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 – starting with a pair of categories that have taken on new shape and importance this year.
After TV-movies and miniseries were lumped together into one category for the last few years, the business started producing enough miniseries – or, in some cases like “American Horror Story,” anthology series that could be classified as miniseries – to justify a split. But things remain confusing, with several non-anthology ongoing series being nominated as movies and/or minis, but with clear choices for the best in each group.
Outstanding Television Movie
“Killing Kennedy” (National Geographic)
“Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight” (HBO)
“The Normal Heart” (HBO)
“Sherlock: His Last Vow” (PBS)
“The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime)
Alan’s pick: This is one where I have to plead broad ignorance, having only seen “The Normal Heart” and “His Last Vow” (as well as the rest of this season of “Sherlock,” which winds up in this category due to weird Emmy eligibility rules). Both of those had flaws (the contrivances to get to Sherlock’s final action, the heavy-handedness of Ryan Murphy’s “Normal Heart” direction), but ultimately the powerful moments in the second half of “The Normal Heart” make it the better of the extremely limited sample I saw.
Dan’s pick: The TV Academy made a big deal about splitting the Movie/Miniseries categories in two this year, but I think they did that assuming that “True Detective” (among other things) would be on this side of the ballot. Instead, this category gives you the weakest of three “Sherlock” episodes masquerading as a miniseries, another mediocre NatGeo “Killing” film (“Kennedy” was better than “Lincoln,” but that’s all I’ll say about that), a mediocre and by-the-numbers HBO historical drama and “The Trip to Bountiful,” the only nominee in this category that I haven’t seen. Had “The Sign of Three” been fraudulently nominated for “Sherlock,” maybe I could have justified some debate here, but the finale was a mess. So that leaves me with “The Normal Heart,” a marvelously acted movie that almost works despite itself when Ryan Murphy is able to get out of his own way. The choices are an out-of-context “Sherlock” episodes and three pieces of embalmed Madam Tussauds history.
Alan’s pick: “Normal Heart.” Easy. All-star cast, subject matter of great historical significance and also deep resonance within the Hollywood community, a load of moments that will make you cry unless you’re made of stone, etc. Its win is one of the more inevitable ones for Emmy night.
Dan’s pick: The category split was really done so that “Normal Heart” and “True Detective” didn’t have to cannibalize votes from each other. That would have been a fascinating thing to watch and predict. I don’t know what my guess would have been in that showdown. Against this field, there’s hardly any point in discussing further. “The Normal Heart” is Important with a capital “I” and none of the other three nominees can even begin to compete with that patina of substance. We never know vote counts, but I’d bet the result in this category is close to 90 percent for “Normal Heart” and 10 percent for the field.
“American Horror Story: Coven” (FX)
“Bonnie & Clyde” (Lifetime)
“Luther” (BBC America)
“The White Queen” (Starz)
Alan’s pick: The final season of “Tremé” (also here due to weird Emmy eligibility rules: it was one episode too short to qualify in the drama series categories) had its fine and powerful and idiosyncratic moments. But “Fargo” was both an enormous surprise – how could anyone do a spin-off of the Coen brothers’ most acclaimed movie and not feel like a very pale imitation? – and one of the very best TV shows of the past 12 months. Gorgeously shot, cleverly written and featuring terrific performances by everyone from the famous people (Billy Bob Thornton as the unstoppable hitman) to the obscure (Allison Tolman as the overlooked cop), it’s the obvious choice here for me.
Dan’s pick: Again, look what splitting the categories earned us. “Bonnie & Clyde” was dismal. “Coven” is, from what I can tell, generally considered the weakest entry in the “AHS” franchise. “The White Queen” was like a dull test run for Starz’ “Outlander.” “Luther” was another reliably great performance from Idris Elba and three-ish hours of frustrated impatience waiting for Ruth Wilson to show up. And the last season of “Treme”? Well, it was good. It wasn’t as good as Season 3, but it was satisfying and emotionally nourishing in that musical “Treme” way. But “Fargo” is the class of this category by a rather huge margin. Normally people are being sarcastic when they say “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” as if to say “Why’d you even bother copying something great, you copycat?” But Noah Hawley’s take on “Fargo” gave the rare opportunity to say the phrase in earnest. By working in the playground of the “Fargo” universe, Hawley honored what the Coen Brothers created, but did something that stands as its own unique entity, complete with distinctive performances, a distinctive look and an amazingly consistent tonal and thematic voice. Whether or not this category had included “True Detective,” I’d say that “Fargo” would be the deserving winner.
Alan’s pick: HBO did FX an enormous favor in submitting “True Detective” as a drama series. In this category, the adventures of Rust and Marty would be a lock to win. Without them, it’s a more motley assortment (“Luther” is another show here only due to a lack of episodes to more properly place it elsewhere), plus “American Horror Story” (which fell to TV-movies the two previous years) and “Fargo.” Based on the quality, on the movie halo (a Coen brothers adaptation with their seal of approval, co-starring Thornton and Freeman) and on the way that so many people I know in the TV business were impressed by how Noah Hawley and company accomplished what should have been an impossible task, I’m going to predict that the adventures of Molly, Gus and the bear trap will take home the hardware.
Dan’s pick: You brought this upon yourself, TV Academy. A category featuring “Fargo,” “True Detective,” “Normal Heart” (and “AHS” and “Treme” as cannon fodder) would have been one of the most anticipated awards on Emmy night. Instead, due to category splitting and categorization trickery, much of the tension and enthusiasm is gone. We could have debated that ideal Movie/Miniseries field for hours, but with this category, it’s easy: If “Fargo” doesn’t win, FX did something very wrong in its promotion and Emmy voters will have done something very wrong in their selecting.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com