Can ‘Mad Men” finally break its odd Emmy curse?

As viewers welcomed back critical darling “Mad Men,” Emmy pundits rejoiced over “Time Zones,” the first of seven new episodes of the first half of the show’s final season (with the last seven episodes airing in mid-2015). It was such a strong opener to what will hopefully be a knockout half-season that it will lead to Emmy gold in a few months.

So this early on, I’m wondering whether there’s a chance that “Mad Men” might reclaim some of its former glory and come storming back into Emmy contention. If the rest of this season is as strong as “Time Zones,” it just might do that, even though it would still need to fight off the likes of buzz-deafeningGame of Thrones,” the incumbent swan song season of “Breaking Bad,” HBO megahitTrue Detective,” and critical faveHouse of Cards“.

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“Mad Men” was once a juggernaut at the Emmys – winning the top Best Drama Series category four consecutive times (for each of its first four seasons: 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011), including its fouth victory, which tied the record with “Hill Street Blues” (1981-1984), “L.A. Law” (1987, 1989-1991) and “The West Wing” (2000-2003).

But over the last two years, although Emmy voters continued to shower the show with nominations, including for Best Drama Series (with 15 nods in 2012 and 11 nods in 2013), it went home completely empty handed both years, as other more buzzed-about shows like “Homeland,” and fellow AMC stablemate “Breaking Bad” took the lion’s share of hardware.

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And even more shocking is that after such a successful Emmy run during its first four years, “Mad Men” never won any Emmys for acting or directing. It garnered an incredible 25 acting nominations and four directing nods without a single trophy to show for it. When we looked into the Emmy acting curse last September on the eve of last year’s Emmys, we mused that the actors’ poor showings could be blamed on bad episode submissions, too-subtle performances or stronger competition. But at the end of the day, going 0 for 25 is one of those Emmy mysteries that defies explanation. And It’s also inexplicable that it was snubbed for directing even though the show’s writers (and especially showrunner Matt Weiner) have been repeatedly rewarded by Emmy voters.

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So we now wonder: Can “Mad Men” finally overcome this Emmy curse? Certainly from what we’ve seen so far, the performances seem nuanced as the characters have matured over the years, showing more of the range that Emmy voters crave.

Don Draper is more reflective than ever. He’s ditched the old ego and pursuit of outter riches for a mature inner life that may resonate with Emmy voters, who are, let’s face it, older guys just like him. That bodes well for leading man Jon Hamm to finally overcome the dreaded “slap the stud” syndrome that has plagued him over the last six years. In “Time Zones,” Hamm delivers a beautiful performance as the damaged ad man, openly facing his shortcomings as he numbly flits from coast to coast.

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Regular nominees Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery and Christina Hendricks all had somethng interesting to do in the season premiere as well, especially Moss, who delivers some of the highlights of the episode, culminating in a great crying scene on the floor of her apartment. And if that doesn’t scream “Emmy,” then what else does?

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As far as season openers go, “Time Zones” appears to be a good omen for what might be to come. Time will tell if any of these perennial nominees are going to get more crying scenes or scenery-chewing extravaganzas that might finally snag any one of them that elusive Emmy gold.

We can only hope. C’mon Emmy voters, pay attenton! Cast your ballot now by predicting what will win Best Drama Series using our easy drag-and-drop menu below.

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