Sunday, July 6, 2014

My Emmy Ballot: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

Peter Dinklage is a strong candidate to take home his second Emmy for "Game of Thrones"

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama is perennially the deepest category at the Emmys.  It’s often possible for me to make a list of my second six choices and have even that be a perfectly acceptable group of nominees.  This year, I easily could have made three lists: My actual selections for nominations, six more actors entirely deserving of recognition who have never been nominated before, and six more actors deserving of recognition who have been nominated in the last three years.  It’s actually a bit disheartening how deep this category is year after year because it shows how many great supporting roles there are for men in television dramas compared to the relatively smaller number of similar roles for women.  But for these purposes, we can only work with what we have, so the following represents my attempts to whittle a list of dozens of amazing actors down to six.

A couple of caveats before we start.  First, I’m working from the actual Emmy Performer Ballot, so I can’t move somebody from lead to supporting (Woody Harrelson), nor can I call True Detective a miniseries or Orange Is the New Black a drama, nor can I nominate somebody who didn’t submit themselves (like Alan Cumming in The Good Wife).  Also, I’m only including actors from shows I watch regularly, so if your favorites from House of Cards, Parenthood, The Good Wife, or Scandal aren’t here, that’s why.

My 2013 Choices:
Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad)
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal)
Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

Actual 2013 Emmy Nominees:
Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad)
Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire) – 2013 Emmy Winner
Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

This will be an awfully difficult category for anybody to break into this year.  Jonathan Banks and Bobby Cannavale won’t be eligible, but just as Banks took the Breaking Bad spot vacated by Giancarlo Esposito, so too will Dean Norris likely take Banks’s spot.  I feel like this should be the end of the road for Carter and Patinkin who, even while still delivering fine performances, have seen their shows lose significant footing both culturally and critically in the past couple of years.  When it comes to the Emmys, however, you’re always better off betting on somebody to overstay their welcome than to depart too early. 

If there is only one available spot, then, there is a strong race to fill it.  Will one of the handful of recent nominees (Brendan Coyle, Josh Charles, Walton Goggins, and John Slattery) return?  Will it be Boardwalk Empire’s Jeffrey Wright or Michael Kenneth Williams just filling in the slot held by Cannavale last year?  Will it be Charles Dance, finally submitting himself for Game of Thrones?  Or can The Americans finally break through and earn a nomination for Noah Emmerich?  It’s impossible to know and it could end up being somebody else entirely.

My list, too, has a lot of great returning actors.  Banks leaves and Mads Mikkelsen moved up to Lead Actor this year, which opens up a pair of slots, but the other four men all gave performances ranging  from very good to amazing.  I wouldn’t be disappointed to have any of them back, but there were a bunch of other great performances this year as well.  So let’s see how it shakes out.

Game of Thrones is my favorite show on television right now.  I don’t know that it’s the best, but it’s definitely my favorite.  It’s the one show that I most look forward to each week and it’s the one series that leaves my wanting more every week.  It should be no surprise, then, that as with last year, two Thrones actors grace this list:  Peter Dinklage and Charles Dance.  Dinklage has been the emotional anchor for the show for the past two seasons and this year was no different, as Tyrion Lannister spent much of the season on trial or awaiting trial for murder.  You could even make an argument that his passionate speech in his own defense was the high point of the series to date.  Todd Vanderwerff of the AV Club has criticized Game of Thrones for becoming a show remembered for little but its big moments.  In a sense that’s true.  But even if the show is just a series of amazing moments, Dinklage is very often at the center of them.  Dance could have found himself in this space last year had he submitted himself.  Either way, though, it’s nice that he did so this year, because Tywin had his most prominent role yet and Dance was more than up to the task.  It’s a difficult job: playing the noble villain.  But Dance gives Tywin so much humanity that you appreciate his efforts to protect his family and his legacy even as he plots against the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms.

This was not a particularly good season of Justified.  In fact, the show seems more and more to be following the Sons of Anarchy path with a stellar sophomore season followed by an inexorable decline afterward.  Thankfully, Justified hasn’t fallen nearly as far as Sons did and one of the big reasons for that is the stellar performances by the cast, including Walton Goggins’s Boyd Crowder.  Justified has struggled in the past to figure out what to do with Crowder, especially when he’s not allowed to be a straight antagonist to Raylan, but this season gave him some of his most fruitful work as Boyd tried to rebuild his drug network while balancing alliances with the Crowes, the Detroit mob, and the Mexican cartels.  Goggins has now spent a dozen years playing two great drama supporting characters (Crowder and The Shield’s Shane Vendrell) and has all of one Emmy nomination to show for it. That just doesn’t seem right, though it does point to the perennial strength of this category.

Breaking Bad has had a pair of men crack this category in each of the past two years and I don’t see any reason why 2014 would be different as Aaron Paul should nab his fifth nomination while Dean Norris should get his first.  Paul has been absolutely amazing through all five (or six depending on how you count it) seasons of Breaking Bad and in the final eight episodes of the season he was at the top of his game.  The only thing potentially holding him back is that Jesse is sidelined for much of the season (especially the series’s final few, climactic episodes), but if he can score a nomination, “Rabid Dog” would be as good a submission episode as anybody in this category has.  As for Norris, while I wasn’t a fan of AMC’s decision to split the final season in two (especially since it resulted in the far less wise decision to split Mad Men in two as well), if it means that he can finally get some awards recognition from this series, it will have been worth it.  Norris had his finest moments of the entire series in these final eight episodes as Hank faces off with Walt not once, not twice, but three times and tries to play the father figure in order to flip Jesse against Walt.  Hank is finally an immensely strong presence, finished playing the dupe, and Norris sells it phenomenally. 

I have a problem with Boardwalk Empire.  It’s my problem, I’m pretty sure, but Boardwalk is a series that I need to binge.  I know I’ve written recently about my crusade against binging some shows, but for me Boardwalk is a show that gets much better when I only have to wait a day or two in between episodes.  I did not, however, have to binge watch this past season to realize how amazing Jeffrey Wright was.  His villainous character was a bit of a mustache twirler, but Wright managed to successfully straddle the fine line between menace and cartoon.  I’ve been a fan of Wright’s for a while and it would be nice to see him stay in television, especially if he keeps giving performances like this. 

Others meriting consideration:  Jere Burns, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Noah Emmerich, Jordan Gavaris, Vincent Kartheiser, Allen Leech, Matthew Lillard, Donal Logue, Bob Odenkirk, Mandy Patinkin, John Slattery, Michael Kenneth Williams, Thomas M. Wright

So those are my Emmy choices.  As you can see by the “others” list, this was an incredibly deep category even without guys like Josh Charles who are on shows that I haven’t seen.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and an amateur television critic.  You can reach him at TyTalksTV AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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