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What the Critics’ Choice Awards Can and Cannot Tell Us About the Emmy Race

What the Critics' Choice Awards Can and Cannot Tell Us About the Emmy Race

Here’s hoping you didn’t put any money on my Critics’ Choice TV Awards predictions. I picked a woeful nine out of 19 winners, not including the reality and animated categories, as the Broadcast Television Journalists Association used Sunday night’s ceremony to make the case for a number of idiosyncratic series and performances. From pleasant surprises—”The Americans” (FX) beating out “Empire” (FOX) for Best Drama—to disappointing ones—the failure to honor Mo’Nique’s ferocious performance in “Bessie” (HBO)—it was refreshing, at least, to see critics buck any sense of conventional wisdom.

Whether the BTJA’s choices will have any bearing on the more conservative TV Academy, which announces this year’s Emmy nominees July 16, is another matter. Below, I read the Emmy tea leaves in the list of Critics’ Choice winners for several of the major categories.

READ MORE: “Critics’ Choice TV Awards Predictions: Who Will, Should and Could Win”

Best Drama Series
Winner: “The Americans” (FX)

While its gratifying triumph over stiff competition, including the “Empire” juggernaut, may allow “The Americans” to eke out a spot in the Emmys’ expanded list of seven nominees, FX’s bleak, low-rated Cold War thriller is a long shot to take home the trophy when the TV Academy hands out prizes in September. The Critics’ Choice award for “The Americans,” which has drawn impassioned critical support for three seasons without landing a Best Drama Emmy nomination, strikes me as a plea for consideration from the TV Academy, and this year does hold out the promise of an Emmy shakeup. Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” will compete as a drama for the first time, “Breaking Bad” (AMC) and “True Detective” (HBO) are out of the running, and voters may finally drop perennial nominee “Downton Abbey” (PBS) after yet another mediocre season. That said, with due respect to the final season of “Mad Men,” the Emmy race boils down to the two most popular series: “Empire” and its equally soapy premium cable competitor, “Game of Thrones” (HBO).

READ MORE: “For the Love of God (or Country), Start Watching ‘The Americans'”

Best Actor (Drama)
Winner: Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul” (AMC)

I let my soft spot for Timothy Olyphant, capping off six seasons of FX’s “Justified,” sway me away from Odenkirk at the last minute, despite the evidence of a critical consensus building around him. The fact is, while Odenkirk is sure to score an Emmy nomination on the strength of “Better Call Saul” and Emmy voters’ longtime love of “Breaking Bad,” the TV Academy only came out in numbers for “Justified” after its exceptional second season, when Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and Jeremy Davies earned nominations and Margo Martindale won. I still think Olyphant will snag a spot for the series’ final season, but the rest of the field is up in the air. The TV Academy has tended in recent years to honor populist, starry choices like Kevin Spacey (Netflix’s “House of Cards”) and Jeff Daniels (HBO’s “The Newsroom”) over critics’ darlings Aden Young (Sundance’s “Rectify”) and Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”). I suspect Rhys will sneak in, especially with Bryan Cranston and the “True Detective” boys not in competition, but the real wrench in choosing a winner is Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”). Though the BTJA omitted “Mad Men” entirely, Hamm, Emmy-nominated seven times for AMC’s period piece without a win, is a sentimental favorite. The time has come to give Don Draper his due.

READ MORE: “Of Time & Life: How ‘Mad Men’ Remade Television”

Best Actress (Drama)
Winner: Taraji P. Henson, “Empire” (FOX)

Henson’s well-deserved win for her performance as Cookie Lyon—the foremost reason to tune in to FOX’s musical melodrama—marks her as the early frontrunner for the Emmy. “Empire” broke ratings records during its debut season, and Henson drew accolades even from the series’ detractors. It’s the rest of the lineup that remains in flux. As in the Best Actor category, the TV Academy favors big, buzzy performances and/or past nominees, which means defending champ Julianna Marguiles (CBS’ “The Good Wife”), Kerry Washington (ABC’s “Scandal”), Viola Davis (ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder”), Robin Wright (“House of Cards”), and Claire Danes (“Homeland”) enjoy a distinct advantage over the likes of Eva Green (Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful”) and Vera Farmiga (A&E’s “Bates Motel”). That leaves Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”), Lizzy Caplan (Showtime’s “Masters of Sex”), and Keri Russell (“The Americans”) as the main potential spoilers. Washington and Wright, coming off weaker seasons of their respective series, should be looking over their shoulders. This category is ruthlessly competitive.

READ MORE: “‘Empire’ and the End of ‘Least Objectionable Television'”

Best Supporting Actor (Drama)
Winner: Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul” (AMC)

Though I don’t expect critics’ love for the “Breaking Bad” spinoff to carry Banks to victory, he’s a likely Emmy nominee now that Aaron Paul and Josh Charles (“The Good Wife”) are no longer in the mix. Expect stalwarts Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”), Mandy Patinkin (the revitalized “Homeland”), and Jon Voight (Showtime’s overwrought “Ray Donovan”) to nab three of the six slots and compete for the statuette; John Slattery (“Mad Men”), in addition to the remaining Critics’ Choice nominees, especially Walton Goggins (“Justified”), will battle it out for the remaining two. There’s real dark horse potential on the bottom rungs of this race.

Best Supporting Actress (Drama)
Winner: Lorraine Toussaint, “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)

Toussaint’s somewhat unexpected win here means Emmy voters will want to take another look at the second season of Netflix’s women’s prison dramedy, which premiered on the streaming service nearly a year ago now, and on the merits she’s earned one of the six slots. Fellow Critics’ Choice nominee Christine Baranski (“The Good Wife”) is a lock, as is TV Academy favorite Maggie Smith, whose Dowager Countess of “Downton Abbey” is the series’ one consistent delight. That leaves any number of “Game of Thrones” cast members, including Lena Headley, Emilia Clarke, and my pick, the indomitable Maisie Williams, as well as five-time Emmy nominee Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”); though she has a chance, Archie Panjabi (“The Good Wife”) may fall victim to a disappointing farewell season. Most of all, though I’m fully prepared for her to be snubbed because the series is such tough viewing, I have my fingers crossed for Carrie Coon (HBO’s “The Leftovers”), who lends layers of nuance, grace, and humor to the impossibly grim whole.

Best Comedy Series
Winner: “Silicon Valley” (HBO)

Though the second season of Mike Judge’s tech-industry satire has improved leaps and bounds over its debut, I was surprised to see it exhibit such strength among BTJA members. “Silicon Valley” is a certain nominee, as is Golden Globe-winner “Transparent” (Amazon), even if it’s primarily an opportunity for Emmy voters to signal their progressive bona fides. Network sitcoms “Modern Family” (ABC), the category’s five-time reigning champ, and “The Big Bang Theory” (CBS), symbols of TV Academy inertia, will once again vie for the Best Comedy prize, though The CW’s “Jane the Virgin” strikes just the right balance of critical acclaim and sincere emotion to sneak in should that long-dominant pair split the vote. That leaves two spots for four main contenders—former nominees “Veep” (HBO) and “Louie” (FX), as well as “Mom” (CBS) and the scrappy “Broad City” (Comedy Central)—with the excellent “Inside Amy Schumer” likely shuffled into the new Variety Sketch Series category. Of these, “Broad City” and “Mom” are at a disadvantage: expect Emmy voters to go with the devils they know over the devils they don’t.

READ MORE: “House Style in the Golden Age of Comedy Central”

Best Actor (Comedy)
Winner: Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent” (Amazon)

Easy to predict as a Critics’ Choice winner, Tambor faces the challenge of unseating four-time Emmy winner and current incumbent Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”), who seems like a very nice man but needs to stop being nominated in this category. Beyond these two and four-time nominee Louis C.K. (“Louie”), this is the race I have the hardest time calling. Will voters stick with last year’s trio of Showtime nominees—Matt LeBlanc (“Episodes”), Don Cheadle (“House of Lies”), and William H. Macy (“Shameless”)—or follow the BTJA in the direction of network favorites, including Anthony Anderson (ABC’s “black-ish”), Chris Messina (FOX’s “The Mindy Project”), and Will Forte (FOX’s “Last Man on Earth”)? In this case, the TV Academy’s traditionalism may propel them to a major shakeup, with the desire to reward a mini-revival in broadcast comedies leading to a host of new nominees.

READ MORE: “‘Transparent’ and the New Queer Television”

Best Actress (Comedy)
Winner: Amy Schumer, “Inside Amy Schumer” (Comedy Central)

I wish I’d trusted my instinct that Schumer, who’s produced a viral video from nearly every episode of her sketch comedy this season, was coming up fast on the outside with critics, though her irreverent sense of humor won’t play well enough with Emmy voters to snag more than a nomination here. Of the Critics’ Choice field newcomer Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”) are primed for Emmy nods, with Louis-Dreyfus, who’s won the last three years for her performance as Selina Meyer on HBO’s cutting satire, the favorite until proven otherwise. The real question is whether voters will embrace critical sensations Constance Wu (ABC’s “Fresh off the Boat”) and Ilana Glazer (“Broad City”), or BTJA’s biggest snub, Ellie Kemper (Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) over category regulars like Lena Dunham (HBO’s “Girls”) and Melissa McCarthy (CBS’s “Mike and Molly”). I think the familiar faces have the inside line here, especially Amy Poehler (NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”) and Edie Falco (Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie”), whose series both bid adieu this season—which means the main spoiler is likely to be Lisa Kudrow, trying to repeat as a nominee for “The Comeback” (HBO) nine years after its debut.

Best Supporting Actor (Comedy)
Winner: T.J. Miller, “Silicon Valley” (HBO)

The big wrinkle in comparing Miller’s surprise win and the Emmy race is the TV Academy’s penchant for reserving two or three spots for the men of “Modern Family,” and Eric Stonestreet, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Ed O’Neill are all threats here. That leaves four additional nominees at most, with Tony Hale (“Veep”) a sure thing, Emmy favorite Andre Braugher (FOX’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) a strong contender, and crowd-pleasing newcomer Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) in with a chance. Indeed, this may be one Critics’ Choice winner that misses out on an Emmy nomination entirely: Miller, a relative unknown, will have to face down former nominees Adam Driver (“Girls”) and Fred Armisen (IFC’s “Portlandia”) for the final spot, though my vote goes to the weird wunderkind of “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), shadow MVP Kyle Mooney.

READ MORE: “In Fantastic New Comedies ‘Last Man on Earth’ and ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,’ First Tragedy, Then Farce”

Best Supporting Actress (Comedy)
Winner: Alison Janney, “Mom” (CBS)

We may as well send the Emmy to Janney now—the defending champion here and a four-time Supporting Actress (Drama) winner for “The West Wing” makes this perhaps the easiest category to predict. Indeed, the presence of several former Emmy winners and nominees seems likely to squeeze out the two most inspired names on the BTJA’s list, Eden Sher (ABC’s “The Middle”) and Melanie Lynskey (HBO’s “Togetherness”). Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara will take up the usual one or two spaces for “Modern Family.” Amy’s meltdown and a devastating impression of Hillary Clinton ensure repeat nods for Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”) and Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”), respectively. There’s no reason Mayim Bialik shouldn’t extend her streak of nominations for “The Big Bang Theory” to four, and Jane Krakowski, on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” plays a character so similar in affect to Jenna Maroney—which earned her four nominations for “30 Rock”—that I suspect she’ll be back. Those seven will compete for the six slots, with one of the “Modern Family” women likeliest to be left out.

READ MORE: “The Weird, Wonderful ‘Togetherness,’ HBO’s Newest Modern Family”

Best TV Movie
Winner: “Bessie” (HBO)

In a rather weak category, “Bessie” is the one to beat come Emmy time, with its only real competition coming from HBO’s other entry, “Nightingale” (HBO). Even the BTJA struggled to fill out the other three nominees on its list, as limited series continue to replace TV movies as the format of choice for artists and producers unwilling to commit to a full series run—so expect to find yourself scratching your head next month when the little-seen “A Poet in New York” (BBC America) and the frankly unworthy “Killing Jesus” (National Geographic) and “Stockholm, Pennyslvania” (Lifetime) turn up. Hell, even the reviled “Grace of Monaco,” which the Weinstein Co. shunted to Lifetime after a disastrous debut at Cannes last year, could play spoiler: its Memorial Day airing makes it eligible for this year’s Emmys by less than a week.

READ MORE: “Might As Well Give Mo’Nique Her Emmy for HBO’s ‘Bessie’ Now”

Best Limited Series
Winner: “Olive Kitteridge” (HBO)

Lisa Cholodenko’s acclaimed adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s novel will likely lead HBO to the top of the nominations chart once again, and it will be the frontrunner nearly everywhere it’s nominated, as was the case at the Critics’ Choice Awards. (This is the place to nab a few easy wins in your Emmy pool.) Its main competition may end up being another HBO endeavor, Andrew Jarecki’s controversial docuseries “The Jinx,” which the BTJA, perhaps scared off by accusations that Jarecki fudged important details, failed to nominate. Though it’s unclear to me if a nonfiction production is eligible here—the Emmys haven’t release their full list yet, as the eligibility period just closed Sunday—I don’t see the TV Academy having the same qualms, particularly since “The Jinx” scratched the same pop-cultural itch as the true-crime podcast “Serial.” If “The Jinx” does get in, I suspect it will edge out “24: Live Another Day” (FOX) or “The Book of Negroes” (BET), with Critics’ Choice nominees “American Crime,” “Wolf Hall” (PBS), and “The Honorable Woman” (SundanceTV) likely to repeat. Starz’s “The Missing” is a potential spoiler, but without a nod from the BTJA, it may not attract enough Emmy voters’ attention.
   Best Actor (Movie or Limited Series)
Winner: David Oyelowo, “Nightingale” (HBO)

The Emmys are poised to replicate this category almost exactly, down to Oyelowo besting “Olive Kitteridge” lead actor Richard Jenkins, with Mark Rylance (“Wolf Hall”), James Nesbitt (“The Missing”), and Michael Gambon (HBO’s “The Casual Vacancy”), in addition to Oyelowo, making the slate a genuine British invasion. Depending on whether Emmy voters’ former love for “24” can be revived, Timothy Hutton (“American Crime”) may steal the last spot from Kiefer Sutherland, which I support wholeheartedly.

Best Actress (Movie or Limited Series) 
Winner: Frances McDormand, “Olive Kitteridge” (HBO)

No question, McDormand is the runaway favorite here, with fellow Critics’ Choice nominees—and likely Emmy nominees—Felicity Huffman (“American Crime”), Jessica Lange (FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show”), Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Honorable Woman”), and Queen Latifah (“Bessie”) bringing up the rear. (I fear that the TV Academy may succumb to the glamor of Nicole Kidman, in “Grace of Monaco,” thus knocking out Aunjanue Ellis, of “The Book of Negroes.”) It will take a near-miracle for any of them to mount a serious challenge to McDormand.

READ MORE: “‘Olive Kitteridge,’ ‘The Leftovers,’ and the Uses of Disenchantment”

Best Supporting Actor (Movie or Limited Series)
Winner: Bill Murray, “Olive Kitteridge” (HBO)

Maybe the TV movie/limited series fields are more thin than advertised? In particular, without “Fargo” (FX) or “True Detective,” the acting ranks are looking pretty depleted, no more so than in this category. Murray will likely win, and better-known “American Horror Story: Freak Show” supporting actor Michael Chiklis may knock out Critics’ Choice nominee Finn Wittrock, but generally speaking this category’s a bore.

Best Supporting Actress (Movie or Limited Series)
Winner: Sarah Paulson, “American Horror Story: Freak Show” (FX)

Paulson does admirable work in a role with a high level of difficulty (she plays conjoined twins), but her win over Mo’Nique here left me speechless. The latter is still the Emmy favorite, not only for her searing performance but also because Ma Rainey is an iconic real-life figure who may appeal more to voters than one of Ryan Murphy’s freaks. That said, don’t count out “American Horror Story” stalwarts Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, or the unsung Frances Conroy, any of whom could knock out Critics’ Choice nominees Khandi Alexander (“Bessie”) or Cynthia Nixon (“Stockholm, Pennsylvania”). Claire Foy (“Wolf Hall”) is safe—indeed, the TV Academy’s love of tasteful literary adaptations may give her an edge over Paulson against Mo’Nique—but Janet McTeer (“The Honorable Woman”) could be on the bubble if any of the starry supporting actors in critical failures like “The Slap” (NBC) or “Grace of Monaco” benefit from their big names.

READ MORE: “‘American Horror Story: Freak Show,’ Ryan Murphy’s Sublime Circus Act”

Look out for my own wish list of Emmy nominees next month, and considered predictions of winners and losers come September’s ceremony. In the meantime, leave your best bets and main hopes for this year’s Emmys in the comments section below. See a full list of Critics’ Choice TV Awards winners here.

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