Whether you're hoping to spy a "True Detective" win or cooking up a victory lap for "Breaking Bad" (these TV puns practically write themselves), the Emmy Awards will provide impervious judgment of the year's best television. That is, if you let a voting body that's handed Jon Cryer not one but two trophies for "Two and a Half Men" tell you what you should regret not watching.
We don't, but in truth, the Emmys do often have a decent pulse on the best in television. Plus, it's just fun to speculate who might spoil the "Modern Family" winning streak and whether we'll see another zany Julia Louis-Dreyfus acceptance speech. Now that the Creative Arts Emmys are done and it's officially Emmy week, let's pore over this year's race. The awards air Aug. 25.
"The Big Bang Theory," "Louie," "Modern Family," "Orange is the New Black," "Silicon Valley," "Veep"
The tightest of any Emmy race this year, "Orange is the New Black," "Veep" and "Modern Family" are staring down the barrel of a contest that's impossible to predict. Even "Louie" and "The Big Bang Theory" could spoil. (Better luck next time, "Silicon Valley.") Given the dip in overall nominations (and critical reception) that "Modern Family" has seen, it seems the strong slate of episodes "OITNB" submitted to voters
will push Litchfield ahead of the Pritchett clan's four consecutive wins. The fact that its second season debuted to praise right before the nominations doesn't hurt.
It's also one of the fairest races. "Louie" broke ground this season, but the lack of laughs makes it hard to process as a comedy. "OITNB" and "Veep" are TV's true champions.
Nominees: "Breaking Bad," "Downton Abbey," "Game of Thrones," "House of Cards," "Mad Men," "True Detective"
Will win: Voters will struggle in deciding whether to bid adieu to "Breaking Bad," whose final season ended way back in September, or welcome the year's buzziest show in "True Detective." "Game of Thrones" could slap both in the face with its most gargantuan season yet, but expect voters to honor the nail in everyone's favorite meth-infused coffin.
Should win: The "True Detective" afterglow has dimmed, and it's apparent that "Breaking Bad" went out with several bangs and one very rewarding joyride.
Nominees: Louis C.K. - "Louie," Don Cheadle - "House of Lies," Ricky Gervais - "Derek," Matt LeBlanc - "Episodes," William H. Macy - "Shameless," Jim Parsons - "The Big Bang Theory"
Will win: This crop of nominees is so weak that it seems we're destined to see Parsons take home his fourth trophy. On the bright side, some thought C.K. might eke out a win last year, and the work he did on this season of "Louie" was even stronger. As with so much of this comedy slate, the question is whether the FX dramedy is too edgy (read: not funny enough) to prevail.
Should win: How about a draw? Okay, fine, C.K. can have it.
Nominees: Lena Dunham - "Girls," Edie Falco - "Nurse Jackie," Julia Louis-Dreyfus - "Veep," Melissa McCarthy - "Mike & Molly," Amy Poehler - "Parks and Recreation," Taylor Schilling - "Orange is the New Black"
Will win: "Veep" has grown more complex with age, and so has Louis-Dreyfus' note-perfect performance as Selina Meyer. The Emmys won't hesitate to award her for the third consecutive year, which hasn't happened since Helen Hunt's "Mad About You" streak.
Should win: It's hard to see Poehler remain empty-handed, but it's Louis-Dreyfus' White House and we're just normalizing in it.
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"
Cranston and McConaughey are the shepherds of this strong roster, with equal pull: It's the Academy's final chance to recognize three-time winner Cranston and both the first and last to acknowledge McConaughey's stark one-time turn in "True Detective." Expect the latter. Even though Cranston submitted a stronger episode with "Ozymandias," McConaughey is still riding his Oscar wave and triumphed
at July's Television Critics Association Awards.
We'll miss you, Walt, but this one is McConaughey's.
David M. Russell/CBS via Getty Images
Nominees: Lizzy 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: A major "Good Wife" character died and the show missed the Drama Series shortlist, so this belongs to Margulies. Don't discount Danes and Wright, though.
Should win: Caplan's steadied performance is a master class in period acting.
Eddy Chen/NBC via Getty Images
Nominees: Fred Armisen - "Portlandia," Andre Braugher - "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," Ty Burrell - "Modern Family," Adam Driver - "Girls," Jesse Tyler Ferguson - "Modern Family," Tony Hale - "Veep"
Will win: The Emmys love Braugher, who's now been nominated eight times. His stoic Captain Holt is one of the highlights on a show that fell short of the many nominations it was expected to garner. But beware of Hale, who could stage a repeat.
Should win: Hale's delicacy is part of what grounds "Veep," but Driver was gifted with particularly strong material.
Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images
Mayim Bialik - "The Big Bang Theory," Julie Bowen - "Modern Family," Anna Chlumsky - "Veep," Allison Janney - "Mom," Kate McKinnon - "Saturday Night Live," Kate Mulgrew - "Orange is the New Black"
Even more so than Braugher, the Emmys adore Janney, who won four times for "The West Wing" and again this past weekend
for her guest work on "Masters of Sex." Bowen has already won and McKinnon is too "SNL"-ish, so many consider Janney a lock in this category. She's the best part of "Mom," but the performance is intentionally hammy, and we aren't sure Mulgrew's punchier role can't prevail. In all likelihood, it's Janney.
Janney will give the best acceptance speech, but Mulgrew is a force on "OITNB," stealing comedic and dramatic scenes alike.
Nominees: Jim Carter - "Downton Abbey," Josh Charles - "The Good Wife," Peter Dinklage - "Game of Thrones," Mandy Patinkin - "Homeland," Aaron Paul - "Breaking Bad," Jon Voight - "Ray Donovan"
Will win: Tyrion's trial gave Dinklage his richest material yet, but he'll have to contend with our final glimpses of Paul on "Breaking Bad" and Charles on "The Good Wife." All three characters were dealt trying hands this year, and the actors met the challenge masterfully. Jesse wasn't as much of a player in the final "Breaking Bad" episodes as he was in previous seasons, but Paul is a two-time winner already. Dinklage appeared at the Emmy podium for the inaugural "Game of Thrones" season and is a perennial fan favorite. Expect a battle between Blue Sky and the Iron Throne, with Paul likely to cruise off with as much ebullience as Jesse.
Should win: Any of these men are worthy, but what Paul did over the course of "Breaking Bad" is incomparable. Even his slightly reduced role in the final episodes should be honored.
Christine Baranski - "The Good Wife," Joanne Froggatt - "Downton Abbey," Anna Gunn - "Breaking Bad," Lena Headey - "Game of Thrones," Christina Hendricks - "Mad Men," Maggie Smith - "Downton Abbey"
Many are banking on a second consecutive win for Gunn, who submitted her wrenching performance in "Ozymandias" (pictured here). In August, the actress penned a graceful New York Times op-ed
in response to the stormy disputes over Skyler's likability, and that attention never hurts. Any of these women could upstage her, though, with eyes especially glued to Baranski.
Not only should "Ozymandias" score every award possible, but Gunn's range in that episode -- from wielding a knife at Walt to collapsing in devastation in the street -- is weightier that much of what a performer does in an entire season. If anyone were to take Gunn's moment, it should be Headey, who's been long overdue for a nomination.
Nominees: "American Horror Story: Coven," "Bonnie & Clyde," "Fargo," "Luther," "Treme," "The White Queen"
Will win: You can bet all your earnings on "Fargo."
Should win: You betcha it should be "Fargo."
Nominees: "Killing Kennedy," "Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight," "The Normal Heart," "Sherlock: His Last Vow," "The Trip to Bountiful"
Will win: The star power of HBO's movie and legacy of Larry Kramer's play lend "The Normal Heart" a near guarantee.
Should win: Despite its flaws and amid a weak bunch of nominees, "Normal Heart" is clearly the category's standout.
Kristopher Long/Comedy Central
Nominees: "The Colbert Report," "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," "Real Time with Bill Maher," "Saturday Night Live," "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon"
Will win: "The Colbert Report" last year stomped all over the 10-year winning streak of "The Daily Show." It seems poised to repeat, given Stewart's absence last summer and the spotlight on Colbert's impending "Late Show" takeover. The Comedy Central barnstormers face mild competition in the successful first run of Fallon's reincarnated "Tonight Show," but it's hard to imagine these programs being dethroned.
Should win: "The Colbert Report" only saw its influence rise this year, but "Saturday Night Live" handled a year of transition adeptly.