Become an Emmys expert: our DIY guide

Catching up ... It will actually be harder NOT to watch <i>Boardwalk Empire</i> this month than it will be to see it.
Catching up ... It will actually be harder NOT to watch Boardwalk Empire this month than it will be to see it.

As with exams and deadlines, the Emmy Awards approach like a silent shark (in a borrowed ball gown in the Emmys’ case).

They signal the start of Awards Season (TM - Tacky Much!), in which ceremonies full of glitz and gongs will sneak up on us all, burying us under a weight of gold-coloured aluminium and empty speeches.

As we all know, the only real joy in an awards ceremony is the ability to decry the academy/jury/knitting circle/pack of sycophantic journalists for being wrong, wrong, wrong.

Now sure, it’s not strictly necessary to watch the shows in order to cast such judgment. It’s a nailed on certainty that not all those casting actual votes will bother watching every program, but if you want to win the office TV debate, you need to have an arsenal of examples so that the Award for TV Expertise goes to ... you!

So we present a list of the shows that dominate the Emmy nominations, plus a few ideas on how to catch up with them between now and September 24 (Australian time) that don’t require you to break the law or your bandwidth limit. And in case you don’t have the right Foxtel subscription, home entertainment system or cash to buy every box set, there’s a DIY option as well.

American Horror Story
Number of Emmy categories: 15

Season 1 of this brave effort to migrate the horror genre to a weekly series is available now on DVD, so easily grabbed and watched. Alternatively you could just watch a David Lynch movie marathon ... and never sleep again.

DIY experience: Probably the worst at-home re-creation you could try. It will involve hiring a maid who is simultaneously 20 and 80, installing as a neighbour a kleptomaniac with a spooky daughter and buying a gimp suit ... So, if anything, this is probably the one to just go with watching the show.

Hatfields & McCoys

Number of categories: 15

This history of the most famous hillbilly feud, starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, hasn’t aired in Australia yet and is unlikely to do so before the awards, so ... how do you feel about reading a book about the real history?

DIY experience: Buy 2 x banjos, 2 x rocking chairs, 2 x shotguns. Sit on porches on opposite sides of the street playing/shooting at each other. Probably best to use houses you don’t own due to damage/noise complaints/real estate value impact of hillbillies moving into the suburb.

Hemingway & Gellhorn
Number of categories: 15

If the Olympics and Paralympics haven’t worn you out, this is one of your two chances to cheer Australia on, as Nicole Kidman is nominated for her performance as Martha Gellhorn, the great writer’s tempestuous lover. Better yet, it’s showing on Showcase on September 12 at 8.30pm - with many a repeat in the following days. See the show featuring Kidman playing a character she describes as ‘‘probably the worst bed partner on five continents’’.

DIY experience: Based on that description, you just need to have a terrible sex life between now and the Emmys, but who would sign up for that?

Mad Men
Number of categories: 15

The drama set in a 1960s Madison Avenue advertising agency is the flagship of smoking, sexism and quality drama. Season five doesn’t come out on DVD until November, so that’s not an option at this point. Foxtel has finished airing it. SBS hasn’t started. This one is sitting frustratingly in the cracks.

DIY experience: The lawyers have informed us that we cannot advise you to start smoking and treating women as objects, so you’ll just have to dress in a suit and sit around drinking martinis, sorry.

Saturday Night Live
Number of categories: 15

The famous Saturday night sketch comedy show is on the Comedy Channel every week. It’s also sliced and diced into bite-sized chunks on YouTube, so it's very easy to watch highlights. As most of it is current affairs or pop culture-based, going back to watch large blocks of it won’t work as well.

DIY experience: Do impressions of politicians for friends. Be sarcastic about news and current affairs for friends. Don’t be nearly as funny as you think you are for your friends.

Downton Abbey
Number of categories: 14

One way to catch up on Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes’ sumptuous upstairs-downstairs period drama, is simply to ask your mum or nearest elderly relative, as they love it. (Then again, don’t we all).

Otherwise, Downton Abbey season 2 (including the world’s most depressing Christmas episode) is available on DVD, Blu-ray and most other home entertainment platforms. Or, of course, if you’re feeling cheap you can just watch Gosford Park on repeat.

DIY experience: Only possible if you live in a multi-storey house. Randomly banish half the family/household to work downstairs, then lounge about upstairs (watching one of the other series possibly) and ring a bell any time you want ANYTHING. Be sure not to acknowledge the existence of your ‘‘lowers’’ though. However, it is reasonable to expect two of them to initiate a chaste but incredibly tense romance.

Number of categories: 13

Another easy one. The brilliant BBC-modernised version of Sherlock Holmes has already played on Nine and came out on DVD and Blu-ray in March. Definitely worth a hire (do people still hire DVDs?) or better yet a buy.

DIY experience: Get hold of an impressive coat and wander around seeing imaginary clues written everywhere. Postulate wildly about all your friends’ recent activities. Avoid Guy Ritchie as he will try and get you to go all steam-punk.

Boardwalk Empire
Number of categories: 12

Season two of Martin Scorsese’s prohibition-era organised-crime series will be released on Blu-ray and DVD ... today. So you can spend this weekend watching Steve Buscemi run the bootleg grog business while a young guy called Al Capone lurks around.

Alternatively, season one is just starting on SBS and season three is about to kick off on Showcase on Foxtel, which is currently replaying season two. So it will actually be harder NOT to watch Boardwalk Empire this month than it will be to see it. It’s like the Big Bang Theory of violent gangster drama.

DIY experience: Drink a bottle of moonshine and pretend to fire off a Tommy gun at everyone who tries to take it off you.

Game Change
Number of categories: 12

Game Change, the telemovie about the choice of Sarah Palin as Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008, is yet another November home entertainment release. It went to air a few months ago on Foxtel, but Showcase is replaying it this Thursday and Friday. If you don’t have Foxtel, your best legal bet is to ask if a friend recorded it or just watch some video footage of Sarah Palin on YouTube.

Actually, do yourself a favour and watch the Tina Fey version from Saturday Night Live - some of it appears in the movie and you’ll be catching up on SNL (above) as well.

DIY experience: Run for president of your house on a campaign of integrity and leadership, then appoint your dog/pet rock/door stop as your running mate. Spend the next week referring all questions to your VP candidate.

30 Rock
Number of categories: 12

Get ready for some late nights. 30 Rock, the Tina Fey-led comedy about the action behind the scenes of making a comedy show (one very much like Saturday Night Live) is one of those midnight surprise shows on Seven at the moment, turning up just when you’re thinking about going to bed and keeping you up for an hour you regret the next morning.

30 Rock season six doesn’t come out on DVD until November, so it’s time to master the electronic program guide and record you some comedy. If you need a catch-up however, there’s a season one-to-five box set that’s perfect for addicts and wannabe addicts.

DIY experience: Not easy to recreate the 30 Rock experience without getting a job as a comedy writer. However, if you can arrange for everyone in your house to act like they’re completely insane that should help ... of course, in many cases that may not be a big stretch.

Game of Thrones
Number of categories: 11 + 1 interactive category nomination

The second season of the swords and sandals (and sex-position) series Game of Thrones is one of the easiest to catch up on as Showcase on Foxtel LOVES it, so it’s starting to play it all over again from September 14, with nine airings of each episode and two episodes getting a run each week. You can have at least four eps under your belt by the time of the awards. Heck you can probably watch an ep instead of the awards!

DIY experience: Also really easy. Get all of your friends to come over and play Dungeons & Dragons ... naked.

Breaking Bad
Number of categories: 11

Critically and widely acclaimed drama starring Bryan Cranston as Walter the cancer-ridden chemistry teacher turned drug dealer. It’s currently airing on Showcase and that’s your best bet as it’s going up soon after the US broadcast. That said, the awards will be about the previous season of Breaking Bad, which aired 18 months ago.

DIY experience: Cancer, drug-dealing, chemistry class ... nothing about this show can be recommended as a real life experience. In this case, the TV show is the much easier and more restful way of going about things.

Number of categories: 9
You’re going to have to leave Homeland to the home stretch at this stage. The first season of this show, adapted from an Israeli series and about a marine who returns to the US as either a hero or a terrorist, comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on September 19, only five days before the awards.

So get ready for an intensely terrorist-themed weekend - and having just typed those words onto the internet I now look forward to a visit from the police. Alternatively FX is half-way through the series.

DIY experience: Well, the key here is to be extremely paranoid and suspicious of everyone. Unfortunately, the cliched way of doing this is even less legal than downloading television.

84th Academy Awards
Number of categories: 8

 The hardest to watch, both in terms of the ability to get a copy and possibly in terms of finding the will to view a three-hour awards ceremony all over again. Perhaps just skip this one, or for the sake of completeness, check out our liveblog.

DIY experience: Dress up in a tuxedo or ball gown, then sit down in your living room and be as bored as you can possibly be for three hours. Afterwards open champagne and tell each other how amazing you were.

Modern Family
Number of categories: 8

Nominated in only eight categories but carrying a whopping 14 nominations due to multiples in some categories, the Modern Family mockumentary-esque sitcom has four nominees in just one category - outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series - so really the water cooler debate won’t be about will a Modern Family actor win but which one should win.

Of all the shows in this list, Modern Family is the easiest to catch up on. Just turn on Ten at 7pm any night of the week, and if the channel uses it like Nine uses Big Bang Theory to fill in for any failed shows, it should soon be on at 8pm, 9pm, 10pm ...

DIY experience: You’re already living your own version of this, so no changes necessary.

This story Become an Emmys expert: our DIY guide first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.