Thursday morning, TV critics will report, with a little (in the case of east coast critics) or a lot (particularly in the case of west coast critics up at 5:00 in the morning) of grumpiness, who's gotten Emmy nominations. Some of my thoughts about the Emmys came out in a chat I recently had with several of my critic colleagues, graciously hosted by The Hollywood Reporter, which has posted the unedited chat. With that in mind, here are some of the things I'll be looking for tomorrow.
We dealt a few times in the chat with the fact that Smash could plausibly be honored by the Academy, much as its stock seemed to drop over the course of its first season. Probably not in the very top categories (it's been submitted as a drama), but it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility that Anjelica Huston could be nominated for Supporting Actress. Now, that's a potentially crowded category in which even Breaking Bad's highly regarded Anna Gunn, so vexing as Skyler White, has never been nominated.
The field is rich indeed: Morena Baccarin in Homeland, Christine Baranski and Archie Panjabi in The Good Wife, a bunch of people from Grey's Anatomy (including the formidable Chandra Wilson and the great Sandra Oh, neither of whom have been nominated in the last two years but both of whom were nominated for years before that), Christina Hendricks and my dark-horse pick Kiernan Shipka from Mad Men*, and Maggie Smith and several of the other women of Downton Abbey. Other than perhaps Hendricks, none of those women seem unthinkable as omissions, and Huston does have that movie-actress magic that sometimes draws Emmy voters. (It could be Megan Hilty who gets the Smash mojo, too, because I think a significant number of people credit her for making chicken salad out of chicken ... feed, as far as that show goes.)
The nominees for Outstanding Drama Series last year — remember, there are six now — were Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, The Good Wife, Friday Night Lights, Boardwalk Empire and Dexter. You will almost certainly see the first three of those. You will definitely not see FNL. You may very well not see Boardwalk or Dexter. There would seem to be somewhere between one and three open spots. If only FNL drops out (seems unlikely), I expect the addition to be Breaking Bad, which wasn't eligible last year, you may recall. If FNL and one other drop out (which seems like the most likely outcome to me, just playing the odds), I expect the adds to be Breaking Bad and Homeland. If all three drop out, I expect it to be Breaking Bad, Homeland, and HBO's Luck, which didn't make the splash they were hoping for but got good reviews and starred some massive talent, including Dustin Hoffman.
Interestingly, that leaves out Downton Abbey, which is in as a drama series instead of a miniseries this time around. To get into that top six, it would either have to nudge out Luck, Breaking Bad or Homeland in one of these scenarios or it would have to nudge out Mad Men (absolutely no way), The Good Wife (highly unlikely) or Game Of Thrones (also highly unlikely). It also leaves out Justified, a very fine show that I think won't make the cut this time around, which tells you how good television is getting. Even ten years ago, a show as good as Justified would have been a shoo-in. It leaves out TNT's Southland, about which some critics are very passionate.
That's just the most obvious stuff, and if you don't believe television has gotten a lot better, just look at how much we're just assuming has almost no shot. This scenario leaves out The Walking Dead, it leaves out Kyle Killen's complicated and doomed Awake, the Kelsey-Grammer-headed Boss, another season (albeit on satellite only) of Damages, and it takes as a given that there's no place for things on broadcast that are just good and well-executed, like Parenthood, House, Fringe and (don't laugh in the slightest; these are shows that absolutely could have gotten all kinds of Emmy nominations at one time) Castle and Bones. You have to be pretty damn good now, and pretty determined to be a work of art, if you want to compete. Remember when the beloved-but-not-great Dallas, Magnum, P.I. and Murder, She Wrote were drama series nominees? We do not live in that world anymore.
The other Breaking Bad problem is that Bryan Cranston was out last year after winning three straight times, which left room for a heartily cheered nod to Kyle Chandler as Friday Night Lights left the air. But now Cranston is back, and while Chandler's spot is open, the other five guys from last year — Steve Buscemi, Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm, Hugh Laurie, and Timothy Olyphant — are still there, meaning that with Cranston back, there's nothing open.
And that's a problem for a couple of people, no one more than Damian Lewis, whose work on Homeland was not only outstanding but had an enormously high degree of difficulty, given the show's determination to keep his true nature hidden. He could certainly bump out Hall; anyone else is a real uphill battle, I think. (Laurie might be vulnerable but for the fact that House had its farewell this year.) But it's also a problem for Dustin Hoffman, who one assumes certainly anticipated an Emmy nomination and probably a victory when he agreed to do Luck. So does Damian Lewis' great work lose out because Hoffman is a movie star? Or because Claire Danes winds up winning (which seems highly likely) and that seems like enough for one show?
If you add up the performances in this category that are obviously Emmy-worthy and the ones that are obviously Emmy-bait, there are just too many. And that's leaving all kinds of terrific actors out in the cold anyway — Denis Leary, Michael Emerson, William H. Macy ... it doesn't get easier.
So what about comedies? All six of last year's nominees for comedy series — Modern Family, 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Glee, The Office, and Parks And Recreation — are still in the hunt. They all make perfectly plausible repeat nominees, but there's also the possibility that they'll find room for others, like Fox's New Girl. Glee has only a very tenuous hold on its spot, I think, and The Office is the same, while Parks and Recreation has always fought for everything it's ever gotten, so there could be some turnover here. Maybe Curb Your Enthusiasm, maybe Louie (people sometimes forget that the Academy did manage an acting nod for Louis C.K. last year), maybe Girls, maybe Veep — more about them in a moment.
I do feel certain that Zooey Deschanel will knock out one of the women nominated last year for her lead comedy performance: Melissa McCarthy (Oscar nominee), Edie Falco (perennial Emmy nominee), Tina Fey (queen of the Emmys), Laura Linney (fancy movie actress), Martha Plimpton (the underdog, unfortunately, given how terrific she is) and Amy Poehler (her ousting would be a disaster). Not being any sort of a fan of Deschanel's work I'll be unhappy no matter who gets knocked out in favor of her, but I'm betting it's Plimpton.
But the changes might not end there. There's an excellent shot for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for Veep on HBO. There's an excellent shot for Lena Dunham, whose controversial but much-discussed Girls could land her any one of a number of nominations — or several nominations. And my dark-horse pick to elbow in, although I don't know how she'd get a spot, is Kat Dennings for 2 Broke Girls, because while that's a terrible show, she does better by the writing than the writing has any right to expect. Falco could certainly be displaced — she really doesn't belong in a comedy category anyway — and Linney's show hasn't really set the world on fire recently, but if Amy Poehler isn't nominated and Zooey Deschanel is, then the Academy and I are going to exchange words. Mostly just I will.
Lead actor in a comedy is sort of a free-for-all. You'll see Jim Parsons again for Big Bang Theory and Alec Baldwin again for 30 Rock, and I don't know why Louis C.K. wouldn't return. But Matt LeBlanc (Episodes) and Steve Carell (The Office) aren't in this round, and Johnny Galecki's Big Bang nomination always seemed a little ... weird. A big shuffle is certainly possible. Options include guys who would be kind of dull choices — Larry David for Curb Your Enthusiasm, David Duchovny for Californication — and guys who would be really cool, interesting choices, like Will Arnett in Up All Night, Jeremy Sisto in Suburgatory, or Joel McHale in Community. But honestly, there's a little less pressure on the male half of the comedy lead category than on the female half, which is an interesting change.
I will also throw this in on the comedy side: I don't see it getting in, but ABC's Happy Endings has a killer ensemble cast and has become a fantastic show. Do not drop your monocle if somebody like Casey Wilson or Adam Pally shows up in the supporting categories, despite how hard it is to get in given the cult of Modern Family that has been hogging those nominations for the last couple of years. (Seriously, it got four out of six of the actor slots last year. That's not healthy in the long run.) I like Jane Krakowski, Betty White, and Kristen Wiig, but Wilson deserves a nomination over at least those three out of last year's six nominees, and probably over the other three (Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara, and Jane Lynch) too.
But in all likelihood, that's one of those things that always seem plausible the day before award nominations — right before they nominate almost all the same stuff as last year.
*I had originally had Jessica Pare here, but it turns out she's submitted herself as a lead actress, which kind of vindicates my theory that the show is way more into being The Megan Draper Show than I am into watching it.