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2015 Emmy Winner Predictions

We have no doubt that we’ll be miffed by how some of these categories shake out on Sunday night.

Mad Men
Photo: AMC

The democratization of technology is a boon for globalization, but for anyone who ever felt an inkling of pleasure watching the Oscars, it’s become a blight to an institutional process that once made seemingly genuine attempts toward establishing even playing fields. Today, the Oscar season begins as soon as the curtain falls on the previous one. The full-time awards pundit predicts nominees, sometimes even winners, months before a film has even left the editing room (“Could it be two in a row for Eddie Redmayne?!”), the insta-reactionary-ness of Twitter trending films and people up or down like stocks. How good the work is matters less than how good one works a room, or how closely the work aligns with a cultural shift in imagination. Show up at a festival to promote your film, pretend to enjoy getting your picture snapped by a #blessed “industry expert,” thus securing their approval, and suddenly you’re a “lock.” At least that’s what said expert will report to their followers, who’ll slavishly lap up and spread the pundit’s hosannas for films sight unseen—a domino-like effect of readiness and willingness perpetuated by the studios with For Your Consideration campaigns.

The Emmys aren’t immune to such wheeling and dealing—or to strokes of serendipity. Yes, it helps if you, your series, its subject matter are heavily trending around the time voter ballots are due. It’s why a prediction for Transparent to end Modern Family’s absurd five-year reign as Outstanding Comedy Series would have felt more certain immediately after the Amazon show’s unsurprising victory at the Golden Globes earlier this year. But in this new gilded age of television, the traditional definition of the season, like the syndication model, has gone the way of the dodo. Seasons are shorter, beginning and ending almost at will. One network’s prestige show premieres as soon as another network concludes theirs, giving the impression that all programming on television is seamlessly stitched together in the imagination. At the Oscars, you’re the odd duck if your film premiered during the first half of the year, but at the Emmys, you’re still in the game even if your series ended almost a year ago—in part because, well, there’s just so much great television available to us today that it often takes as long as a year just to catch up with all its wonders.

We have no doubt that we’ll be miffed by how some of these categories shake out on Sunday night, but at least it continues to please us, not withstanding Hannibal’s complete shut-out for the second year in a row, how much the Emmys continue to attest to television’s increasing fluidity of programming and standards of quality. So, without further ado, below are Slant Magazine’s official Emmy predictions.

Outstanding Drama Series

A character study about one man’s disillusionment with the American dream? Yes, Better Call Saul probably won’t win here for feeling as if it’s living in the shadow of Breaking Bad, even though it takes sharp aim at a system, how it’s broken and how it breaks men, in ways that no other series, legal or otherwise, has ever come close to articulating with such wit, poignancy, and artistic imagination. Game of Thrones is certainly a player, for one of its strongest seasons to date, but given the genre bias that works against shows like Hannibal even being nominated, not to mention the controversy the HBO drama courted this year with its depiction of rape and nudity, it will no doubt have to sit this one out so Mad Men can enjoy one last, and well-deserved, victory lap.

Outstanding Comedy Series

I successfully called last year’s five-peat for Modern Family, arguing that only one non-network series has ever won here, and that fortune rarely shines on shows well past their inaugural seasons. Those stats, if you believe them to still apply this year, don’t bode well for either Transparent, the best series in this category, or Veep, nominated now for all of its four seasons. And if you believe that Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black also lost here for uneasily straddling the lines between comedy and drama, then Amazon’s Transparent might be an even harder sell: Funny as this resplendently empathetic series is to the neuroses of all its characters, it exudes an aura of artful sophistication in its construction that stands in contrast to that of past winners in this category. Veep more closely adheres to the ethos of, say, The Office and 30 Rock, but it also has to compete against Parks and Recreation, something of a sentimental favorite, in addition to Tina Fey’s buzzy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. So it’s another one for old reliable, Modern Family, and if it seals the deal largely in part for its incredible “Connection Lost” episode, the victory won’t seem as lazily obligatory as it has for at least three years now.

Outstanding Miniseries

If I had an Emmy ballot, I would check this category off for Sundance’s The Honorable Woman, eight hours of sophisticated, soap-operatic political theater anchored by some of the finest performances to bless television in the past two years. But the more conventional nuances of Olive Kitteridge, courtesy of Emmy war horse HBO, will be difficult for Emmy voters to resist.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

The Emmys have nothing against Jon Hamm. If they did, he wouldn’t be enjoying his eighth nomination here for his role in Mad Men. History, though, informs us of their distinct preference for actors who play characters struggling with their demons a little less internally, and Hamm’s Don Draper, sadly, is among the thickest-skinned enigmas to ever brood on television. Sympathy is no doubt on his side, but the quicksilver shifts between desperation and elation that marks the entirety of Bob Odenkirk’s performance in Better Call Saul is the kind of masterwork that Emmy voters like to reward.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Tatiana Maslany’s nomination here for her mind-bogglingly nimble performance(s) on Orphan Black is worth applauding, but her chances are being overestimated by some, as she enters this race as the sole ambassador for a nearly unwatchable season of the BBC series. My preference is for Claire Danes, for the infinite shades of gray she continues to bring to Homeland’s Carrie Mathison, or Taraji P. Henson, for, well, the infinite levels of shade she throws on Empire. But fortune favors the serious here, or at least the faux-serious, which means Viola Davis will likely prevail, probably as much for her actual performance as for the controversy the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley sparked when she failed to see the “classic beauty” of this preternaturally talented actress.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie

Most are pegging David Oyelowo to win here for his one-man show in Nightingale. Some claim the deal is sealed by his Selma Oscar snub, which presupposes a significant enough overlap between Emmy and Oscar’s voting bodies. If so, then what of the overlap between Emmy and Tony’s voting blocs? The incredible Mark Rylance, soon to star and poised to break out in a major way on the big screen in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, is already a three-time Tony winner, and a victory for his deliciously devious performance as Thomas Cromwell in the acclaimed Wolf Hall would jibe with the Emmy’s predilection for rewarding period films in the miniseries and movie categories.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

The great Frances McDormand is the popular choice here, but I can’t help but think her emotionally coiled interpretation of Olive Kitteridge’s titular character puts her at a disadvantage here in the same way as Jon Hamm in the Lead Actor in a Drama Series category. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance is every bit as thoughtfully considered in The Honorable Woman, but the layers of emotional negotiation she charts with breathtaking precision across eight hours often sync in head-spinning ways with the geopolitics that serve as the Sundance miniseries’s backdrop.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

For his humor, his poignancy, and, especially, his shunning of the bathetic, Jeffrey Tambor wins his first Emmy in what’s possibly the closest thing to a shoo-in this year.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, because she’s contractually obligated to never lose in this category.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

It’s difficult to imagine anyone but Jonathan Banks persevering here for the masterwork of feeling and character shading he accomplished in Better Call Saul’s “Five-O” episode alone.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Game of Thrones’s Lena Headey, because shame.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

I stuck with Tiny “Snarknado” Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt until the end in large part because of how Tituss Burgess’s absolutely bat-shit comic brio brings the show’s Dadaist regard for identity politics to such an unexpectedly poignant place of calm.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Because it’s too easy, lazy even, to rally behind Allison Janney once again, and my Veep blindsightedness almost requires me to not pick Anna Chlumsky, I must go with Gaby Hoffmanm. Not because this actress has been flying under the radar for so long, but because it’s impossible to imagine Transparent being anywhere near as moving and funny a study of identity, from its construction to its detonation, without that wide-eyed sense of wonder and alive-ness she brings to the confusion her character feels in the wake of her father announcing he’s transgender.

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series

At the rate that The Americans is slowly making an impression with Emmy voters, it should reach Louie-like levels of en-masse acceptance by its fourth season. At the center of the show’s nominated “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” episode is an unusual hostage negotiation that illuminates the truly personal and moral costs of the Cold War’s brutality. It’s a great hour of television, and yet, Better Call Saul’s “Five-O” is even stronger—not just for its heartbreaking nakedness of feeling, but for the prismatic construction that was so redolent of some of Breaking Bad’s finest hours. Both are big and bold, but neither were as remotely zeitgeisty like Mad Men’s series finale, “Person to Person,” an episode that inspired almost as many think pieces as it did viewers.

Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series

Walter Hill. David Fincher. Martin Scorsese. Cary Joji Fukunaga. Now, add Steven Soderbergh to that list.

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series

Go team Silicon Valley, but given this category’s history of rewarding shows beholden to the snarkiest strokes of the pen, this is likely Veep’s to lose.

Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series

Modern Family’s shut out here and in the comedy writing category doesn’t bode well for the show in Outstanding Comedy Series—or maybe it does, assuming you see it as a beneficiary of a vote split between Veep and Transparent. But that’s neither here nor there. I’ll call this one for Transparent for the almost preternatural warmth with which it glimpses into the lives of its characters.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie

A vote for Bill Murray would be a primetime-TV boon for the photobomb industry, but it seems almost imprudent, almost unsafe, to bet against Damian Lewis’s performance as Henry VIII from Wolf Hall.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

Two heads are better than one, yes, but Sarah Paulson’s sugar-and-spice portrayal of Bettie and Dot Tattler on American Horror Story: Freak Show not only has to compete against two other performances from the show, but Mo’Nique’s volcanic, scene-stealing turn as Ma Rainey in Bessie.

Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special

The ornately charted political machinations of Wolf Hall are gripping, yes, but Lisa Cholodenko’s nimble adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge is a win that would fit perfectly in Emmy’s wheelhouse.

Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special

Sherlock and Fargo’s pleasant victories last year in multiple categories suggest that the Emmys are increasingly becoming more open to paying attention to genre-based work. In the spirit of said victories, this one will probably go to The Honorable Woman over Wolf Hall for its more viscerally charged evocation of political intrigue.

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