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EW picks who should win the Emmys

Bruce Fretts explains why ”Sopranos” and ”Raymond” deserve many, many statues

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EW picks who should win the Emmys

I give up. Every year, I try to predict who’s going to win the Emmys (airing Sunday, Sept, 10 at 8 p.m. on ABC), and every year, I come away scratching my head over the TV Academy’s seemingly random selections (John Lithgow again?). So instead of prognosticating, this year I’ll simply advocate. In this election year, my position is clear: In the top five drama and comedy categories, I’m voting straight ”Sopranos” and ”Everybody Loves Raymond” tickets.

I know NBC’s ”The West Wing” is the hot new show, and I enjoy revelling in Aaron Sorkin’s idealized White House every Wednesday night as much as the next citizen. I acknowledge that ”The Sopranos”’ second season was uneven, especially its needlessly surreal finale. But HBO’s Mafia opus got so royally screwed at last year’s Emmys that now it’s payback time. That’s why I’d love to see ”The Sopranos” whack ”West Wing,”ABC’s overrated ”The Practice” (last year’s winner), and perennial NBC nominees ”ER” and ”Law & Order” for Best Drama.

For Best Actor, there’s no contest: James Gandolfini got robbed by ”NYPD Blue”’s Dennis Franz last year, so he deserves to beat him. Among the other also rans, I’m glad to see ”Law & Order”’s Jerry Orbach join costar Sam Waterston, but he’s no Gandolfini. And while ”West Wing”’s Martin Sheen makes a fine president, he belongs in the supporting actor category.

Best Actress is a little tougher to call, with two contenders from ”The Sopranos” — Edie Falco and Lorraine Bracco — competing with ”ER”’s Julianna Margulies, ”Judging Amy”’s Amy Brenneman, and ”Once and Again”’s Sela Ward. Falco won last year, and I’m tempted to spread the wealth to Bracco, but her character, shrink Jennifer Melfi, was peripheral this season. So let’s give it to Falco again, for her finely tuned work as ”force behind the power” Mob wife Carmela Soprano.

Supporting Emmys should go to ”Sopranos”’ Dominic Chianese (over ”Practice”’s Steve Harris and Michael Badalucco and ”West Wing”’s Richard Schiff and John Spencer) and the late Nancy Marchand (over ”Practice”’s Holland Taylor, ”Judging Amy”’s Tyne Daly, and ”West Wing”’s Allison Janney and Stockard Channing). The most deserving ”Sopranos” supporting player, David Proval (as hilariously scary Richie Aprile), wasn’t even nominated, but Chianese (wily Uncle Junior) will do. And there was no excuse for the sublime Marchand (devious matriarch Livia Soprano) losing to Taylor last year, so it best not happen again.

On the comedy side, another under awarded Italian American family merits a sweep. CBS’ peerless ”Everybody Loves Raymond” has yet to take home a single Emmy (it wasn’t even nominated until last year), so it’s long overdue for Best Comedy Series. Like ”The Sopranos,” Raymond’s competition includes a hot NBC newcomer (”Will & Grace”), a pair of perennial Peacock nominees (”Friends” and ”Frasier”), and an overrated mediocrity (HBO’s ”Sex and the City” — don’t get me started).

For Best Actor, the overwhelming sentimental vote may go to ”Spin City”’s Michael J. Fox, but Ray Romano’s deceptive subtlety puts him head and shoulders above Fox, ”Will & Grace”’s Eric McCormack, ”Frasier”’s Kelsey Grammer, and ”3rd Rock”’s Lithgow (enough already!). In the Best Actress race, ”Raymond”’s Patricia Heaton may face a stiff challenge from another ballsy sitcom mom, ”Malcolm in the Middle”’s Jane Kaczmarek, but should emerge triumphant over her as well as over Debra Messing (”Will & Grace”), Jenna Elfman (”Dharma & Greg”), and Sarah Jessica Parker (”Sex and the City”).

Supporting actress honors belong to ”Raymond”’s Doris Roberts (devious matriarch Marie Barone) over ”Friends”’ Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow, ”Will & Grace”’s Megan Mullally, and ”Sex and the City”’s Kim Cattrall. The hardest category to pick is supporting actor, where ”Raymond”’s Peter Boyle and Brad Garrett go head to head (the other nominees are ”Will & Grace”’s Sean Hayes, ”Frasier”’s David Hyde Pierce, and ”Ally McBeal”’s Peter MacNicol). Boyle’s won an Emmy before — for his guest shot on ”The X-Files” — so let’s give it to Garrett, who turned a schticky situation (his character, cop Robert Barone, was gored in the butt by a bull) into the season’s funniest running joke. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’m ready for the Emmys. And if ”The Sopranos” and ”Raymond” get shut out, I’ll know exactly how Robert Barone felt.