Well, the nominations are finally here. We’ve seen the full list and now know who will be fighting for television’s most coveted prize come August 25 (a Monday, which I still can’t get over). Based on a number of factors, including historical precedent, total nominations, snubs, surprises and general gut instinct, we can already predict which races will go down to the wire (though, let’s be honest, if "The Wire" was involved today, it wouldn’t be losing any Emmys). Below are the most intriguing races in the top categories, a breakdown of what makes them so compelling, and who’s got the early edge.
Best Drama Series
Why These Two: Let’s be honest: this is not only the matchup we’re expecting to be the most compelling, it’s also the one we desperately want to see play out. So many factors build the drama surrounding these passionately supported dramas, you can almost hear the folks at HBO and AMC campaigning. "It’s the last season of ‘Breaking Bad’ — don’t you want it to go out on top?" "This is a revolutionary program, and an event that will never happen again in the same fashion — Woody and Matthew aren’t coming back. Don’t you want them to be remembered?" "We’ve got Bryan Cranston." "We’ve got an Oscar winner." "We’re AMC! You love us! We’ve won Best Drama five of the last six years!" "We’re HBO! We started the cable revolution, and now we’re bringing it to the next level. It’s our time — again."
Spoiler: "Game of Thrones" is the true cult fan’s pick. "Breaking Bad" captivated a nation and "True Detective was a freshman sensation, but nothing can compare to the ratings juggernaut that is George R. R. Martin’s fantasy kill fest. Could it sneak past its younger brother and older competition? Maybe. If the Academy decides they’re ready to move on from "Breaking Bad" after giving it the trophy last year, and "True Detective" loses too many votes due to its uneasy status as a series rather than a miniseries, then "Game of Thrones" could become the people’s choice. After all, it does have more nominations than any other series.
Who’s Got the Edge: "Breaking Bad" has the edge in nominations, but this will come down to two things: momentum and nostalgia. If "True Detective" can build a fervor around itself with a well-timed announcement of its Season 2 cast (which is coming in the next week), they could take advantage of the show’s momentum and steal a win. Otherwise, look for voters to give it to Vince Gilligan for the last season of what many people consider the best show of all time.
Best Comedy Series
"Modern Family" vs. Everyone Else
Why These Two: "Modern Family" has walked away with the top comedy prize four years in a row, the same number of wins "Mad Men" had in the drama category before it lost its crown. Can someone finally take down the champ?
Spoiler: By "spoiler," we mean who’s got the best chance of knocking off the popular pick. "Veep" is certainly gaining critical favor in its third season and earned two acting trophies last year for Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale, but it doesn’t seem to connect with a large enough crowd for the Academy to fawn over it. "The Big Bang Theory" has the opposite problem, being the weakest length among critics but hugely popular in total fans.
My money’s on "Louie" to knock off "Modern Family." Why? It has to win sometime — it’s too good to ignore — and frankly it’s been ignored too long. "Orange is the New Black" had a strong showing on nominations’ day, though, and it could also take the top spot.
Who’s Got the Edge: It’s hard to say "Modern Family" isn’t the favorite considering its track record, but if I was gambling I’d put my money on "Louie" (if given good enough odds).
Best Actor – Drama
Matthew McConaughey ("True Detective") vs. Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad")
Why These Two: Like the shows they represent, these two both have everything going their way. It’s going to come down to a matter of preference: whether voters want to honor "Breaking Bad" as a whole by awarding it a sweep in its final year, or if the TV folks are also sold on Matthew McConaughey as the modern day mega star. He’s got an Oscar in his pocket thanks to "True Detective" (the best Oscar campaign material ever) — doesn’t it make sense he get the Emmy to go with it? But then there’s Cranston, a television power house with three wins for "Breaking Bad" plus two more nominations and three more nods for his work on "Malcolm in the Middle." The Academy loves him, but he lost to Jeff Daniels last year in a massive upset — were they waiting to honor him this year, and do they still want to after witnessing McConaughey’s transformation?
Spoiler: Jeff Daniels has to be considered the spoiler simply because he played the role so perfectly last year. Odds are low of him pulling off a second surprise victory, but they’re comparable to the odds of anyone other than Cranston or McConaughey winning.
Who’s Got the Edge: Mainly because of Cranston’s loss last year, he’s got to be considered the favorite right now. McConaughey has momentum with that Oscar win and steady work in impressive roles, but many Emmys voters might think he’s already got his trophy and refuse to give him another.
Best Actress – Comedy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Veep") vs. Amy Poehler ("Parks and Recreation")
Why These Two: Julia Louis-Dreyfus took home her second Best Actress trophy for "Veep" last year and looked good doing it, giving an acceptance speech for the ages. She’s won two other Emmys, one for "Seinfeld" and one for "The New Adventures of Old Christine," and she’s an Academy favorite. But can Amy Poehler really go 0-5 on her nods for "Parks and Rec?" With one year left — and that being an abbreviated one — 2014 might be her best chance to win. For as much love as "Veep" has been given (and deserved), "Parks and Rec" has been relatively ignored. It’s a preposterous notion — though the Academy isn’t infallible. After all, Steve Carell never won for "The Office" and Jason Alexander never won for "Seinfeld." Will Poehler join that unlucky group, or finally get the recognition she (and her show) deserves?
Spoiler: Taylor Schilling could sneak out with a surprise win if the Academy flips over "Orange Is the New Black." She’s a long shot for sure, being on the opposite end of the spectrum as these two veterans — a rookie and a relative unknown. Yet she’s got the cool kids on her side. Netflix is the upcoming power player, and "Orange is the New Black" may be its best shot at a trophy. Expect them to give Schilling a hard push.
Who’s Got the Edge: I want to say Poehler, but "Veep" has seen more love from the Academy than the "SNL" vet’s beloved but awards-phobic program. My bet is on Louis-Dreyfus for the three-peat, while I hope things swing the other way.
Best Actor – Comedy
Louis C.K. ("Louie") vs. William H. Macy ("Shameless")
Why These Two: "Shameless" switched genres with mixed results — this was the only real get, but it’s a big get. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think anyone can touch Louis C.K.; he’s got a shot at both Best Actor and Comedy this year, especially with "Modern Family" slipping in nominations. But you throw a former drama contender into the mix with all these comedies and anything could happen. Voters skew drama over comedy even when handing out comedy awards, for the acting categories in particular. William H. Macy, a veteran with proven credentials, could benefit the most from the "Shameless" switcheroo.
Spoiler: Jim Parsons. The "Big Bang Theory" star is always a danger to steal the award until a new Alec-Baldwin-on-"30 Rock" level threat emerges in the Comedy Lead category. Parsons has another acting nod for "The Normal Heart" that he won’t win, so voters could give him another trophy in a weak year.
Who’s Got the Edge: It’s still Louis’ award to lose, and I doubt he will. Still, this race will be fun to track from a unique context.