EmmyWatch: Supporting Actors Crowd the Drama Field

Last month’s Critics’ Choice TV awards mixed things up with some predictable entries alongside some left-field nominees that feel dramatically (pun intended) unlikely to represent when the Emmys have their say come nomination day in mid-July. Exactly three nominees – category winner Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland), and (to a lesser extent) Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) – seem pretty safe to repeat. Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers), Craig T. Nelson (Parenthood), and Walton Goggins (Justified) feel like they’re card-carrying members of the “Critics’ Choice Push Club” – those actors deemed most in danger of being forgotten by an awards voting body who wants to use their conveniently placed awards announcement to maximum influence on the Emmys.

So, if my assumptions are correct, then who fits into the remaining three slots? Much like the Drama Actress category, the Supporting Actor in a Drama Series category has something of an abundance of riches, and the Emmys could go in any number of ways.

The most obvious, perennial nominee missing from the Critics’ Choice list is Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), a former winner in the category. Like Season Five itself, Dinklage’s character arc through the season has been received with mixed opinions. After ***spoiler?*** killing his father at the end of Season Four, Tyrion Lannister (Dinklage) fled Westeros thanks to the assistance of Varys, the puppet master eunuch pulling the strings behind much of the action in the first four seasons. Since then, he’s spent his time in a crate, in a box, in a brothel, in a sack, on a boat, in a slave trade operation, and finally in the company of the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys. Through it, Dinklage has delivered his lines with the assured, dry wit that’s served him so well in the series thus far. He’s also has several high-profile dramatic sequences recently with Daenerys where he’s had to use his raw intelligence to curry favor with her and save his own life. Say what you will about Season Five, but I suspect Dinklage will emerge unscathed by any perceived disappointments.

Next in line would be Jon Voight (Ray Donovan), not a show I watch but a buzzy performance nonetheless. In fact, most of the awards juice around the show comes through his performance, which has already netted him a Golden Globe. He’s been nominated here before, and I see no reason he won’t be again.

With the final season of Mad Men put to bed, all that remains is handing out the final nominations and awards (if any). Leading up the pack for Mad Men has to be John Slattery for his farewell performance as Roger Sterling. It’s hard to imagine that, after seven seasons of the series, he has never won an award for the performance. Of the men on the show, he’s certainly the one to engender the post buzz and uniform good will with audiences more accepting of his boozy good humor than of Jon Hamm’s tormented, series-spanning identity crisis. Still, this too is a risky proposition considering he hasn’t been nominated since 2011, but I’m willing to go with it given the massive media push for the series finale.

So that gives us the following actors in lead positions:

  • Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
  • Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
  • Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
  • Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
  • John Slattery, Mad Men
  • Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

If someone has to go, then it’s most likely going to be Slattery, honestly, because Mad Men is really such a wild card when it comes to recognizing the actors. It’s impossible to gauge the final season appeal of a show that, while it is frequently nominated in the Drama Series category, has a very hard time winning for its actors. He’s the weakest of the six. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong. Banks will be there. I’m certain of that. So will Patinkin for his stunning acting in Homeland Season Four where his character is kidnapped and terrorized, at one point causing him to beg for his own death. It was a memorable arc for the actor, and he will be there as well with a strong chance to win. Dinklage will most likely be the sole acting nominee for Game of Thrones this year. I will also defend Mendelsohn’s inclusion here because, of all the high octane cast in Netflix’s Bloodline, he’s the one you remember, drawing from Robert DeNiro’s more subtle moments (if there were any) in Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear. I can easily see Mendelsohn and Sissy Spacek both recognized for the series as they share many tender moments of (dubious) reconnection toward the end of the series.

So, if Slattery falls out, then who takes his place? That’s a trickier question as there are literally a dozen actors would could fill the slot including Norbert Leo Butz (Bloodline), Alan Cumming (The Good Wife), Jim Carter or Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey), Michael McKeen (Better Call Saul), Michael Kelly (House of Cards), Matt Czuchry (The Good Wife), Sam Elliot (Justified), Joe Morton (Scandal), Joshua Jackson (The Affair), and the Critics’ Choice-mentioned Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers), Craig T. Nelson (Parenthood), and Walton Goggins (Justified).

Cumming seems best poised to bump Slattery because his recent performance in The Good Wife has been very well received, potentially putting him back into contention for the first time since 2011. And you can never officially count out anyone from Downton Abbey. If I’m being honest, then I’d like to see Timothy Dalton considered for his wonderfully loony work in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. He is campaigning in the Best Actor category, but that’s a mistake. Eva Green owns the show, and the rest are all supporting players. At any rate, category confusion aside, make no mistake that he isn’t getting anywhere near the nominee’s circle, but it takes a certain kind of actor to act in such outlandish scenarios and give them credibility.

Just because it’s pulpy fiction doesn’t mean it’s not great.

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