Emmys 2015: Who will win — and who deserves to
Every year, the TV Academy aims to honor the best of television at the Emmy Awards — but this 67th annual ceremony marks an intriguing year of transition. Previous darlings, like Breaking Bad, are gone; other critically-acclaimed favorites — including Mad Men and Parks and Recreation, which both aired their final seasons last year — are up for awards for the last time.
What can we expect from the 67th annual Emmy Awards on Sunday night? As you fill out your own ballot, let The Week be your guide:
Will win: Mad Men
Should win: Mad Men
Mad Men has always been a critical darling, but it hasn't won the Best Drama trophy at the Emmys since 2011, with a string of losses to the first season of Homeland and the final two seasons of Breaking Bad. The former is still nominated, but has long since declined in both viewership and acclaim; the latter is gone, which spares AMC the risk of self-cannibalization. Mad Men will compete against several other perennial nominees — Downton Abbey, House of Cards, and Game of Thrones — as well as freshman drama Better Call Saul and Netflix's Orange is the New Black, competing as a drama for the first time.
There's still the chance of a spoiler, but Mad Men is a clear favorite for the Best Drama Emmy. The AMC drama is nominated for its final season, which makes this — unlike every other show on the docket — the last chance for voters to hand it a trophy. And even if you take the last-chance aspect out of it, Mad Men simply delivered a better season than the competition, finding a clever and resonant way to bring seven seasons of drama to a close.
Will win: Transparent
Should win: Transparent or Veep
Every year, critics and awards show analysts ask the same question: Can anything topple the TV Academy's love for Modern Family, which has won this trophy for five years running? So far, the answer has been a resounding "no," but I'm betting on Amazon's acclaimed Transparent to play the David to Modern Family's Goliath.
It's a close call, and it comes with a few caveats. The TV Academy has never given Best Comedy to Veep, apparently content to use the annual Best Actress trophy for Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a stand-in for the show as a whole. It's possible that shoo-in Best Actor contender Jeffrey Tambor will play the same role for Transparent, allowing the Academy to dole out a record-breaking sixth Best Comedy trophy to its inexplicable favorite, Modern Family. Maybe it's putting too much faith in the TV Academy to assume that they've finally recognized how steeply that show has declined, but I'm betting that they'll break the streak and give the trophy to the freshman season of Transparent, giving Amazon its first-ever Emmy-winning series. (That said, I'd be just as happy to see a win for Veep, which pulls a reverse Modern Family by improving every year.)
Best Limited Series
Will win: Olive Kitteridge
Should win: Wolf Hall
Few Emmy categories have seen as many shakeups as this one. In 2011, the TV Academy elected to combine the Best Miniseries category with the Best TV Movie category, in an effort to shore up two categories that had grown awfully thin. In an age that subsequently begat anthology series like HBO's True Detective and FX's Fargo, it quickly became clear that there were more than enough limited-run series to fill a category — so in 2014, Miniseries and TV Movie were split up again. (This year's Best TV Movie Emmy was already awarded — to HBO's Bessie — at September 12's Creative Arts Emmy Awards.)
In practical terms, that means shows like American Horror Story and American Crime — which reset every year with a new story and a new cast of characters — are competing against one-off shows like The Honorable Woman and Olive Kitteridge, which will not continue next year.
This year, my personal preference in this category is Wolf Hall, which managed to distill Hilary Mantel's dense, brilliant pair of historical novels into a comprehensible six-hour TV arc. But I'm betting that voters will give the edge to HBO's Olive Kitteridge, a sober melodrama buoyed by a ridiculously stacked cast.
Best Actor, Drama
Will win: Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Should win: Jon Hamm, Mad Men
It might sound ridiculous to call this seven-time loser a major Emmy favorite — but if the TV Academy wants to show John Hamm some love for his work on Mad Men, this is literally their last chance. Over the past few months, critics and awards-show analysts have repeatedly cited the fact that no actor has ever won an acting Emmy for Mad Men. That's astonishing (and frankly, embarrassing) for the TV Academy, and they'll be eager to strike that piece of trivia from the record books by giving its leading man some long-overdue recognition. And if that wasn't enough motivation to give Hamm the Emmy, his so-so crop of competitors — Bloodline's Kyle Chandler,The Newsroom's Jeff Daniels, House of Cards' Kevin Spacey — have invariably done better work elsewhere. All the signs point for Hamm to finally snag his Mad Men Emmy, and given his superlative work on the show's final run of episodes, he certainly deserves it.
Best Actress, Drama
Will win: Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder
Should win: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
This year's Best Actress in a Drama race is a true toss-up, with a crop of nominees so strong that last year's winner, The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies, wasn't even nominated.
So who's in the mix, and who's going to come out on top? By process of elimination: After missing the cut last year, Clare Danes is back in contention for Homeland — but after winning back-to-back awards for the show's first two seasons, I'd be surprised if the TV Academy passed over some deserving first-time nominees to give her a third trophy for her mantle. House of Cards' Robin Wright is a two-time nominee, and is arguably the best part of her show, but there are more deserving performances in the mix. Elisabeth Moss is a six-time nominee for Mad Men. Her performance is certainly Emmy-worthy, and every bit the equal of Jon Hamm's — but barring a total Mad Men sweep, I think she'll be passed over once again.
That leaves the three first-time nominees in the category: Empire's Taraji P. Henson; How to Get Away with Murder's Viola Davis; and Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany, who finally scored a nomination after two consecutive (and much lamented) snubs. All three performances are as varied as they are terrific. Even as Orphan Black has declined, I favor Maslany's chameleonic performance, which requires her to convincingly play a dozen characters, but it's equally easy to make the case for Davis' fascinatingly layered turn in How to Get Away with Murder, or for Henson's singular ability to steal scene after scene in Empire. It'll likely be one of these three, and I'm giving a slight edge to Davis, whose performance towers over a show that's arguably not worthy of it — but by and large, your guess is as good as mine.
Best Actor, Comedy
Will win: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Should win: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
The biggest surprise in this category happened during the nomination period, when The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons, a six-time nominee and four-time winner, failed to make the list for the first time since 2009. Several longtime nominees still made the list —Louie's Louis C.K., Shameless' William H. Macy, Episodes' Matt LeBlanc, and House of Lies' Don Cheadle — but as with the Best Actress in a Drama category, it seems like the TV Academy is hungry for some new blood.
It's nice to see The Last Man on Earth's Will Forte and black-ish's Anthony Anderson make the cut — but this Emmy has had Jeffrey Tambor's name on it since Transparent premiered in 2014. Tambor's nuanced performance of a transgender woman coming out to her family has been universally acclaimed, and for good reason: It's simply that powerful.
Best Actress, Comedy
Will win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Should win: Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation or Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer
It's hard to fault the TV Academy for rewarding consistency, so I wouldn't complain if Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her fourth consecutive Emmy for Veep — but with so many Veep trophies on her mantle (and previous wins for Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine), it's also hard to shake the feeling that there's plenty of other talent worth praising.
So who's out there? Edie Falco has been nominated for an Emmy for every year of Nurse Jackie, but hasn't won since 2010, and I don't think the show's final season was momentous enough to merit another trophy. Like Falco, Grace and Frankie's Lily Tomlin and The Comeback's Lisa Kudrow have won before (in Tomlin's case, six times) — and their recent work, while praiseworthy, doesn't stack up to the competition.
That leaves two actresses who might have what it takes to end Louis-Dreyfus' streak. This is Amy Poehler's sixth consecutive nomination for playing Parks and Recreation's Leslie Knope, and the TV Academy's last chance to give her an Emmy for the role, and she absolutely deserves it. On the other hand, this has been a breakout year for Amy Schumer, and the TV Academy could keep that train rolling by rewarding her stellar work as the star of the sketch comedy series Inside Amy Schumer. Personally, I'd vote for Poehler, but I think we'll see Louis-Dreyfus take the stage again instead.
Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Will win: Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
Should win: Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
With Breaking Bad's six-time nominee (and three-time winner) Aaron Paul out of the race, the men in the Supporting Actor category can breathe a little easier about their chances. Unfortunately for them, there's still one hotly-tipped Breaking Bad alum in the mix: Jonathan Banks, reprising the role of Mike Ehrmantraut for AMC's prequel/spin-off, Better Call Saul.
I suspect Banks will come out on top of this eclectic category, but there are other intriguing contenders in the wings. Alan Cumming hasn't been nominated for The Good Wife since 2011, but he made the cut again this year. Peter Dinklage has been nominated for every single season of Game of Thrones, but hasn't won since its first. And first-time nominees Michael Kelly (House of Cards) and Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) show that Netflix still has a couple of intriguing wild cards in the mix.
Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Will win: Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Should win: Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Here's one more chance to finally reward a stunningly consistent Mad Men performance —and this time, I suspect the TV Academy will take it. Christina Hendricks is a five-time loser in this category, but this could be (and should be) her year — a chance to reward the entire scope of her performance, as well as the depth and grace with which she played Joan Holloway's final arc on the series.
If there's a spoiler in the category, it probably comes not from The Good Wife's Christine Baranski, Downton Abbey's Joanne Froggatt, or Orange is the New Black's Uzo Aduba, but from one of the two nominees from Game of Thrones. Emilia Clarke is a rising star, and Daenerys' long-awaited encounter with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) provided one of the buzziest and most audience-pleasing moments of a dark season. Lena Headey, who plays the conniving Cersei Lannister, had one of best and most complete arcs of the season, culminating in a brutal and heartbreaking ending that evoked sympathy from even her biggest haters. I still give the edge to Hendricks, but the widespread love for Game of Thrones could inspire an upset.
Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Will win: Tony Hale, Veep
Should win: Keegan-Michael Key, Key & Peele or Titus Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Another eclectic group of nominees. Ty Burrell won for Modern Family last year, and he's nominated again; Tony Hale won for his role as the bodyman on Veep two years ago, and he's in the mix too. This is Girls star Adam Driver's third consecutive nomination, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Andre Braugher's second. None of those performances is bad, but if I could vote, I'd be inclined to pick one of the two first-timers in the mix: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Titus Burgess, who stole pretty much every scene in which he appeared during the show's debut season, and Key & Peele's Keegan-Michael Key, who showed off remarkable range in a bevy of diverse comedy sketches. (His co-star Jordan Peele, who wasn't nominated, is just as deserving of inclusion here.)
But this category is a toss-up, and, in the end, I think the TV Academy is most likely to re-reward an old favorite. If I'm right about this being the year they turn on Modern Family, that makes Veep's Tony Hale the frontrunner.
Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Will win: Allison Janney, Mom
Should win: Anna Chlumsky, Veep
This year's Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy category boasts a whopping eight nominees, which makes handicapping the odds an unusually difficult proposition. Will the TV Academy go with an old favorite, like Modern Family's Julie Bowen or Mom's Allison Janney? A longtime nominee who has never taken the top prize, like The Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik or Veep's Anna Chlumsky? An old favorite in a new series, like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Jane Krakowski? A brand-new contender, like Transparent's Gaby Hoffmann or Getting On's Niecy Nash? Or a totally funky, left-field choice, like Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon?
I personally favor Veep's Anna Chlumsky, who pulled off the season's best scene when she finally went off on Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyer — but in the face of so much uncertainty, I'm betting the TV Academy will fall back on a safe choice. That makes Mom's Allison Janney, who took this trophy last year, a favorite to repeat.
Best Variety Talk Series
Will win: The Colbert Report
Should win: The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or Late Show with David Letterman
After years and years of the same shows dominating the Best Variety Series field, the TV Academy finally split the category in two: Best Variety Talk Series and Best Variety Sketch Series. But despite the new breathing room, this should be a very, very close race between three shows that concluded this year: The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Late Show with David Letterman. (Better luck next year to Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and John Oliver.)
So: will Colbert, Stewart, or Letterman take home the top prize? Each option is clearly beloved by the TV Academy; in fact, one of those three shows has won the Best Variety Series every year since 1998. But from 2003 to 2012, The Daily Show took home the trophy for a record-setting 10 consecutive victories — and even for Stewart's final season, another win just feels like gilding the lily. That leaves Letterman and Colbert. Letterman hasn't won since 2002, and a repeat trophy would be a fitting capper to his long and remarkable career — but Colbert, who took over Letterman's Late Show, is just as beloved, and his ubiquity will keep him on the minds of Emmy voters. Letterman, by contrast, has spent the first months of his retirement fairly quietly. It's as close as it gets, but I'm giving it to Colbert by a nose.
Best Variety Sketch Series
Will win: Saturday Night Live
Should win: Key & Peele or Inside Amy Schumer
Finally, Saturday Night Live isn't forced to compete with Stewart and Colbert — and just in time for a couple of major spoilers to emerge. Comedy Central's Key & Peele and Inside Amy Schumer are serious challengers in the brand-new Best Variety Sketch Series race: newer, edgier, and less constricted by format.
But I'm betting on nostalgia for SNL to take the day. The comedy institution has won just two Best Variety Series Emmys, in 1976 and 1993, and the past year's 40th anniversary celebration feels like the right time to reward the show for its durability and consistency. That said, the acting nominations for Keegan-Michael Key and Amy Schumer prove that there's also plenty of support among voters for the newer sketch shows, so don't be shocked if we end up seeing an upset.