Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Submitted episode titles are in parentheses. Beware of major spoilers for listed episodes.
“21” / “Ourselves Alone”
"Peg of Old” / “Two Boats and a Lifeguard”
"Under God's Power She Flourishes” / “To the Lost”
After picking up back-to-back SAG Awards for star Steve Buscemi and the ensemble cast, this show received only three major Emmy nominations this year, suggesting that Emmy voters aren’t as interested in it as they are other shows. Tape one includes a strong season opener and the second episode, featuring the feud between Nucky and his brother Eli. Tape two also features back-to-back installments in which Nucky gets shot and then resigns, which is an excellent showcase. The season’s final two episodes can be found on tape three, most focused on the relationship between Nucky and Jimmy. They’re great episodes, all of them, but this show just isn’t in the running this year.
"Box Cutter" / "Salud"
"Problem Dog" / "Crawl Space"
"End Times" / "Face Off"
Seasons two and three of this show were terrific, but season four was truly incredible. Tape one includes the violent season opener and my favorite episode of the season, in which Gus poisons the cartel. Tape two picks a midseason episode where Hank is getting closer to the truth, and the memorable installment in which things get really bad and Walt ends up cackling in his crawl space (Cranston’s submission). Tape three is unbeatable – the final two breathtaking episodes of the season. I’ve predicted this show to win before, but I think it could really happen now thanks to the show’s many nominations and continued quality and popularity.
"Episode 7 Christmas"
This is the only show that I don’t watch regularly nominated in this category, but I sat down and watched both seasons of the show in two days over Labor Day weekend. It’s difficult to judge how this show will fare in this category after dominating the miniseries races last year. Each tape includes just one extended episode, but they’re all heavy hitters, with the war-torn season premiere, the sixth episode where Matthew starts to regain feeling in his legs, and the memorable Christmas special. If voters love the show, which it seems like they do, these submissions give the show a definite edge.
GAME OF THRONES
“What is Dead May Never Die” / “Garden of Bones”
“The Old Gods and the New” / “A Man Without Honor"
"Blackwater" / “Valar Morghulis”
It’s a strange universe where this popular and terrific genre series has basically no shot at winning this award. Tape one includes episodes three and four, which see Tyrion and Arya making gains and Joffrey being more evil and despicable than ever before. Tape two, episodes six and seven, featured a lot of Theon, Jamie, and the House of the Undying. Tape three contains the excellent penultimate episode and the action-packed finale. They’re all superb choices, but there’s no way this show is winning this year. At this rate, it will probably have to wait until its final season to claim this prize.
"Pilot" / "Grace"
"The Good Soldier" / "The Weekend"
This year’s best drama didn’t submit two of its strongest episodes (“Blind Spot” and “The Vest”), but what it did pick should do just fine. It’s hard to top the show’s first two episodes, which make up tape one and which made me break my rule about not watching a second episode of a show before reviewing the first. Tape two fast-forwards to episodes six and seven, where Carrie gets way too close to Brody, and “The Good Soldier” provides enough backstory for the casual viewer to make “The Weekend” immensely impactful. The extra-long season finale is all that’s on tape three, but that’s more than enough. If voters want a great thriller, this is their choice.
"Signal 30" / "Far Away Places"
"At the Codfish Ball" / "The Other Woman"
"Commissions and Fees" / "The Phantom"
It’s a staggering statistic: this show has won this award for the past four years. Two shows before it – “Hill Street Blues” and “The West Wing” – were dethroned at this very point, while “L.A. Law” also only managed four wins, though not entirely consecutively. The problem is that this show is still magnificent, and its episode submissions are great. Opting not to include the two-hour season premiere, tape one features a trip to the suburbs, a trip to Howard Johnson’s, and an LSD-assisted trip. Tape two gives Don an award at a memorable reception and forces Joan to make an awful choice. Tape three features the final two episodes, where Lane can’t see a way out and the rest of the office deals with the consequences. Pretty hard to beat, if you ask me.
What should win (based on entire season): All excellent choices. “Homeland” is number one, though.
What should win (based on individual episodes): A tough call. “Breaking Bad,” “Downton Abbey,” “Homeland,” and “Mad Men” all spin very compelling narratives.
What will win: It’s the same choice Emmy voters will have to make. Mad Men is the defending champion, Homeland is the hot new show, Breaking Bad is getting really good, and what Emmy voter in their right mind wouldn’t love Downton Abbey? Right now, I’m going to go ahead and predict a “Breaking Bad” victory, though I may change my mind before Sunday night.
Next up: Best Comedy Series