Emmys 2012: Can Anybody Beat 'Modern Family?'
What will it take for the Dunphys to be dunzo? Only the academy knows, but for the first time in years, dozens of critical and commercial hits across the dial are angling for an upset
Happy Endings: David Caspe's ensemble spaz-fest (think: Friends on NoDoz) gained buzz in season two with hot guest stars (Megan Mullally) and unforgettable gags, such as Casey Wilson and Adam Pally's freaky-awesome Halloween getup as mom and baby with a very large head.
Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23: This late-season entry from creator Nahnatchka Khan (American Dad) was an instant water-cooler hit for James Van Der Beek devotees (the Dawson's Creek alum plays an ironic version of himself. Or does he?) who are loving this dirty-minded feminine twist on The Odd Couple.
Suburgatory: Parks and Rec alum Emily Kapnek benefited from -- and contributed to -- the wave of young female showrunners debuting original comedy series with hers about a cool teen forced to live in the totally uncool burbs.
Cougar Town: Bill Lawrence's long-struggling but well-loved Courteney Cox starrer about wine-swilling adults could get a last boost of awards love before moving to a less prestigious but more welcoming ZIP code on TBS this fall.
The Big Bang Theory: With two consecutive wins for lead Jim Parsons, a nom for his co-star Johnny Galecki and its first series nom in 2011, Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady's geek comedy is poised for a spoiler. It would be the "bazinga!" heard 'round the world.
Two and Half Men: Is the show better with Ashton Kutcher? Does it matter? If the road to Emmy is paved with publicity, Chuck Lorre's two-time nominee has it locked. And Emmy winner Jon Cryer, who's jumping into the lead-actor pool, is still damn funny even 10 seasons in.
How I Met Your Mother: Carter Bays and Craig Thomas' show scored its best ratings in its seventh season, giving the one-time nominee an added boost toward its series finale in 2013, when devoted viewers will finally learn the answer to that burning question: Why has Bob Saget been narrating this thing?
2 Broke Girls: While Whitney Cummings' self-titled NBC sitcom has struggled, her co-creation with Sex and the City guru Michael Patrick King about cash-strapped gals living in Brooklyn has all the underdog qualities Emmy loves in first-time contenders (paging Melissa McCarthy!).
30 Rock: With its series finale set for next season, Tina Fey's baby is NBC's most lauded series, having won three consecutive series Emmys from 2007 to 2009. The show hit a new stride this year, so a 2012 nom is about as sure a thing as Liz Lemon pairing a plaid shirt with a frumpy cardigan.
The Office: Many worried the hit series would flounder in Steve Carell's absence. Not so. The five-time nominee and one-time winner found a solid replacement in Ed Helms and wisely shifted focus on storylines outside of Dunder Mifflin's fluorescently lit walls.
Up All Night: SNL alum Emily Spivey's sentimental comedy about new parents (Emmy nominees Christina Applegate and Will Arnett) makes clever use of Maya Rudolph as an Oprah-esque talk-show host.
Parks and Recreation: The 2011 nominee from EP Mike Schur hit high notes with Leslie Knope's (two-time nominee Amy Poehler) City Council race. On another topic, what does it take for co-star Nick Offerman to get a nomination around here?
New Girl: Modern Family's biggest threat comes from what would seem just another show about roommate high jinks. But it's the season's most nuanced spin on young-adult angst, thanks to creator Liz Meriwether's anti-cliché storytelling and the much-more-than-adorkable Zooey Deschanel.
Glee: Never short on boundary-pushing storylines (gay cheerleaders, transgender students), three seasons in, Ryan Murphy's two-time nominee is still the category's most ambitious series. And the best-dressed.
Family Guy: The only major animated series contender to submit here (again) instead of in the creative arts competition, Seth MacFarlane's 2009 nominee has the biz abuzz with his provocative academy screeners aimed at "Brentwood Jews." Too far?
Raising Hope: Hot off a second season filled with hilarious guest spots (Katy Perry as a redneck prison guard!) and the wackiest finale in recent memory, Greg Garcia's ode to an endearing brood of dim bulbs is all heart -- complete with plenty of shots of Cloris Leachman in her brassiere.
Veep: The only thing voters love more than a prestigious single-camera comedy (Exhibit A: Modern Family) is 12-time nominee, two-time Emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who nails creator Armando Iannucci's malaise-laced portrayal of the vice president of the United States.
Girls: Lena Dunham achieves something very special in her TV debut (aside from writing, directing, producing and starring in the Brooklyn-set comedy). She breaks into HBO's male-dominated programming with a series dudes love too.
Enlightened: Four-time Emmy nominee Laura Dern and indie-film stalwart Mike White add a third unlikely -- and endearing -- heroine to HBO's comedy block in Amy Jellicoe: a gal who goes postal at work, finds her inner Buddha and proceeds to annoy everyone around her.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Larry David and company hit the Big Apple in the eighth season of this six-time-nominated docu-comedy, which saw our bald hero battle Rosie O'Donnell for a woman and JB Smoove's Leon drive Larry's Prius from LA. to Manhattan. You know, typical Curb stuff.
House of Lies: Matthew Carnahan's delicious look inside the morals-challenged world of consulting adds a razor-sharp edge to Showtime's Sunday night lineup, made even finer by his unlikely lead, Oscar nominee Don Cheadle, relishing every minute as chief asshole Marty Kaan.
Nurse Jackie: The 2010-nominated series saw the departure of its showrunner team Linda Wallem and Liz Brixius this spring, but that likely won't dampen its Emmy play as the fifth season had Jackie (Emmy winner Edie Falco) in rehab with her life still falling apart.
The Big C: Peppy 2011 nominee Laura Linney continues to infuse creator Darlene Hunt's cancer premise with an ebullience that offsets this season's even less funny themes (adultery, for one). Co-star John Benjamin Hickey kills it too as Linney's off-the-grid brother.
Californication: David Duchovny's Hank Moody reached refreshing new lows getting caught in the web of a rapper's Hollywood ambitions. The never-nominated series' biggest laughs came, again, from co-stars Evan Handler and Pamela Adlon, who revel in Tom Kapinos' down-and-dirty storytelling.
Wilfred: Voters love new and quirky (see: Louie) and many were likely taken with the bizarre psychological journey of a young L.A. man (Elijah Wood) and the man-dressed-as-a-dog he calls upon for advice (creator-star Jason Gann). Either that, or he needs to change pot dealers. Fast.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The cable network's flagship comedy has yet to break through the Emmy barrier (maybe because it's wonderfully demented?). Its seventh season broke ratings records and saw co-creator/star Rob McElhenney gaining 50 pounds, just for laughs.
Louie: Creator-star Louis C.K. earned acting and writing nominations for the first season of this spectacularly dark take on a divorced dad slogging it out as a stand-up comedian. Season two wasn't any less depressing -- or brilliant.
The League: Married creators Jeff and Jackie Schaffer have bridged the fantasy-football gap (i.e. people who couldn't care less about it) with a third season of their show about clueless dudes and cool chicks who tolerate them.