It’s the Golden Age of television. The Primetime Emmy Awards (and its governing bodies) is finally starting to realize that TV is more than the traditional, safe picks we’ve come to expect from award shows. When “Breaking Bad” started its unprecedented run as TV’s darkest, best-written and best-acted show and won back-to-back Best Drama Series, it became apparent that the Emmys were progressing forward in realizing the merit in these artistic works over mere fodder. (We’re looking at you, Oscars and Grammys.)
We’re off to the Emmys again Sunday for the Jimmy Kimmel-hosted 68th Primetime Emmy Awards (ABC, 4 p.m. PST). This year, all the races seem wide open: Breakout shows of the past season such as “Mr. Robot” (for Best Drama Series) and “Master of None” (for Best Comedy Series) arguably have a realistic shot at winning and dethroning “Game of Thrones” and “Veep,” respectively. Well, except Best Miniseries because “The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” can already have its name engraved on the awards for almost every category in which it’s nominated. Sorry, “Fargo.”
Here are some of The Daily Californian’s predictions for this year’s Emmy Awards.
Best Drama Series:
“Better Call Saul”
“Game of Thrones”
“House of Cards”
Realistically, there are only three shows in contention. As great as “Better Call Saul” is, as compulsively watchable as “Downton Abbey” can be, as ridiculously high and jaw-droppingly low as “House of Cards” or “Homeland” can go, they have no chance at unseating “Game of Thrones” for Best Drama Series. They lack the extra oomph required to beat the most epic, most watched, most graphically unhinged and (arguably) most perfectly crafted show, “Game of Thrones.” If there’s going to be a show — or two — to capture the throne, it would be one of the two most critically loved and cinematically daring shows of the year: “Mr. Robot” and “The Americans.”
Starring the incomparable Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot” represents the future of dramatic television. It is the most intelligent cable show right now and, honestly, may be the most intelligent show ever written. Troubled hacker by night, bored computer security tech by day, the anxiety-ridden, drug-addicted Elliot (Malek) gets engulfed into a hacktivist group known as “fsociety.” Through this complex, morally ambiguous set up, “Mr. Robot” poses seemingly unanswerable questions about the Occupy Movement, the evils of capitalism and, most importantly, how far an anti-hero can go before they themselves become the villain of the story. Take all of these questions and throw in a jarring soundscape, propulsive editing and formal compositions that are loaded with unrivaled symbolism and “Mr. Robot” may be the best bet to unseat “Game of Thrones.” If the television academy wants to reward the future of filmmaking/TV production, then “Mr. Robot” should be its choice.
But there’s also “The Americans,” which, after four widely acclaimed seasons, finally finds itself in the Best Drama Series line-up. About Russian spies in America during the Cold War, the show works as a twisty-turny espionage thriller brimming with intensity in every scene. It’s the central “marriage” at its core between the KGB officers played by Emmy nominees Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys — and the social ramifications and turmoil from the Cold War era — that drives the show home into dazzling new heights for writing in the medium. While some may see the show receiving its first primetime nomination in its fourth season as a detriment, in reality, what better time to reward what sustains its status as the pinnacle of television.
— Levi Hill
Will Win: “Game of Thrones”
Could Win: “The Americans”
Should Win: “Mr. Robot”
Best Comedy Series:
“Master of None”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
The Best Comedy Series category is a case study of playing favorites: Like “30 Rock” and “Modern Family” before it, “Veep” is poised to continue its Best Comedy Series run for another year. And like its predecessors, it’ll take a few more seasons before we see the next upheaval of the great American comedy series.
For good reason, as Vice President Selina Meyer (played by the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a national treasure, plus the show’s banter remains consistently the most whip-smart on television even with a new showrunner. With the stranger-than-fiction election coming to its searing end in November, the show’s snarky satire is more timely than ever.
“Silicon Valley,” HBO’s other comedy show set on the other coast, is a worthy contender, too — mathematical dick jokes, bromances and all.
But if comedy is meant to be a perennial celebration of the underdog, then its Emmy-nominated shows should be, too. Barring the nod to the worn-out “Modern Family,” the rest of the shows on the Emmy shortlist are indicative of a greater sea change in television. Prestige TV and family-friendly sitcoms are no longer mutually exclusive, and with the change in regulations last year mandating that comedies must be half-hour, the line is blurring even further. (Shame about “Jane the Virgin,” though. Looks like the powers that be are still biased against the CW.)
Now in its second season, ABC’s other Emmy-nominated offering, “Black-ish,” is the litmus test for this shift. (As quietly revelatory as “Master of None” and “Transparent” are in both form and content, skewing toward drama might not be as valuable an asset in the field as it was a couple of years ago.) It’s a nod to the family sitcoms of yore, certainly, but “Black-ish” carries the emotional heft of its subject matter with poise, gravity and an earnest sense of humor — the clear counterpoint to the dry, self-aware bite of the show’s competitors. The show’s all the better for it.
— Joshua Bote
Will Win: “Veep”
Could Win: “Black-ish”
Should Win: “Black-ish”
Best Leading Actor in a Drama Series:
Kyle Chandler, “Bloodline”
Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
The Best Actor in a Drama Series category has a lot of forces working within it. Widely acclaimed as one of the most deliciously commanding performances in TV history, Kevin Spacey has yet to win for his role as Frank Underwood in “House of Cards.” First falling to an undeniable Jeff Daniels for his role as Will McAvoy in “The Newsroom” in 2013, and then to actors in the last seasons of their respective shows — Bryan Cranston for his role as Walter White in “Breaking Bad” in 2014 and Jon Hamm for his role as Don Draper in “Mad Men” in 2015 — Spacey has been unfortunately unrecognized. With those three major opponents off the board and with a return to form in season four, the leading man of “House of Cards” may finally get recognized.
Yet, just as those major players fell away, new ones rose to the surface. “Mr. Robot” rides heavily, almost entirely, on the shoulders of Rami Malek. And the man does incredible work. Whereas Spacey offers a delicious evil, Malek offers a delicious strangeness. The show experiments by breaking standard storytelling, and with a leading man that can not only continuously hold it all together but also bring a level of engrossing anxiety time in and time out, it may be the quiet one that comes out on top. The show may see many other awards outside of this category, but we can’t deny that Malek is the most deserving of its nominations.
Even then, with the sudden and overdue surge of “The Americans” in this year’s nominations, one can’t overlook Matthew Rhys. Delving into almost meta-acting-territory with the duality of his role, Rhys has been a continually strong point from the beginning. And with Bob Odenkirk expanding the depth and humor of an already beloved character in “Better Call Saul,” this category is just so good and, ultimately, hard to predict.
— Kyle Kizu
Will Win: Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”
Could Win: Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Should Win: Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”
Best Leading Actress in a Drama Series:
Claire Danes, “Homeland”
Viola Davis, “How To Get Away With Murder”
Taraji P. Henson, “Empire”
Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”
This category is a variety of riches. Every single one of these actresses is worthy of winning this year. (Or, really, any of the years prior in which they were nominated.) With that being said, Claire Danes in “Homeland” — a past winner — and Tatiana Maslany for the barely-watched, well-loved “Orphan Black” are the two nominees that seem to have no chance.
That leaves four amazingly gifted ladies, all of whom have been on the cusp of winning Emmys and Oscars. If there is a de facto frontrunner, it’s got to be Viola Davis in her melodramatic, thrilling performance on the Shonda Rimes-led “How To Get Away With Murder.” In fact, Davis won for her portrayal as law professor Annalise Keating last year, the first Black actress to win Leading Actress in a Drama. creating a historic moment for an excellent performance and an even better actress. (We’re still upset she didn’t win the Best Actress Oscar for “The Help,” as problematic as that film might be.)
So who then can challenge her? Well, “House of Cards” seems to be the continual bridesmaid in every category it is nominated in. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright have been nominated for every season the show has been out, yet, have never won despite the show only growing in popularity as it goes along. With that in mind, this could be the year that the Emmys reward Wright’s steely cold performance as the First Lady, a woman with her own maniacal plans to get power within a show entirely based around doing bad deeds to gain more power.
But don’t count out Keri Russell and her layered performance on “The Americans.” This is the first time in the show’s four seasons running that it has received major Emmy acclaim, which may make the Emmys want to reward a show that arguably has been the best series over the course of those four years. And what better way to reward said show than with the incredibly nuanced and intelligent performance at its center? Taraji P. Henson and her endlessly scene-chewing performance in the monster hit “Empire” might come up from the rear. While “Empire” hasn’t made it in the Best Drama Series category yet, her performance remains the silver lining for one of the most talked about and religiously watched television shows right now.
— Levi Hill
Will Win: Viola Davis, “How To Get Away With Murder”
Could Win: Robin Wright, “House of Cards”
Should Win: Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Best Leading Actor in a Comedy Series:
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Will Forte, “The Last Man on Earth”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Thomas Middleditch, “Silicon Valley”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”
As perfect as all these performances are, there seems to be only three that can realistically win: Anthony Anderson, Aziz Ansari and Jeffrey Tambor. Anthony Anderson brings levity along with real depth to a performance that seems tailor-made for a sitcom without forgetting the reality that the show is based around what it means to be Black in America. Anderson will make you laugh, and he’ll make you cry sad, sad tears. But mostly, he’s always dedicated to portraying the loving, intelligent father at the center of ABC’s best comedy.
Aziz Ansari for “Master of None” works within the “Louie” mold of semi-autobiographical-dramatic-comedic vignettes. But what sets “Master of None” and Aziz Ansari’s performance from the bunch is the willingness to discuss the racism in television casting, double standards toward women and the life we all experience. Ansari’s performance in “Master of None” complicates easy definitions, and if the Emmys want to reward the show after one masterful, truly trendsetting season, Ansari will be the most likely place for it.
Yet, there’s Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of Maura, the most heart-breaking, complex, sometimes funny and groundbreaking character on TV (or rather, Amazon). While this show, and Tambor’s performance, veers away from comedy — quite often because of the Emmys’ imperfect rule of allowing 30-minute shows to compete with comedies regardless of genre — after a Best Leading Actor win last year for the role, Tambor has to be the front-runner.
— Levi Hill
Will Win: Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”
Could Win: Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Should Win: Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Best Leading Actress in a Comedy Series:
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Laurie Metcalf, “Getting On”
Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Amy Schumer, “Inside Amy Schumer”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has reigned queen in this category for four straight years now. And with “Veep” season five proving just as critically successful as any of its preceding seasons — as well as with the massive chance of it winning the “Best Comedy Series” category — Louis-Dreyfus should be the first name on your ballot. She wouldn’t be the most undeserving of her fifth win, but there are certainly other names to consider, especially if the Emmys want to spread the wealth.
One comes from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” produced by Tina Fey — the Louis-Dreyfus look-alike, according to “30 Rock” when it had Louis-Dreyfus play Liz Lemon alongside Fey on the live show. Despite “Unbreakable” lead Ellie Kemper not being nominated for the first season — though she probably should’ve been — Kemper has undeniably arrived in the second season. In a role that seems tailor-made to her acting strengths, Kemper truly shines and elevates a show that is an energetic wonder in the world of comedy.
And once again, never, ever forget “Black-ish.” Even though she may be overshadowed by the more well-known two in this category — as well as the show being overshadowed in the series category — “Black-ish” lead Tracee Ellis Ross is such a key ingredient in what is the best comedy on television right now. Watch the episode titled “Hope,” and you will see why the show, Anthony Anderson and especially Tracee Ellis Ross may end up winning the night.
— Kyle Kizu
Will Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Could Win: Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Should Win: Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Levi Hill is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].
Kyle Kizu covers film. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @kyle_kizu.
Joshua Bote is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @joshuaboat.