This year's Emmy awards ceremony is shaping up as a battle between HBO's mob drama
The Sopranos and NBC's presidential drama The West Wing. Both shows
have 18 nominations, and both figure prominently in our critics' picks for winners.
Here's who television critic Ed Bark and staff critic Manuel Mendoza think
should win. Add your picks and play along Sunday night during the 52nd annual
celebration of television's brightest lights.
ER, NBC; Law & Order, NBC; The Practice, ABC; The
Sopranos, HBO; The West Wing, NBC
Bark: The Sopranos â€“ Unjustly beaten last year
by The Practice, HBO's crime family chronicle could lose the big one
this time to NBC's The West Wing, which has major momentum in its corner.
That wouldn't be a tragedy, but it would be a shame. Let's give Tony and company
their due before Wing-ing it.
Mendoza: The Sopranos â€“ In another era, the easy
choice would be The West Wing; its idealism is a refreshing break from
dramatic TV's usual grit. But David Chase's mob show, even in a second season
that didn't quite live up to the first, remains the smartest, most textured
series to come along in years.
Dennis Franz, NYPD Blue, ABC; James Gandolfini, The Sopranos,
HBO; Jerry Orbach, Law & Order, NBC; Martin Sheen, The West
Wing, NBC; Sam Waterston, Law & Order, NBC
Bark: James Gandolfini â€“ Dennis Franz took home his fourth
Emmy last September. Enough already. Mr. Gandolfini deserves better this year,
although a strong case also can be made for Martin Sheen's full-bodied portrayal
of President Josiah Bartlet. Either choice is a winner, but justice would be
better served with a Tony award.
Mendoza: James Gandolfini â€“ One minute you feel for him,
the next you wish he'd just get whacked. Either way, you can't take your eyes
off Mr. Gandolfini's utterly human portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano. He breaks
your heart as well as heads. And last year, he was robbed. If that happens again,
some kneecaps should get busted.
Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos, HBO; Amy Brenneman, Judging
Amy, CBS; Edie Falco, The Sopranos, HBO; Julianna Margulies, ER,
NBC; Sela Ward, Once and Again, ABC
Bark: Julianna Margulies â€“ A previous winner in the supporting
category, this will be her last chance to claim the top prize in this role. Her
strong farewell season, capped by a surprise reunion with George Clooney, could
be enough to sway voters. Last year's winner, Edie Falco, and Sela Ward also are
in the hunt.
Mendoza: Edie Falco â€“ She won last year and
then just got better. Her suburban tough-cookie Carmela Soprano is as dangerous
as hubby Tony and maybe more slippery â€“ the perfect character for an actress
of such subtlety. Sela Ward's sensitive divorcee, overcoming a show that's too
often overwritten, deserves some votes, too.
Stockard Channing, The West Wing, NBC; Tyne Daly,
Judging Amy, CBS; Allison Janney, The West Wing, NBC; Nancy Marchand,
The Sopranos, HBO; Holland Taylor, The Practice, ABC
Bark: Allison Janney â€“ The late Nancy Marchand should
have won last year and clearly is the sentimental choice in this strong field.
Still, health problems greatly reduced her role in The Sopranos' second
season. Ms. Janney, as presidential press secretary C.J. Cregg, went deep with
what could have been a one-note character. Don't be surprised, though, if Tyne
Daly cops another one after winning four as detective Mary Beth Lacey. Emmy
voters are nothing if not creatures of habit.
Mendoza: Nancy Marchand â€“ Now that she's gone, last
year's loss to Holland Taylor seems even more heinous. Her nasty, demented turn
as Livia Soprano was one of the bravest performances in TV history. Considering
the Academy's penchant for sympathy voting, she'll win in absentia, and the
wonderful Allison Janney will just have to wait until next year.
Michael Badalucco, The Practice, ABC; Dominic Chianese, The
Sopranos, HBO; Steve Harris, The Practice, ABC; Richard Schiff,
The West Wing, NBC; John Spencer, The West Wing, NBC
Bark: John Spencer â€“ It's his first nomination after decades
in the vineyards, and he's lent both authority and poignancy to the role of
chief of staff Leo McGarry. Toughest competition is from castmate Richard Schiff
as communications director Toby Ziegler and Dominic Chianese ("Uncle Junior"
on The Sopranos). They're also first-time nominees and worthy choices.
Mendoza: Dominic Chianese â€“ With seamless, character-embodying
acting and a penchant for the beautifully tossed-off one-liner, Uncle Junior
makes it a clean sweep for the mobsters. Not a simple pick in a category of
studs, particularly Richard Schiff's soulful political operative.
Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS; Frasier, NBC; Friends, NBC;
Sex and the City, HBO; Will & Grace, NBC
Bark: Will & Grace â€“ It's done what Ellen
never quite could, putting gay characters at the fore without trying to
pound viewers into submission. Everybody Loves Raymond and Sex and
the City likewise have ripened during fallow times for quality comedy series.
Anybody for a three-way tie?
Mendoza: Sex and the City â€“
Despite its schematic structure, this comedy keeps topping itself. And not just
with taboo-busting subject matter. As our hipster-gals have aged, real-life
melancholy has crept in and helped ground the show. And then there's the taboo-busting
subject matter. Malcolm in the Middle should've at least been nominated.
Michael J. Fox, Spin City, ABC; Kelsey Grammer, Frasier, NBC;
John Lithgow, 3rd Rock From the Sun, NBC; Eric McCormack, Will &
Grace, NBC; Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS
Bark: Ray Romano â€“ ABJLOKG. Anybody but John Lithgow or
Kelsey Grammer, who have won the last six Emmys in this category. It's high
time to recognize Mr. Romano, who has become a finely tuned comedy actor. Sentiment
favors Michael J. Fox, who owns three Emmys from Family Ties but none
for his work on Spin City. So if he wins, no problem.
Mendoza: Michael J. Fox â€“ John Lithgow is a fine actor,
but even he says it's time for the Academy to move on. And who better to replace
the perpetual winner than Mr. Fox, who plays short and smarmy as well as Mr.
Lithgow plays tall and smarmy? With his illness-related departure from Spin
City, he's nearly a lock.
Jenna Elfman, Dharma & Greg, ABC; Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves
Raymond, CBS; Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle, Fox; Debra Messing,
Will & Grace, NBC; Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City,
Bark: Jane Kaczmarek â€“ Indomitable, outnumbered Lois was
the season's breakout comedy character. Ms. Kaczmarek made her a mom for the
new millennium, blending old-fashioned parental discipline with novel ways of
enforcing it. It would be great to see her win.
Kaczmarek â€“ Malcolm's mom is a hoot-and-a-half, raising her kids with a
combination of tough love and lunacy. Ms. Kaczmarek makes parenthood look hard
and acting look easy. When she gets that look on her face â€“ well, you'd
better run or have a heckuva explanation.
Jennifer Aniston, Friends, NBC; Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City,
HBO; Lisa Kudrow, Friends, NBC; Megan Mullally, Will & Grace,
NBC; Doris Roberts, Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS
Bark: Megan Mullally â€“ She's one of prime time's showiest
second bananas, which isn't easy when many of your scenes are with scene-stealing
Sean Hayes. Show biz vet Doris Roberts is equally deserving, but not likely
Mendoza: Doris Roberts â€“ Making a cantankerous
mother-in-law lovable is tougher than it looks, but this veteran actress pulls
it off weekly. Megan Mullally, who makes calculating and goofy believable together,
isn't far behind.
Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS; Brad Garrett, Everybody
Loves Raymond, CBS; Sean Hayes, Will & Grace, NBC; Peter MacNicol,
Ally McBeal, Fox; David Hyde Pierce, Frasier, NBC
Bark: Sean Hayes â€“ His brassy Jack McFarland is the most
flamboyant gay character since Donald Maltby on the old Showtime sitcom Brothers.
Philip Charles MacKenzie never got a nomination as Donald, largely because cable
wasn't eligible to compete for Emmys during most of Brothers' run. Mr.
Hayes luckily finds himself in the right place, right time. But fellow nominee
David Hyde Pierce can never be counted out. He's won two in a row and three
of the last five.
Mendoza: Peter MacNicol â€“ His show's
moment may have passed, but this underappreciated actor still deserves the plaque.
As much as any of TV's loopy characters, John Cage manages to stay earthbound
because of Mr. MacNicol's chops. Sean Hayes or Peter Boyle would make fine choices,
Arabian Nights, ABC; The Beach Boys: An American Family, ABC;
The Corner, HBO; Jesus, CBS; P.T. Barnum, A&E
Bark: (tie) Jesus and The Corner â€“ Both
are about sin and redemption, one in biblical times the other in a drug-infested
Baltimore neighborhood. The category's other worthy contender, Arabian Nights,
showed that showman Robert Halmi Sr. hasn't completely lost his touch.
Movie: Annie, ABC; If These Walls Could Talk II, HBO; Introducing
Dorothy Dandridge, HBO; Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays With Morrie,
ABC; RKO 281, HBO
Bark: Annie â€“ This superb
adaptation of the age-old musical proved to be the season's surprise family
treat. A more politically correct choice is Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,
but the film didn't make as strong a mark as it could have.
Actress: Halle Berry, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, HBO; Judy Davis,
A Cooler Climate, Showtime; Sally Field, A Cooler Climate, Showtime;
Holly Hunter, Harlan County War, Showtime; Gena Rowlands, The Color
of Love: Jacey's Story, CBS
Bark: Judy Davis â€“ Invariably
terrific, she merits much more recognition than she's received over the years.
Likely will lose to Halle Berry, though, whose performance was solid but not
Beau Bridges, P.T. Barnum, A&E; Brian Dennehy, Arthur Miller's
Death of a Salesman, Showtime; Jack Lemmon, Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays
With Morrie, ABC; William H. Macy, A Slight Case of Murder, TNT;
Liev Schreiber, RKO 281, HBO
Bark: Jack Lemmon â€“ He's never won an Emmy, and this could
be his last chance. Brian Dennehy was a tower of power in Salesman, but
Showtime's presentation was a recycling of his Broadway performance, for which
he's already won a Tony. So there's no undue harm in making lemonade out of
Lemmon while he's still able to make a victory speech.
Kathy Bates, Annie, ABC; Elizabeth Franz, Arthur Miller's Death of
a Salesman, Showtime; Melanie Griffith, RKO 281, HBO; Vanessa Redgrave,
If These Walls Could Talk 2, HBO; Maggie Smith, David Copperfield,
Bark: Vanessa Redgrave â€“ She superbly played grieving
a middle-aged lesbian in the strongest segment of a wildly uneven film depicting
three generations of gay women. Ms. Redgrave won her only Emmy 20 years ago
as the star of the CBS' movie Playing for Time. This would be a well-deserved
Hank Azaria, Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays With Morrie, ABC;
Klaus Maria Brandauer, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, HBO; James Cromwell,
RKO 281, HBO; Danny Glover, Freedom Song, TNT; John Malkovich,
RKO 281, HBO
Bark: Klaus Maria Brandauer â€“ His
portrayal of director Otto Preminger had appreciably more texture than the film
as a whole. Still, he's a long shot in a category stocked with four better-known
contenders. John Malkovich won an Emmy in 1986 for his performance in CBS' adaptation
of Death of a Salesman.