The time has come for the grand champions of the 2013-14 TV season to step forward. Today, Monday, June 9, marks the first day the Television Academy will begin to submit their ballots for this year's Emmy nominations. It's no secret that we're experiencing a small-screen renaissance, but this season's crop seems to pack the stiffest competition since "The West Wing" and "The Sopranos" duked it out year after year.
Will Bryan Cranston take home a fourth Emmy for the final season of "Breaking Bad," or does that award belong to Matthew McConaughey ("True Detective")? Will "Mad Men" bounce back from the dismal treatment its sixth season received? And how will Netflix's second year of original programming fare? These questions only scrape the surface of all the fun that's to come from these awards. But first, voters should take note of a few standouts that need not be missed when pondering their ballots before the nominations are announced on July 10.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer)
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series (Amy Poehler, "The Last Supper")
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer, "The Last Supper")
It takes some time for Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer's zany "Broad City" sensibilities to sink in. Then, in the inaugural season's third episode, Abbi trudges to an obscure island to retrieve a package for the hunky neighbor she's trying to impress, and you realize the impressionistic camerawork and hyper-intimate dialogue is the show's M.O. Once everything clicks, "Broad City" is comedy gold. The writing throughout the entire season is unlike anything else on television. If "Girls" was initially championed for depicting post-collegiate friendship in an honest way, its naturalism offers only a skeleton of what "Broad City" does. Amid all its nutty storylines, you may forget how poignant the show actually is.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
No comedy actor this year turned in a performance as transformative as Thomas Middleditch's. Every nerdy tick he assigns to Richard Hendriks, the skittish head of startup tech company Pied Piper, is a tactful dive into the character's minutiae. Middleditch knows how to sit on a line with just the right rhythm to emphasize Richard's earnestness and endear him to our own inner geek.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Mulgrew, Brooks)
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Aduba, Lyonne, Cox)
If there's ever been a cast that deserves a collective award for their work, it's this one. A number of the Litchfield Penitentiary residents are worthy of Emmy love, but it's Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes), Natasha Lyonne (Nicky), Lavernce Cox (Sophia), Kate Mulgrew (Red) and Danielle Brooks (Taystee) who shined the most during the Netflix original's debut season. Picking the actress we'd most like to see garner a nomination is like choosing your favorite inmate, but we'll give a slight edge to Aduba's poetic portrayal of Piper's wannabe prison girlfriend.
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Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
No TV character was more lovable this year than Jackie, and then poof! She wilted away with ABC's untimely "Trophy Wife" cancellation
. Emmy voters, please don't let that stifle you from recognizing the charm of Michaela Watkins, the former "SNL" star who's become one of the most reliable character actresses on the sitcom scene. With Jackie, she married flaky mania with earth-loving hippiedom, all while giving us a delightful mother-son duo with the help of co-star Albert Tsai.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Forget everyone else from "Downton Abbey." Yes, that includes Dame Maggie Smith. (Hold on, I'm taking cover to avoid damnation.) That's in part because the "Abbey" flame has faded over the past couple of seasons, and while the cast is still remarkable overall, this prime-time soap opera is hardly award-worthy anymore. The chief exception is Jim Carter, who continues to submit the sincerest performance this side of Yorkshire. From Carson's scandalized reaction to a black singer performing at Downton to his beachside flirtation with Mrs. Hughes, no one on the British import is as beguiling or thoughtful as Carter. (And if voters insist on nominating an actress as well, we suggest Penelope Wilton.)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Metcalf)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Nash)
HBO's geriatric-ward dramedy attracted far too few viewers in its first outing, but in a rational world that would only bolster the affection Emmy voters shower upon it. Metcalf already has the Academy's love (three wins for her brilliant performance on "Roseanne"), so if the network stages a fierce campaign, perhaps she can secure a spot on their radar. Nash, on the other hand, will have to work harder. It's worth it, though: The former "Reno 911!" star is transcendent in the delicate role of DiDi, a sensitive but arrant nurse who balances Metcalf's bitter Dr. James with finesse.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
If you've noticed anything about Sally Draper's characterization over the past two seasons of "Mad Men," it should be the fact that Matthew Weiner and company have done a bang-up job at cementing her as the rebellious progeny of Betty. Shipka mirrors Betty's sanctimonious body language and snappy temper while allowing the character to breathe in a universe that's still entirely her own. Watching Shipka develop over the course of seven seasons has been one of the great pleasures of "Mad Men," and it's time we give the 14-year-old actress the homage she deserves.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Chelsea Peretti sinks into the absurd lines Gina rattles off with a cadence that gives every ludicrous word she utters an air of severity. Peretti is committed to making the 99th Precinct's resident nut job the biggest hoot on Fox's lineup. Case in point: the smooth delivery of a line like "My mother cried the day I was born because she knew she'd never be prettier than me."
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Season 4 of "Game of Thrones" belongs to Peter Dinklage, but he's all but guaranteed a nomination, so instead we'll stump for Lena Headey, whose Cersei Lannister is a bastion of greed. The accusations she hurled at Tyrion (no spoilers here) made for devilish sibling drama and gave amplified screen time to one of the series' best characters. With every twist, Headey slithered through Cersei's words with campy excellence.
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Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Remember that stellar "Scandal" speech
about sexism in politics that had the Internet buzzing back in November? It's award-worthy, and not only because of its chutzpah. It's because there's not a trace of Phoebe Buffay or Valerie Cherish in the congresswoman Lisa Kudrow portrayed for four episodes on "Scandal." The gifted comedian broke out her dramatic chops for one of Season 3's most affecting storylines.
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Cary Joji Fukunaga, "Who Goes There")
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (Nic Pizzolatto, "The Long Bright Dark")
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Michelle Monaghan)
This one likely goes without saying, but just in case Emmy votes are overburdened by the splendid TV season they're representing, here's another reminder that "True Detective" was perhaps the year's best entertainment. Matthew McConaughey will go to battle with Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") and Jon Hamm ("Mad Men"), but let's not overlook how marvelous Woody Harrelson was. Every time you think you're watching a show that belongs to McConaughey, Harrelson churns out a wrenching scene like the one in Episode 3, when he breaks down to Maggie (Michelle Monaghan, also worthy) in their bedroom. Everything about "True Detective" -- the sepia-toned Louisiana ambiance, the meditative scripts, the astute direction that governs the mystery -- is emblematic of what critics have championed as the modern television apogee.
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Johnson, "Ozymandias")
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (Walley-Beckett, "Ozymandias")
We could ramble on about not forgetting Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn and Vince Gilligan, but let's not waste our breath. They'll all get their due come July 10, as the final season of "Breaking Bad" may have cemented the show's place as the greatest television drama of all time. What we really want to see happen is for Rian Johnson and Moira Walley-Beckett to garner recognition for crafting the year's most explosive episode, "Ozymandias."
That's the one everyone obsessed over: Walt tells Jesse he watched Jane die, Skyler wields a knife to threaten Walt, Walt makes off with Holly, and ultimately he embarks upon creating a new identity. Only once a season, if a show is lucky, does a series score an episode as potent as this.
Jojo Whilden/Craig Blankenhorn, HBO
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie (Roberts)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie (Parsons)
"The Normal Heart" is a frontrunner for the miniseries/movie accolades largely because of the categories' lack of competition and partially because of its star wattage. That doesn't mean it's not without merits, though, and the biggest evidence of that comes in Julia Roberts and Jim Parsons. As the fiery doctor who champions AIDS research and a conflicted member of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, respectively, the actors are the standouts in a movie that suffers from imperfect direction but boasts stellar performances.
Our list is only a drop in the bucket of great television. So many others could be added: "Fargo," "Veep," "The Americans," "Orphan Black," "Louie," the list goes on. What's missing? Use the comments below to suggest your own picks for this year's Emmys.