Emmy Episode Analysis: ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘This Is Us’ Flood The Guest Actor Categories

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, Emmy season.

To prepare for TV’s biggest night (not looking at you, SuperBowl), we are going to dive into each of the major categories. Each acting, writing or directing nominee must submit one episode to be judged on. For series nominations, the series submits six episodes to be judged on. Each Friday, we will tackle a new set of categories to examine and predict the winners after watching (or re-watching) each submitted episode.

Our first week kicks off with the Guest Actor categories in both Comedy and Drama. These performers had to submit episodes for the ballot phase.

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series

Hank Azaria as Ed Cochran in “Ray Donovan” for episode “Norman Saves The World”

IMDB Synopsis: Ray has a confrontation with a Hollywood agent and a former fixer; without the protection of the Russians, Ray helps Mickey secure his own safety.

It’s easy to see how Azaria won the category last year in hindsight. His character, Ed Cochran, is an insatiably entertaining sleaze. We get this early on as he opens the episode with an offbeat singing session. Azaria gets great range, as we see him gain confidence in his dealings, only to come face to face with Ray Donovan at the end. It’s an even better submission than last year, which could help him in this category. On top of that, he appears in quite a bit of the episode.

Brian Tyree Henry as Ricky in “This Is Us” for episode “Memphis”

IMDB Synopsis: Randall and William take a road trip to Memphis, where Randall learns about William’s past.

“Memphis” remains one of the most emotional hours of television in the past year. As Randall (Sterling K. Brown) takes his dying Father, William (Ron Cephas Jones) back to his hometown of Memphis, we see William’s life in the past. Part of that is with Ricky, his wild musician cousin. Henry gets a good singing performance in here and builds a strong relationship with Jones. However, as effective as Henry is in this episode, he is not the element one thinks of most after watching the episode.

Gerald McRaney as Dr. K in “This Is Us” for episode “The Big Day”

IMDB Synopsis: A heavily pregnant Rebecca forgets Jack’s birthday; Dr. K struggles with the loss of his wife; Baby Randall inadvertently saves a marriage.

It’s hard not to bawl during Gerald McRaney’s episode submission. His episode shows what happens hours before McRaney’s Dr. K delivers Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) babies. There are some terrific scenes with him dealing with the death of his wife and sparring with his son, who is just trying to help. He is the emotional fulcrum for the episode, which ends with a touching conversation with his wife’s tombstone about their previous miscarriage. A bonus for McRaney is that he appears prominently in Denis O’Hare’s episode. If tapes truly matter, this is the cherry on top that will nab him the win. Vote splitting doesn’t affect frontrunners who are clearly carrying the majority of votes.

Ben Mendelsohn as Danny Rayburn in “Bloodline” for episode “Part 32”

IMDB Synopsis: A disoriented John finds himself in the hospital and proceeds to experience a series of surreal encounters that meld the past with the present.

Azaria isn’t the only returning winner in this category. After pulling a surprise upset last year, Ben Mendelsohn drops down to the guest category as problem child Danny Rayburn. His character is told in mostly drug induced hallucinations/flashbacks from golden boy John, who murdered Danny. Mendelsohn gets some nice, creepy moments. However, his scenes mostly pay off if one has kept up with the series. His win last year suggests there may be a “Bloodline” fan base, but I don’t know if this will get him a second win.

Denis O’Hare as Jessie in “This Is Us” for episode “Last Christmas”

IMDB Synopsis: The Pearsons come together to support a sick Dr. K; Randall talks a co-worker off a ledge; Christmas has a couple of big surprises in store for the Pearson family.

Denis O’Hare is an extraordinarily talented actor who has given many great performances on TV in the past decade alone. As William’s long lost boyfriend, O’Hare plays the role with a light, deft touch. He manages to sidestep cliche. However, this episode only gives him two scenes to shine. He delivers a great monologue in AA that serves as a perfect introduction to the character. Following that, he speaks to William and has a touching conversation that propels him back into William’s life. The scenes are good, but not enough to make a dent, especially with fellow nominee Gerald McRaney stealing scenes in his episode.

B.D. Wong as Whiterose in “Mr. Robot” in “eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc”

IMDB Synopsis: Elliot can’t quit the game; Dom and the FBI head to China to investigate 5/9; Joanna is haunted; and Darlene calls on Angela for help.

The gender-bending Whiterose character is an interesting enigma brilliantly played by Wong. Wong exudes an alluring, ominous confidence as he deals with FBI liaison Dominique DiPierro. He certainly emerges as the best part of the episode. However, Emmys seems to have fallen out of love with “Mr. Robot.” Additionally, in a vacuum, there isn’t much to latch onto in this episode. Wong remains a standout character actor, but this tape won’t lead him to victory.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Gerald McRaney – “This Is Us”

  2. Hank Azaria – “Ray Donovan”

  3. Denis O’Hare – “This Is Us”

  4. Brian Tyree Henry – “This Is Us”

  5. Ben Mendelsohn – “Bloodline”

  6. B.D. Wong – “Mr. Robot”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Gerald McRaney – “This Is Us”

  2. Hank Azaria – “Ray Donovan”

  3. Ben Mendelsohn – “Bloodline”

  4. Denis O’Hare – “This Is Us”

  5. B.D. Wong – “Mr. Robot”

  6. Brian Tyree Henry – “This Is Us”

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Riz Ahmed as Paul-Louis in “Girls” for episode “All I Ever Wanted”

IMDB Synopsis: Hannah gets an assignment to write about a female surf camp in the Hamptons, where she meets an uncomplicated water-skiing instructor; Marnie tells Ray that he needs to spend more time at his own place.

Riz Ahmed just seems like the coolest person. He effortlessly manages to craft this lovable loser surf instructor in Paul-Louis. What makes the character tick is the fact that he has a better handle on some parts of his life compared to Hannah (Lena Dunham). At the very least, he is calm and happy, something Hannah is drawn to. In many ways, this feels like an afterglow nomination from Ahmed’s work on “The Night Of.” Still, it’s an astute, fun and charming performance that deserves citation, even if won’t get a win.

Dave Chappelle as Himself in “Saturday Night Live” for episode “Host: Dave Chappelle”

IMDB Synopsis: N/A

Dave Chappelle is a legendary comedian who isn’t known for making many appearances. His SNL hosting gig represents a rare sighting, and he delivers. Hosting the week after the 2016 election is a tough job. Chappelle’s opening monologue manages to be both poignant and funny. His skits also allow him to do more election themed material and revisit old “Chappelle Show” characters. If I had to choose a specific SNL episode to vote for, I would choose him. Unfortunately, Tom Hanks has an iconic episode. Between Hanks and Miranda, vote splitting could doom all three of them for the win.

Tom Hanks as Himself in “Saturday Night Live” for episode “Host: Tom Hanks”

IMDB Synopsis: N/A

Tom Hanks has one of the best all around SNL episodes this season. Of the three nominees in this category, he is the only that gets to be in the cold open. His opening monologue fantastically plays into the view of Tom Hanks as “America’s Dad.” Even better is the range Hanks shows in his sketches. David S. Pumpkins and Doug on “Black Jeopardy” were both viral sensations. He even gets to reprise his role as Sully. Two time Oscar winner Hanks is beloved in the industry and his fantastic submission makes him a frontrunner. However, the only thing standing in his way are his fellow SNL nominees who can cause vote splitting.

Hugh Laurie as Tom James in “Veep” for episode “Blurb”

IMDB Synopsis: While her staff prepares for her portrait unveiling, Selina and Mike try to finish her book.

Can you believe Hugh Laurie has never won an Emmy? As the only nominee from “Veep” here (and the only lone nominee from a show in this category), Laurie could benefit from vote splitting. Vote splitting explains his only path to a win, however. He has great chemistry with the acidic Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) that bounces between, hate, admiration and attraction.  However, in each of these scenes, Louis-Dreyfus completely owns it. Laurie is a legend and is good in his episode, but it’s hard to argue that he gives the best comedic performance in the category. Still, he does have a clear road to victory.

Lin Manuel Miranda as Himself in “Saturday Night Live” for episode “Host: Lin Manuel Miranda”

IMDB Synopsis: N/A

No one can deny that Lin Manuel Miranda is a talented guy. He shows off his insane musical abilities and an unmatched entertainment endurance in the opening monologue. This is the one segment where he excels compared to his co-nominees. However, the sketches are more misses than hits. The spoofs of “Stranger Things” and inspirational teacher films fall flat. However, the earlier segment in the woods provokes chuckles. Miranda is less adept at sketches, but proves to be a likable presence. Given “Hamilton’s” popularity, he will siphon away votes.

Matthew Rhys as Chuck Palmer in “Girls” for episode “American Bitch”

IMDB Synopsis: Hannah has a tense meeting with Chuck Palmer, an author she once greatly admired, about the disturbing allegations swirling around him.

Matthew Rhys is a magnetic actor who isn’t afraid to look despicable. That’s exactly what makes him so great as a lecherous author that has fuzzy ideals about consent. However, moments like the nudity filled climax could turn voters off. What does help Rhys out is the screen time factor. The entire episode is a two hander between his sketchy author and Hannah (Lena Dunham). While he has a much larger, showier performance compared to Riz Ahmed, it’s not a performance people will root for. Still, it’s a fantastic piece of acting from someone the Emmys clearly like, as it is his second nomination this year alone.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Tom Hanks – “Saturday Night Live”

  2. Dave Chappelle – “Saturday Night Live”

  3. Riz Ahmed – “Girls”

  4. Matthew Rhys – “Girls”

  5.  Lin Manuel Miranda – “Saturday Night Live”

  6. Hugh Laurie – “Veep”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Tom Hanks – “Saturday Night Live”

  2. Hugh Laurie – “Veep”

  3. Dave Chappelle – “Saturday Night Live”

  4. Matthew Rhys – “Girls”

  5. Lin Manuel Miranda – “Saturday Night Live”

  6. Riz Ahmed – “Girls”

Who do you think will win the Guest Actor categories at the Emmys? Share with us in the comments.