Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Emmy Ballot: Outstanding Lead Actor/Actress in a Drama

Jon Hamm in "Mad Men"

In my continuing series looking at the Emmy nominations ballot and laying out who I’d nominate (if I had a vote obviously), today I’m looking at the Outstanding Lead Actors and Actresses in Dramas. While the supporting drama categories are probably deeper, the overall talent level in the lead categories really can’t be beat.  On my final list alone there’s an actor who has been nominated for his role five times in five chances, another four times in four chances (with three wins), another once in three chances, and yet another who won last year in his first year of eligibility.  And one of the other actors already has two Emmys for Outstanding Guest Actor and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama.  The women’s side, on the other hand, has only two returning nominees (though one is last year’s winner), but with three outstanding first-year performances.

Again, the usual caveats apply.  First, I’m working from the actual Emmy Performer Ballot, so I can’t put leads who submitted as supporting (Amy Schumer) or supporting actors who submitted as leads (Rob Lowe) in their proper category, nor can I nominate somebody who didn’t submit themselves.  Also, I’m only including actors from shows I watch regularly, so if your favorites from The Good Wife, Shameless, and Scandal aren’t here, that’s why.

Lead Actor
Bryan Cranston in "Breaking Bad"
Bryan Cranston has won this award three times and you could make a very good argument that he could (or should) have won it last year.  Nobody will complain if he wins again this year.  Breaking Bad’s Walter White will go down as a pantheon television character and Bryan Cranston has played the part phenomenally for six years.

It’s becoming more and more likely that Jon Hamm, the man who plays another pantheon character, Mad Men’s Don Draper, is going to finish his run without an Emmy, and that makes me a bit sad.  He had to go head-to-head with Cranston for his first three years of eligibility and then, when Cranston wasn’t eligible (Breaking Bad moved from spring to summer in 2011 and fell out of the 2010-11 eligibility window) Hamm lost out to Kyle Chandler.  The Emmy voters seem to have moved on, choosing Homeland’s Damian Lewis last year and it seems like there is something about the Draper character that they just don’t like.  Still, it’s a great performance made only more remarkable by the fact that he’s stood out in an era filled with great performances.

Last year’s winner in this category, Damian Lewis, should be back again.  For all the problems Homeland had in its second season (and there were a fair few), Lewis wasn’t one of them.  And with a spectacular submission episode in “Q&A” there is every chance he’ll win again.  He was so good, in fact, in that episode that I’m almost willing to say he’s likely to win again.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Lewis and his character, Nicholas Brody, going forward.  But for now, at least, he’s been one of the best lead actors on television.

Well those are the gimmes.  From here it gets a little tougher.  For the final three, I’m going to start with Timothy Olyphant of Justified.  Olyphant was nominated in 2011 for Justified’s second season, which was just a fantastic season of television.  The last two years haven’t been as great for the show (though still great) but Olyphant has consistently been amazing.  It is yet another white male anti-hero performance, as are the previous three, but there’s such a quiet anger in Olyphant’s performance that is just mesmerizing.  You can’t take your eyes off of him, even when he’s surrounding by other great supporting performances.

I don’t know Emmy voters are going to react to Hugh Dancy’s performance in Hannibal.  It’s not like anybody even watched the show, but Dancy was pretty spectacular playing a man slowly losing his mind.  As somebody coming into the Lecter mythology pretty fresh (I’ve seen Silence of the Lambs maybe once and Hannibal probably twice but neither of the Will Graham movies) I found this show to be such a refreshing take on the serial killer genre and the fact that Dancy can stand up to lead a show named after the supporting character and against such an amazing performance from Mads Mikkelsen is really impressive.

My last nominee may be a bit of a surprise, especially given the competition.  I looked at Andre Braugher (three previous Emmy nominations and one win), Steve Buscemi (three nominations), and Michael C. Hall (six nominations).  But I kept coming back to Michael Emerson and his role as Harold Finch on Person of Interest.  It’s not a flashy part, nor is it a show often cited by television critics.  But it’s one of the most-watched shows on TV and a pretty darn good one at that.  And the show works a lot of the time because Emerson manages to bring humanity to what can often be a robotic plot.  Emerson’s no stranger to the Emmys, having won twice before (once for Guest Actor and once for Supporting Actor), but a nomination for this role would be a stunner.  Still, I think he’s doing really good work that’s going largely unnoticed.

Others meriting consideration: Hugh Bonneville, Andre Braugher, Steve Buscemi, Travis Fimmel, Michael C. Hall, Jonny Lee Miller, Matthew Rhys

Lead Actress
Tatiana Maslany in "Orphan Black"
Let’s be clear.  This category begins and ends with one person: Tatiana Maslany.  Orphan Black was an absolute stunner this spring and the reason for that, without question, was the remarkable performance by Maslany, playing four different regular characters, two separate guest characters (all clones), and a host of other “clones-playing-clones” roles.  There has never been a performance like this on television or film and Maslany is absolutely stunning to watch.  The most fascinating part is not that each clone is clearly different from the other (something that can also be attributed to the hair and makeup department), but that there is a clear difference between Sarah, Alison, Sarah pretending to be Alison, and Alison pretending to be Sarah.  That is all on Maslany and it’s impossible to come away from this show without being extremely impressed by the previously unknown actress’s work.

Claire Danes is the reigning champion in this category and, while I alluded to Homeland’s season two issues above, as with Damian Lewis, she was not the problem.  "Q&A” is an amazing episode for her as it is for Lewis and with it in her back pocket it’s impossible to see her as anything other than the frontrunner to win again.  It’s tough to believe that she went sixteen years between major awards nominations (an Emmy nom for Supporting Actress in a Drama for My So-Called Life and win for Lead Actress in a Miniseries for Temple Grandin).  It’s also tough to believe that she won’t be nominated for every season that Homeland stays on the air.

At first, Elisabeth Moss vacillated between Lead and Supporting Actress, but this is her third consecutive submission as a Lead Actress.  Unfortunately, she continues to feel the sting of the Emmy voters’ curious decision to not award any Mad Men actors.  She had another great year, seeing her position as head of creative disappear in the SCDP/CGC merger and falling for yet another unavailable man.  She was riveting every time she was on the screen but, while it will likely result in another nomination, at this point it would be a surprise to see her win.

The next two actresses are both in their first years on freshman dramas.  The more prestigious show of the two was The Americans, headed by Keri Russell.  The Americans could have been a pretty generic spy show, but the relationship between Russell and co-star Matthew Rhys made all the difference as their characters navigated their marriage and family life, trying to keep everything together.  It was a remarkably passionate performance from Russell.

The other new show was something of a surprise, as History’s Vikings managed to create world filled with rich characters, most notably shieldmaiden Lagertha, played by Katheryn Winnick.  Winnick has one of the most difficult roles on the show as she has to both run the family and be convincing as a warrior.  Winnick was a fantastic surprise for me this season, as was all of Vikings.

My last pick is something of an odd choice, but I really enjoyed Piper Perabo this year in Covert Affairs.  The show took a big leap in its third season, jettisoning a couple of its lesser storylines and characters and focusing on the core characters while also introducing a season-long plot arc.  USA has done a good job of getting its actors Golden Globe nominations in recent years, which basically means that they throw a good party for HFPA members.  Perabo was the recipient of one of these nominations a couple of years ago and, while many at the time laughed it, her work in the last few years has really made me see her in a new light.  It might be an odd choice, but I think she’s deserving.

Others meriting consideration: Ivana Milicevic

If forced to choose among this group, I'd probably choose Bryan Cranston and Tatiana Maslany.

So thoughts? Questions?  Just want to call me an idiot or tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or hit me up on twitter @TyTalksTV

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