The Emmys have been criticized over the years for being a bit slow when it comes to recognizing innovative or outstanding shows — especially if a show doesn’t fit the standard big network idea of TV. They also sometimes hold on to shows well past their prime. But to the surprise of many, this year’s Emmy nominations show that the voters were paying closer attention to what’s happening in the much-changed television landscape.
This year’s nominations include an impressive 31 nods for Netflix. While that still puts them behind other networks like HBO (which led with 99 nominations), it’s a huge statement to what Netflix has accomplished. It’s also important to note that the streaming service only has a handful of original shows (compared to the other networks) and yet still proved to be a big contender. The other big change this year is the fact that Game of Thrones finally broke into more categories and earned 19 nods for their fantastic fourth season. Fantasy shows have rarely been given much Emmy love.
This year’s awards also showcase the continuing issues TV is facing when it comes to categories. Television is becoming more and more diverse in format, number of episodes, and theme. Shows don’t so easily fall into comedy or drama. Is Orange is the New Black a comedy? For Emmy purposes, yes.
Then there’s the debate between full-length series and mini-series. HBO entered their 8-part True Detective as a full-length drama. FX, on the other hand, entered their 10-part Fargo as a mini-series. Both shows are coming back for a second season with different casts and storylines, much like American Horror Story (which is also entered as a mini-series). The lines are blurry, which allows the networks to put shows where they think they might do better. Fargo will probably win more against the mini-series contenders than if it was going head-to-head with the big dramas.
Of course, there were still plenty of snubs (Orphan Black, Bates Motel, Boardwalk Empire) and some unnecessary repeaters (Downton Abbey anyone?). But as a whole, this year’s Emmys highlight many of the amazing shows that have been causing quite the buzz in the last year.
Since there are so many categories, I’m going to highlight five of the most interesting, competitive, and potentially surprising Emmy races. Then tune in on Monday, August 25th to see who wins.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
This is truly one of the most competitive and hard-to-predict categories this year. There are so many deserving men and performances. But who will pull out ahead? There’s a good chance Emmy voters will reward Cranston because it’s the last time they can. Personally, I’m not a Breaking Bad fan. I think it’s one of the most overrated TV series in history, and I could only make it through the first two seasons due to the uneven writing and flat female characters, but I know I’m in the minority on that. I also know there’s a strong chance he’ll be on that stage come the 25th.
Perhaps the most deserving person on this list is Jon Hamm — he’s never won an Emmy for Mad Men, which is criminal. But voters know they will have one more shot at giving him the statue next year since Mad Men broke the final season into two parts. My guess is they will wait.
I’d say it’s a safe bet to count Jeff Daniels out. He surprised everyone last year and won, but another win for a show that’s gotten a pretty mixed critical response is unlikely. Spacey, however, is deserving for his fantastic portrayal of Frank Underwood in Netflix’s House of Cards, but voters are likely to reward the show by giving the even more deserving Robin Wright the Lead Actress Award.
Cranston’s biggest competition comes from the other names on this list both from True Detective. Harrelson is perfection, but McConaughey had the more standout role. He’s also fresh off his Oscar win for Dallas Buyer’s Club, which means he has the biggest shot of ruining Cranston’s last run. His performance as the out-there-philosophical and mysterious detective was one of the strongest on TV all year long. There’s also more pressure to reward him now because he won’t be returning to the series.
Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Orange is the New Black
If you need more evidence that the TV landscape has changed, look no further than the Outstanding Comedy Series category. Once upon a time, this list included fairly traditional sitcoms, but today, there’s really only one on this list that fits that description (The Big Bang Theory). The standard rules of sitcoms have completely altered, and these shows span a wide spectrum of comedy and format.
With that said, this category has often gone to repeat winners. Modern Family has, in fact, won the last four years. If it wins this year, it will tie Frasier for the most wins in this category. But those chances are getting slimmer due to the breakout hit Orange is the New Black. It is important to note that (due to the release date of OITNB), these nominations are for season one — and not for the most recent (and even better) second season.
Rewarding Orange is the New Black would be appropriate and a big win for Netflix. It’s an addictive, progressive show that does something new. Of all the shows on the list, it has the best shot of knocking out Modern Family.
I wouldn’t, however, completely count Veep out. It just keeps getting better and better. Season three was killer, and for all the political shows on TV, Veep is the most on target satire of our current system. The show hasn’t won, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won the Emmy the last two years for her performance, which means voters are paying attention to how great this show is. This could be the surprise win.
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series*
Natasha Lyonne, Orange is the New Black
Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
Laverne Cox, Orange is the New Black
Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live
Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live
Joan Cusack, Shameless
The “guest” categories are not normally ones people pay too much attention to. These categories often include well-known actors or actresses who make a “very special appearance” on a hit show.
But Orange is the New Black has changed all that. Due to the show’s large cast and the rules about amount of screen time, Netflix was able to enter many of their fine actresses in the guest category. And it paid off: There are three OITNB ladies competing against each other this year, and it’s really their race to win. (Sorry Tina, Melissa, and Joan.)
While I love Lyonne, this race is going to come down to Aduba and Cox. They are both very deserving, but I’m leaning toward Cox partly because Aduba really shines in season two, so her Emmy chances are not over. Cox, however, was given a smaller role in season two, so her chances of repeating her nomination next year are slim.
Much has been made of Cox being the first transgender actor to be nominated for an Emmy, and while that is amazing and progressive, it shouldn’t distract from the fact that’s she’s a great actress and has a well-written and strong role on OITNB. If she wins, it will be very deserving.
*Note the Guest Actor Emmys are given out at a special Creative Arts Emmy ceremony, which was held August 16th. Uzo Aduba took home the statue.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Mini-Series or Movie
Frances Conroy, American Horror Story
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story
Ellen Burstyn, American Horror Story
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story
Allison Tolman, Fargo
Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart
A few years ago, a big movie star like Julia Roberts would be a shoe in for an award like this. The Emmys used to like to reward big stars for slumming it on TV. Oh, how the times have changed. Now TV is full of big stars because, let’s face it, the movie industry sucks right now. If you want a meaty role, you turn to TV. What this means is, Roberts will probably not win in this category.
That means it will come down to four AHS ladies and one Fargo lady. I’m placing my bets and hopes on the breakthrough performance by Allison Tolman in FX’s stellar Fargo. Honestly, I’m not an American Horror Story fan (or a fan of pretty much anything Ryan Murphy does). While I love those four actresses, I’m not fully in support of giving Emmys for super-campy acting, which is what AHS is. The most deserving here is Tolman.
She shines as the only competent police officer in the bizarre world of Fargo (based off the 1996 Coen brothers film). The show earned 18 nominations and will surely win some, including this one.
Outstanding Drama Series
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
I’m a fan of nearly all of these shows, so this category is a tough one. Like Cranston, Breaking Bad has a good shot because it’s the final season, but the competition is stiff.
The least likely to win is Downton Abbey. I would argue it shouldn’t even be nominated. I like Downton, but the writing has weakened, and it’s not in the same league as these other heavy hitters. House of Cards also has slim chances. It’s a great show, but not strong enough to push out the bigger names on the list. While Mad Men is one of my favorite shows of all time, it will also probably be passed over for its half-season. Like Hamm, it might have better chances next year.
That leaves True Detective and Game of Thrones to push out Breaking Bad. Of the three, True Detective had the least viewers, but has been praised by nearly all TV critics as one of the best things on TV all year long (and I agree), which is why it has a shot.
Personally, I would love to see Game of Thrones take this award. This past season was perfection, and the show is monumental in combining fantasy with reality. It’s also a feat to get this many people to watch a show where horrible things happen to everyone. It’s been a huge crossover success and is worthy of this award. There is also a little fear that this might have been the peak of GOT, so rewarding it now for a fantastic season is much better than possibly giving it an award for a weaker season down the line.
In the end, it might be a battle worthy of GOT. Whose House do you belong to?