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The 2012 Emmy Awards: My Not-Predictions

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Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in "Homeland"

Sunday night the Emmy Awards will honor the best shows and performances on television (that the Emmy Awards are willing to nominate). Which means it’s time for Emmy predictions — from people other than me. Who will win Sunday? What the hell do I know? I’m a critic; I’m in the business of what should be, not what will be.

Below, then, is my list of which nominees should win six of the major Emmy categories. (I’m not going to get into the business of who should have been nominated and wasn’t, because we could be here all day.) Read, make your own arguments in the comments and join me on Twitter for the awards Sunday, and back here Monday, when I’ll wrap up the broadcast. And now, the envelope …

Best Comedy
30 Rock (NBC)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Girls (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)
Veep (HBO)
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

That thing I just said about not getting into complaints about shows that weren’t nominated? I lied a little. Louie was the best comedy of the 2011–12 season, as well as the best show of the season altogether. The best network comedy, Parks and Recreation, is also absent. But the best of the choices above was Girls, which, while not perfect in its first season, had transcendent moments and combined Lena Dunham’s slice-of-life cringe comedy with sweet Apatovian moments of unlikely connections.

Best Drama
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Homeland (Showtime)
Mad Men (AMC)

I would not be entirely angry to see any of these dramas win. (Well, I would be slightly angry to see the inferior second season of Downton win.) But though Boardwalk‘s Season 2 had a strong finish and Mad Men‘s fifth had some stellar individual episodes, Breaking Bad‘s Season 4 was the best season qua season of the TV year, turning up the volume on that show’s moral opera.

Best Actor, Comedy
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Don Cheadle (House of Lies)
Louis CK (Louie)
Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)
Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

I could say that I want Louis CK to win because of the nuances he teases out of single fatherhood, divorced dating and stand-up comedy, for his deft reactions and everyman exasperation. All true, but the fact is that Louie is just such a unique, astonishing creation, snubbed (above) in the Best Comedy category, that I want him recognized at the big podium for something during prime time.

Best Actress, Comedy
Zooey Deschanel (New Girl)
Lena Dunham (Girls)
Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)
Tina Fey (30 Rock)
Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

Another category in which I wouldn’t be truly unhappy to see anyone win. (Even Deschanel’s overly cutesy Jess improved over the season as New Girl became a more ensemble-based comedy.) But I’m rooting for Poehler, who — mirroring Falco, who can be funny in a largely dramatic role — finds the earnest, serious core within the striving and very funny Leslie Knope.

Best Actor, Drama
Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey)
Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire)
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
Damian Lewis (Homeland)

I want to say Bryan Cranston should not win this award yet again. Bryan Cranston should win this award yet again. Much as part of me wants to see the wealth spread around, Season 4 of Mad Men was really the better season for Jon Hamm (who truly deserved the award in ’11). And while Lewis elevated Homeland, Breaking Bad is unimaginable without Cranston.

Best Actress, Drama
Kathy Bates (Harry’s Law)
Glenn Close (Damages)
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey)
Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)
Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)

Emmy voters would be off their meds not to honor Danes, who gave the performance of the year, male or female, making us feel Carrie’s strength and brittleness, brilliance and self-doubt, in equal measure and simultaneously in the debut season of Homeland.