Emmy Episode Analysis: Who Will Surprise in Supporting Actor Categories?

Emmy season is upon us yet again! Emmy nominations were announced Thursday, July 12th, with “Game of Thrones” leading the pack at 22 nominations. As we speed toward the September 17th telecast, Awards Circuit is taking a look at all of the major categories. Each acting, writing and directing nominee must choose one episode to be judged on. The series nominees all submit six episodes. Each Friday, we will watch all the nominated episodes in a given set of categories and provide a power ranking of the nominees.

Another week, another set of categories. The twenty men of the supporting actor races take on a variety of different roles. From medieval battles, a modern murder crime spree or a Thanksgiving in Bakersfield, everyone brings something unique to the table. Past years have seen Supporting Actor go to surprise winners (Bobby Cannavale for “Boardwalk Empire”, Ben Mendelsohn for “Bloodline”) or to zeitgeisty creations (Alec Baldwin for “Saturday Night Live”). Let’s take a look at the nominated episodes and see who will prevail this year.

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in “Game of Thrones” – “The Spoils of War”

Plot: Daenerys takes matters into her own hands. Arya reaches her destination. Jaime and Bronn collect the spoils from the war with the Tyrells.

Jaime Lannister has been a “Game of Thrones” fan favorite for a while and is just now getting his Emmy recognition. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau manages to make him more than the dumb jock of the Lannister family. Instead, he’s a trusted warrior who struggles to find where he belongs in his family’s moral paradigm. This episode doesn’t feature him until the end of a grand battle that ends with someone quickly saving his life. It’s a heart-pounding moment that makes for great television. However, it’s not much of an acting showcase. Between the two “Game of Thrones” men, past winner Peter Dinklage seems like the better shot to take the Emmy throne yet again.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in “Game of Thrones” – “The Dragon and the Wolf”

Plot: Everyone meets in King’s Landing to discuss the fate of the realm. In Winterfell, Sansa confronts Arya. Sam reaches Winterfell, where he and Bran discover a shocking secret about Jon Snow.

Can “Game of Thrones” continue its Emmy streak? One of the highlights of the episode was Tyrion’s confrontation with Cersei. This was a highly anticipated moment for fans. For the uninitiated, however, it could just be a moment early on in this episode that gets forgotten once the action ramps up. One cannot count out Dinklage, as he’s won two Emmys prior. While his win for the first season came with a dynamite episode, his second win seemed to be on name recognition alone. Look for him to be very in the hunt for Emmy #3.

Joseph Fiennes as Commander Waterford in “The Handmaid’s Tale” – “First Blood”

Plot: Offred finds unexpected allies and obstacles in her search for a way to protect Hannah. The Commander prepares for the dedication of a new Red Center. Nick struggles with his new assignment.

Fiennes makes Commander Waterford more subtly villainous in so many different ways. This all comes from a place of fragility as he’s nervous about the opening of his new “red center” to process more handmaids. The episode lets us spend a good deal of time with the Commander, giving Fiennes more time to show off the small touches he gives the character. Not only that, it also features a flashback that shows him and his wife weathering an attack as they spoke their hateful logic. Plus, the episode ends with a bang that makes one want to continue to the next episode. However, it doesn’t feature the traditional dramatic fireworks that typically sway voters. Those who love “Handmaid’s Tale” may want to vote for Fiennes, along with the rest of the cast. This puts him up in the running, but might not be enough to secure a win.

David Harbour as Jim Hopper in “Stranger Things” – “Will the Wise”

Plot: An ailing Will opens up to Joyce — with disturbing results. While Hopper digs for the truth, Eleven unearths a surprising discovery.

After a strong first season, David Harbour stole the show in “Stranger Things” season two. Yes, the gif of him dancing while cleaning is part of it. What’s even better is Hopper’s evolution into a caring father figure for Eleven. He brings a lot of heart and empathy to his role as he tries to help her out at whatever the cost. While less buzzed about than season one, the second season still reaped a healthy amount of above the line nominations. This will be the best shot for the show to receive recognition.

Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in “Homeland” – “Species Jump”

Plot: Saul calls an old friend. Wellington has a problem. Carrie enjoys a win.

Mandy Patinkin remains a stalwart of this category. Overall these years of “Homeland’s” roller coaster levels of quality, Mandy Patinkin knows he’ll get an Emmy invitation. Still, after all these nominations, Patinkin is yet to win for his role as Saul. He gets a really strong showcase scene with an old colleague and another with Carrie (Claire Danes) near the end of the episode. However, there are little fireworks to ensure an award. Barring a Ben Mendelsohn-type win, Patinkin will most likely go home a beloved also ran yet again.

Matt Smith as Prince Philip in “The Crown” – “Mystery Man”

Plot: A salacious government scandal hits close to home for Elizabeth and Philip. Elizabeth retreats to Scotland for the rest of a difficult pregnancy.

With the previous winner John Lithgow not returning to the series, Matt Smith is the new “Crown” representative in this category. Prince Philip has always been an interesting figure on the show as both a love and foil to the headlining Queen Elizabeth. The second season finale paints him in a difficult light as new information sends him and Elizabeth into an incredibly well-acted quarrel. The episode received a well-deserved writing nomination as well. While Smith gets a lot to do in the grand showcase part of the episode, it’s not as notable as some of the other nominees who have a lot more cultural cache in the category. If “Crown” fans turn out, this could be a race. Otherwise, Smith falls in the middle of the pack.

Predicted Ranking:

  1. David Harbour – “Stranger Things”
  2. Peter Dinklage – “Game of Thrones”
  3. Joseph Fiennes – “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  4. Matt Smith – “The Crown”
  5. Mandy Patinkin – “Homeland”
  6. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – “Game of Thrones”

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Louie Anderson as Christine Baskets in “Baskets” – “Thanksgiving”

Plot: Christine learns on Thanksgiving day that the rodeo is being sued by her own son, Dale. Christine begins to feel down and out until Chips French clown friends arrive to brighten her day.

The casting of Louie Anderson as the Baskets matriarch remains a brilliant decision. In the submitted episode, Anderson conveys Christine’s sadness of being sued by her sons in tandem with her joy for the smaller things like macaroons and a clown show. It’s really heartbreaking to watch her find ways to self-soothe on a tough day. A former winner in this category, Anderson could find himself a winner again. The issue is he’s up against veteran actors in new shows that are much more popular than “Baskets.” The moment may have cooled on Louie winning more awards for this show. Still, the submission was great and there could be the possibility for a surprise.

Alec Baldwin as Various Characters in “Saturday Night Live” – “Host: Donald Glover”

Plot: Donald Glover hosts, Childish Gambino performs.

Alec Baldwin just doesn’t seem to want an Emmy. He employed a similar tactic as last year, submit an episode you are barely in, almost to throw the voting. Still, Baldwin won last year as an act of defiance around President Trump. However, two years into his Presidency, the mood seems to have shifted around Baldwin’s performance. While well-received (by some) and the talk of much water cooler conversation, it doesn’t carry the same fervor it did last year when he won. The novelty may have worn off and it could be harder to repeat again this year.

Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” – “Kimmy and the Beest”

Plot: Titus directs a school musical but misses being in the spotlight. Jacqueline and Lillian try to scalp tickets to parents. Kimmy confronts a blogger.

Few characters have seeped into the public consciousness so quickly as Titus Andromedon. Burgess’ fabulously flamboyant creation steals every scene he’s a part of. This is similarly true of his submitted episode, which gives him a chance to be a vain, yet caring, director of a kid’s musical. Burgess reminds us of why we love the character. However, it’s far from his best submission, possibly because the show has little for him to do besides quip. If Tituss couldn’t win for the buzzier seasons of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” he doesn’t stand a chance for one of its weakest editions.

Tony Shalhoub as Abe Weissman in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – “Thank You and Good Night”

Plot: In the Season One finale, Midge and Susie deal with the repercussions of Midge’s off-script takedown of a famous comedian. With tensions still high at the Weissman household, Rose makes some bold changes. Midge and Joel reunite for Ethan’s birthday party.

Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” really has a chance to dominate all over the Emmys this year. Tony Shalhoub is funny in one-liners throughout. However, he gets one big showcase scene that sticks out as one of the best of the episode. As Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) tells her father, Abe, she might go back to her husband, he fights back. Shalhoub manages to be both funny and full of great heart and advice throughout. It’s a real Emmy clip moment. A two time Emmy award winner already for “Monk,” voters clearly love Shalhoub. Voters who are a fan of his work and fans of the show overall may want to check his name regardless. This could wind up as a race between veterans – Tony Shalhoub vs. Henry Winkler.

Kenan Thompson as Various Characters in “Saturday Night Live” – “Host: John Mulaney”

Plot: John Mulaney hosts, Jack White performs.

Kenan Thompson finally broke into the supporting categories now that SNL has become a fixture of these races. Sketches around Wild Wild Country and the Les Miserables crab give Thompson some fun moments to shine. However, he’s absent from most of the other sketches. When he’s back, he’s doing a lackluster segment on Weekend Update. Thompson has been a fixture of SNL for a very long while and it’s great to see him get his due. However, it’s not as buzzy as former winner Alec Baldwin doing Trump, which will prevent him from winning.

Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles in “Atlanta” – “Woods”

Plot: After getting into an argument with his girlfriend, Paper Boi storms off, gets mugged, gets lost in the woods, and meets a creepy old man who won’t stop following and taunting him.

The “Woods” episode gives Brian Tyree Henry lots to work with. It’s a full episode devoted to him and he gets a wide range of emotions to play, culminating in exasperation. However, it’s less of a typical comedic tour de force. Paper Boi is one of the more memorable characters of “Atlanta.” Yet, this exposes some of the more tragic aspects of his character. Voters clearly love “Atlanta,” as it has the most nominations for a Comedy Series. It’s heartening to see Henry get recognized in the category. However, when up against more veteran actors giving similar showcase work, it might be hard to squeak out a win. Still, if “Atlanta” really hits with Emmy voters this year, Henry might be one of the better shots for a coattail win.

Henry Winkler as Gene Cousineau in “Barry” – “Chapter Four: Commit… To YOU”

Plot: Barry finds that escaping Fuches and winning Sally’s affections is harder than he thought.

It’s crazy to think “Happy Days” star Henry Winkler hasn’t won an Emmy. This gives him a huge overdue factor that could cement his win this year for “Barry.” On top of that, he legitimately gives the best performance in the category. As a low rent acting teacher, Winkler gets tons of room to impart half-hearted and hilarious critiques to students. On the same side of the coin, we see how his own career is failing. This coupled with a hilarious plotline of him falling for the detective investigating a murder in his class puts Winkler in a class of his own. “Barry” did incredibly well in terms of nominations, but it’s hard to see where it will win. Rewarding Winkler will not only reward a veteran but it will serve as a win for a show the Emmys seem to really like.

Predicted Ranking

  1. Henry Winkler – “Barry”
  2. Tony Shalhoub – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
  3. Bryan Tyree Henry – “Atlanta”
  4. Alec Baldwin – “Saturday Night Live”
  5. Louie Anderson – “Baskets”
  6. Tituss Burgess – “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
  7. Kenan Thompson – “Saturday Night Live”

Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Made for TV Movie

Jeff Daniels as Frank Griffin in “Godless” – “An Incident at Creede”

Plot: After fleeing from his outlaw gang, led by the ultra-violent Frank Griffin, Roy Goode takes refuge in La Belle. a New Mexico town mysteriously made up of women. But how long until his old friends come looking for him?

Jeff Daniels’ presence looms large over “Godless” as Frank Griffin. He sets his decree early as he gathers a pack to help track down Roy Goode. Daniels comes close to mustache-twirling villain caricatures but always pulls back just enough. He’s a magnanimous villain that anchors a storyline that takes up too much time in the show overall. Never count out Jeff Daniels for a win. He pulled off a similar upset in the Lead Actor category for “The Newsroom,” armed with a grandstanding Aaron Sorkin speech. Also nominated for “The Looming Tower” in lead, voters clearly love Jeff Daniels this year. If we get a vote splitting situation with the men of “Versace,” Daniels stands the best chance to sneak in for the win.

Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar”

Plot: A live musical recounting the final days of Jesus Christ and those around him.

It helps to find a Tony-nominated Broadway actor to bring your live musical TV show to life. Brandon Victor Dixon opens the show with a bang as Judas. He never lets up from there. His voice is great, but his dancing and stage presence is even better. While John Legend and Sara Bareilles have more pop recognition, it’s Brandon Victor Dixon that steals the show. No actor has won an Emmy for one of the recent live musicals. Still, much like the rule about “SNL” cast members in supporting categories, rules like this are made to be broken. With the three “Versace “men possibly splitting votes, Dixon could very well position himself as the spoiler.

John Leguizamo as Jacob Vasquez in “Waco” – “The Strangers Across the Street”

Plot: ATF agent Jacob Vasquez begins undercover surveillance and befriends David Koresh.

It’s hard being the lone Paramount Network show nominated in an above the line category. Still, John Leguizamo pulls out a very strong performance as an undercover officer who finds his own issues and rage swaying him towards the cult leader he’s investigating. Leguizamo charts an interesting arc as Jacob gets further and further into his surveillance. Unfortunately, the buzz is nearly silent on “Waco” and Leguizamo. There is the possibility for someone to surprise. However, that’s most likely going to go to a show or performance that seems to have more support than “Waco.”

Ricky Martin as Antonio D’Amica in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” – “The Man Who Would Be Vogue”

Plot: The murder of Gianni Versace turns the eyes of the world onto Miami Beach.

Ricky Martin was one of the more interesting casting choices of the latest Ryan Murphy project. As Antonio D’Amica, Versace’s (Edgar Ramirez) longtime lover, the pop star certainly got a role that would put him in the limelight. Or at least it seemed. Martin gets some strong moments early on as he finds his lover gunned down by Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). However, there’s little interiority to the character. We learn very little about who he is and what his perspective is. In the end, the exercise feels a lot more like stunt casting than anything else. Martin may be the biggest name of the three Versace men. However, it’s likely going to be the other two really vying for votes.

Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” – “Ascent”

Plot: Andrew Cunanan leaves behind a troubled family life, while Donatella struggles to find her role within the Versace empire.

The relationship of the Versace siblings was an interesting element of the show that was only minorly explored. Edgar Ramirez looks the part of Gianni Versace and commands a room with a similar ethos. However, he’s not given much to do to really channel Versace or give a fully three-dimensional performance. The show finds itself more concerned with serial killer Andrew Cunanan. Even in this submitted episode, Ramirez takes a backseat to Penelope Cruz as his sister, Donatella. Versace cuts up a dress as a point in a fight with his sister. It gives him a firework moment, but little else. Voters looking closely at the episodes may be shocked at how little they get of Edgar Ramirez as Versace. This could hinder a win for the titular role of the show.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Richard Clarke in “The Looming Tower” – “9/11”

Plot: It is September 11, 2001, and no one can get a hold of O’Neill. Soufan’s evacuation from Yemen stops short as the CIA station chief gives him all the answers he has been asking from the CIA for months. Schmidt is reinstated into Alec Station. Soufan finally interrogates Abu Jandal.

It’s hard to not get emotional around an episode structured around 9/11. The horrific memories of that day in our nation’s history are burned into the public consciousness. As Richard Clarke, the National Coordinator for Security, Michael Stuhlbarg strongly conveys the helplessness felt on that day. There’s a sense of personal responsibility that Stuhlbarg brings out in this character that is very strong. However, there’s little for him during this episode. Stuhlbarg has had a busy year, starring in three of the Best Picture nominees, including the winner. This raised profile and the topic at the center of the episode could give him a shot here. However, it lacks the resonance or punches needed to pull off an upset victory.

Finn Wittrock as Jeffrey Trail in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” – “Ascent”

Plot: Naval officer Jeffrey Trail meets Andrew Cunanan for the first time, while Gianni reveals his sexuality to the world.

Of the three “Versace” men, Wittrock gives the best performance. As a closeted Naval officer, Wittrock brings to life Jeffrey’s internal struggle while he wrestles with the conflict between his job and sexuality. All of this culminates in a toxic meeting with Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) that ultimately leads to Jeffrey’s death. It’s a full, complete performance that’s hard to shake. That said, Wittrock is also the least famous of the “Versace” trio. While his talent puts himself over Ricky Martin, which seems to be more of a stunt nomination, it may be hard for him to win out over Ramirez as the titular Versace. Both will get a good number of votes, but they could end up splitting. This clears the way for someone else to walk away with the win.

Predicted Ranking

  1. Jeff Daniels – “Godless”
  2. Finn Wittrock – “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
  3. Edgar Ramirez – “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
  4. Brandon Victor Dixon – “Jesus Christ Superstar”
  5. Michael Stuhlbarg – “The Looming Tower”
  6. John Leguizamo – “Waco”
  7. Ricky Martin – “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”

Be sure to check out the Official Emmy Predictions Page to see all of this year’s predicted winners.

Who do you think will win the Supporting Actor races at the Emmys? Make your predictions in the Circuit Center and compare with our predictions.