Because it’s NBC’s turn to air the Primetime Emmy Awards this year, and because the Peacock would understandably rather air its lucrative Sunday night NFL package in September, the ceremony will take place in late August again. And as an added wrinkle, this year’s ceremony will actually happen on a Monday, August 25 at 8 p.m., with Seth Meyers hosting.
Between now and then, Dan and I will be making our picks for both who should and will win many of the major categories – if you’re wagering, keep in mind that Dan tends to be much better at predicting the winners than I am, but also that he was just as flummoxed as I by last year’s winners like Jeff Daniels, Merritt Wever and Bobby Cannavale – continuing with our look at the comedy and drama series directing categories.
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
“Episodes,” “Episode 309” – Iain B. MacDonald
“Glee,” “100” – Paris Barclay
“Louie,” “Elevator, Part 6” – Louis C.K.
“Modern Family,” “Vegas” – Gail Mancuso
“Orange Is the New Black,” “Lesbian Request Denied” – Jodie Foster
“Silicon Valley,” “Minimum Viable Product” – Mike Judge
Alan’s pick: There are some interesting choices here in terms of what episodes of what series were chosen. C.K., for instance, can only submit one of the episodes he directs each season, and while the powerful and self-contained “In the Woods” seemed like a more obvious choice, he instead went with the poignant conclusion to “Elevator,” which also featured a low-budget attempt to recreate a super-storm. And “Lesbian Request Denied” wasn’t my favorite “Orange” of season 1, but it A)has a famous director and B)featured the flashback for Sophia, one of the show’s most memorable (and progressive) characters. Still, it’s the strongest episode of the six nominees, and the one I’d likely vote for if I had a ballot.
Dan’s pick: I watched one “Episodes” episode this season and it was not the creatively titled “309.” I watched one “Glee” episode this season and it was not the creatively titled “100.” [And how was “Quarterback” not nominated if one “Glee” episode was going to be nominated?] I watched all of the “Louie” episodes this season and I’m not sure I’d have put “Elevator, Party 6” in my Top 5, but Louis C.K. has an interesting habit of making not-quite-intuitive episode selections. And who on Earth would choose Mike Judge’s work on the “Silicon Valley” pilot over “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” or one of several late-season entries? So of the six episodes in the category, I haven’t watched two and I don’t consider two to be anywhere representative of either show’s peak. “Vegas” actually was one of the better “Modern Family” episodes from last season and it was definitely the season’s most intricately crafted piece of farce, both on a script level and in terms of its on-screen construction. But Gail Mancuso won last year. So my choice is Oscar winner Jodie Foster, who broke into TV with the exceptional “Lesbian Request Denied.” Is it my favorite “OITNB” episode of the season? Probably not, but I just rewatched it because it was Uzo Aduba’s submission episode and the Piper-Suzanne stuff in that episode is particularly fantastic.
Alan’s pick: Mancuso won this category last year, and you should never discount both the inertia of Emmy voters and their love of the traditional. That said, “Lesbian Request Denied” has too much going for it: famous/acclaimed director with one of the great movie pedigrees of modern times, a poignant spotlight for a character and actress who would later wind up on the cover of Time as part of our growing understanding of trans issues, and a show that’s having its own extended moment.
Dan’s pick: Alan’s underestimating the actually *quality* of the “Vegas” episode, which will also work in its favor in addition to inertia. “Modern Family” has, in fact, won this category three straight years. [Jason Winer’s work on the pilot lost to Ryan Murphy for the “Glee” pilot, if you’re curious.] I do think this category comes down to Mancuso and Foster and I just wonder if “Lesbian Request Denied” is going to seem like the distant past to Emmy voters. Also, because of Netflix’s Dump Everything At Once strategy, it’s harder for individual episodes to stand out and gain traction unless you can immediately point to The Big Thing that happened in the episode, which isn’t exactly the case with Foster’s episode. I feel like Michael Trim’s “OITNB” pilot or finale work would have had a better chance here and I’m picking Mancuso and complacency.
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series
“Boardwalk Empire,” “Farewell Daddy Blues” – Tim Van Patten
“Breaking Bad,” “Felina” – Vince Gilligan
“Downton Abbey,” “Episode 1” – David Evans
“Game of Thrones,” “The Watchers on the Wall” – Neil Marshall
“House of Cards,” “Chapter 14” – Carl Franklin
“True Detective,” “Who Goes There” -Cary Joji Fukunaga
Alan’s pick: If the Academy members had nominated “Ozymandias” from “Breaking Bad,” this would be among the easiest choices of the whole field. Instead, they went with the finale (perhaps as another way to honor Gilligan for the accomplishment of the series as a whole), and while it has its moments, I’m not sure it’s a more impressive piece of direction than the spectacle of “Watchers on the Wall,” the usual precision that Van Patten brings to each “Boardwalk” finale or, especially, “Who Goes There,” which had the famous single-take thriller sequence at the housing project, as well as plenty of other gorgeous, haunting imagery that demonstrated the ways in which “True Detective” was a directing showcase just as much as an acting and writing one. By a narrow margin over “Felina,” it’s my pick.
Dan’s pick: There are somewhere around 100 episodes of TV drama from last season that I would put in this category ahead of the most recent “Downton Abbey” premiere. And I LIKE “Downton Abbey.” “Chapter 14” of “House of Cards” at least has The Big Thing that I mentioned above, even if it’s only somewhat an achievement of “direction,” per se. “Watchers on the Wall” is end-to-end action and it’s a tremendous spectacle. The “Boardwalk Empire” finale has dramatic and emotional set-pieces galore. And “Who Goes There” has The Shot. But I’m going for “Felina” because of both its visual craftsmanship and just how successfully it brought “Breaking Bad” to its conclusion. And yes, like Alan I would greatly have preferred to see Rian Johnson’s work on “Ozymandias” here. Actually, I think there were four or five “Breaking Bad” episodes I think were more tightly directed in this last season, but finales play by different rules and this was a very good finale and by finale math, “very good” equals “great.”
Alan’s pick: I’m expecting a big night for “Breaking Bad,” but I can also see this as one of a couple of categories where voters may choose to honor “True Detective” and the vivid, singular work Fukunaga did in directing all eight episodes. Still, when in doubt this year, bet on Gilligan.
Dan’s pick: Emmy voters do WEIRD things in this category and you can’t always find the logic unless you have something like Martin Scorsese directing an HBO pilot. If you’d asked me in January, I’d have said that Gilligan was unbeatable. If you’d asked me in April, I’d have said that Fukunaga was unbeatable because nothing gets tongues wagging like an audacious tracking shot. But if you ask me now? I’m picking upset! I say that Emmy voters extend their appreciation for the technical merits of “Game of Thrones” to the indisputable mixture of scope and harrowing intimacy that Neil Marshall brought to “The Watchers on the Wall.” Yes, it’s a pretty massive upset, but maybe some Emmy voters feel guilty about snubbing Marshall entirely for “Blackwater.” Anyway… Not guts no glory and just picking Gilligan/Fukunaga is short on guts. [I’m picking Marshall and I’ll stand by it. But I’ll still be surprised if Fukunaga doesn’t win. Folks dig uninterrupted takes!]
PREVIOUSLY: Outstanding Movie/Miniseries
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org