A Television Addict’s Guide to the Emmys: Lead Performances

Nominating directors and writers by episode makes sense.  Even though more and more shows are being written and/or directed by a single person or a consistent duo over the life of the whole show its still fairly common even in the realm of prestige TV for a season of television to be written and directed by many different people.  The production schedule for a lot of shows just doesn’t allow it.  Even Atlanta, a show that FX has given a very lenient production schedule to was directed by three and written by six different people over its 11 episode second season.  A lot of that is less out of convenience and more about Glover’s desire to collaborate with talented people but the point still stands.  But why a lead performance award is based on a single episode I will never know.  It’s far less interesting to have the conversation was Ted Danson better in Dance Dance Resolution” than Bill Hader in “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, and Keep Going” than it is to say was the body of work from Hader this year better than Donald Glover’s second season on Atlanta or whatever the hell William Macy continues to do on Shameless year after year.  I’m not saying that this is the only reason the Emmys are far less discussed or relevant than even The Grammys or The Golden Globes but it certainly can’t help when someone looks at the nomination list and they have yet another barrier to entry.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Barry Emmys

The Nominees:

  • Anthony Anderson as Andre “Dre” Johnson, Sr. on Black-ish (Episode: “Advance to Go (Collect $200)”) (ABC)
  • Ted Danson as Michael on The Good Place (Episode: “Dance Dance Resolution”) (NBC)
  • Larry David as Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm (Episode: “Fatwa!”) (HBO)
  • Donald Glover as Earnest “Earn” Marks / Teddy Perkins on Atlanta (Episode: “Teddy Perkins”) (FX)
  • Bill Hader as Barry Berkman / Barry Block on Barry (Episode: “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, and Keep Going”) (HBO)
  • William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher on Shameless (Episode: “Sleepwalking”) (Showtime)

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is worth discussing besides Glover in “Teddy Perkins” and Hader in “Loud, Fast, and Keep Going.”  They are arguably the best performances of the year.  Not simply in the comedy category, not simply on TV, truly two of the best pieces of acting this past year.  The moment when Hader slowly realizes that he has to kill his friend is a two minute sequence that Hader manages to make feel like an hour peaking at the moment when he snaps and shouts, “Why did you have to say that?”  Only of course rivaled by the skin-crawling scene in the room dedicated to Teddy Perkins’ father in “Teddy Perkins.”  There are no rules against multiple nomination per shows in the acting category, you will often get multiple nominations in the writing and directing categories but it is a shame that Brian Tyree Henry was pushed to the supporting actor category because I think his performance in “Woods” was were only second to Hader and Glover.  But he should take that category, as much as I enjoy Louie Anderson in “Baskets” Henry is just transcendent as Paper Boi.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Rachel Brosnahan Emmy

The Nominees:

  • Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox on Better Things (Episode: “Eulogy”) (FX)
  • Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Episode: “Thank You and Good Night”) (Amazon)
  • Allison Janney as Bonnie Plunkett on Mom (Episode: “Phone Confetti and a Wee Dingle”) (CBS)
  • Issa Rae as Issa Dee on Insecure (Episode: “Hella Great”) (HBO)
  • Tracee Ellis Ross as Dr. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson on Black-ish (Episode: “Elder. Scam.”) (ABC)
  • Lily Tomlin as Frankie Bergstein on Grace and Frankie (Episode: “The Home”) (Netflix)

God, what a sad collection of nominees again.  It’s hard to know which came first: the lack of opportunities for actresses in good comedic parts or the dismissal of the countless talented women that could be making shows like Barry and Atlanta.  It’s getting better at least, it’s been five years since you could see Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Amy Poehler on TV all in the same year and since that time its felt like the Academy is going through the motions with these nominations.  Rachel Brosnahan is a joy to watch and it by far the stand out in this category.

Unrelated, I have two scripts with Jenny Slate and Carrie Coon’s names on them if someone wants to give me a call.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Matthew Rhys Emmys

The Nominees:

  • Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde on Ozark (Episode: “The Toll”) (Netflix)
  • Sterling K. Brown as Randall Pearson on This Is Us (Episode: “Number Three”) (NBC)
  • Ed Harris as The Man in Black / William on Westworld (Episode: “Vanishing Point”) (HBO)
  • Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings on The Americans (Episode: “START”) (FX)
  • Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson on This Is Us (Episode: “The Car”) (NBC)
  • Jeffrey Wright as Bernard Lowe on Westworld (Episode: “The Passenger”) (HBO)

I know there’s a lot of TV.  I know that no one can watch all of it.  I watch an unhealthy amount of TV and even I can’t feasibly watch all of it—sorry basically everything on Sundance Now, I’m still not even sure how to watch that even if I wanted to.  There just aren’t enough hours in a day even with me only sleeping for 4 hours a night.  But what could possibly be the excuse for this list of actors?

Six great actors in their own right, I have nothing bad to say about any of their careers.  I even praised Jeffrey Wright as the best part of Westworld’s premier season and while This Is Us long ago jumped the shark Sterling K. Brown is still one of the best actors working currently.  All that being said, I can’t possibly figure out, for the life of me, how you make this list without American Gods’ Ian McShane (admittedly the first season of American Gods does straddle the eligibility window), Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek, The Chi’s Jason Mitchell, and probably most egregious of all Cillian Murphy.  I know that for some inexplicable reason Peaky Blinders has been shut out from the Emmy nominations for its entire run but this year is the most ridiculous.  Maybe the producers didn’t put it up for an Emmy, but with the amount of money that Netflix has put into acquiring the rights to it I can’t see why that would be the case.  But there has to be some other reason to explain why a bunch of people with at least one eye and one ear decided that Ed Harris, Jason Bateman, and Milo Ventimiglia were better than Murphy in this season of Peaky Blinders.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Killing Eve Emmys

The Nominees:

  • Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II on The Crown (Episode: “Dear Mrs. Kennedy”) (Netflix)
  • Tatiana Maslany as Various Characters on Orphan Black (Episode: “To Right the Wrongs of Many”) (BBC America)
  • Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne / Offred on The Handmaid’s Tale (Episode: “The Last Ceremony”) (Hulu)
  • Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri on Killing Eve (Episode: “I Have a Thing About Bathrooms”) (BBC America)
  • Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings on The Americans (Episode: “The Summit”) (FX)
  • Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy on Westworld (Episode: “Reunion”) (HBO)

Orphan Black feels so long ago, it’s especially weird that the series finale aired a month before last year’s Emmys but that’s just how the Emmy calendar works.  It’s good to see that the Academy didn’t entirely forget about Killing Eve I’ll save my righteous indignation about the insanely low nomination count for another piece but I’m glad at least that Sandra Oh was recognized for her great performance this year.  But this is all academic because if the Emmy nomination list is to be believed they are very high on this season of The Handmaid’s Tale and I can’t see anyone else besides Moss taking the award home.

Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

The Looming Tower Emmys

The Nominees:

  • Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso on Genius: Picasso (Nat Geo)
  • Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan on The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose on Patrick Melrose (Showtime)
  • Jeff Daniels as John O. Neill on The Looming Tower (Hulu)
  • John Legend as Jesus Christ on Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert (NBC)
  • Jesse Plemons as Captain Robert Daly on Black Mirror: USS Callister (Netflix)

An interesting quirk that Jeff Daniels gets nominated for The Looming Tower here but it was Godless instead of The Looming Tower that was recognized for Outstanding Limited Series.  I don’t need to lambast this sad selection of shows, I already did that previously in this piece.

As far as the most likely winner I would say that Benedict Cumberbatch has this all locked up but I say that with the caveat that I haven’t seen the list Jesus Christ Superstar Concert I gave up on the weird network channel’s attempt at creating television events about four train wrecks ago.  Patrick Melrose is a meaty character, Cumberbatch gets to exhibit every one of an actor’s wet dreams from drug addict to maladjusted depressive recovering from grief.  It’s an excellent showcase of Cumberbatch’s considerable talents.

Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

The Tale Emmys

The Nominees:

  • Jessica Biel as Cora Tannetti on The Sinner (USA)
  • Laura Dern as Jennifer Fox on The Tale (HBO)
  • Michelle Dockery as Alice Fletcher on Godless (Netflix)
  • Edie Falco as Leslie Abramson on Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders (NBC)
  • Regina King as Latrice Butler on Seven Seconds (Netflix)
  • Sarah Paulson as Ally Mayfair-Richards on American Horror Story: Cult (FX)

One of the more interesting categories at this year’s Emmys.  A lot of worthy shows and films here that I think got overlooked this year and it’s good to see them get some recognition—and then there’s The Menendez Murders which is just here to collect its participation trophy for the big four.  I don’t know if the Fargo producers would have put Mary Elizabeth Winstead up for lead or supporting, her role would have been right on the line, but Winstead and Hayley Atwell for her Howard’s End performance are the only two really strong performances not included on this list.

The Sinner is a criminally underrated show that is just in the middle of its second season and Biel’s performance alone is worth tuning in for.  But of the six nominees, Laura Dern in The Tale was my absolute favorite.  HBO’s first original film of any real note in years, The Tale, is a harrowing watch especially as it is the autobiographical story of Jennifer Fox, the film’s writer and director.  Fox explores a deeply troubling sexual experience from her past and coming to terms with trauma and the betrayal of her own memory.  Dern and Fox deliver a film that is both challenging and rewarding and I’m hoping that tonight she can take home this award since Fox was left was unfairly left off both the directing and writing nominees.  The fact that it lost the Outstanding Television Movie award to a pretty average episode of Black Mirror at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards is disappointing to say the very least.

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