2013 Emmy Nominations: Lead Roles

Mat and I are back with Part 3 of our 2013 Emmy Nominations! If you missed the first two parts, you can read our nominees for Best Guest Performances here and our nominees for Best Supporting Performances here. In this part we’ll be nominating those of whom we feel had the best performances as Leads. Without further ado, let’s get nominatin’!

(Note: My nominees are aligned to the left, Mat’s aligned to the right)

 Lead Actor in a Drama

I’m not even really sure what I should say here because I’ll probably just be repeating anything anybody’s ever said the past five years. I mean, there’s no denying the fact that Bryan Cranston is fantastic as Walter White and if you do, you’re just being dumb and doing it for the sake of doing it. That said, he may miss out on the award again simply because Jon Hamm has to win sometime.

Like Mat will talk about in a minute, Elementary is definitely the most surprising thing to come out of the 2012-13 TV season (also the best but that’s for another discussion. Tomorrow perhaps?) because everybody wrote it off immediately after hearing about it and I have to say, I definitely have to give props to The AV Club for covering it because I’m not sure I would’ve even bothered checking it out if it wasn’t getting rave reviews on the site. Still, one of the reasons it’s such a great show is Johnny Lee Miller’s performance. At the beginning of the series it felt like he was trying too hard to get people to notice the nuances of the character but as he started to feel more comfortable in the role, the better his performances got as a result. And the last handful of episodes of season one? Almost enough for me to give him the win outright.

If you’ve followed my nominations so far, you’d probably have guessed that this was coming. Still, Timothy Olyphant is amazing as Raylan Givens and despite being nominated in 2011, has never really been given the credit he’s deserved for it. He’s had the unfortunate task of playing the role at the same time as Cranston and Hamm but I feel like his work has deserved a nomination every season but unfortunately only has one to show for it. Hopefully that changes this year.

KEVIN SPACEYHouse of Cards
This nomination is inevitable in real life but that’s not to say it’s undeserved because Kevin Spacey is great as Frank Underwood in House of Cards. Like I mentioned in my nomination of Corey Stoll, Stoll outshines him but Spacey does what he does well: act.

Despite the internet’s weird fascination with making fun of the show, I don’t think anybody can say that Jeff Daniels isn’t bringing his A-game to The Newsroom. His monologue in the Pilot is pretty much reason enough to give him a nomination. Also, stoned Will McAvoy is almost the best Will McAvoy had it not been for clip below in Sunday’s premiere.

As much as I wanted to give this to Olyphant because I’m a crazy Justified fanboy, this is definitely Jon Hamm’s award. It’s amazing to me that he still hasn’t this award, despite being nominated every year. Obviously coming in at around the same time as Bryan Cranston and Breaking Bad has been unfortunate for him awards-wise but he’s been tremendous as Don Draper since day 1. Like Mat, I’m not quite sure I would’ve given him the award if it weren’t for Mad Men’s season finale this year but he was fantastic all season, the finale just put it over the top.

Honorable Mention(s): I definitely wanted to put Patrick J. Adams and/or Gabriel Macht on the list for Suits but I had to go with Spacey and Daniels instead. Adams and Macht are great in their roles as Mike Ross and Harvey Specter respectively but the strength of their performances usually lie within their comedic rapport. They had some dramatic moments but not quite enough to warrant being nominated. Timothy Hutton was always really good in Leverage but I only really felt like mentioning it because of Leverage’s cancellation.

Determining the final spot for this category was tough; for me, this was the only one of the Lead Actor/Actress categories that was really packed with tough decisions to make. In the end, Damian Lewis won out; I’m honestly a bit sick of Nicholas Brody as a character and I think the best thing that Homeland could do in season 3 is limit his role a lot to help emphasize how major the developments at the end of season two were, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Lewis was very good in the part and “Q&A” is an absolutely stellar submission episode. I just hope he doesn’t win again.

Elementary was the most pleasant surprise of the ’12/’13 TV season, a show that a year ago everyone was writing off as CBS’ attempt to make a watered-down version of Sherlock that instead turned out to be a very fun, progressive take on the Arthur Conan Doyle novels, and a magnificent character study for Holmes himself. It took a while for Johnny Lee Miller to truly find his footing in the role but once he did, wow, what a consistently enjoyable performance. Are we sure this is really a CBS drama? Was there maybe a clerical error somewhere?

STEVE BUSCEMIBoardwalk Empire
It would be hard for Steve Buscemi to not make a list like this because honestly, he’s one of my all-time favorite actors. Any time he shows up in anything I get ridiculously excited, and it was no different when he was cast for Boardwalk a couple years ago. That being said, he didn’t really find his feet fully as Nucky Thompson until after the uneven first season, and sadly as far as awards shows go, the Boardwalk Empire hype train left the station after that first season, on to new shiny things like Homeland. That’s why I’m concerned that his honestly very good performance in the third season as a man who has made peace with the rules of being a gangster, only to find himself in a war with a guy who follows very very few of those rules, will be overlooked for a nomination this year. Here’s hoping it’s not.

The most visceral performance in this group by far, Dancy plays Will Graham’s increasing instability very, very well. Playing crazy is often tough because it’s a goldmine for overacting, and that would have absolutely sunk a show as effectively chilling as Hannibal is. A lot of weight rests on Hugh Dancy’s shoulders, far moreso than any other actor save Mikkelson due to the iconic nature of the character he’s playing, and he bears the weight well.

Okay, you know how good Bryan Cranston is as Walter White. Everyone does. People who’ve never seen Breaking Bad know, people who don’t even own a TV or a computer still probably somehow know. So what I’ll say is that it was always inevitable, but his ascension to full-fledged Villain Protagonist was even better than I expected, and I expected it to be really, really good. If he wins again, it obviously won’t be undeserved. And yet…

To be honest, up until the season finale I thought this was for sure another Bryan Cranston year. Jon Hamm was very good but he’s always very good, and he didn’t really have a single episode where he was amazing up to this point. He didn’t have a Carousel speech, he didn’t have another “The Suitcase.” And then the finale happened, and that all changed. The Hershey’s monologue is probably the best piece of acting from the last year, a moment where barriers broke down in a way Mad Men viewers have been waiting for for six years. For god’s sake, Emmys, don’t turn this into another thing like Steve Carell never winning an award for bringing Michael Scott to life. Let Jon Hamm win this one, huh?

Honorable Mention(s): Clarke Peters (Treme), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)

Lead Actress in a Drama

ROBIN WRIGHTHouse of Cards
It wasn’t a particularly dynamic performance but a lot of that had to do with the material she was given. Still, Robin Wright really did the best she could with what she was given and elevated it to such a degree that there were times that I actually cared despite the fact that what she was doing wasn’t very engrossing. Those feelings of care didn’t last long, mind you, but her ability to make the material seem a lot more interesting than it really was is clearly a good actress at work.

LUCY LIUElementary
Watson’s a woman!? Yeah, that was the typical reaction a year ago when people started hearing about the show. Watson’s a woman! That’s the reaction now because Lucy Liu has done a great job in making the role her own. It’s a role that doesn’t ask her to be very big but that’s because that’s Johnny Lee Miller’s job as Sherlock. Still, I don’t think enough can be said that Liu had an uphill battle to reach this point and she’s done so fairly quickly (and easily).

NINA DOBREVThe Vampire Diaries
The following three nominees are me force-feeding people that don’t really deserve the nomination but I have to nominate somebody so here we are. Still, Nina Dobrev is probably pretty underrated in her role on The Vampire Diaries. As underrated a CW actress can get, I guess. Still, because Dobrev often pulls double duty, it sometimes becomes pretty obvious that she does a pretty great job.

Emily Van Camp is actually quite good on Revenge and still probably would’ve made my list had the category been a little stronger. Still, it’s easy for people to dismiss how good she is simply because the character she plays doesn’t show a ton of emotion but that’s by design and when she is given material to work with, she tends to knock it out of the park.

Honestly, this is the one nominee that I truly don’t like making because Stana Katic isn’t particuarly good in Castle. She’s not awful but her limitations as an actress come up more than they should on a show that’s been on the air this long. Still, I have to nominate somebody and I’d rather nominate her than Katie Cassidy (Arrow).

Unfortunately this is almost by default but that doesn’t really change how great Elisabeth Moss has been as Peggy Olson, especially this season. The scene in which she and Pete Campbell reminisce about their lives is reason enough to hand her the award now. There’s nothing else I can really say about it.

Honorable Mention(s): Ugh, what a terrible category to try and nominate for, as you can tell by half of them probably being on this list undeserved. That said, much like Mat, had I actually watched more of The Americans (remember when I reviewed the pilot? That seems like years ago) or Nashville, my list wouldn’t be quite as bad because I know for sure that Connie Britton on the list and just assume Keri Russell would be too. Emmy Rossum for Shameless is another that would likely be on the list had I watched the new season at all.

I… okay. This category is screwed up for me because there are actresses I want to nominate but can’t in good conscience because I haven’t watched enough of their shows yet. It’s a pity, but that’s how it is. Lori Grimes was not by any stretch of the imagination a leading character in season three of The Walking Dead, and Sara Wayne Callies was good enough, but not really Best Lead Actress good. But the only other options for me are Katie Cassidy (Arrow) or, um, Tracy Spiridakos (Revolution). The former’s not compelling enough, the latter’s just not very good. So credit to Callies and The Walking Dead for taking one of the least tolerable characters of the first two seasons and actually doing right by her for a change. It was very limited screentime, but it was the best Lori ever had.

ROBIN WRIGHTHouse of Cards
I don’t think Robin Wright would be here either if not for just not having watched a couple shows I should have by now, but at bare minimum she would have been a very deserving honorable mention. Despite being saddled with subplots I couldn’t even begin to care about (firing employees! That photographer guy! JOGGING!), Wright did well and had some very good scenes with Kevin Spacey in particular.

Honestly, this wasn’t a great Peggy season. I wouldn’t say there was a great showcase for Moss this year like there was in episodes like “The Other Woman” and “The Suitcase” in years past. But “not a great Peggy season” promises at the very worst a season of very well-acted performances, and probably a great season for a character in a lot of other shows. I could watch Peggy Olson gossip on the phone with Stan Rizzo, or get drunk with Pete Campbell and have a conversation that seems relatively mundane but really has years and years of character development just sitting there, giving a weight to the most minor of things. Okay, screw it, it was a pretty good Peggy season. Peggy’s always good.

LUCY LIUElementary
The casting of Liu as a female version of Dr. Watson was met with a lot of resistance from fans, but with the first season of Elementary wrapped up it’s pretty clear that none of the accusations against the move panned out. It wasn’t stunt casting. It wasn’t something different for the sake of being different. It wasn’t a cheap way of further Americanizing the show by adding will they/won’t they romance. And Lucy Liu is indeed good enough to play the part and indeed, she gives a magnificently understated, subtle performance to balance out Jonny Lee Miller’s thoroughly eccentric Holmes. It’s the kind of performance that is so good at what it does and in such an unflashy way that it’s so easy to overlook, but you shouldn’t. It’s not quite as good a Watson as Martin Freeman in Sherlock (it would be very, very, very hard to top Martin Freeman in Sherlock), but it’s a very worthy contender.

While Homeland’s second season was a significant disappointment, and I don’t expect it to do as well at the Emmy’s this year as it did last year, this category should realistically still belong to Danes, no question. Carrie Mathison remains one of the strongest characters on TV, male or female, and just like Damian Lewis she has the wonderful “Q&A” backing her up as a submission episode. Danes will, for sure, win again this year. In fact, she’ll do it with a smile. But that being said…

Oh, how I wish more people watched Treme. I get why they don’t, it’s a hard show to get into, and really it’s a miracle it’s ended up with four seasons, but still. If more people were watching Treme more people would be talking about how great Khandi Alexander is in it, what a magnificent and sometimes heartwrenching performance she has as a woman who has survived through things that would break lesser people, but at the same time cannot help but show the scars and damage done by them. LaDonna Batiste-Williams is one of the great David Simon characters and Alexander is in the pantheon of the greatest performers to bring life to his work.

Honorable Mention(s): If I didn’t have a backlog of nearly the entirety of The Americans and Nashville still yet to be watched, it’s entirely probable that Keri Russell and Connie Britton would be here. Unfortunately, I just haven’t had time.


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