Breaking Bad, simply because the impeccable craft of the show made mincemeat of Mad Men this past season, but even though it's catching up to its sister AMC program in ratings, Breaking Bad's rabid-mouthed fan devotion has yet to reach Mad Men's especially frothy fever pitch.
Should Win: For the ferocity of its filmmaking, its near-unbearable corkscrew tension, and its complex view of its characters (the good, the bad, and the uncertain) involving themselves more intimately, deeply, obliviously in Walter's increasingly precarious way of life, Breaking Bad outdid itself in its third season, whereas Mad Men merely settled for doing more of the skillfully competent same.
Could Win: Breaking Bad, Dexter, thanks largely to the force majeure of John Lithgow's performance, or, God help us, The Good Wife. More or less in that order.
Should Have Been Here: Treme and, then, Justified. The exclusion of these slow-burning, sophisticated visions from this category's running is especially embarrassing given the inclusion of Lost and nuance-free, garden-variety trash like The Good Wife and True Blood.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Hugh Laurie, House
Matthew Fox, Lost
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Michael J. Fox Michael C. Hall.
Should Win: Bryan Cranston, who is capable of making gold out of lead: His almost disturbing super-human nuance salvages even a weakling of a Breaking Bad episode like the Rian Johnson-directed "Fly."
Could Win: Bryan Cranston.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Glenn Close, Damages
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
January Jones, Mad Men
Will Win: The stars are aligned for Julianna Margulies to take this. Her character from the abysmally scripted and peppily scored The Good Wife, brought to you by executive producers Ridley and Tony Scott, resumes her law career after her marriage to her husband ends in scandal. The predictable legal cases feel pulled from David E. Kelley's discard pile, and the main character's struggle to forget her husband's indiscretions and establish an identity of her own pulses with the dullest of I-will-survive triumphalism. Margulies is a heartfelt performer, but her Emmy should go to Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Edwards, and Dina Matos McGreevey.
Should Win: Glenn Close's ice-queen shtick may be familiar by now, but it isn't desiccated, unlike other nominated performances (here's looking at you, January).
Could Win: Glenn Close or Kyra Sedgwick.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Martin Short, Damages
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Michael Emerson, Lost
John Slattery, Mad Men
Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age
Will Win: The Adam Canary of primetime, Terry O'Quinn will win for surviving the embarrassment of playing Locke, Corpse Locke, and Smoke Monster Locke throughout Lost's last season with his dignity largely intact.
Should Win: Aaron Paul, bitch!
Could Win: Andre Braugher, who's won Emmys before for headlining shows no one watches. Or Aaron Paul. The actor's Jesse Pinkman has always had trouble playing by others' rules, and though he's as impulsive as ever, in this season of Breaking Bad we saw him truly grappling to the core of his being with the repercussions of decisions that have cost more than one person's death (as seen in his submitted episode: "Half Measures"). Paul's face during the final shot of the season finale haunts us because it belongs to someone forced into the cruel position of deciding the course of many lives with the pulling of a trigger. His triumph is the way he conveys, via the desperation and tears on his face, how Jesse's pull-or-not-to-pull crisis may as well decide the fate of the whole world.
Should Have Been Here: Justified's Walton Goggins and Treme's Steve Zahn.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Sharon Gless, Burn Notice
Rose Byrne, Damages
Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Will Win: Now that she's been (understandably) downgraded to supporting actress, Elisabeth Moss should have no problem snagging a victory here for her glass ceiling-shattering Peggy Olson, even if her biggest transgression this year was smoking marijuana.
Should Win: Elisabeth Moss.
Could Win: TV veteran Sharon Gless. I wouldn't touch Burn Notice with a 10-foot pole, but word is that she's dynamite in the episode she submitted to Emmy voters.
Should Have Been Here: Archie Panjabi's 3-2-1 Contact-grade sidekick and Christine Baranski's defanged Patty Hewes, both from The Good Wife, over Treme's Khandi Alexander and Melissa Leo? Embarrassing.