While voting members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences are busy poring through submissions for this year’s potential Emmy Award nominees, here are my thoughts about which shows and actors should be nominated in the drama series categories, as well as my picks for the winners. It’s always very satisfying to assemble such lists, if only to acknowledge the best of the best, but it can also be quite challenging. This is such an extraordinary time for television content that it is often near-impossible to select only six nominees in each category, the maximum number allowed in the Emmy nomination process.
As always, the shows and actors named here represent one man’s opinion. If you think there are any glaring omissions, please make them known in the comments section.
Outstanding Drama Series: AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” PBS’ “Downton Abbey,” CBS’ “The Good Wife,” Showtime’s “Homeland,” FX’s “Justified,” AMC’s “Mad Men.”
Also worth consideration: HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” FX’s “Sons of Anarchy,” TNT’s “Southland.”
My personal choice in this category would be “Breaking Bad,” a series as dark and unsparing as any ever produced for American television and an extraordinary showcase for some of the finest acting in the medium. But a fifth consecutive win for “Mad Men” would be perfectly fine, as well. Many critics thought “Men” slipped a bit in its fifth season; my only complaint was that we didn’t get enough of the former Betty Draper, one of the most consistently fascinating characters on television, and also one of the truest.
One might say that “Downton Abbey” deserves the top honor because it was a genuine phenomenon that brought millions of viewers to PBS and introduced a new generation of young people to period drama. (One might also assert that “Abbey” is a miniseries rather than an ongoing series, and thus does not belong in this category, but such decisions are out of our hands.) Many people will complain about my decision to exclude “Game of Thrones” from my primary contenders, but that’s only because season two wasn’t as focused as season one. Similarly, it can be argued that “Sons of Anarchy” had its strongest season yet and may be more deserving of a nomination than “Justified,” but I just can’t bring myself to make that switch. I’ll be good with their decision if Academy members do, however.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Steve Buscemi, HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”; Bryan Cranston, AMC’s “Breaking Bad”; Kelsey Grammer, Starz’ “Boss”; Jon Hamm, AMC’s “Mad Men”; Damian Lewis, Showtime’s “Homeland”; Timothy Olyphant, FX’s “Justified.”
Also worth consideration: Michael C. Hall, Showtime’s “Dexter”; Dustin Hoffman, HBO’s “Luck”; Charlie Hunnam, FX’s “Sons of Anarchy”; Hugh Laurie, Fox’s “House”; Matt Smith, BBC America’s “Doctor Who.”
Bryan Cranston already has three Emmys for his fascinating portrayal of terminally ill chemistry teacher turned drug lord Walter White. There is no reason to believe he won’t collect a fourth this year, unless the Academy chooses to honor Kelsey Grammer for taking on a pay-cable role that is so all-consuming it actually overrides memories of his iconic portrayal of the pompous Dr. Frasier Crane on two classic broadcast comedies.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Glenn Close, DirecTV’s “Damages”; Claire Danes, Showtime’s “Homeland”; Julianna Margulies, CBS’ “The Good Wife”; Elisabeth Moss, AMC’s “Mad Men”; Katey Sagal, FX’s “Sons of Anarchy”; Kyra Sedgwick, TNT’s “The Closer.”
Also worth consideration: Kathy Bates, NBC’s Harry’s Law”; Michelle Dockery, PBS’ “Downton Abbey”; Mireille Enos, AMC’s “The Killing.”
This is one of those circumstances in which no discussion is necessary. Every one of these women was simply extraordinary, including those who didn’t make my primary list, but Claire Danes will be nominated and she will win. (P.S. I believe Danes’ primary competitor next year in this category will be Chloe Sevigny of DirecTV’s upcoming drama about a transgender killer for hire, “Hit & Miss.”)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Peter Dinklage, HBO’s “Game of Thrones”; Giancarlo Esposito, AMC’s “Breaking Bad”; Neal McDonough, FX’s “Justified”; Mandy Patinkin, Showtime’s “Homeland”; Aaron Paul, AMC’s “Breaking Bad”; John Slattery, AMC’s “Mad Men.”
Also worth consideration: Jon Bernthal, AMC’s “The Walking Dead”; Common, AMC’s “Hell on Wheels”; Walton Goggins, FX’s “Justified”; Shawn Hatosy, TNT’s “Southland”; Vincent Kartheiser, AMC’s “Mad Men”; Joel Kinnaman, AMC’s “The Killing”; Michael Pitt, HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”; Theo Rossi, FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.”
No category so clearly illustrates the volume of amazing work being done in dramatic television today. Why, I could probably come up with ten more actors who are worth consideration here, and in truth there were many moments in their respective series throughout this past season that could justify moving any one of the actors noted above as being worth consideration onto my primary list. But since only one man can receive the award, I would go with Giancarlo Esposito.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Christine Baranski, CBS’ “The Good Wife”; Anna Gunn, AMC’s “Breaking Bad”; Christina Hendricks, AMC’s “Mad Men”; Kelly Macdonald, HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”; Maggie Siff, FX’s “Sons of Anarchy”; Maggie Smith, PBS’ “Downton Abbey.”
Also worth consideration: Morena Baccarin, Showtime’s “Homeland”; Megan Hilty, NBC’s “Smash”; Anjelica Huston, NBC’s “Smash”; Regina King, TNT’s “Southland”; Archie Panjabi, CBS’ “The Good Wife.”
Maggie Smith will probably receive a second consecutive Emmy for her priceless portrayal on “Downton Abbey” of the Dowager Countess, a character destined to be regarded as one of the most memorable in television history. But my choice would be Christine Baranski of “The Good Wife,” who brilliantly guided her character in and out of multiple high-stakes storylines. Baranski is overdue, but so is Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men.” How terrific would it be if she became the first actor to win an Emmy for the most highly acclaimed and most honored drama series of the last five years?