Emmy predictions: Can any drama beat ‘Mad Men’?

Senior Television Writer
08.25.10 24 Comments


I will say this upfront: I don’t care about the Emmys and I am terrible at predicting them.

The Emmys are voted on by people who work in television, and if there’s one thing you learn quickly in covering this business, it’s that the people who work in television don’t actually watch a lot of television. which doesn’t really make them the best arbiters of the best shows/performances/etc. of the year.(*) When the right show or person wins, I chalk it up to luck as much as anything half the time.

(*) On the other hand, I’m in no position to throw stones, since a chunk of this year’s Television Critics Association Awards went in a direction I wouldn’t have.

And speaking of luck, in all the years I played Emmy prognosticator at The Star-Ledger, I considered myself fortunate if I got half the picks right. (I’m still, for instance, waiting for Martin Sheen to get that Emmy I kept saying he would get for playing Jed Bartlet.)

Still, even if I find the Emmys silly, the TV business doesn’t, so it’s time once again to offer my picks on who I think will win the major categories in drama (today) and comedy (tomorrow), and who among the nominees I think should win.

One thing to keep in mind, as always: while fans of these shows may have watched most or all of the season’s episodes, the Emmys themselves are based on a single submitted episode in the acting categories, and on a handful in the series categories. So an actor who was unremarkable for much of the season but great in one well-written showcase can have the advantage of a more consistent actor whose performance only seems great if you’ve seen it week after week. (You can see a list of all the actor submissions here.)

Again, this is what happens when the voters don’t spend much time watching TV before awards season begins.

After the jump, my drama picks…

Outstanding Drama Series: “Breaking Bad” (AMC), “Dexter” (SHO), “The Good Wife” (CBS), “Lost” (ABC), “Mad Men” (AMC), “True Blood” (HBO)

Should win: This comes down to the two AMC dramas, and while the previous season of “Mad Men” (the one that’s eligible for the Emmys this year) had some outstanding episodes (the runaway lawnmower, the season finale), it also dragged in spots. “Breaking Bad,” having already made a big creative leap forward with its second season, put itself into the conversation for the all-time great TV dramas with its third, which not only increased the visual ambition of one of the best-looking series ever, but expanded the scope of its storytelling as Walt and Jesse became fish in a much bigger, more dangerous pond.

Will win: Though some upcoming HBO series (the Martin Scorsese-directed “Boardwalk Empire,” Dustin Hoffman in “Luck”) may have enough movie-style shine to steal its Emmy thunder next year, right now it’s hard to imagine any show beating “Mad Men.” It remains the perfect Emmy storm, as its setting appeals to older voters while its depth and style draws in younger voters who weren’t working (or even alive) in Don Draper’s era.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Kyle Chandler, “Friday Night Lights” (NBC), Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad” (AMC), Matthew Fox, “Lost” (ABC), Michael C. Hall, “Dexter” (SHO), Jon Hamm, “Mad Men” (AMC), Hugh Laurie, “House” (FOX)

Should win: This is the rare category where I’d be happy if anyone won, particularly since Hall, Chandler, Laurie and Hamm all have deserved Emmys for previous seasons, since Cranston was just as great this year as his previous two Emmy-winning seasons, and since Fox managed to make me like Jack again in the final season of “Lost” after I’d hated him for years. If forced to pick one, I say Hamm, who has made Don Draper one of the most iconic TV characters of the last 20 years, and who got to play many different variations on both Don and alter ego Dick Whitman throughout last season.

Will win: I thought for sure Laurie had this sewn up when I saw the two-hour “House” season premiere where the good doctor was a patient at a mental hospital. Then I saw Hamm’s work in his own submitted episode, “The Gypsy and the Hobo” (where Don finally has to confess his true identity to Betty) and thought we had the makings of a three-horse race between those two and Cranston (who submitted the season finale, which wasn’t necessarily his best showcase). Then Hall won the Golden Globe and the SAG Award, receiving thunderous applause at both events not only for his performance but for his successful fight against cancer. And then John Lithgow won the guest star award last week for his work opposite Hall this season, suggesting that Emmy voters might be ready to reward the star of “Dexter” himself. Both his work and his personal story would seem to make him the favorite.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Connie Britton, “Friday Night Lights” (DirecTV’s The 101 Network/NBC), Glenn Close, “Damages” (FX), Marisa Hargitay, “Law & Order: SVU” (NBC), January Jones, “Mad Men” (AMC), Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife” (CBS), Kyra Sedgwick, “The Closer” (TNT)

Should win: It was one of Emmy’s bigger crimes of the ’00s that Britton hadn’t even been nominated before this season for giving one of the best performances by any actress on television. (Now we can complain about the snub of Katey Sagal for her amazing work on “Sons of Anarchy” this season.) In this fourth season of “Friday Night Lights,” Britton had to walk a lot of tricky emotional territory – including her Tami Taylor’s angst over her daughter’s impending adulthood and an abortion controversy that threatened to destroy her career – and she nailed it all.

Will win: Margulies has won a Golden Globe, a SAG Award and a Television Critics Association Award (the latter in a gender-neutral category where she beat the likes of Cranston and Lithgow), and it’s hard to imagine her not making it a clean sweep on Sunday night.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Andre Braugher, “Men of a Certain Age” (TNT), Michael Emerson, “Lost” (ABC), Terry O’Quinn, “Lost” (ABC), Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad” (AMC), Martin Short, “Damages” (FX), John Slattery, “Mad Men” (AMC)

Should win: This is another category where no winner would really disappoint me (except for Short, since I don’t watch “Damages,” but I heard he was quite good). The most deserving winner, though, is Paul, who tore it up on a weekly basis as his character tried to come to grips with the monster he thought he was becoming. He and Sagal gave the two best dramatic performances on television last season, and since she wasn’t even nominated, I really want to see him win.

Will win: All six chose great episodes to submit, but Paul may actually be at the greatest disadvantage thanks to the “vote based on one episode” plan, since A)he was much more prominent on a weekly basis on his show than most of the other nominees (Emerson in particular vanished for large chunks of that “Lost” season), and B)a lot of the power of his performance in his submitted episode (where his character plots a murder) comes from having seen his emotional journey over the previous weeks. If voters are choosing entirely on the submissions, it will likely go to one of the “Lost” guys, and my money’s on Emerson.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Christina Baranski, “The Good Wife” (CBS), Rose Byrne, “Damages” (FX), Sharon Gless, “Burn Notice” (USA), Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men” (AMC), Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men” (AMC), Archie Panjabi, “The Good Wife” (CBS)

Should win:
Neither Hendricks nor Moss were as prominent as they’d been in previous “Mad Men” seasons, but they made their occasional spotlights count. In particular, Hendricks is fantastic in her submitted episode, where her character’s life is upended by bad professional news from her dolt of a husband, and which features a completely platonic scene between her and Jon Hamm that’s nonetheless overflowing with chemistry.

Will win: Will the “Good Wife” and “Mad Men” co-stars cannibalize each other’s votes and leave the field open to former Emmy fave Gless (who oddly didn’t submit the episode where she appeared opposite fellow Emmy darling Tyne Daly)? Will Baranski get a matching Emmy for the one she got in her “Cybill” days? Or will the voters be unable to get that Hendricks/Hamm scene out of their brains and give her the trophy?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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