The process of getting nominated for an Emmy is long, convoluted, and hopelessly strange. But once you're nominated, everything else is pretty simple. You just have to pick an episode that best represents your work on the program, to appeal to the blue ribbon panel that picks the winner in your category. Or, if you're nominated in a series category, you have to pick six episodes. Easy, right?
Well, this is one of those things TV people screw up more often than not. John Goodman, for instance, probably should have won a couple of Emmys for his groundbreaking work on Roseanne, but he often selected episodes that his character didn't figure in prominently and, therefore, went unrewarded.
But good tape selection can also mean surprise victory. Bryan Cranston was considered a "just lucky to be nominated" pick for the first season of Breaking Bad, for instance, but he won, largely because he chose the show's pilot, which did a wonderful job of getting viewers invested in his character's journey.
So as the Emmys approach, it's time to look at this year's submissions and see who chose well and who chose poorly. All information is thanks to the forums at Goldderby, who are the first to track down these picks year after year.
Best Drama Series
Who chose well: It's always tricky for serialized shows to navigate this system, because the voters in these categories are sent just one of three possible tapes that contain two episodes out of the six submitted. But Breaking Bad finally broke through as a winner last year, and it stands a very good chance of repeating because it's used the live-wire nature of its final season to its advantage. It submitted the last six episodes of the entire series, and each tape will contain two episodes that build off of and into each other. Plus, it's hard to stop watching this last run of episodes, so these tapes may send viewers scurrying to their Netflix accounts.
Who chose poorly: At one time, there was a sense that House of Cards could win here, thanks to the novelty of its distribution method, but the six episodes submitted are mostly bizarre choices. Yes, there's the season premiere, with its jaw-dropping twist, and the fourth episode, which provides a great showcase for Robin Wright. You can even make a case for the overstuffed season finale. But the other three episodes chosen are strictly run of the mill. In particular, it's hard to see why the season's second and third episodes, weaker installments of an already middling season, were chosen.
Best Comedy Series
Who chose well: This category is a huge battle this year, with four shows that have genuine shots at winning. But of the four, Orange Is the New Black did the best job of choosing six episodes that will work both to convey the show's epic sweep while also standing alone as interesting episodes of television. If there's a concern here, it's that the episodes (which include such events as the protagonist being placed in solitary and a shockingly bloody finale) will perhaps make voters wonder why the show wasn't submitted in the drama category. But, then, many viewers at home will be wondering that, too.
Who chose poorly: This really could have been Louie's year, what with the general chaos in the category and a growing sense that there's nothing else on TV quite like it. Even with the controversy of some of the season's episodes and elements, it still had six episodes that stood alone and felt unique. Instead, the show wasted one tape on the bland two-part season finale, then gave over half of another to the end of the "Elevator" saga, which ran for six episodes. (No other installments are included.) And the final tape features a story from Louie's youth that was powerful television but also basically a dramatic episode.
Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Who chose well: Bryan Cranston still knows how to choose an episode. "Ozymandias," an episode of Breaking Bad so powerful that it couldn't help but make the two ones that followed it feel slightly like letdowns, is a formidable choice here. Emmy voters don't like to back outright villains, which may hinder his chances this year, but he's definitely given it his best shot.
Who chose poorly: Matthew McConaughey is probably going to win, because his work was so riveting, but choosing True Detective's wildly criticized finale seems like a misstep. Yeah, "Time is a flat circle" was overhyped, but not making that episode his Emmy submission is like Bruce Springsteen refusing to play "Born to Run."
Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Who chose well: With Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Taylor Schilling in this category, Amy Poehler probably can't win, but she found an episode that reminds viewers why so many of them liked Leslie Knope in a Parks & Recreation season that didn't always know how to use that character well. Had Louis-Dreyfus or Schilling screwed up their submissions (they didn't), she'd have an outside shot.
Who chose poorly: Did you know that Mike & Molly is still on the air? Did you know Melissa McCarthy is nominated for it? This is not a strong submission, but maybe that's on the messy, messy show, not her.
Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Who chose well: This is an incredibly weak, empty category that Jim Parsons will probably win simply thanks to lack of other options. But if Louis C.K. is ever going to win here for his work on Louie, this would be the time. His choice, "Model," lets him cover everything from comedy to romance to tragedy in just over 20 minutes.
Who chose poorly: Again, this is a weak category. And it's just weird to have William H. Macy here for Shameless. But even considering that it's a strange nomination, he had better choices from season four than the finale, one of the messier episodes in a strong season, and one that's overshadowed by events that happen toward its end.
Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Who chose well: Julianna Margulies picked an episode of The Good Wife that allowed her to grieve a tragic death. And Emmy voters love grieving.
Who chose poorly: But if she was going to choose an episode from a dynamite season, did it have to be the one where she didn't really do all that much except look really sad? Margulies's pick this year is the rare Emmy tape where it will make complete sense if she wins or loses.