On September 18, Bryan Cranston will not win his fourth trophy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, as Breaking Bad's fourth season fell outside the award show's eligibility period—and if you think that bodes well for the AMC program's chances for Outstanding Drama Series in 2012, remember that Mad Men's much-delayed fifth season is still slated to fall within the upcoming Emmy calendar. Standing to gain from Cranston's absence is always-a-bridesmaids John Hamm—unless Steve Buscemi's Golden Globe and SAG victories earlier this year, and the chillier-than-Mad Men Boardwalk Empire's surprise showing at the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend—weren't just flukes of nature. A three-time winner for Outstanding Drama Series, Mad Men may have to move over for the new HBO prestige drama on the block, and if Betty White doesn't win her 3,897th Emmy for acting saucier than your grandmother, that may be enough for this Sunday's telecast to go down as the Year of the Passing of the Guard. Below, my predictions in a handful of the major categories—brought to you with less than my usual dash of wish-fulfillment.
Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Parks and Recreation
Will Win: Modern Family, again, and in a walk.
Should Win: Modern Family.
Could Win: Not Glee, whose day in the sun was last year, or past winners 30 Rock and The Office, but The Big Bang Theory, still a ratings juggernaut, or Parks and Recreation, which enjoyed a popular and acclaimed creative resurgence in its third season.
Should Have Been Here: Louie, the best comedy on television.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Louie C.K., Louie
Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Will Win: Even if Steve Carell wasn't the sentimental favorite, the competition isn't exactly stiff. Becky's boyfriend from Roseanne? Also, I refuse to accept that Episodes actually exists.
Should Win: Carell, if only for the 101 hilariously mean ways Michael Scott expressed repulsion for Toby throughout The Office's seventh season.
Could Win: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
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
Will Win: Movie Star Headlines TV Show About Mother Dying of Cancer. For Laura Linney, it's practically a can't-lose scenario.
Should Win: Edie Falco.
Could Win: Falco or Amy Poehler.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Chris Colfer, Glee
Ed O'Neill, Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Will Win: By submitting a different episode from the show's second season, Modern Family's four nominated actors seem to be helping each other out. Except the quadruple exposure may actually hurt last year's winner, Eric Stonestreet, as these four episodes highlight the almost cruel direction the show has taken his character, whose shrillness is almost completely unmitigated by anything resembling the warmth Jesse Tyler Ferguson's Mitchell has been allowed to express of late. Ferguson's awkward, largely internal articulation of Mitchell's struggle to stay by his sick hubby's side or go to a Lady Gaga concert by his lonesome was a comic highlight of the show's last season, and easily Ferguson's finest moment since his season-one pigeon battle. Ty Burrell, still a favorite among awards prognosticators, has also seen his character grow in the past year, and yet I still find Phil's idiot-savantness to be an endurance test most weeks. Ed O'Neill may have them all beat, as the veteran actor's submitted episode represents the best performance of the actor's television career, but I'll call this one for Chris Colfer, as Glee's excellent "Grilled Chessus" episode showcases not only Colfer's remarkable voice, but his nuanced dramatic skills.
Should Win: Chris Colfer or Ed O'Neill
Could Win: Ed O'Neill.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Jane Lynch, Glee
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Betty White, Hot in Cleveland
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Life
Will Win: Following Chris Colfer's lead, Jane Lynch submits an episode from the second season of Glee that highlights her dramatic range—making one almost forget that her Sue Sylvester has become a caricature as shrill and inexplicable as Glee often is from episode to episode.
Should Win: Kristin Wiig, who would appear to have handed the Emmy to Lynch by submitting the Saturday Night Live episode hosted by the Glee star.
Could Win: Betty White.
Outstanding Drama Series
Friday Night Lights
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
Will Win: Much has been made of Boardwalk Empire's recent seven-trophy haul at the Creative Arts Emmys—and I would argue possibly too much, given that a similar achievement by Deadwood, following its second season, failed to carry over to Emmy's big night. Deadwood, incidentally, did score two Emmys for its premiere season, including one for Walter Hill's direction of its pilot episode—so, will Martin Scorsese represent Boardwalk Empire's biggest victory on Sunday? It seems risky to bet against the show given that it enters the race with Golden Globe and SAG statuettes in hand, but I'm not sure that Mad Men, nominated for its strongest season to date, has completely fatigued Emmy voters—at least not as much as Boardwalk Empire's dense, some might say inert, political intrigue.
Should Win: Mad Men.
Could Win: Boardwalk Empire.
Should Have Been Here: Justified.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
John Hamm, Mad Men
Hugh Laurie, House
Timothy Olyphant, Justified
Will Win: Like the show itself, Boardwalk Empire's Steve Buscemi enters this race with a Golden Globe and SAG award in hand, but I'm not sure his character reveals enough of his soul in the show's season finale (Buscemi's submitted episode) than John Hamm does in Mad Men's remarkable two-hander "The Suitcase."
Bryan Cranston John Hamm for "The Suitcase," but Timothy Olyphant for Justified's entire season.
Could Win: Steve Buscemi.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Kathy Bates, Harry's Law
Mireille Enos, The Killing
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Will Win: With no fellow nominee in dire need of a sympathy Emmy, Kyra Sedgewick out of the running, and The Good Wife more popular than ever, Julianna Margulies is sure to prevail—this time for real.
Should Win: Elisabeth Moss.
Could Win: Elisabeth Moss.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
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
Will Win: Some are going out on a limb for Josh Charles, but unlike Emmy's nominating branch, I have no fondness for The Good Wife. I do, though, continue to crush on Justified, and Walton Goggins shows amazing range in his selected episode—but will voters who don't regularly watch the show even get the purpose of the character's understatement? Because John Slattery's mad man has yet to be given a showcase for his talents of "Suitcase"-sized proportions, and Charles likely to split votes with Alan Cumming, who won an Emmy for his nominated character in the Guest Actor category last year, Goggins may just eek his way to a well-deserved victory.
Should Win: Walter Goggins.
Could Win: Anyone except for Peter Dinklage.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Michelle Forbes, The Killing
Chritina Hendricks, Mad Men
Kelly Macdonald, Boardwalk Empire
Margo Martindale, Justified
Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
Will Win: The tapestry of grief Michelle Forbes sketches throughout The Killing's first season gives the show its aching soul, but this seems Margo Martindale's award to lose for Justified's juiciest character, the big, bad, prone-to-singing hillbilly mama Mags Bennett.
Should Win: Michelle Forbes or Margo Martindale.
Could Win: Michelle Forbes.