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Emmys: Here's Our Dream Ballot for Drama Series

They better not (drip-)drop Empire from the shortlist

Joyce Eng

Emmy season is here! Voters have until June 26 to fill out their nomination ballots before the big announcement on July 16. We have a few selections in mind ourselves. Our last wish list: Outstanding Drama Series.

(Reminder: New Emmy rules dictate that 60-minute shows must compete in drama and 30-minute shows must compete in comedy. Jane the Virgin, Shameless and Glee won their appeals to switch to comedy, but Orange Is the New Black lost its appeal and has to stay in drama after competing last year in comedy. Oh, and there will be seven nominees in the series races.)

The Americans
If you like great storytelling, there is no show more carefully plotted than The Americans. Patient but fast-paced, the intricate series uses adrenalized, disturbing (see: tooth extraction, suitcase corpse) spy games and the bleak Cold War era to explore issues of marriage, family, faith and morality. That reached a fever pitch in Season 3 when Philip un-Clark-ed for Martha and Paige finally learned the truth, only to betray her parents' trust that was built on lies. The Americans has a big hill to climb at the Emmys: It's only ever been nominated for three awards.

Better Call Saul
It's hard to say what the expectations for Better Call Saul were, but it has most definitely exceeded them. Witty, dark and drenched in gallows humor, the prequel has managed to stand out from Breaking Bad's gigantic shadow with an enriching, literally pre-breaking bad character backstory that's somehow more melancholic than anything on the mothership. The only spin-off to win drama series is Lou Grant, which was an offshoot of three-time comedy series champ The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Emmys: Here's our dream ballot for lead actor in a drama series

Arguably the best entry in the MCU, Daredevil is a superhero adaptation done right. Grounded with a tremendous sense of realism, it's the rare comic project that's compelling to non-readers and also services longtime fans. It's easy for these kinds of shows to get caught up with just the superhero-ness of it all, but Daredevil does much more. Its raw, brutal, but never gratuitous, violence is deftly balanced with artful, pulpy noir energy (its comic book-esque shot composition is gorgeous), and its impressive character development and storytelling illuminate the consequences of vigilantism. Also: That. Hallway. Fight.

Empire is patently insane. Perhaps that's partly why it has become such a bonafide hit: It's pure escapist fun. Dive below the glossy, hip-hop, Cookie-covered sheen and you'd see that it's also not afraid to open discussion on topics of homophobia, race, class, abuse and mental illness within the African-American community -- all scored to some sick tunes. Empire has the best shot to be the first network drama to be nominated for the top award since The Good Wife in 2011.

Emmys: Here's our dream ballot for lead actress in a drama series

It's hard ending a long-running show and yet Justified found a way to wrap up Raylan's tale that was not only satisfying, but also both expected and surprising. Cohesively winding down toward Raylan and Boyd's inevitable showdown, the series, in a perfect tribute to Elmore Leonard, had the two slinging words in their final moments for a moving, immensely rewarding coda that packed way more of a wallop than any firearm could.

Mad Men
The first couple of episodes of Season 7B were kind of rough, but it's about how you end, not how you start -- and Mad Men finished strong. There was one last agency scramble, and everyone got their own final moment, whether tragic, romantic, badass or liberating, that, in the show's vintage subtle ways, showed life goes on. That includes Don, who at long last found peace -- not as a hippie, but in learning to accept who he is: an ad man. A four-time champ, Mad Men would become the most honored drama series winner with one more victory.

Rectify is a master class in restraint. Quiet and intimate, the underrated gem, which was not eligible last year, is a methodical slow burn that resists the urge to shock and skip ahead just for excitement's sake. Daniel's pained story of redemption and forgiveness, like his re-acclimation to society, moves at its own pace - a poignant, bittersweet reminder that sometimes the outside world is as suffocating as prison walls.

Which shows would you nominate?