Before Thursday, when the real 2014 Emmy nominations will become known (and spark, probably, both outrage and boredom), there’s a chance to suggest who should be nominated in each major category. This isn’t about winners and losers, but about recognizing some of the best talent on TV this past year (or the Emmy year: from June 1, 2013 to May 31, 2014). There are sure to be some omissions and snubs even within my own list, so hit the jump to check out my choices (and occasional Emmy-rules-bending inclusions).
BEST DRAMA SERIES
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Mad Men (AMC)
Breaking Bad (AMC)
In The Flesh (BBC America)
The Good Wife (CBS)
Honorable Mention: The Americans (FX), Banshee (Cinemax), Penny Dreadful (Showtime), Hannibal (NBC), Downton Abbey (PBS), Orphan Black (BBC America), Treme (HBO)
The bottom line is that this was yet another exceptional year for TV dramas. And for once, Mad Men and The Good Wife aren’t included just by default — they had truly great seasons that rank among the best in the series. The cup overfloweth. This list was absolutely the most difficult of all to parse down to six, as is plain from my long list of Honorables. Whoever is actually nominated will surely deserve it, and whoever is left out on Thursday’s list will be a huge snub. Too much greatness. We are not worthy. (And I am not caught up with The Walking Dead or Justified, so yes, those probably also deserve a mention, among others). Like the comedy category, consider this list (especially the Honorable Mentions, which you may have overlooked) as essential viewing.
BEST ACTRESS – DRAMA SERIES
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Keri Russell (The Americans)
Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel)
Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men)
Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey)
The criteria for my best actors and actress nominees in either the Comedy or Drama categories is both about magnetism, and “would the show be lost without them?” The answer is yes, 100%, for each of these incredible actresses, all of whom define the series in which they star. Soulful performances this year came from Julianna Margulies, Elizabeth Moss and Keri Russell, and as always, there was a can’t-look-away quality to Vera Farmiga and Michelle Dockery’s performances that helped elevate their series even when the series themselves falter. Strong women, strong characters, and a strong chance that each one is as deserving as the others. Except maybe for Tatiana Maslany — she deserves it just a little more.
BEST ACTOR – DRAMA SERIES
Woody Harrelson (True Detective)
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal)
Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
Luke Newberry (In The Flesh)
HBO made a bold move by including True Detective among the Drama nominees instead of miniseries, but that boldness is not without good reason. Matthew McConaughey continued his McConnaissance with an incredibly hypnotic and engrossing turn as Rust Cohle in True Detective, a character who captured the zeitgeist attention of the nation in the biggest way since … well, probably Bryan Cranston for Breaking Bad (though without Woody Harrelson as a foil, he would not have resonated as much). Matthew Rhys was exceptional once again in The Americans, growing even deeper as a character, and Mads Mikkelsen continued to make cannibalism look as debonair as, say, Don Draper at Downton Abbey. One of the most nuanced and emotional portrayals on TV this year though was Luke Newberry in the British zombie series In The Flesh. No chance of a real nomination Thursday, but he was incredible.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – DRAMA SERIES
Hayden Panettiere (Nashville)
Khandi Alexander (Treme)
Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)
Allison Janney (Masters of Sex)
Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones)
This was probably my favorite category to populate this year, because it’s easier to break out of the expected and make mention of some who are sure to be overlooked on Thursday (except for Christina Hendricks, who does usually get deserved recognition). Everyone in Treme should be nominated for something, but it was Khandi Alexander who best embodied the spirit of the show and the story it wanted to tell, through her character’s resilience, attitude, and love of New Orleans. There seems to be a lot of attention predicted for Allison Janney in Mom, but she was one of the most compelling (and most heartbreaking) pieces of Masters of Sex, creating an emotional depth to the show that it very much needed. Hayden Panettiere makes Nashville worth watching, and gives her troubled starlet character everything she has. As for Maisie Williams, well, she may be the best child actress employed today. Her turn on Game of Thrones this year was incredible, and her character closing out the season was perfect. Shut it down, girl. Valar Morghulis.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – DRAMA SERIES
Dean Norris (Breaking Bad)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)
John Slattery (Mad Men)
Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire)
Like in some of the other categories this year, an expected inclusion — this time, Peter Dinklage — is not a default, but wholly earned. He helped define this season of Game of Thrones, and personally shouldered at least three of its most memorable scenes. Jon Voigt was a strange presence on Ray Donovan, but he energized that show in the ways it needed it most (much like John Slattery, who brings some much needed humor and pathos to Mad Men). And Jack Huston, whose character rose up from the fringes of Boardwalk Empire to become its most beloved, had an incredible swan song this past season — and all done with half a face. Still, the heavyweights of this stacked category are Aaron Paul and Dean Norris. Exceptional work from both, which is par for the course.
BEST COMEDY SERIES
Review (Comedy Central)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Honorable Mention: Cougar Town (TBS), Moone Boy (Hulu), Derek (Netflix)
There were a lot of great, subversive and under-the-radar series this year (Looking, Review, Silicon Valley) in addition to some of the powerhouses from years past (like Louie, which manages to top itself quality-wise every year). I’m not 100% certain that Moone Boy is allowed to be included, but it should be. Consider this a list of series that, if you haven’t caught up on them, I highly recommend that you do.
BEST ACTRESS – COMEDY SERIES
Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer)
Amy Poehler (Parks and Rec)
Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black)
In some of the Comedy acting categories, I’ve limited myself to less than the allotted six choices, because the reality is I just personally don’t watch a lot of comedies, and I don’t want to toss out names whose work I haven’t experienced first-hand. As for the best Comedy Actresses, the break-out star is definitely Amy Schumer, whose quirky, patchwork series (it includes sketches, on-the-street interviews, and other segments) was something TV comedies, especially those which focuses on women, have been waiting on for a long time (I hear the same about Broad City, although I haven’t gotten around to it, yet). The rest are veterans of this category whose inclusions should speak for itself — all very funny, very talented women.
BEST ACTOR – COMEDY SERIES
Louis CK (Louie)
Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley)
Jonathan Groff (Looking)
Each of these performers absolutely killed it this year on their series. Andy Daly’s Review was one of the funniest and most bizarre comedies to air this past year, and his happy-go-lucky character completely sold it. Thomas Middleditch was the master of understatement (and occasional facial ticks), while Jonathan Groff was so incredibly natural and annoyingly realistic, you wanted to both hug him and slap him. And of course, Louis CK is Louis CK, and will definitely get an Emmy nomination and probably a win (at least, in a perfect world, which …).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – COMEDY SERIES
Kate Mulgrew (Orange Is The New Black)
Busy Phillips (Cougar Town)
Kerry Godliman (Derek)
Jemima Kirk (Girls)
Like the Supporting Actress category for Drama, these comedy actresses all added so definitively to their series. Both Kate Mulgrew and Samira Wiley’s characters on Orange Is The New Black went through extremes emotionally and physically, but the lasting impressions for both were the close-ups of their faces, and the flood of thoughts and feelings they were able to convey with the smallest of flickers and movements. Both Jemima Kirk and Kerry Godliman were bright spots in series that otherwise could feel too heavy (Derek) or too scattered (Girls), and Busy Philips is and always has been the funniest part of Cougar Town. All are fantastic.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – COMEDY SERIES
T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley)
Christopher Evan Welch (Silicon Valley)
Tony Hale (Veep)
Peter McDonald (Moone Boy)
Adam Driver (Girls)
Again, I’m not completely certain Moone Boy qualifies, but damnit, Peter McDonald as its bewildered and extremely amiable Irish patriarch is what Ty Burrell once was to Modern Family (and still is to some degree, but the material just hasn’t been there in the last few seasons). Adam Driver makes Girls worth watching (which is kind of a sad statement given it should be y’know, a girl, but it’s absolutely true), while no one this year could possibly touch the extreme weirdness and comedic perfection of T.J. Miller and the late Christopher Evan Welch in Silicon Valley. Except maybe Tony Hale on Veep.
Dancing on the Edge (Starz)
The White Queen (Starz)
Basically: the British are coming! And Fargo, which I didn’t like, but admit its cinematography and acting were truly great. Kudos needs to be given specifically though to Starz, who has come out as a challenger to PBS and BBC America regarding British productions: The White Queen and Dancing on the Edge were definitely two of the year’s best.