Emmy Episode Analysis: Can the “O.J.” Men Steal a Supporting Actor Victory

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie

Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden in “The People vs. OJ Simpson” for episode “Manna From Heaven”

1459358923-sterling-k-brown-oj-simpson1IMDB Synopsis: Johnnie Cochran and F. Lee Bailey go across the country to acquire the Mark Fuhrman tapes.

In a series stacked with big names playing legendary real people who were fixture of the 90s, newcomer Sterling K. Brown showed nearly every one of them up. As Chris Darden, a young African American prosecutor struggling to maintain a level head, Brown was utterly intoxicating. You kept wanting to see more of him. In his episode, he goes toe to toe with Johnnie Cochran until he eventually explodes by the end of the episode. Additionally, we see him rant and rave as racist cop Mark Fuhrman sinks his case. It’s a powerhouse performance you cannot ignore. While he isn’t in Travolta’s episode much, he gets to show his charming side in Schwimmer’s episode. His interplay with Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clarke in both episodes is rich, complex and wonderful. The range and impact make him an instant, deserving frontrunner.

Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper in “The Night Manager” for episode “Episode 5”

hughlaurie_nightmanagerIMDB Synopsis: Jonathan puts on an impressive display in order to persuade Roper of his loyalty, while Burr finds her operation, and herself, under threat.

It’s hard to believe, with countless nominations for “House,” that Hugh Laurie has never won an Emmy. As the charmingly villainous arms dealer Richard Roper, it’s hard to deny that Hugh Laurie was perfect for the role. He knows how to be suave, diplomatic, with an undercurrent of menace and unpredictability. The unpredictability is in full force in his episode submission, as Jonathan (Tom Hiddleston) tries to earn Roper’s trust. Roper ends up bringing Jonathan on a night on the town that is both liberating and confusing. It’s so easy to see how someone can get wrapped up in Roper’s world. It’s easy to see how voters could as well, especially if they know Laurie has never won. Sentiment will make him a threat to win. “The Night Manager” has a lot of support, but no clear category to win. This might be where they throw the show a bone.

Jesse Plemons as Ed Blumquist in “Fargo” for episode “Loplop”

rs_560x415-150807164457-1024.Farg-_Jesse-Plemons.2.ms.080715_copyIMDB Synopsis: Ed and Peggy hold Dodd hostage in a secluded cabin and try to strike up a deal with the Gerhardts, while Hanzee attempts to hunt them down.

Throughout the season, Plemons has given a performance so special, in great part because of his lack of vanity. Pudgy and mild-mannered, Ed is a fascinating character that one can so easily see how they could get tripped up in a situation that snowballs out of control. “Loplop” was a particularly good submission in this way. The episode comically shows how Ed’s actions and intentions lead to things going horribly awry. Plemons’ best moments come from his unique chemistry with Kirsten Dunst, who is on fire throughout this season. While that may have been Plemons’ ticket to a nomination, it could also be his downfall. For as earnest and winning Ed is, he is almost always overshadowed by Dunst’s performance as his wife Peggy. Also, there is more likely to be vote-splitting with the “Fargo” men, as there are quite a few vocal Bokeem Woodbine fans.

David Schwimmer as Rob Kardashian in “The People vs. OJ Simpson” for episode “Conspiracy Theories”

american-crime-story-people-v-o-simpsonIMDB Synopsis: The infamous live fitting of the gloves is contemplated as both the defense and the prosecution face obstacles in and out of the courtroom.

Schwimmer is a long ways from “Friends” here. The former sitcom star initially received mixed reactions in his role as Rob Kardashian, the confidant/lawyer of O.J. Simpson. However, Schwimmer continued to improve in the role as Rob becomes more and more skeptical of his friend’s innocence. In his submitted episode, Schwimmer out acts fellow nominee John Travolta as he realizes he might be in possession of the murder weapon. Upon realizing he is not, Kardashian remains skeptical, which eats him up inside. He doesn’t have many scenes here and fellow nominee Sterling K. Brown steals the episode. However, Schwimmer is affecting in his short moments. Still, the way he says “Juice” remains either comical or grating, depending on who you are. He won’t win, but his nomination is somewhat novel.

John Travolta as Robert Shapiro in “The People vs. OJ Simpson” for episode “100% Not Guilty”

acsIMDB Synopsis: As jury selection gets underway, the entrance of Johnnie Cochran adds an interesting energy to the case.

John Travolta is one of the more interesting nominees here. His performance is so large, it oscillates between so many levels of quality. The episode “100% Not Guilty” was a good choice as Travolta’s Robert Shapiro has substantial screen-time, possibly more than any other nominee. However, the performance feels almost like it comes out of vaudeville. While Shapiro’s complicated relationship with Johnnie Cochran works really well, other moments don’t land so well. His grandstanding moments almost seem as if he is reprising his role as Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray.” Some of his dramatic monologues over the three episodes (particularly Schwimmer’s) can come off more comical than anything else. With his role much maligned and made fun of, despite being effective in multiple moments, a win seems unlikely. All of the “O.J.” support will likely go to Sterling K. Brown, unless people are name checking Travolta.

Bookem Woodbine as Mike Milligan in “Fargo” in “Palindromes”

Woodbine-social_1IMDB Synopsis: In the events following the motel massacre, Hanzee goes after Ed and Peggy.

“Fargo” always has to have a menacing, subdued killer. As Mike Milligan, Woodbine has a commanding, almost charismatic presence. You hang on every word he says, wondering what he is going to do next. You wonder, and keep wondering. In many ways, throughout the series and part of the episode, he seems like a talented actor winding up the audience without giving them much payoff. The climactic scene for Woodbine is a great scene that builds to an explosive ending. However, in terms of a consistently engaging performance, it left much to be desired. Compared to the delightfully off-kilter Peggy and Ed Blumquist or the menacing matriarch Floyd Gerhardt, Mike Mulligan was never the character I looked forward to. Still, that powerful ending monologue and the small, but powerful, vocal support of many voters will get Woodbine votes. Or it might just result in “Fargo” vote splitting.