Ken Tucker
June 22, 2012 AT 12:00 PM EDT

The Emmy nominations are being decided even as I write this. Members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences must hand in their ballots by June 28; the nominations will be announced on July 19. Why don’t we help these folks out and suggest worthy candidates? Here you’ll find some shows and performers I’m particularly high on; now, if only we could get Emmy voters equally (legally) high on them in numbers sufficient to win.

Drama Series


For me, Homeland is the show to beat. No, Breaking Bad is. No, Justified is… You see the ”problem” here: We’re living in a new golden age of drama! There are shows that don’t have a prayer of getting nominated — led by Fringe and tailed by the artful trash of Revenge, both certainly on my wish list — but Homeland is the new series that is so strikingly original, so unexpectedly moving, that it’s a show I really want to see nominated in this category and in many acting slots as well.

Comedy Series



There were a lot of cable comedies that snagged attention, but let us not forget a network groundbreaker. I submit: Community. With NBC’s Community, HBO’s Girls and Enlightened, and FX’s Louie, it’s difficult to recall a season in which there were more sitcoms that reshaped the genre the way these four have, each in a distinctively different manner. But Community, especially after its recent controversy surrounding the removal of creator Dan Harmon, deserves recognition for its pure, wild quality, for a self-reflexively fantastic season of mind-bending character and plot twists.

Actor in a Drama



Yes, yes, Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston and Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm for sure, but what about…Timothy Olyphant? This past season on Justified the story line refocused on Olyphant’s Raylan Givens in a way that brought out all of the actor’s most subtle skills. Whereas season 2 was a showcase for guest star (and Emmy winner) Margo Martindale, this time Raylan’s steely reserve and wily way of outwitting stone-cold killers gave the tough-guy thriller a new depth. (And can I also get an Emmy shout-out for Dustin Hoffman, so good in his first regular series role on the tragically short-lived HBO drama Luck?)

Actress in a Drama



Julianna Margulies has won for her great work as a smart woman holding it all together under pressure on The Good Wife, but shouldn’t someone who’s smart and coming apart at the seams get a shot? Playing Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison, a CIA operative who seems to be brilliant at figuring out the motives and psyches of everyone except herself, Claire Danes has pulled off the difficult feat of making an unstable woman the rock-solid center of a series. As frustrating as Carrie can be, her sincerity and intelligence are never in doubt, and neither are Danes’.

{C} Actress in a Comedy



It’s time the Academy became enlightened enough to nominate the actress at the forefront of a wonkily unique HBO show. As the creator, along with Mike White, and star of the amazingly realistic yet out-there series Enlightened, Laura Dern had to risk being an unlikable, self-righteous, possibly bonkers lead character. But her Amy, caught up in office politics, proves transcendently bold and humane…as well as nutty. This is a highly competitive category, with nomination mainstays Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, probably to be joined by Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, another Emmy darling. But Dern has history on her side; her near-dramatic comic role is the sort that’s won before (prime example: Edie Falco for Nurse Jackie). So suggesting Dern for a nomination makes sense — she could become a dark-horse winner in this tight race.

Actor in a Comedy



You can count on noms for The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons and 30 Rock‘s Alec Baldwin, but there must be room for a guy who’s managed to turn ironic vanity into a minor art form. I’m talking about Joel McHale on Community. McHale long ago rose above the smirky persona he deploys for The Soup. In season 3, he made his character, Jeff Winger, more than just a dashing loser: He revealed him as an insecure man who really has to work to cover up his character flaws (overweening egotism, a penchant for gaming the system), and it was delicate work. McHale has held down a tricky position on Community — the leading man in an ensemble cast, the romantic lead on a sitcom that refuses to let the romance ever fully blossom. Which has made his scenes with Alison Brie’s Annie poignant as well as funny.




HBO’s Game Change, the engaging look at the John McCain–Sarah Palin presidential campaign, was remarkable not merely for Ed Harris’ uncanny McCain and Julianne Moore’s spooky-good Palin but as a full tableau of political machinations, and how brilliant strategies can go wrong.

Actor in a Movie/Miniseries



Few people expected a History channel mini about a family feud to be a massive hit, but Bill Paxton‘s acting helped make Hatfields & McCoys one. Playing Randall McCoy to Kevin Costner’s Devil Anse Hatfield, the former Big Love star created a portrait of an emotionally torn man, proud and pious. It’s not as showy a performance as, say, Clive Owen’s sure-bet Ernest Hemingway in HBO’s Hemingway & Gellhorn, but Paxton deserves a nomination for his artful subtlety.

Actress in a Movie/Miniseries



This category may be Julianne Moore’s to lose, but you simply cannot deny a nomination for another extravagant performance, this one by Nicole Kidman. Given how tumultuous and melodramatic the HBO movie’s portrayal of the continent-hopping love affair between Ernest Hemingway and journalist Martha Gellhorn was, Kidman could have lapsed into stiff-biopic mode. Instead she turned in one of her loosest, most adventurous and enjoyable performances ever. Never shying away from Gellhorn’s apparently bottomless self-regard, Kidman showed us a woman demanding to be taken seriously as a writer, and you believed she could go toe-to-toe with Hemingway both at the typewriter and in bed. Sexy and smart.


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