The 66th Primetime Emmy Award show is upon us, airing tonight on NBC, and hosted by Jimmy Fallon. And what a fabulous year for television, in many ways a paradigm-shifting year, with more short-run and anthology series, not only on premium cable, but everywhere from basic cable to the networks.
Who will win? Who should walk away with an Emmy statue? Not blessed with the gift of foresight, I’ve only my own viewing experience upon which to rely. Therefore, since my viewing habits tend toward drama, that’s where I’ll focus in prognostication for tonight’s live telecast.
Outstanding Drama Series
Tough call here. Breaking Bad’s final season may give it an edge, and House of Cards, with Kevin Spacey’s smarmy pol and constant breaking of the fourth wall (and numerous political ethical rules) is a compelling choice. Game of Thrones continues to up its game, and this season’s upping of the emotional ante: from the murder of Tywin Lannister to the unlikely fraternal federation of Jaime and Tyrion (and surprises at every other turn) continues to amaze. Its breathtaking production values, great writing (even when it veers from George R.R. Martin’s source material) and great performances definitely make it one of my picks for the gold this season. Downton Abbey is great, and is, for me, must-see TV, ever-so-slightly pales in GOT’s light. Then there’s True Detective, with two brilliant (and nominated) lead performances and a narrative wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a character exploration. Phew! Personally, although I would love to see Game of Thrones take it, I think the new kid, True Detective will win the Emmy tonight for Best Drama Series.
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
Bryan Cranston as Walter White (Breaking Bad)
Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood (House Of Cards)
Jon Hamm as Don Draper (Mad Men)
Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy (The Newsroom)
Woody Harrelson as Martin Hart (True Detective)
Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle (True Detective)
Matthew McConaughey was flawless in HBO’s new anthology series True Detective. The actor has certainly found his footing in the last year or so, on screens big and small. When he was on the screen, you could not rip your eyes from him. What was he thinking? Planning? Hiding–or revealing? There was little likable about Cohle, and Harrelson’s Martin Hart was from the outset the most easily likable character, but there was something about Cohle that spoke of a decency behind all that cynicism and hatred, and that he doled it out in frustratingly small crumbs with barely twitching a muscle made it (for me) the television performance of the year. Full stop.
All the other performances were fabulous. Harrelson multi-layered (and surprisingly nasty) Hart in True Detective was nearly as good as McConaughey’s. And I love Jeff Daniels at Will McAvoy in The Newsroom (which returns this autumn). But I have to go with McConaughey.
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick The Good Wife
Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison Homeland
Robin Wright as Claire Underwood House Of Cards
Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson Masters of Sex
Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope Scandal
This may be Michelle Dockery’s year. At the end of last season, her character, Lady Mary was confronted with the sudden and tragic loss of her beloved husband just as their first child was born. This past season was all about her confronting her grief and breaking out of her mask of British reserve. It was a great performance set in a compelling season of the British series. After several nominations, I think Lady Mary’s rebirth through the tragedy will win it for Dockery.
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Louis Lester Dancing On The Edge
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard Fargo
Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo Fargo
Idris Elba as John Luther Luther
Mark Ruffalo as Ned Weeks The Normal Heart
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes Sherlock: His Last Vow
Another very tough category, and how I wish the Academy had separated the mini-series and movie categories as it had for the acting awards. I thought Mark Ruffalo gave a brilliant performance in The Normal Heart. It was frantic, manic, vulnerable and heartbreaking. Perfect. But I don’t think was quite enough to trump either Martin Freeman or Billy Bob Thornton in FX’s weird, wonderful Fargo. Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit) plays his to his type, but then completely subverts it as Lester Nygaard. We usually think of Freeman as “the nice guy,” often slightly bewildered. And most of the townsfolk of Bemidji, Minnesota don’t think otherwise of their milquetoast insurance salesman Lester. It’s an amazing performance as his character twists and transitions into the evil that has always been lurking beneath the skin. And he completely deserves the Emmy. If he wasn’t competing against co-star Billy Bob Thornton as the face of evil, Lorne Malvo.
Thornton nearly succeeds in making this devil incarnate sympathetic! We want to understand him, even when there is little to understand about this manipulative psychopath. Riveting and magnetic are the only words that describe Thornton’s Malvo.
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie
Jessica Lange as Fiona Goode (American Horror Story: Coven)
Sarah Paulson as Cordelia Goode Foxx (American Horror Story: Coven)
Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth Taylor (Burton And Taylor)
Minnie Driver as Maggie (Royal Return To Zero)
Kristen Wiig as Cynthia Morehouse (The Spoils Of Babylon)
Cicely Tyson as Carrie Watts (The Trip To Bountiful)
Cicely Tyson’s powerhouse performance makes all others pale in comparison. There is little else to say
American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
The White Queen
Fargo stands far and away as the best mini-series of the year. The writing was snappy, quick, intelligent and freaking funny. The acting was superlative, from the smallest roles (which were cast with as much care as the the leads) to the leads — and the revelation that is Alison Tolman playing Molly. I predict a Fargo sweep of the category. The series should stand as a benchmark for limited-run and anthology series on television.
Outstanding Television Movie
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
The Normal Heart
Sherlock: His Last Vow
The Trip To Bountiful
The Normal Heart will win this category. It’s a terrific adaptation of the play, and Mark Ruffalo’s central performance as Ned Weeks is memorable.
The Emmys will be broadcast live on NBC beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight, August 25.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KXEMDRG,B00KMULA9I,B00HUCF6KK,B00I2Y9QQ0,B00KHWSD1O]