What you're about to read is a fool's errand, as without a plethora of precursor awards leading up to television's biggest night, predicting the Emmys will always be less of a science than predicting the Oscars. But while less energy, hype, and expense may go into buying an Emmy, Neill Patrick Harris won't exactly be hosting a purity ball on September 22nd at the NOKIA Theatre in Los Angeles. This is an industry show after all, so expect much back-patting, if not to the magnitude of AMPAS's anointment of Argo as their latest Best Picture winner, essentially an award to Hollywood itself for making movies that affect politics. Case in point: American Horror Story: Asylum, which ended its initially dubious second season on a frenzied high note, as a distinctly Lynchian elegy to the suppression of women. It enters the Emmy race with 17 nominations, more than any other show, yet it will lose the award for Miniseries or Movie to Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra, a predictable and emotionally flat retelling of Liberace's life that was deemed too gay for the big screen. TV better than movies? Not really, but at least television will let you see Michael Douglas stroking Matt Damon's leg hair.
Below, my predictions in a handful of the major categories.
Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Will Win: If Mad Men can fail to five-peat in the Outstanding Drama Series category, and for its finest season no less, then Modern Family, stuck in autopilot since at least the tail-end of its third season, may have left the door open this year for Louie to squeak its way to a victory. Except that would be wishful thinking in part, given that Louie's withering take on Louie C.K.'s flirtation with showbiz success may be too scathing to resonate with a group every bit as industry-guarded as AMPAS.
Could Win: Louie or, if voters are feeling sentimental, 30 Rock.
Should Win: Louie or Girls.
Should Have Been Here: Enlightened and New Girl.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Jason Bateman (Arrested Development)
Louie C.K. (Louie)
Matt LeBlanc (Episodes)
Don Cheadle (House of Lies)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Will Win: Good will and critical hosannas can only take you so far, so a win for Louie C.K., a likable schlub who may not play enough against type on Louie for most voters' tastes, seems less likely here than in the Outstanding Comedy Series category. He may still benefit from a vote split between two-time Emmy winners Jim Parsons and Alec Baldwin, but given that the industry has never turned its back on Baldwin, even when they began to pass over 30 Rock for Modern Family elsewhere, and in spite of his bad public behavior, sentiment pushes the talented industry vet to a win here.
Could Win: Jim Parsons or Louie C.K..
Should Win: Louie C.K..
Should Have Been Here: Jake Johnson.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Laura Dern (Enlightened)
Lena Dunham (Girls)
Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)
Tina Fey (30 Rock)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
Will Win: The customarily nuanced Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who enlivens everything she's in.
Could Win: Lena Dunham.
Should Win: Laura Dern.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Adam Driver (Girls)
Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live)
Tony Hale (30 Rock)
Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family)
Ed O'Neill (Modern Family)
Will Win: Ed O'Neill, because the old lug was allowed to really play to his soft side, and to touching results, a number of times on last season's Modern Family.
Could Win: Ty Burrell.
Should Win: Bill Hader.
Should Have Been Here: Max Greenfield and Will Arnett.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory)
Julie Bowen (Modern Family)
Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Sofía Vergara (Modern Family)
Merritt Weaver (Nurse Jackie)
Will Win: Sofía Vergara, because the best of Ed O'Neill would be impossible without her...and because she's possibly the less strident of the two dog whistles from Modern Family nominated in this category.
Could Win: Julie Bowen.
Should Win: Merritt Weaver.
Outstanding Drama Series
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Will Win: Emmy fortunetellers are perhaps underestimating the chances of Game of Thrones, a show that continues to make art out of its incessant plot-dumping, and especially House of Cards, a compulsively watchable program that's also impossibly simple-minded and self-serious in ways that have been known to attract Emmy voters in the past, but this remains a stand-off between Breaking Bad and Homeland. The latter was my favorite show of 2012 until it mortifyingly transformed into the 24 redux we've always feared it would become, and the former I almost hesitated to place on my Top 10 last year given that it was delivered unto us half-realized. But Emmy voters don't seem to share my reservations, and if there's one thing you can't say about Breaking Bad, currently enjoying record ratings and media coverage in its homestretch, is that it will never jump the shark.
Could Win: Homeland or House of Cards.
Should Win: Breaking Bad.
Should Have Been Here: Hannibal and The Americans.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey)
Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom)
Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
Damian Lewis (Homeland)
Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
Will Win: Damian Lewis for poignantly and hauntingly pulling out all the stops that Bryan Cranston was saving for the final stretch of Breaking Bad episodes.
Could Win: Bryan Cranston or Kevin Spacey, in spite of the fact that his direct-to-camera addresses on House of Cards are Razzie-worthy.
Should Win: Damian Lewis.
Should Have Been Here: Timothy Olyphant.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Connie Britton (Nashville)
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey)
Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel)
Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
Kerry Washington (Scandal)
Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Will Win: Claire Danes, who deserves more than just an Emmy solely for the episode where her character discovers that she was right all along about Damian Lewis's Brody.
Could Win: The experts say Kerry Washington, whose Scandal is apparently enjoyable now as more than just a camp object, or Vera Farmiga, who wasn't as delicious as I had anticipated in the one episode of Bates Motel I will ever see.
Should Win: Claire Danes.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad)
Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire)
Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
Will Win: Snubbed last year, though not inexplicably to these eyes, Mandy Patinkin's scenes with both Claire Danes and Damian Lewis on last season's Homeland should be taught in acting classes.
Could Win: Aaron Paul.
Should Win: Mandy Patinkin.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Morena Baccarin (Homeland)
Christine Baranski (The Good Wife)
Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones)
Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)
Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)
Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Will Win: The Countess of Grantham will object, but Anna Gunn's articulation of her character's conflictions in the first half of Breaking Bad's final season is possibly the show's shining light.
Could Win: Maggie Smith.
Should Win: Anna Gunn.