Call Me Emmy: The Best in Drama


A few days ago, I posted my ideal Emmy nominations in the comedy field. Today, it’s the same deal, but with drama. As I said in the first post, I don’t get paid to watch television as a full-time job, so I can only watch what I have time for and what I have easy access too. Notable dramas I’ve missed, and therefore can’t comment on for these picks, include Homeland, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and Justified. I also can’t honor shows I’m not caught up on: The Walking Dead, Homeland, Elementary. Nonetheless, I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp of a portion of the quality dramas on the current television landscape.

Here’s what the Emmy nominations for drama would look like if I chose them:

Outstanding Drama Series
The Americans
Breaking Bad
Mad Men

Comments: Even though many people consider cable the most reliable place for quality dramas these days, I’ve found and nominated two extremely high-quality network dramas that stand with the best on AMC and FX. I don’t expect Hannibal and Parenthood to earn nominations in this category, but I think these shows demonstrate ambition visually, thematically and narratively on a weekly basis, and I’m always eager to savor the next episode. The Americans and Rectify commanded attention with first seasons that explored potent themes of marriage, loneliness and companionship with visual panache and unexpectedly deep and rich ensembles. Breaking Bad set up its final season in typically captivating fashion. My pick to win in this category, though, is Mad Men. The sixth season had some bumpy stretches, but the magnificent finale tied the disparate threads together in unexpectedly gratifying fashion, and the show’s rich bench of fully drawn characters carried the show through its less fertile patches. Mad Men continues to be the best show on television.

Mad Men

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama:
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Hugh Dancy, Hannibal
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Peter Krause, Parenthood
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Aden Young, Rectify

Comments: These six performances each reflect fine actors sacrificing their vanity and glamour to dig deep into complicated and often unflattering characters. I’d give the win to Jon Hamm (who has somehow never won an Emmy despite his towering performance in all six seasons of Mad Men), but any of these actors is worthy.


Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama
Connie Britton, Nashville
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Keri Russell, The Americans

Comments: Sadly, this category is weak because television protagonists are still slanted in favor of men. Nonetheless, these are three strong contenders, and if I had seen more of Elementary and Bates Motel than just the pilot of each, I probably would have added Lucy Liu and Vera Farmiga. Britton’s work on Nashville pales in comparison to her performance as Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, but that’s only because she set such a high bar for herself with that legendary turn. Keri Russell had the difficult task of portraying a character whose Russian sympathies and cold demeanor might have alienated her from people who expected a more likable role, but she excelled as the character darkened. But my pick to win is Elisabeth Moss. Peggy Olson is the driving force of Mad Men at this point, and Moss more than delivers, often commanding the screen with a single facial expression that speaks volumes more than dialogue ever could.


Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama
Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad
Max Burkholder, Parenthood
Noah Emmerich, The Americans
Charles Esten, Nashville
Vincent Kartheiser, Mad Men
Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal

Also Considered: Sam Jaeger, Parenthood; Rob James-Collier, Downton Abbey; Dax Shepard, Mad Men; Dean Norris, Breaking Bad; Colin Cunningham, Falling Skies; Jay R. Ferguson, Mad Men; Miles Heizer, Parenthood; Kevin Rahm, Mad Men; John Slattery, Mad Men

Comments: The embarrassment of riches in this category made narrowing down the list to six a near-impossible task. I ended up with a cold-hearted but strangely empathetic villain (Mikkelsen as Hannibal), a weary veteran of the drug trade (Banks as Mike Ehrmentraut), a well-meaning guitarist with alcohol troubles (Esten as Deacon Claybourne, the best character name in television), an ad man caught between nostalgia for the past and fear of the future (Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell), an FBI agent with a dark past (Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman) and a complicated young boy who struggles with mental illness (Max Burkholder as Max Braverman). How to choose which of those performances excels above the others? Ask me in a few minutes and I might change my mind, but for now, I’m going with Mads Mikkelsen, who occupied his legendary character with mesmerizing menace, sardonic wit and quiet confidence.


Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama
Adelaide Clemens, Rectify
Caroline Dhavernas, Hannibal
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
January Jones, Mad Men
Monica Potter, Parenthood

Also Considered: Abigail Spencer, Rectify; Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey; Susan Misner, The Americans; Betsy Brandt, Breaking Bad; Erika Christensen, Parenthood; Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men; Jessica Pare, Mad Men; Clare Bowen, Nashville; Annet Mahendru, The Americans; Hayden Panetierre, Nashville; Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey; Mae Whitman, Parenthood

Comments: Here’s another category with too many great choices. I violated my unspoken rule of nominating only one actor per show in this case because Hendricks continued to make Joan Holloway one of the most fascinating women on television even when she doesn’t have a whole lot to do in a given episode, while Jones lifted Betty Draper out of her terrible storyline last season to provide interesting shadings to the Don Draper arc that dominated the season. As with Hendricks, I would have liked more of Dhavernas’ Alana Bloom beyond her tepid romance arc with Will, but in her few showcase moments, the actress shined and made me yearn to go deeper into this character. Clemens, despite being a dead ringer for Carey Mulligan, was the biggest standout in the excellent Rectify ensemble, imbuing her character with humanity and decency even when we didn’t understand her full intentions.

I struggled mightily between my two favorite performances on this list. Gunn’s delivery of the line “All I can do is wait…for the cancer to come back” resonated with such titanic intensity that it seems ridiculous to give the award to anyone else. And yet, Monica Potter managed to pull off the unenviable task of legitimizing a breast cancer storyline that could have easily devolved into condescending sentimentality. Call it a tie!


Aaron Paul and Kate Mara will announce the Emmy nominations at 8:30am Eastern on July 18. What does YOUR Emmy ballot look like?

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