Glancing over this year’s Emmy nominations is to marvel again at just how much the television landscape has changed in 20 years. Back in 1993, The Larry Sanders Show became the first cable TV program to be nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Only one non-network sitcom has ever claimed that award (Sex and the City in 2001), but the sheer number of nominations and wins that cable programs garner each year continues to signal the future of television programming. And one of the more pressing questions that will be answered this year is whether the Emmys are ready to embrace online TV creators such as Netflix with prizes in its top two categories for either House of Cards, nominated for 13 awards, or Orange Is the New Black, nominated for 12, more than any other comedy. Elsewhere, the sense of “importance” with which Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart has been greeted by critics and audiences has made nearly ever miniseries or movie category a no-brainer to predict. And while the Emmys, unlike the Oscars, have never been known to drive pundits and viewers alike to fits of nail-biting anxiety, at least a few of this year’s drama races have been turned upside down by the recent plagiarism claims that have plagued Nic Pizzolatto, possibly exposing True Detective as the emperor who’ll arrive at the Nokia Theatre on August 25 with the least amount of clothes.
Below are Slant Magazine’s official Emmy predictions.
Will Win: With Mad Men having aged into a vintage far worthier of a Peabody, Game of Thrones adored, if not exactly venerated, for its delectable pulp, and Downton Abbey appearing flushed over having knocked The Americans and Hannibal out of the way in order to gain entrance into the party, this becomes a spectacular tussle between the three remaining nominees. Naysayers be damned, the second season of House of Cards felt like a corrective to the first season’s pat satire, as the series began to complement its relentlessly poison-tipped jabs at D.C. politicos with a metaphoric frisson that was often haunting. Three months ago, when few had come to understand that Breaking Bad didn’t actually win last year for its final season, and the much-heralded True Detective felt to some like the second coming of Twin Peaks, if more self-serious and possibly more incomprehensible, I might have considered giving the edge to HBO’s addictive crime drama. But two months later, with True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto dogged by hardly specious accusations of plagiarism, the question becomes not whether the series can win over Breaking Bad’s incredible swan song, but whether it will even return for a second season.
Could Win: House of Cards or True Detective.
Should Win: Breaking Bad.
Should Have Been Here: Hannibal and The Americans.
Will Win: A five-peat for Modern Family would tie the ABC program with Frasier for the most wins in this category, but its competition this year is stiffer than ever. Only Silicon Valley and Louie, a series that’s seemingly written about more than it’s actually seen, can be safely discounted. More palatable to the masses, as Nielsen will attest, The Big Bang Theory also seems unlikely given that the Emmys have been ringing the death knell for comedies with laugh tracks ever since Everybody Loves Raymond went off the air. And while Emmy’s esteem for Veep continues to grow, it’s hard to shake the impression that the insanely popular Julia Louis Dreyfus’s coattails were largely responsible for its nine nominations this year. The most interesting narrative belongs, of course, to the refreshingly female-centric Orange Is the New Black, the little Netflix program that could and did this year with 12 nominations for its freshman season—this in spite of it being little more than a live-action cartoon whose lack of character consistency from scene to scene and risible trading in racial stereotypes immediately announces it as the work of Weeds creator Jenji Kohan. Given that its structural sophistication in its second season is so profound as to be, again, Peabody-worthy, this may be Orange Is the New Black’s only chance to ever cop this award, but when one considers that only one non-network show has ever won in this category (Sex in the City in 2001), Emmy seems likely to banally stick with what it knows best: Modern Family.
Could Win: Orange Is the New Black or Veep.
Should Win: Louie.
Should Have Been Here: Bob’s Burgers, Looking, Broad City, Girls.
Will Win: Maybe the true Supreme of American Horror Story: Coven is Ryan Murphy, for understanding very early on that Emmy’s grudging respect for genre fare would do him no favors in the Outstanding Drama Series category. Entering this year’s race with 17 nominations, Coven might have sealed the deal had it flourished like American Horror Story: Asylum did in its spectacular home stretch. But then it would have still had to contend with one of year’s great success stories, Fargo, a benchmark on how to adapt one of the most iconic and unique motion pictures in recent history for the small screen without seeming like a craven carbon copy.
Could Win: American Horror Story: Coven.
Should Win: Fargo.
Outstanding TV Movie
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
The Normal Heart
Sherlock: His Last Vow
The Trip to Bountiful
American Horror Story: AIDS The Normal Heart.
Could Win: The Trip to Bountiful.
Should Win: Sherlock: His Last Vow.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Will Win: The near-inexplicable critical acclaim for True Detective this year has in no small part been informed by Matthew McConaughey’s fierce, alternately self-aware and self-serious, commitment to Rust Cohle’s philosophical ramblings. Regardless of who actually wrote the character’s sophomoric diatribes, the actor, who enters this race on the heels of having won an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, has and will escape the show’s plagiarism-gate completely unscathed.
Could Win: Bryan Cranston or Kevin Spacey.
Should Win: Jon Hamm.
Should Have Been Here: Matthew Rhys.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Lazzy Caplan, Masters of Sex
Claire Danes, Homeland
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Will Win: Robin Wright, who won a Golden Globe in January for the first season of House of Cards, has momentum on her side, but is it the right kind of momentum? This category has rewarded its fair share of monsters in the past, prime among them Glenn Close’s Patty Hewes, but Wright’s Claire Underwood, even on a series as unsubtle as House of Cards, is both a study in restraint by comparison and a pale imitation of Edie Falco’s ever-conflicted Carmela Soprano. Claire Danes, for the far more complex and infinite shades of gray that she continues to bring to her Carrie Mathison on Homeland, is a stronger contender, but if she’s at all been dented by her show’s near-hysteric plunge in popularity, that leaves the door open for Julianna Margulies, after shockingly failing to be nominated last year, to win her second Emmy for her performance as Alicia Florrick on what is said to be The Good Wife’s strongest season to date.
Could Win: Claire Danes or Robin Wright
Should Win: Claire Danes.
Should Have Been Here: Tatiana Maslany and Keri Russell.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba, Luther
Martin Freeman, Fargo
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo
Will Win: Mark Ruffalo, for his rich—and by typical award-show standards, “important”—performance in the egregiously, almost offensively over-stylized The Normal Heart, just barely perseveres over Billy Bob Thornton’s more intriguing articulation of the dark and seductive evil coursing through Fargo’s ice-cold veins.
Could Win: Billy Bob Thornton.
Should Win: Billy Bob Thornton or Benedict Cumberbatch.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver, Return to Zero
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful
Kristen Wiig, The Spoils of Babylon
Will Win: Cicely Tyson in a walk, for reprising the role that won her a Tony last year and, before her, won Geraldine Page an Oscar in 1985.
Could Win: Jessica Lange.
Should Win: Jessica Lange, with the caveat that Tyson’s performance is, sadly, a blind spot for me.