TV, TV on the wall, who are the fairest Emmy picks of all? It’s hard to say, with so many great shows and performances to choose from over June 2015 through this May (that’s the eligibility period set by the Academy of Television each year).
An easier job: pegging who and what will likely wind up on the short list. After all, the nominees are picked not by critics or fans but by Hollywood’s “industry peers” — meaning the names popular with the TV-biz crowd can show up over and over. Still, let’s hope for some surprises when Anthony Anderson (Black-ish) and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) announce the verdicts (OMG, a subtle reference to The People v. O.J.!) on Thursday, July 14.
Before that happens, Us Weekly’s television critic John Griffiths gives his quick thoughts on the likely suspects in key categories, along with some choice wild cards.
Better Call Saul (AMC)
A writer’s and actor’s dream of a show. Quirky and lingering, it can’t be ignored.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Last year’s first-time winner kept the eyes filled and blood curdling.
House of Cards (Netflix)
The oh-so-dark political drama is as relevant as ever.
Mr. Robot (USA)
The hackers drama, the new kid on the block, boasted some electrifying writing and a star-making performance from Rami Malek. Vote for it and feel edgy.
Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
This edgy show about women in prison, nominated last year, addressed racial strife on a deeper level.
The Americans (FX)
This Cold War drama’s momentum has reached the Emmy circle.
The Walking Dead (AMC)
It’d be amazing if Emmy got in step with this spellbinder, a human (not just zombie!) drama more masterfully executed than ever.
LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Claire Danes — Homeland (Showtime)
A trusty presence — even when the political conspiracy drama wobbles — as now ex-CIA spy Carrie.
Viola Davis — How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)
The show’s ratings took a dip in season 2, but last year’s champ still came on raw and fierce and nervy as high-powered lawyer Annalise Keating. Davis elevates TV just by being on it.
Vera Farmiga — Bates Motel (A&E)
The actress, already a stunner as scraping, needy Norma Bates on the Psycho twist, outdid herself in the pivotal penultimate season (just because Norman killed Mom doesn’t mean Farmiga won’t be back next season).
Taraji P. Henson — Empire (Fox)
She was so fiery out the gate as impulsive lioness Cookie Lyon on the smash record-biz soap. Emmy voters took notice last year, and will again.
Julianna Margulies — The Good Wife (CBS)
In the topsy-turvy final season, Margulies’ Alicia Florrick went from sudden public defender back to calculating (estranged) governor’s wife. Voters will note the star, on and off the list the past few years, was committed to the end.
Keri Russell — The Americans (FX)
Emmy voters have to know a nod for Russell is overdue. She was more keen than ever as an ‘80s Soviet spy pretending to be an American named Elizabeth Jennings. From cool-and-collected to panic, Russell channelled it all — in vintage and disguises, even!
Robin Wright — House of Cards (Netflix)
She definitely dug deeper this round as power-lusting First Lady — and maybe president? — Claire Underwood. Wright's seeming appropriation of Hillary Clinton’s mannerisms suggest the actress did her homework!
Sarah Hay — Flesh and Bone (Starz)
As a troubled ballet star, hers was the most unnerving.
Amirah Vann — Underground (WGN America)
As Ernestine, a black slave who goes from a privileged position on a plantation to something much worse, she gave the year’s most heartbreaking performance.
LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Kyle Chandler — Bloodline (Netflix)
So that’s what it feels like to walk around acting as if you didn’t kill your brother!
Paul Giamatti — Billions (Showtime)
He doesn’t chew the scenery here — he power-saws through it. But Emmy voters love him.
Rami Malek — Mr. Robot (USA)
Perfect as the poster boy for some scary, screwed-up times.
Bob Odenkirk — Better Call Saul (AMC)
A subtle, knowing and heartfelt performance in a quirky drama that takes advantage of his talent.
Matthew Rhys — The Americans (FX)
Matches his costar Keri Russell (see above), turn for cautious turn.
Kevin Spacey — House of Cards (Netflix)
A more emotionally vulnerable, psychopathic POTUS — nice!
Dominic West — The Affair (Showtime)
Dominic West, honey — don’t worry, somebody sees you tearing it up in this drama. You’re our favorite hapless writer mixed up in a noir-ish murder plot to come along in forever!
We’ve gotta have a sweet, beloved family comedy in there!
Voters probably took note of what was a pretty clever and satisfying year for the entrenched relationship comedy.
Master of None (Netflix)
Of all the sort of dry comedies with wan or obtuse characters (Casual, Silicon Valley), this one has generated the most buzz.
This story of a transgender female coming out late in her golden years still amuses as much as life surprises.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Uneven or not, Tina Fey’s satire of a (somewhat troubled) neophyte navigating big NYC charmed voters last year.
So believable, it’s funny.
Angie Tribeca (TBS)
This fast and furious, all-out spoof of cop shows is so inventive and laugh-out-loud, it’s, yes, criminal.
Season 2 of this marvelously acted rom-com showed its married couple faced with children, flirtations, alcoholism and death — and it was still screwball fun.
LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Rachel Bloom — Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
An untethered force with a manic wit and great voice.
Lena Dunham — Girls (HBO)
Emmy voters will come back to this girl thanks to her glowing work the last round.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus — Veep (HBO)
She’ll be the one to beat, again.
Jane Fonda — Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
What a pro!
Tracee Ellis Ross — Black-ish (ABC)
A grounded force with an immense liability that just shines through.
Lily Tomlin — Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
Ditto the pro comment about costar Fonda!
Sharon Horgan — Catastrophe (Amazon)
The show’s cowriter and better half is today’s queen of semi-autobiographical wit.
Rashida Jones — Angie Tribeca (TBS)
You try to play deadpan as a cop going undercover while nude and talking to a German Shepherd like he’s your precinct buddy.
LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Anthony Anderson — Black-ish (ABC)
TV’s biggest charmer is also an effortless comedian on what is, granted, a slight-ish family comedy.
Aziz Ansari — Master of None (Netflix)
Guys can flounder in their search for love, too! Ansari is a breath of fresh (dry) air as a single man in NYC.
Will Forte — The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
The former SNL favorite scored a nomination for the apocalyptic comedy’s first round, and his titular loser was even more amusingly desperate this past season.
William H. Macy — Shameless (Showtime)
A two-time nominee for playing incorrigible drunk Frank Gallagher, the plucky Macy may actually pull out a win this time.
Jim Parsons — The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
A perennial favorite, so he’ll be banging again.
Jeffrey Tambor — Transparent (Amazon)
The star added new layers, and necklaces, as transgender heroine Maura Pfefferman.
Zach Galifianakis — Baskets (FX)
The Hangover star earns more than chuckles as a frustrated rodeo clown named Chip (and as his condescending twin brother, Dale!).
American Crime (ABC)
The second edition of this anthology, the grim story of a working-class teen who says he was raped by a private school hotshot, was certainly loaded with hot-button tangents.
TV could use a John Wayne-type hero these days, and Patrick Wilson, tall, laconic and exuding scruples, showed the bad guys that he was no one to underestimate.
The Night Manager (AMC)
Glossy and slow-burning, this somewhat self-impressed adaption of John le Carré’s spy novel offered smoldering performances from Hugh Laurie and (derriere-showing) Tom Hiddleston.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Producer Ryan Murphy’s no-frills take on Jeffrey Tobin’s nonfictional masterpiece has no arguments against it. Nor do stars Sarah Paulson (as Marcia Clark), Courtney B. Vance (Johnnie Cochran) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (O.J.). And confess: Hammy John Travolta (Robert Shapiro) ruled!
Nothing could match the epic sweep and emotional pull of the original version of Alex Haley’s historical novel. But this miniseries still devastated with its depiction of seething slave Kunta Kinte, victim of a different American crime.
Sure, laugh at the notion of James Franco as an English teacher who travels back in time to prevent JFK’s assassination. Expert plotting and the deft hand of producer J.J. Abrams help make this a timeless treat, though. Also credit Franco’s oh-so-smooth transitioning between action hero and romantic hero (the guy meets an amazing woman back in the day).
Tell Us: Which series and performers are you hoping will earn a nomination?
Emmy nominations are announced Thursday, July 14, at 11:30 a.m. ET. The ceremony airs on ABC Sunday, September 18, at 8 p.m. ET.
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