Part 2: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
This category is the one that has been affected by Game of Thrones the least. There has been more variety in this category over the past decade than almost any others. A different actor has won every year for the past nine years, and Bryan Cranston was the only one to win more than once. There’s a lot of room for variety in this category, and little chance for a repeat. While I think Jason Bateman could make another dent in this category, as well as room for some of the men from Westworld, here are the men who are the most likely nominees.
Sterling K. Brown, This is Us
Of all of the actors in this great ensemble, Brown is by far the one who impresses the most year in and year out. Originally a candidate because of his character’s overall goodness, it has been interesting watching him going through areas of denial and darkness. From Randall’s refusal to seek therapy and his begrudging ability to accept his flaws to his ever complicated relationship with his mother and her fast-coming illness — which will lead to the biggest break with his family yet, Brown’s work is one of the great triumphs of television. His continued presence in this category is one of the few sure things about the Emmys, and I have no problem with it.
Brian Cox, Succession
Cox has always been one of the most undervalued actors in every medium he works in — from his portrayal of the first ever Hannibal Lecter to his superb work on Deadwood, he has been constantly given the short end of recognition. That has pretty much stopped when he landed the role of a lifetime as Logan Roy, the patriarch of a clan who represents everything we hate and love about the top one percent all at once. It’s hard to tell what’s harder for this communications billionaire; maintaining control of his empire or his family, and in the final minutes of the Season 2 finale, he seemed to lose both. And yet there was something in that last shot that made me think he was proud of his son at last. The Golden Globe gives him a slight edge for the Emmy, though he will face stiff competition (again possibly from his own family), but I’ll be glad to see him nominated.
Justin Hartley, This is Us
I’m still not certain whether Hartley’s move to be listed as a lead instead of a supporting actor is a smart one. What I do know is that Hartley has deserved recognition from the Emmys for at least the last two seasons, and especially for this one. Watching Kevin try to give support to the uncle he only recently learned he had for much of the first half, to his determination to try and start a family, to his learning of his mother’s illness which leads to him a collision course with Randall, was among the finest work I’ve seen him do, and he’s been the undervalued player of this entire cast. Is it likely that his father will once again swoop in and take credit away from him? It’s hard to ever deny Milo Ventimiglia’s work on this show. But in my opinion, on Season 4, the son finally has outshone the father, and I hope the voters see that.
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Just like the series receiving a nomination for Best Drama, it’s clear that the likelihood of Malek being recognized for his work in the final season of Mr. Robot is next to impossible — the series has basically been ignored by the Emmys since its first season. But looking at Malek’s body of work in the final season, its hard to figure how the Emmys could not nominate him. From Eliot’s obsession to rob ECorp blind leading him to the darkest territory yet — including the outright the blackmail of an innocent — to his learning the truth of what his father did to him in the freakiest therapy session of all time, to finally achieving his goals, and then getting trapped inside his own mind, Malek has demonstrated why he became a superstar in the first place. Maybe the Emmys think the Oscar he won last year is more than enough for him. But I think he deserves to be put in the winner’s circle one more time. Please tell me they’ll see it too.
Tobias Menzies, The Crown
I don’t know why the judges are considering Menzies’ work as Prince Philip a lead role in this series, whereas Matt Smith was content to go into the supporting category. That being said, having seen his work in this season of The Crown, one can hardly deny that he is unworthy of recognition. There were two exceptional episodes that more than demonstrated his skill — one, where after decades of having no real relationship with his mother, he finally embraced her, and the other where, feeling lost in his role in the shadow of the moonwalk, led him to finally face his spiritual problems. Both were superb performances. Throw in the fact that he was unjustly ignored for his superb work in the early seasons of Outlander, and its hard to see how the Emmys can deny him.
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
I’ve been saying for four seasons that Odenkirk should’ve won at least one Emmy by now — though to be fair, given the intense level of his competition in this category, it’s hard to figure out who he should have triumphed over. But considering just how brilliant he’s been before, and how masterful he’s been in this season, it’s going to take a lot of effort for the Emmys to not acknowledge him this time. Watching Jimmy embracing Saul, and starting to get involved with the cartel that will bring him down, to his work in Bagman, where a simple money pickup ends in death to his confrontation with Lalo in the next episode, shows that Odenkirk has elevated his work to a level that even Bryan Cranston, for all his gifts, never achieved. Because five seasons in, we still feel for Jimmy in a way we had lost any respect for Walt by this time. We know how his saga ends — and yet we don’t. But I want to know what happened to Jimmy. And I want Odenkirk on that dais.
Billy Porter, Pose
I’m still not a hundred percent sold that Porter’s work as Pray Tell was worthy of beating Odenkirk’s last year. I do think, however, that it was at the next level this season. As Pray Tell accepting his diagnosis of AIDS by getting angry, by deciding to fight it, and then finally embracing a new love, Porter has been one of the most dazzling points to watch this entire season. He is the pater familias of the gang at the ballroom and of his unlikely family, and as we watched the end of Season 2, we know that despite everything, he will continue to endure. I honestly don’t know when we’ll finally get a third season of Pose, but I know that Porter is even more of a superstar than he was before. Somebody help this guy complete his EGOT.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Bill Pullman, The Sinner
It is rare that the Emmys give nominations, much less awards, to actors who underplay their characters. Indeed, that exact attitude has probably plagued Bill Pullman his entire career. But in his superb work as Harry Ambrose, a battered down detective who constantly finds himself investigating why people died rather than how, he continuously finds level of calmness in darkness. This season, he drove himself to darker places than he did in the past, trying to get inside the mind of an ordinary teacher who let a classmate die while he watch, and trying to get inside his head cost him even more than these cases usually do — something he didn’t realize until the last minutes of the season. Pullman has been forced to go between Limited Series and Drama due to the Emmys problems in categorizing The Sinner, and it’s cost him. I hope they find a way to acknowledge him this year.