The 2013 Emmy Awards, honoring the best in television, is almost upon us. Hosted by the inimitable Neil Patrick Harris, the event will air Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and feature several highly contested showdowns in various categories.
Over the next several days, The Daily Beast’s culture writers, Kevin Fallon and Marlow Stern, will be debating who they think should win the awards in the top categories. Second category on their list: Best Actor, for both drama and comedy.
Here is the list of nominees:
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A DRAMA Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey; Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom; Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Damian Lewis, Homeland (2012 Winner) ; Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A COMEDY Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock; Jason Bateman, Arrested Development; Louis C.K., Louie; Don Cheadle, House of Lies; Matt LeBlanc, Episodes; Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Marlow: Let’s start with Outstanding Actor in a Drama, which is the most stacked category at the ’13 Emmys. Where do I even start? Bryan Cranston probably deserves to win every year for his stunning portrayal of chemistry teacher–cum–meth kingpin Walter White on the AMC series Breaking Bad, and this past (half) season saw him in top form, including the train-heist sequence, the prison hits, and his murder of Mike. But there was no big “I am the one who knocks …” moment, à la Season 4, and Season 5 was split up in two, which gets some demerits. Jeff Daniels is a revelation as anchor Will McAvoy on HBO’s The Newsroom, and the four-minute monologue he gives during the series’ pilot episode—totaling eight pages of dialogue—is jaw-dropping. Last year’s surprise winner, Homeland’s Damian Lewis, was back to some of his old tricks in Season 2, and the interrogation scene between Carrie and Brody, where the double agent finally cracks, sees Lewis go from callous to broken in the blink of an eye. But Brody’s storyline during Season 2 of Homeland was really sloppy. I’m usually not for giving someone a “career award,” as the Oscars so often do, but Jon Hamm deserves to FINALLY win an Emmy for his portrayal of tormented ad man Don Draper on Mad Men. Women want him, men want to be him, and it’s just about damn time he gets recognized for it.
Kevin: Marlow, are we actually agreeing on something? I’m totally with you—this is Jon Hamm’s year. Would you believe that not a single Mad Men actor has ever won an Emmy for the show? What better way to rectify that egregious fact than by giving a trophy to the actor who first blew that smoke in our eyes six years ago. We’ve thrilled in traveling down the self-destructive rabbit hole with his Don Draper over the show’s first five seasons. This year, however, was the first time we actually felt the need to come up for light, with Don’s plunge into darkness going so deep that for the first time we questioned whether he was a character we loved to hate, or just hate. Daring to take the lead of a major series in such a bold direction paid off with Hamm’s most nuanced performance yet.
Running a very close second for me is Jeff Daniels. Yes, The Newsroom’s first season was uneven, at best. But that juicy monologue you reference in the pilot is precisely what Emmy trophies are made of, and Daniels’s blistering performance of it gave everyone chills. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Bryan Cranston won his fourth trophy for Breaking Bad—the show has never been so popular, or so good. For that matter, as keen as the Emmys were on Homeland last year, they’re even more so this year, with three more actors from the show joining Damian Lewis and Claire Danes as nominees. If Lewis was able to scrape out a surprise (and deserved) win last year as the underdog, he certainly should be seen as the frontrunner this year. It’s a shame, too, because we’ve been deprived of a Hamm acceptance speech for far too long now.
Marlow: Agree that Daniels, for me, is running a very close second for his turn on The Newsroom (those Sorkin monologues!)—if only because Cranston has won so many times before—and it really is completely insane that no actor on Mad Men has ever won an Emmy. Again, I don’t think Lewis really deserves another one this year against such heavy competition, especially since Brody’s storyline strained credibility during Season 2 of Homeland, especially when it came to his relationship with Nazir and Carrie. So, even though I can’t get over the fact that the actor playing his younger self in no way, shape, or form resembles him, let’s please—PLEASE—give Don Draper an Emmy. Plus … who looks better onstage in a suit?
Now, to Outstanding Actor in a Comedy. Despite the heavily diminishing returns on Two and a Half Men, Jon Cryer got a sympathy Emmy last year for handling the Charlie Sheen meltdown—and subsequent addition of Ashton Kutcher—with grace. He’s not up for one this year because the show has really, really jumped the shark. Alec Baldwin will get some sympathy votes since 30 Rock is kaput, as well as some non-votes for those homophobic statements he made this past summer. As much as I love all things Jason Bateman, the revamped Arrested Development was a clumsy, tone-deaf affair that lacked the precise comedic timing that made the original iteration a cult classic. The only winner here should be Louis C.K. The third season of Louie really fired on all cylinders, and C.K. is the show—writing, directing, editing, and starring in it. There are too many great moments to count. The rough car sex with Laurie (Melissa Leo, who won a guest Emmy for her turn); the awkwardly homoerotic tryst in Miami with Ramon; the Manic Pixie Dream Girl nightmare; his five-years-too-late apology to Marc Maron. Plus, numerous flashbacks, and his relationship with Lilly is explored in greater depth than ever before when he helps her deal with bullying. Louis gave it his all this season, so give him the Emmy, por favor.
Kevin: Before I make my pick to win—is there a weird moon, because I think we’re about to agree again, Marlow—I’d like to pour one out for the two biggest snubs in the category. Jake Johnson on New Girl probably gave one of the most unusual performances this season, juggling frantic, pathetic, energetic, hapless, and even swoonworthy as Nick, never dropping the ball once. When Zooey Deschanel’s Jess falls for his unlikely charm by season’s end, it’s hard to blame her—we did, too. And no one can pull off the mix of nerdy debonair that Adam Scott does on Parks and Recreation, accomplishing what was once unbelievable: being Amy Poehler’s perfect comedic match.
Besides those two exclusions, this is a pretty solid list. Pretty much every scene between Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey throughout 30 Rock’s run could be used as an Emmy submission and win, and that’s never been more the case than during the show’s madcap swan song. Matt LeBlanc plays, well, Matt LeBlanc with surprising self-awareness and bite on Episodes, and Jim Parsons, regardless of whether The Big Bang Theory is your cup of tea, is as brilliant comically as his character is academically. He could easily take his third Emmy this year, and it would be hard to argue with that choice. That is, if it weren’t Louis C.K.
Louis C.K. gave what is probably both the best comedic and best dramatic performance by an actor this year. If he was competing in Best Actor in a Drama, I’d be tempted to root for him in that category as much as I do here. (In addition to those brilliant arcs you’ve already mentioned, I have to bring up the “Daddy’s Girlfriend” episodes with Parker Posey, which traveled from charming to startling so subtly that you don’t even notice that what began as a romantic comedy became a dark thriller right before your eyes.) Louie may have no laugh tracks and C.K. may not be dolling out sarcastic zingers and firing off punchlines, But the nuanced blend of heartbreak and hilarity he brings to the series should make this the easiest choice Emmy voters make this season.