60th Emmy Awards: Critic's Picks

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THR's resident TV critic Barry Garron toasts those who are Emmy winners in his book.

Drama

Only one of the six nominees, ABC's "Lost," has previously won for best drama. Last fall, it was headed for a banner season until it got derailed by the writers strike. No matter. Although viewers infer that Emmys honor a program or actor for a season's work, they are really based only on an episode or two.

So which show's producers submitted the best episodes? Perhaps the best way to answer is to point out that this is the first year basic cable networks were represented in the category: FX's "Damages" and AMC's "Mad Men." For those shows to break through, you can be certain that just about every episode was top-notch.

In the end, I vote for "Damages." I've seen more TV than is healthy for any three people and very little surprises me. But "Damages" did just that. It created a world based on reality but in which nothing is really as it appears. In short, it told stories in a new and exciting way.

Maybe the TV academy will agree, but I suspect it will select "Mad Men" instead.

Comedy

Of the five series nominated, only NBC's "The Office" and "30 Rock" |have previously won.

These have been lean years for comedy, including on cable. Among those nominated, the two most consistently appealing shows are. again,

"The Office" and "30 Rock." To a large degree both have excelled with ensembles of quirky characters portrayed by talented actors. Both are workplace comedies, although "The Office" is clearly more relatable.

"30 Rock," on the other hand, boasts broader humor and more outrageous characters. The stories are carefully constructed and beautifully intertwined. Producer-writer-star Tina Fey may be the funniest person on TV.

Both shows are strong, but "30 Rock" keeps finding new ways to top itself every week, which is remarkable.

I think Emmy voters will agree and once more give the Emmy to "30 Rock."

Lead Actor, Comedy

Don't be surprised if Tony Shalhoub wins. The TV academy loves the way he plays Monk, the germaphobic detective on USA Network. He's won in three of the last five years, losing only to Ricky Gervais and Kelsey Grammer, and neither of them are in the running now.

With all due respect to Shalhoub, the Emmy this year should go to either Alec Baldwin of "30 Rock" or Steve Carell of "The Office." A tie would be nice. Their shows are the two best comedies, and it's nearly impossible to picture anyone else playing those key roles nearly as well.

Baldwin demonstrates a comedic range that, I'll bet, even he was previously unaware of; Carell breathes fresh life into a character that could grow tiresome in just a few weeks.

If I need to break the tie, I'll go with Carell for the flimsiest of reasons: This is his third year being nominated while it's Baldwin's second. Carell already has waited too long.

I don't think Emmy voters will agree. Baldwin's episode, the one in which he spoke jive, was incredible. It likely tops any single episode of Carell's.

Lead Actor, Drama

James Spader, James Spader, James Spader. For three of the past four years, that's what's been in the lead drama actor envelope. Before that, James Gandolfini got his Emmys in three of the previous four years. Clearly, in this category, history loves to repeat itself.

Spader's great, but it's time to move on. Once again, I see this as a two-way race and the competitors are Jon Hamm of "Mad Men" and Bryan Cranston of AMC's "Breaking Bad." Hamm is the personification of cool and suave, but he has demonstrated ample emotional depth when the situation called for it.

Cranston has been known mostly for his comedic acting, principally as the adolescent dad in "Malcolm in the Middle." Well, surprise. In "Breaking Bad," he crafted as stunning a portrait of a desperate man as anyone has ever seen. It was particularly apparent in the pilot, which is what was submitted. My vote is on him.

There's no telling how Emmy voters will go, but if they find the buzz for Hamm to be irresistible, I would understand.

Lead Actress, Comedy

Two of the five nominees -- Julia Louis-Dreyfus of CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and America Ferrera of ABC's "Ugly Betty" -- already have Emmys in this category. A second Emmy is possible, more so for Louis-Dreyfus than for Ferrera, but not likely.

For me, what it gets down to is this: I hugely admire the acting, expressions and timing of Louis-Dreyfus, but I am totally in awe of Tina Fey. In the past season, no comic actress has been able to connect so strongly with viewers from the opening scene to the closing credits. More than that, her character, Liz Lemon, is an instant classic, right up there with Lucy Ricardo and Mary Richards. I can only hope the TV academy understands that from the single episode submitted.

In the end, it boils down to a question of justice in the universe. If there is any, the Emmy goes to Tina Fey.

Frankly, I think it will. Whatever fog that kept the Emmy from going to Fey last year will be lifted this time.

Lead Actress, Drama

Unlike the lead actor in a drama category, Emmy voters tend not to repeat themselves here. That works to the detriment of Sally Field (ABC's "Brothers & Sisters"), who won last year, and Mariska Hargitay (NBC's "Law & Order: SVU"), who won the year before.

The truth is, trends aren't important this year because Glenn Close's performance in "Damages" was so vastly superior to the others. Yes, it must be acknowledged that Close was the beneficiary of some of TV's finest writing. Then again, the character she created and the nuances she imparted turned every scene she was in into an acting clinic. When you get a mesmerizing character and an actress who is in tune with every detail and nuance of the role, there is nothing left to do but hand her the Emmy.

The academy loves Field -- and especially her acceptance speeches -- but will give it up this year for Close.
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