Note: This post is the latest in an on-going series of pieces exploring the major categories at the 2015 Emmy awards. We will cover actors, actresses, and series – Comedy and Drama – through the end of the voting period on August 28. See something you like or a performance you’d like to single out? Share the posts and create some Twitter buzz! We’ll see you at the Emmys.
Now that Mad Men has wrapped up its final season, everyone seems to think that Jon Hamm will finally win his Emmy for portraying Don Draper after seven seasons of lies, affairs, booze, and proficient smoking. And common logic is probably right? However, Mad Men has never won an Emmy for its many fantastic performances. Not even Robert Morse’s musical death sequence last year could merit a Guest Actor Emmy. Conventional wisdom has Hamm comfortably in the lead, but two very popular performances are nipping at his heels. It feels like Kevin Spacey has won an Emmy before for his phenomenal performance as President Frank Underwood, but he’s gone home empty-handed twice now. Also, everyone seems to love Bob Odenkirk’s career-redefining performance in Better Call Saul, and you can never count out previous surprise winner Kyle Chandler for his emotional, soul-wrecking work at the end of Bloodline. It’s a very tough category to call, and I have a hunch that, when the envelope is opened, many an eyebrow will be raised.
Performer: Kyle Chandler as John Rayburn in Bloodline
Episode: “Episode 112” (Season 1, Episode 12)
Highlights: We’ve discussed this one before… Danny and John Rayburn’s brotherly showdown comes to its inevitable and brutal conclusion.
Why he could win: The material is an actor’s dream: Chandler confronts his younger brother (Emmy nominee Ben Mendelsohn) after exploring his dark past and dealing his brother’s thinly veiled death threats against his own daughter. Twelve episodes of stress, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, disappointment, and, yes, love finally erupt into ***SPOILER*** Chandler strangling Mendelsohn in the shallow waters of Key West. In the Actor’s Textbook, you’ll find Kyle Chandler’s Bloodline performance under the category “slow burn” as Chandler evolved his character over the course of the series, never making acting choices that felt out of turn or unexpected. Plus, it’s very hard to play the “good guy” given so many bigger, broader performances that populate the series, but Chandler (and, to a certain extent, the criminally un-nominated Sissy Spacek) is the emotional core of not only the family but also the series itself.
Why could he lose: Bloodline is a tough sit for the first six or seven episodes, and Chandler’s performance is difficult to pin down to a single episode. It’s odd that he chose the same episode as Ben Mendelsohn as you’d expect them to spread the exposure to the series. I thought Chandler’s work in the finale (when he suffers from a panic attack) was equally great, so you’d think he’d want to increase his chances by offering something different. He was a surprise winner before, and not many will feel the need to reward him again so soon. Plus, recent award winners in this category haven’t exactly trended toward the good guys.
Performer: Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in Newsroom
Episode: “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Highlights: Newsroom‘s series finale includes the funeral of Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) which also featured flashbacks of how Skinner molded the career of Daniels’s Will McAvoy.
Why he could win: He’s been a surprise winner before, so anything’s possible. The final episode definitely played to Daniels’s comic strengths, particularly when he reacted to some unexpected pregnancy news. He was also more than capable of delivering on the dramatic front as well, providing a well-rounded performance for the actor in the outgoing series.
Why could he lose: He’s won before for this same performance in Newsroom‘s first season, and many thought he did not deserve the award. Daniels is a nice guy and a good actor, but I don’t think anyone feels the need to reward him again with another win in the light of much more deserving performances across the board. It would be the height of frustration (putting it mildly) to see Daniels at the podium again.
Performer: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men
Episode: “Person to Person” (Season 7, Episode 14)
Highlights: In the Mad Men series finale, Don Draper learns to blend the two halves of his persona, cries a lot, and finds inner peace – as well as the inspiration for the most famous ad campaign ever designed, the “buy the world a Coke” campaign.
Why he could win: The final season saw a lot of characters speed toward happy endings of sorts, but nothing was more unexpected than Jon Hamm’s redemption of Don Draper. The highlight of the episode was his literally phoned-in teary confessional to Peggy Olson, and, if only to top that, Hamm joins a hippie retreat where he bonds and cries with a man named Leonard. In the hands of any other actor, the combination of scenes would seem self-indulgent and melodramatic, but the criminally underrated actor Jon Hamm manages to sell it better than Don Draper ever could. I could go on and on about the performance, but series creator Matt Weiner does the perfect job right here. And let me just say it again: Mad Men has never won an acting Emmy. It’s high time Jon Hamm got his.
Why could he lose: Mad Men isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and, no matter how much AMC tried to force it, there isn’t an overwhelming sense of affection for the ending series as there was for last year’s Breaking Bad. Perhaps it was a mistake to split the final season over two years? The finale was highly praised by all, but the beginning of the final season seemed to elicit only apathy from those who watched. Hamm’s never won before despite giving fantastic performances, so there has to be something else brewing in Hollywood against the actor. My personal theory is there is an undercurrent of jealousy against the actor for various reasons, and petty actors may not feel the need to ever award him the Emmy. Plus, no one from Mad Men has ever won an acting award. It’s a tough statistic to fight. There is also the minor problem of his second nomination this year – Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – and anyone voting for him in that category might be unlikely to vote twice for him. Wouldn’t it be ironic if he won for that and not the much-publicized finale of Mad Men?
Performer: Bob Odenkirk as James “Jimmy” McGill in Better Call Saul
Episode: “Pimento” (Season 1, Episode 9)
Highlights: Jimmy McGill finally seems to be positioned to win something on his own as he petitions to co-council the case against Sandpiper Crossing. However, he is stabbed in the back by the most unlikely of sources.
Why he could win: Odenkirk’s risky central performance over the course of Better Call Saul has been a revelation for the primarily comic actor. He honed his chops during Breaking Bad, but Saul gives him the opportunity to illustrate the desperation, inventiveness and vulnerability inherent within the early days of the man who would become Saul Goodman. Odenkirk has chosen a decent episode, one that gives him the opportunity to pull some of the character’s bravado and sprinkle it with insecurity as he begs for a position at major law firm HHM. But it’s the painful revelation at the end of the episode – his own brother has sabotaged his career aspirations – that gives Odenkirk the opportunity to truly shine by underplaying the moment rather than sending it over the top. Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman is a much beloved character within admirers of the Breaking Bad legacy, and voters may want to reward Odenkirk’s (de)evolution over the two series. The recent rule changes – the final votes come from the broader Television Academy rather than selected panels as before – may dip in Odenkirk’s favor as Saul was both a critical and popular hit. Plus, Odenkirk is just a really great guy, and his recent speeches at awards shows have been particularly endearing…
Why could he lose: …but he continues to make a potentially fatal flaw by underscoring his lack of dramatic acting experience. Every time Odenkirk approaches the podium, he makes some statement reminding the audience that he’s a comedian, not a dramatic actor. Saying that once or twice may be endearing, but he repeats the same line in the press. Emmy voters may hesitate rewarding his performance because he so frequently insists that he’s not a dramatic actor. Is this a fluke? Will the Television Academy reward a fluke performance?
Performer: Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan in Ray Donovan
Episode: “Walk This Way” (Season 2, Episode 7)
Highlights: The Donovan family comes together for Conor’s (Ray’s son) 14th birthday after Ray and Abbey forgot it. Naturally, family dysfunction takes center stage.
Why he could win: Schreiber himself directed the episode, which always earns bonus points when an actor stretches. Plus, the episode gives Schreiber a chance to exercise the ticking time bomb that is Ray Donovan. Plus, who doesn’t love the episode-capping dance between Ray and Conor to Run DMC’s “Walk This Way?”
Why could he lose: Who actually watches this show? Raise your hand please. The nomination will be considered reward enough for the actor, and there are frankly better performances standing in his way.
Performer: Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood in House of Cards
Highlights: Since no episode submission information was provided as of this piece’s writing, we can only look at the character arc of Frank Underwood over Season Three. Watching Frank become president was fun but watching it possibly slip through his fingers thanks to all of the women in his life was even more fun.
Why he could win: He’s never won an Emmy for this very buzzy, much admired performance. If the first two seasons seemed orchestrated to have Underwood become president against little competition, then Spacey’s struggle to maintain power in Season Three has been the payoff. He kicks the season off by pissing on his father’s grave, and it all goes downhill from there. Highlights of Spacey’s Season Three performance include effectively declaring war against Jesus Christ, a meaty debate sequence, an intriguing deep-dive into his past (and near homosexual dalliance) with his ghost writer, and his complete evisceration of wife Claire toward the end of the season. Plus, Spacey won both the Golden Globe and SAG Awards earlier this year, albeit for his Season Two performance. Still, the appearance of momentum could push him ahead of Jon Hamm (who has thus far only been a critics’ darling).
Why could he lose: Despite movie star cred, he has been denied twice already, and many thought he was assured a win for Season One. Is his performance old hat now? After watching Season Three, it’s not particularly Spacey’s performance that feels memorable and vital – it’s Robin Wright’s. There are scenarios where Jon Hamm receives a Mad Men block vote, and everyone else draws votes from each other as the alternate to Hamm. Plus, Frank Underwood really moved from the “villain we love to hate” category to the “villain who’s just a huge asshole that we really loathe” category. Emmy voters love an anti-hero, but they do have to have some tiny positive characteristics.