Emmy Episode Analysis: Can Donald Glover Halt Jeffrey Tambor’s Streak?

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The emergence of “The Sopranos” ushered in a whole era of anti-heroes as male protagonists. The remnants of that era persists in the drama field this year. However, new blood – particularly from “This Is Us” and “Atlanta” – are taking a different approach. Yet, these compelling narratives from the past have encouraged more movie stars to jump to the small screen. Take for example Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Spacey, Geoffrey Rush and Robert De Niro receiving nominations this year.

Each Comedy and Drama Actor nominee submits one episode to be judged on. In the Miniseries category, actresses are judged by the whole season. We will continue to delve into these categories each Friday until the Emmys. Next Friday, we will take on the big four categories – Best Drama Series, Best Comedy Series, Best Miniseries, Best TV Movie.

Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.

Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series

Sterling K. Brown as Randall Pearson in “This Is Us” for “Memphis”

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

“Memphis” elicits more emotions in an hour than any other episode of TV this year. As Randall (Brown) takes his birth Father, William (Ron Cephas Jones) to his hometown of Memphis, he learns all about his past. Randall seems excited to learn more about the Father he never knew. As William approaches his death, Randall comes to terms with losing a man he loved, even though he only knew him for a short time. In fact, Brown’s popularity hurts him a bit in this category. Having won last year for “The People vs. OJ Simpson,” will voters want to reward Brown a second year in a row? As this is a drastically different performance in a well-liked show, voters may very well want to shower Brown with more trophies. On top of it all, he deserves all the trophies.

Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford in “Westworld” for “Trompe L’Oeil”

IMDB Synopsis: Dolores, William and Lawrence journey into treacherous terrain; Maeve presents her demand; Bernard considers his next move.

For a lead actor nominee, Hopkins seems to have less screen time than even the supporting players do on the show. This is even more evident in Hopkins’ episode submission. The episode seems chosen based solely on a dramatic final reveal that places most of the acting burden on Supporting Actor nominee Jeffrey Wright. Hopkins always projects a strong, creepy vibe without having to lift a finger. As Dr. Robert Ford, Hopkins enters the frame and instantly puts everyone at unease. Granted, he does a great job at selling the episode’s end revelation. However, there is little else to go off to explain this character’s inner life or motivations. There’s little path to a win here.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in “Better Call Saul” for “Expenses”

IMDB Synopsis: Jimmy tries to settle his debts. Nacho reunites with an old acquaintance. Mike helps Stacey with a project and makes a meaningful connection.

“Breaking Bad” goodwill continues to help out AMC’s spinoff “Better Call Saul.” After three consecutive nods, Bob Odenkirk stands his best shot at winning. Odenkirk gets to show quite a bit of range in his submission. The opening scenes give him opportunities to show comedic skills as Jimmy tries desperately to maintain some dignity after losing his license to practice law. His commercial director scenes begin as humorously exhausting but pay off in a neat, humble manner. However, Odenkirk’s showcase comes at the end where, overcome with emotion, he discloses information on his brother’s mental capacities. The episode is fine, but Odenkirk shines. With “Better Call Saul” improving in nominations, Odenkirk steps up as the dark horse of this category that could take Sterling K. Brown down.

Matthew Rhys as Phillip Jennings in “The Americans” for “Crossbreed”

IMDB Synopsis: Phillip and Elizabeth are stunned by Gabriel with a sudden announcement and a crushing revelation about Philip’s past; Stan and Aderholt lure a suspect into their web; Oleg and Ruslan lead their first target into an ambush.

Phillip always expresses some reluctance to the violence asked of his character. This notion persists further as he discovers from his handler Gabriel (Frank Langella) the truth about his Father’s occupation. Learning his Father was involved in people camps deeply upsets Phillip. Rhys does a fantastic job of conveying the pain his character feels while also justifying his continued involvement with the KGB. “The Americans” contended in all major categories last year, with Rhys and co-star Keri Russell breaking through. This year, “The Americans” lost its nomination for Drama Series. This spells defeat for Rhys, as support for the show wanes. While good, his episode lacks the overt emotional punch to help overcome this obstacle.

Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan in “Ray Donovan” for “Rattus Rattus”

IMDB Synopsis: As the Campos fight gets underway, Ray desperately turns to his family for help.

“Ray Donovan” feels a bit like expired meat in the fridge. They once had promise, but now are rancid remnants of a lineup (meal) that has long past. The season finale of “Ray Donovan,” submitted by Schreiber, promises the highest of all stakes. However, we feel none of this. Schreiber finds Ray in over his head, with all his actions crashing down upon him. Yet, he’s cool as a cucumber. Past submissions were similar in showing an unfazed man experiencing a release, whether it be through violence or dancing. Here, we don’t get much. Schreiber’s subdued acting was never going to make him a favorite in this category. However, this sets him near the very bottom of the pack.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood in “House of Cards” for “Chapter 53”

IMDB Synopsis: In the wake of a surprising announcement, everything at the White House is shaken up. A decision must be made about whether to go to war.

Frank Underwood finds himself fighting for the Presidency during his latest campaign. This begins as he makes a powerful speech at Congress to turn attention towards going to war with terrorists instead of digging into his misconduct. Often big speeches are what wins these acting categories, particularly in Drama Actor. Just ask James Spader. Spacey chews every moment of screen-time, particularly in his grandstanding speech to Congress that opens the episode. The two time Oscar winning actor has never won an Emmy, despite nominations for every season of the show. If they want to go for traditional Emmy bait over more emotional work, Spacey may finally win.

Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson in “This Is Us” for “Moonshadow”

IMDB Synopsis: Jack heads to Cleveland to make things right with Rebecca on the night of her first gig; The Big Three make big decisions about their futures.

Is it possible to deliver a strong performance in a bad episode? Fans of “This Is Us” reviled the pessimistic season finale, which played like a watered down remake of “Blue Valentine.” Dad of the Year Jack (Ventimiglia) drunk drives to his wife’s performance to confront her about a possible affair. Throughout his drunken stupor and the couple’s ensuing fight, we flashback to their younger years and see how they met. Ventimiglia makes every effort to impress and tries valiantly to sell the marital discourse. However, for every nailed moment comes another clunky one. The flashbacks are hokier than ever, involving Jack potentially robbing a bar. This was possibly the biggest miscalculation of this category. The only way Ventimiglia wins if voters want the loudest performance, even though Spacey has him beat there.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Sterling K. Brown – “This Is Us”
  2. Bob Odenkirk – “Better Call Saul”
  3. Kevin Spacey – “House of Cards”
  4. Matthew Rhys – “The Americans”
  5. Milo Ventimiglia – “This Is Us”
  6. Anthony Hopkins – “Westworld”
  7. Liev Schreiber – “Ray Donovan”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Sterling K. Brown – “This Is Us”
  2. Kevin Spacey – “House of Cards”
  3. Bob Odenkirk – “Better Call Saul”
  4. Anthony Hopkins – “Westworld”
  5. Liev Schreiber – “Ray Donovan”
  6. Matthew Rhys – “The Americans”
  7. Milo Ventimiglia – “This Is Us”

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson as Andre “Dre” Johnson in “Blackish” for “Lemons”

IMDB Synopsis: Tensions are particularly high at Dre’s work as the nation continues to reel from the results of the presidential election.

It remains to be seen how the election will influence voting at the Emmys this year. However, Anthony Anderson seems to feel it will be a factor, as he submits the most political episode of the bunch. “Lemons” deals with the aftermath of the election as seen by the central Johnson family. There’s only a modicum of comedy as Dre contends with the anger and frustration he feels regarding the outcome. However, his big moment comes late in the episode as he delivers a rousing speech about what America means to him. It’s a fantastic dramatic moment that speaks volumes and offers a more personal, less partisan view of politics. Emmys love speeches, but more so in the drama category. Yet, for those who want to vote with their politics and not their funny bone, the Anderson ticket looks good.

Aziz Ansari as Dev in “Master of None” for “The Dinner Party”

IMDB Synopsis: After welcoming the Jabbawockeez to his show, Dev struggles to find the right date to take to a dinner party thrown by his celebrity chef boss.

Few shows have had as strong of a season as “Master of None.” While Aziz loves to have bottle episodes for his supporting players, there was still a wealth of episodes for him to choose. That’s what makes “The Dinner Party” such a baffling choice. Little stands out for Ansari here. We open on a particularly hilarious moment as Dev hosts a cupcake show with the Jabbawockeez as guests. Later on the episode, we witness a wonderfully specific awkward second date. The second half of the episode puts Ansari with his lovely Italian friend, Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), who is a great scene partner. Voters clearly love the show, but Ansari threw this race with a poor submission. “The Thief,” “Religion,” “First Date,” “Amarsi Un Po” and “Buona Notte” all show different sides of his character and feature real arcs.

Zack Galifianakis as Chip and Dale Baskets in “Baskets” for “Freaks”

IMDB Synopsis: Chip Baskets rides the rail to Kettleman City where he finds work in a local elementary school. Hearing about a birthday party for a family of limited means, Baskets the clown crashes the party to entertain the kids.

Building off Louie Anderson’s win in Supporting last year, “Baskets” emerges as the little show that could. Zach Galifianakis benefits from portraying two distinct characters on “Baskets.” The bulk of the episode belongs to Chip, who has run away from home to join a band of homeless circus performers. There are many darkly funny moments of Chip navigating the politics of this performing crew. It builds to a satisfying and redeeming conclusion as Chip walks away from their rampant drug use. Galifianakis was such a surprise in this category; it would be hard to see him prevail. The profile of the show is low and his performance isn’t as transformative as Anderson’s. Yet, voters do love when actors play dual parts, which gives him an outside shot.

Donald Glover as Earnest “Earn” Marks in “Atlanta” for “Freaks”

IMDB Synopsis: Broke and low on options, Earn seeks to enter the music industry, even by offering to be a manager for his rapper cousin, Paper Boi.

What to do when you’re broke and can’t support your girlfriend and daughter? Earn finds himself in this predicament in the pilot of “Atlanta,” only to figure out his cousin is on the cusp of rap superstardom. “Atlanta” sits in a great position to upset in many categories. With fatigue showing for recent winner Jeffrey Tambor, Glover appears to be the fresh blood that could win the category. Additionally, the pilot serves as a great, sympathetic introduction into Earn’s plight. One wants to follow him make it big off of Paper Boi and make a better life for his family. Glover has worked for a while across movies, TV and music and it’s time for him to be rewarded.

William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher in “Shameless” for “You Sold Me the Laundromat, Remember?”

IMDB Synopsis: Fiona renovates the laundromat; Lip agrees to go before the school board; Kev’s trust in Svetlana lessens when the van goes missing.

Macy holds the distinction of embodying possibly the most grating character on television right now. An insatiable drunk, Frank distracts from the serio-comedic plights of his various hardscrabble kids with irrelevant antics. Macy’s submitted episode illustrates this perfectly. Frank continues to insert himself in the life of the Gallagher’s latest addition and show himself as an upstanding member of the community. However, that takes the form of swindling people using a washing machine. Macy makes the most of every moment he’s on screen, chewing scenery like no one else. If voters choose based on loudness, Macy has a shot. If they are voting on quality, he doesn’t have a prayer.

Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman in “Transparent” for “Elizah”

IMDB Synopsis: While working at an LGBT suicide hotline, Maura receives a distressing call from a young trans woman, Elizah. Afraid that Elizah will hurt herself, Maura goes on an odyssey through South Central LA to find the troubled teen and lands herself in the hospital.

Can two-time consecutive Emmy winner Jeffrey Tambor win his third for his role in “Transparent” as transgender matriarch Maura? Tambor’s submission focuses solely on Maura as she starts her first day as a phone operator at the LGBT center. Maura becomes concerned with a young trans girl, Elizah, whom she has a difficult conversation with on the phone. This prompts Maura to take a harrowing journey to find and save Elizah. Submitting a more dramatic submission did not hurt Tambor in the past. However, “Transparent” saw better reception the past two years. This marks the first year the show was not nominated for Best Comedy. On top of that, there is a call to nominate trans actors for trans roles, rather than giving them to cis male actors. These factors could lead to Tambor’s first defeat in this role.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Anthony Anderson – “Black-ish”
  2. Donald Glover – “Atlanta”
  3. Jeffrey Tambor – “Transparent”
  4. Aziz Ansari – “Master of None”
  5. Zack Galifianakis – “Baskets”
  6. William H. Macy – “Shameless”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Donald Glover – “Atlanta”
  2. Jeffrey Tambor – “Transparent”
  3. Anthony Anderson – “Black-ish”
  4. Aziz Ansari – “Master of None”
  5. Zack Galifianakis – “Baskets”
  6. William H. Macy – “Shameless”

Outstanding Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie

Riz Ahmed as Nasir “Naz” Khan in “The Night Of”

IMDB Synopsis: After a night of partying with a female stranger, a man wakes up to find her stabbed to death and is charged with her murder.

The Emmys love Riz Ahmed almost as much as HBO does. The actor received two Emmy nominations this year – one for his pivotal guest stint on “Girls” and another for his star making turn on “The Night Of.” Ahmed walks a tightrope between naïve kid caught in a sticky situation and a man perhaps capable of some dark scenes. Whether he’s acting alongside his lawyer, John Stone (John Turturro), or prison compatriot (Michael Kenneth Williams), Ahmed shines. However, his role doesn’t have as many fireworks as one would expect in an Emmy winning lead performance. Voters tend to vote for showy roles laden with speeches. Plus, with heavy hitter movie stars like Ewan McGregor, Geoffrey Rush and Robert De Niro in the category, voters may opt for a more famous name.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”

IMDB Synopsis: Sherlock goes up against the powerful and seemingly unassailable Culverton Smith – a man with a very dark secret indeed.

BBC’s Emmy spoiler “Sherlock” returns to disrupt the miniseries/TV movie categories. In particular, Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch inspires legions of fans with his unique portrayal of the classic Sherlock Holmes. Cumberbatch does exploit a familiar trope that does help win Emmys – drug/alcohol abuse. Scenes with characters under the influence allow the actors to have a greater, more bombastic showcase. Holmes spends much of the early portion stumbling through London unable to control his drug abuse. However, to that same end, Holmes becomes more inactive as he is subdued in the villain’s hospital and it’s up to Watson (Martin Freeman) to save the day. Additionally, “Sherlock” lost nominations it normally gets, such as Supporting Actor. Still, Cumberbatch has surprised in this category before. With no clear frontrunner, he may prevail again.

Robert De Niro as Bernie Madoff in “The Wizard of Lies”

IMDB Synopsis: A chronicle of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which defrauded his clients of billions of dollars.

Legendary actor and two time Oscar winner Robert De Niro still has some acting juice left in him. In portraying Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff, De Niro opts to highlight the emotional distress of Madoff as his world, and the world of those he loves, comes crashing down. Less a transformative performance and more of a movie star showcase, De Niro devours every scene he’s in. It’s not just a strong performance, it’s one with tremendous bravado. With HBO behind the project, De Niro emerges as the “on paper” frontrunner. However, he’s not the only actor who boasts an Emmy ready performance. His fame and large performance may catapult him to a win. However, “Wizard of Lies” doesn’t carry the most electric buzz of the group, and he may fall with the show.

Ewan McGregor as Emmit and Ray Stussy in “Fargo”

IMDB Synopsis: Various chronicles of deception, intrigue and murder in and around frozen Minnesota. Yet all of these tales mysteriously lead back one way or another to Fargo, ND.

Zach Galifianakis isn’t the only actor taking on twins that got nominated for an Emmy. Ewan McGregor enters FX’s crime anthology with a fantastic lack of vanity. Ray, a beleaguered parole officer, slumps into frame, balding and with a paunch belly. While this physical transformation amazes, Emmit is just as much of a departure. Well off but clumsy, Emmit thinks he can talk his way out of a deal gone wrong, but quickly realizes he’s in over his head. The twin trick is one of many gimmicks in the show’s third season. Luckily, McGregor utilizes his talents well enough to differentiate the two men in ways more than physical. It’s strong, flashy work from one of our most criminally undervalued actors. “Fargo” fans may rally around this performance and give him the win.

Geoffrey Rush as Alfred Einstein in “Genius”

IMDB Synopsis: The life story of Albert Einstein, one of history’s greatest minds. From his days as a young adult to his final years we see his discoveries, his loves, his relationships, his causes, his flaws and his genius.

Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Einstein shares something in common with his Oscar winning performance as David Helfgott in “Shine.” Both performances are truly supporting and pale in comparison to the actor in the younger role. We see his Einstein around the early ‘20s working on his theories as his community grapples with anti-Semitism. It’s an expansive series that sees Rush inhabit Einstein throughout his time up until the theory of relativity. Rush knows how to technically perfect the role of Einstein. His craft as an actor is on full display. However, there’s less heart and excitement in his depiction. Nat Geo is new to the Emmy scene, but already is playing the game smart. With “Genius” showing wide support across multiple categories, voters are obviously fans of the show and may give the win to Rush.

John Turturro as John Stone in “The Night Of”

IMDB Synopsis: After a night of partying with a female stranger, a man wakes up to find her stabbed to death and is charged with her murder.

As an eczema-ridden lawyer, Turturro seizes his opportunity to headline an HBO miniseries. He commands every moment on screen, particularly in his scenes advising his client, Naz (Riz Ahmed). Unfortunately, Turturro’s performance attracts less buzz than Riz Ahmed’s, a fellow nominee. Ahmed’s prison scenes dazzle more than Stone’s investigation scenes. Stone gets to be more gregarious, but the internet has latched itself to Ahmed, who is having a career moment. The show also aired last summer, which puts it at the back of voters’ minds. Turturro is a respected character actor. However, he will have to wait a bit longer for his time to be rewarded.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Riz Ahmed – “The Night Of”
  2. Robert De Niro – “The Wizard of Lies”
  3. Ewan McGregor – “Fargo”
  4. John Turturro – “The Night Of”
  5. Geoffrey Rush – “Genius”
  6. Benedict Cumberbatch – “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Geoffrey Rush – “Genius”
  2. Ewan McGregor – “Fargo”
  3. Robert De Niro – “The Wizard of Lies”
  4. Riz Ahmed – “The Night Of”
  5. Benedict Cumberbatch – “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
  6. John Turturro – “The Night Of”

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

  • I am 100% with you on dramatic actor. And not just because I have a massive crush on Sterling K. Brown.

    • Chris James

      He’s one of the most exciting actors right now. Can’t wait to see him continue to do more (and win Emmy #2)!!