No one expects the Emmy nominations to please everybody — there's simply too much TV these days, including on unconventional platforms like Netflix, and there are always going to be shows and performers that won't make the cut, however deserving. But even when the Emmy voters get something right, like adding HBO's freshman hoot Silicon Valley to the best-comedy contenders, we still find ourselves griping over where they stumbled, nowhere more glaringly than in the drama-series race. (For a list of nominees in the major categories, go here.)
For the third consecutive year, CBS's exemplary The Good Wife was shut out from best-drama consideration (though doing well in acting categories), despite a spectacularly riveting fifth-season run that made a far greater impression than the uneven recent runs of Downton Abbey and Emmy darling Mad Men. For my money, Showtime's underappreciated Masters of Sex is the new Mad Men and could have taken that slot, while FX's emotionally gripping spy thriller The Americans, which has been nearly invisible at the Emmys two seasons running (with the exception of Margo Martindale's fine guest work), should have filled the gap left when Showtime's Homeland was understandably passed over for its third-season creative collapse. Instead, trendier titles like the Netflix melodrama House of Cards and HBO's opaquely pretentious though stylish and well-acted True Detective (in actuality a miniseries, but that's another issue) are going up against Breaking Bad's seemingly unstoppable roll to a second win for its split final season.
But given that Game of Thrones is the most nominated series with 19, including a first-time nod to Lena Headey as the villainous Cersei, could HBO's epic fantasy finally win the big prize for its eventful fourth season? Wouldn't count on it, but I wouldn't object.
Want more TV news and reviews? Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!
Let's break it down by category, sticking with drama:
Actor: The race is between a new Tony winner, Bryan Cranston, for his final stand as Breaking Bad's Walter White, and a new Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey, for his perversely compelling work as Detective's philosophizing hero. Emmy voters' lazy tendency to honor past winners and devotion to all things HBO explains how The Newsroom's Jeff Daniels remains in the running instead of Masters of Sex's quietly compelling Michael Sheen, Americans chameleon Matthew Rhys and, the most surprising snub, Emmy fave James Spader as the enigmatic star of NBC breakout The Blacklist.
Actress: Great to see Masters' seductive Lizzy Caplan included, but the otherwise predictable field would have been enhanced by the inclusion of Tatiana Maslany for her astonishing versatility in BBC America's Orphan Black.
Supporting: Besides Headey, the most welcome additions are Ray Donovan's ferocious scene-stealer Jon Voight and Good Wife's Josh Charles (R.I.P. Will), his first nomination since 2011. Sorry, though, that Scandal's frenzied first lady Bellamy Young and Boardwalk Empire's Jeffrey Wright weren't recognized.
Guest: As a devastatingly dysfunctional couple in Masters of Sex, Beau Bridges and Allison Janney earned their accolades and should be considered the top picks here. Adding some welcome diversity: Cards' Reg E. Cathey and Scandal's Joe Morton. Puzzlement: Cards' Kate Mara, who was gone in a blink from the show's second season.
Moving on to comedy:
I have no beef with any of the 12 nominations for Netflix's finest original, Orange Is the New Black, except for the fact that they should be on the drama side. Way to game the system, Netflix. Very happy for HBO's Silicon Valley, although I expected a stronger showing for Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And being no longer as dominant in the field (with 10 noms, and only three for its ensemble), Modern Family may be hard pressed to make it five wins in a row.
Another observation: Saturday Night Live's halo is huge, not only for its own 14 nominations (including four hosts in the guest categories and the terrific Kate McKinnon for supporting) but extending to departed veteran players like Fred Armisen, a surprise supporting-actor nominee for his multiple roles in IFC's Portlandia, and Kristen Wiig, a truly shocking spoiler in the movie-mini best-actress race for IFC's parody The Spoils of Babylon.
Actor: And yet somehow the SNL glow didn't boost Golden Globe winner Andy Samberg of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, snubbed in favor of William M. Macy (from Showtime's Shameless, another drama crossing the genre line) and industry fave Ricky Gervais for Netflix's mawkish Derek.
Actress: No surprises here, although past winner Melissa McCarthy can no doubt take solace, after the big-screen flop of Tammy, with her double showing: for Mike & Molly after a year's absence, and once again for her robust SNL guest-hosting.
Supporting: The outrageously talented Allison Janney is another of the year's two-fers (for Mom and Masters of Sex), facing a strong field including Orange's formidable Kate Mulgrew. Surprise omissions: last year's winner, Merritt Wever, from Nurse Jackie, and Modern Family's perennial also-ran Sofia Vergara. Likewise, Modern's Eric Stonestreet and Ed O'Neill are MIA on the supporting-actor roster, which welcomes Brooklyn's most deserving Andre Braugher of the masterful deadpan.
Guest: While these categories are overrun with SNL guest hosts (McCarthy, Tina Fey, Louis C.K., Jimmy Fallon), they're also a testament to the deep bench of talent on Orange (including Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox and Natasha Lyonne). More unexpected: nominations for Steve Buscemi (moonlighting from Boardwalk Empire on Portlandia) and Veep's Gary Cole, a veteran pro finally earning a bit of Emmy love.
In the late-night race (otherwise known as variety), no movement despite the ever-evolving nature of this universe, as voters rightly favored the new Tonight Show model (with Jimmy Fallon) over the old (Leno). And despite the nostalgic fervor stirred up by David Letterman's impending retirement, CBS's Late Show couldn't fight its way back into the category.
And in movies and minis, FX's fabulous Fargo (with 18 nominations) and HBO's shattering The Normal Heart (with 16) are the obvious front-runners, although PBS's Sherlock: His Last Vow (with 12) could be a spoiler, and I love that Martin Freeman (from Fargo and Sherlock) is a double nominee. Normal Heart dominates the supporting-actor category with four actors (including double-nominee Jim Parsons and Joe Mantello, both from the Broadway revival), but Matt Bomer's transformative performance is the standout. Thrilled that Allison Tolman (as Fargo's unflappable deputy) was noticed for her breakthrough role alongside Colin Hanks in supporting categories, and would like to think Tolman has an actual shot against much higher-profile talent: Julia Roberts (Normal), Ellen Burstyn (Flowers in the Attic), and from American Horror Story: Coven, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett and Frances Conroy. Cicely Tyson will be the sentimental favorite for Lifetime's The Trip to Bountiful, and will the odds favor Fargo's mesmerizing Billy Bob Thornton, since he's not going up against True Detective's McConaughey (as logic would normally dictate)? You betcha.