Voting members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences this week are poring over their 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards ballots, selecting up to six individuals or programs in each category that they feel are worthy of nominations. Surely, few if any of them watch as much television as professional television critics. So it falls to us to offer them some much needed guidance as they take on what might be an understandably overwhelming challenge.
Below are my suggestions for the top programs and performers in the drama and comedy series categories. (To qualify, series must have been televised and the performers' work seen between June 1, 2008 and May 31, 2009.) Academy members have been cautioned to select no more than six potential nominees in each category, lest their choices be null and void.
Mercifully, television critics suffer no such restrictions.
Outstanding Drama Series
Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi Channel) - The final season of Sci Fi's space saga was endlessly satisfying and frequently surprising, while its finale was almost too grand to be contained on a television screen.
Breaking Bad (AMC) - The episode in which dimwitted drug-head Jesse was held hostage by two meth addicts was arguably the season's most memorable hour of television drama. Three letters: ATM.
Damages (FX) - This superior legal thriller deserves special recognition because it demands the undivided attention of its viewers and then rewards them spectacularly for their efforts. Glenn Close, in the performance of the year, makes that easy to do.
Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC) - You'll get no complaints from me if the universe should bestow the Emmy on this sublime drama about life in one of those small economically depressed towns Hollywood producers prefer not to acknowledge.
Mad Men (AMC) - The story of the Drapers' disintegrating marriage has made this television's top psychodrama.
Lost (ABC) - Lost is on this list because it doesn't seem right not to include television's most unapologetically unconventional show, even if it did get way too time-trippy for its own good. The more I think about what I saw this season the less sense it makes, but the fact that I'm still thinking about it counts for a lot.
The Shield (FX) - This brutal, unsparing police drama ended as it began, going to extremes never before seen in advertiser-supported television drama. One must go all the way back to NYPD Blue (and before that Hill Street Blues) to find a similar TV game changer.
24 (Fox) - I can't recall another series that rebounded so spectacularly from an utterly dismal previous season.
Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory (CBS) - I could end the list right here, because no comedy on television delivered more laughs and is more deserving of Emmy recognition than this merry celebration of geek culture.
Desperate Housewives (ABC) - The season overall wasn't necessarily Emmy-worthy, but two stand-out episodes (both centered on dead people) put it way above most everything else in this category: The series' 100th, which centered on a much-loved neighborhood handyman (played by Beau Bridges) the audience had never before seen, and the one in which the women of Wisteria Lane reflected on their memories of the recently deceased Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan).
Pushing Daisies (ABC) - Talk about terrible timing: This colorful fantasy -- one of the most inventive and delightful series in the history of television -- couldn't recover from damages sustained and momentum lost during and after the Writers Guild of America strike. The Academy should find some way to acknowledge it before it's too late. I strongly suggest a nomination in this category.
30 Rock (NBC) - I would argue that much of the enthusiasm directed toward this series last fall had more to do with Tina Fey's instant classic appearances as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live than Rock's week-to-week effectiveness, which was uneven at best. That said, it was still so much better than so much of what passes for comedy these days.
Ugly Betty (ABC) - I'm not sure why this consistent charmer has lost its buzz. The actors here (especially series lead America Ferrera) are as likable as ever and every one of the characters they portray is amusing in a unique way. I hope Betty receives some recognition from the Academy -- and I hope it survives ABC's God-awful decision to move it to Fridays in the fall, sandwiched between a reality show and a newsmagazine.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Michael Chiklis - The Shield (FX)
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad (AMC)
Michael C. Hall - Dexter (Showtime)
Jon Hamm - Mad Men (AMC)
Hugh Laurie - House (Fox)
Denis Leary - Rescue Me (FX)
James Spader - Boston Legal (ABC)
Emmy only allows six nominees in each category, so one actor from the dream list above has got to go. (In a perfect world, Jensen Ackles of The CW's Supernatural would be included here. Seriously. Check out his work and get back to me.) Hugh Laurie is criminally overdue for recognition, as are Michael C. Hall and Denis Leary, so I'm hoping they make the cut. James Spader was as strong as ever during the last season of Boston Legal, and since he already has three Emmys for his popular portrayal of Atty. Alan Shore he should not be counted out. Similarly, Michael Chiklis has an Emmy for The Shield but lost none of his intensity in the show's last season. I would argue that last year's winner in this category, Bryan Cranston, deserves to take home the award once again for Breaking Bad. All that said, I cannot imagine Jon Hamm of Mad Men being left off the nominee list ... and if HBO has its way Gabriel Byrne will be included for In Treatment. Can you feel the drama?
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Glenn Close - Damages (FX)
Holly Hunter - Saving Grace (TNT)
Mary McCormack - In Plain Sight (USA Network)
Mary McDonnell - Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi Channel)
Jill Scott - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (HBO)
Kyra Sedgwick - The Closer (TNT)
Consistently breathtaking as demon lawyer Patty Hewes in Damages, Glenn Close would seem to be a lock not only for a nomination but for the award itself -- though I would be thrilled if Kyra Sedgwick (another can't-miss nominee) finally took home the Emmy for her endlessly entertaining turn as harried Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on The Closer. Expect at least one (and maybe two) of the very deserving actresses above (especially the egregiously overlooked Mary McCormack and Mary McDonnell) to be dislodged from this list by Anna Paquin of HBO's True Blood and/or January Jones of AMC's Mad Men.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Bruce Campbell - Burn Notice (USA Network)
Justin Chambers - Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Walton Goggins - The Shield (FX)
William Hurt - Damages (FX)
Vincent Kartheiser - Mad Men (AMC)
Taylor Kitsch - Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)
Kevin McKidd - Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Aaron Paul - Breaking Bad (AMC)
Steven Pasquale - Rescue Me (FX)
William Shatner - Boston Legal (ABC)
I truly have no idea who will end up in this category. Each of the ten gentlemen listed here deserves one of the six available positions, but it is possible that none of them will even be nominated. Whatever happens, I think Walton Goggins deserves the award, period.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Gabrielle Anwar - Burn Notice (USA Network)
Connie Britton - Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)
Anna Gunn - Breaking Bad (AMC)
Katherine Heigl - Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Christina Hendricks - Mad Men (AMC)
Cherry Jones - 24 (Fox)
Sandra Oh - Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Adrianne Palicki - Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)
Chloe Sevigny - Big Love (HBO)
Dianne Wiest - In Treatment (HBO)
Chandra Wilson - Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Expect Katherine Heigl, Sandra Oh, Chandra Wilson and Dianne Wiest to land nominations and Connie Britton and Adrianne Palicki to be shamefully ignored as usual. The rest of this category is a total toss-up, but how wild would it be if Gabrielle Anwar ended up with the Emmy here?
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock (NBC)
Steve Carell - The Office (NBC)
Johnny Galecki - The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Lee Pace - Pushing Daisies (ABC)
Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
James Roday - Psych (USA Network)
These are the six actors who most deserve to receive nominations in this category, but I'm guessing David Duchovny of Showtime's Californication will find his way in there. Regardless, Jim Parsons deserves the award.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Toni Collette - United States of Tara (Showtime)
American Ferrera - Ugly Betty (ABC)
Tina Fey - 30 Rock (NBC)
Anna Friel - Pushing Daisies (ABC)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus - The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS)
Mary-Louise Parker - Weeds (Showtime)
I can't think of any other actresses who belong in this category -- and I can't think of any reason why Toni Collette should not receive the Emmy.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
John Corbett - United States of Tara (Showtime)
Neil Patrick Harris - How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
Simon Helberg - The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Dule Hill - Psych (USA Network)
Matt Lucas - Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire (Comedy Central)
Jeremy Piven - Entourage (HBO)
Michael Urie - Ugly Betty (ABC)
I don't expect the final list to look like this one (to begin with, it doesn't leave any room for the guys on NBC's The Office or 30 Rock) - but count on Neil Patrick Harris and Jeremy Piven to make the cut, and cross your fingers that Harris might end Piven's winning streak. And let's hand it to Matt Lucas for delivering the funniest line of dialogue this season: "Joy! My pagan goat pants!"
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Kristin Chenoweth - Pushing Daisies (ABC)
Jenna Fischer - The Office (NBC)
Elizabeth Perkins - Weeds (Showtime)
Wanda Sykes - The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS)
Holland Taylor - Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Vanessa Williams - Ugly Betty (ABC)
I'll stand by these six talented women, but nominations for Portia de Rossi in Better Off Ted and Jean Smart in Samantha Who?, both on ABC, would not be unexpected.
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