Call Me Emmy: The Best in Supporting Performances

Dean Norris

The 68th annual Emmy nominations will be announced at 8:30am Eastern/5:30 Pacific this Thursday, July 10. As I did last year, I’ll be formulating my own ballots in this space in the days leading up to the big announcement.

A few caveats:

1. (Copied from my 2013 Call Me Emmy posts) I’m not paid to watch television. I can only watch what I have time to watch, so I can’t nominate undoubtedly high-quality shows like Game of Thrones, Scandal, The Good Wife, Masters of Sex, Shameless, Girls and Veep, just to name a few. In other cases, I can’t nominate a particular show because I haven’t seen the current season, as with Homeland, Downton Abbey and Modern Family.

2. Boiling down a remarkable season of television into just twenty-four commendable supporting performances is a fool’s errand. I’ve done my best to choose my favorites, but if you ask me tomorrow, I might choose slightly different groups. These awards, as much as they have weight in the industry, don’t dictate my tastes, and they should exist primarily to shine a spotlight on the best that television has to offer in a given year.

Without any further ado, the nominees…

Paul

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Max Burkholder, Parenthood
Noah Emmerich, The Americans
Jordan Gavaris, Orphan Black
Dean Norris, Breaking Bad
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
John Slattery, Mad Men

Explanation: Paul and Norris are no-brainers. I hope Norris wins this category as a recognition of the several years of outstanding work he did on Breaking Bad, but Paul’s indelible turn as Jesse Pinkman lost none of its potency as the show neared its endgame. Meanwhile, the fact that Vincent Kartheiser has never been nominated for an Emmy for playing the loathsome-until-he’s-not Pete Campbell is disappointing, but Slattery had the stronger showcases this year, particularly when Roger Sterling went to retrieve his daughter from the commune.

Noah Emmerich’s stoicism on The Americans is probably not going to stand out as much as a noisier, showier performance, but the actor’s physical presence is as commanding and conflicted as any on TV. The last two slots go to shows that had problematic seasons. Felix didn’t have enough to do during this season of Orphan Black, but Gavaris delivered every one of his lines with gleeful wit and irony. Parenthood disappointed this season after stunning with its previous one, but Burkholder continued to be the show’s quiet star, never shying away from the more unpleasant aspects of Max.

Also Considered: Colin Cunningham, Falling Skies; Thomas M. Wright, The Bridge; Vincent Kartheiser, Mad Men; Ted Levine, The Bridge; Jesse Plemons, Breaking Bad; Matthew Lillard, The Bridge

Andre Braugher

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Raul Castillo, Looking
Keegan Michael-Kay, Key and Peele
Jordan Peele, Key and Peele
Joe Lo Truglio, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Parker Young, Enlisted

This category was by far the most difficult to parse. I could have filled another full slate with six contenders of almost equal value to their ensembles. I was hamstrung in part by the decision to submit Key and Peele as two separate supporting contenders instead of a single lead unit. The prospect of nominating one but not the other is unthinkable, but their show is such a reliable force for perceptive hilarity that it seemed equally ludicrous not to recognize them.

I also wrestled with the deep bench on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, ultimately giving Joe LoTruglio a slight edge over Terry Crews, for the completely arbitrary reason that much of the effect of Crews’ performance stemmed from his considerable size, whereas LoTruglio gave equal comedy gold with physically less. Such a determination is ridiculous – all three of these actors made Brooklyn Nine-Nine one of the most purely enjoyable shows on television this season. (Braugher was a no-brainer. He’s easily one of my five favorite actors on TV right now, comedy or drama.)

The final two slots could have gone to a couple dozen contenders, but I decided to give some much-deserved love to the late, lamented Enlisted in the form of Parker Young, whose incandescent enthusiasm was one of the most special components of this silly, sweet show. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Castillo gave a heartbreaking dramatic performance in a role that could easily have been reduced to caricature. Neither is likely to receive a nomination (in fact, Braugher is the only actor with even a fraction of a shot at a nomination), but both deserve one.

Also Considered: Frankie J. Alvarez, Looking; Aziz Ansari, Parks and Recreation; Jason Biggs, Orange is the New Black; Terry Crews, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Christopher Evan Welch, Silicon Valley; Max Greenfield, New Girl; Michael J. Harney, Orange is the New Black; Ryan Lee, Trophy Wife; Seth Meyers, Saturday Night Live; Lamorne Morris, New Girl; Kumail Nanjiani, Silicon Valley; Mike O’Brien, Saturday Night Live; Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation; Jay Pharoah, Saturday Night Live; Danny Pudi, Community; Albert Tsai, Trophy Wife; Zach Woods, Silicon Valley

Mulgrew

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Kate Mulgrew, Orange is the New Black
Marcia Gay Harden, Trophy Wife
Danielle Brooks, Orange is the New Black
Stephanie Beatriz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Jessica St. Clair, Review with Forrest MacNeil
Gillian Jacobs, Community

Starting with the least likely nominees, St. Clair met the cringeworthy hilarity of Andy Daly with surprisingly genuine poignancy, and Gilian Jacobs continued to do a very good job at being the worst. Beatriz quickly differentiated herself from the generic April Ludgate-type that Rosa initially seemed to be on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Harden, even better than her co-star Michaela Watkins, maintained what was funny about her character even when it seemed the show had run out of new ideas to complicate her personality.

And then there’s Orange is the New Black, which deserves to be in this category as much as a symbol of the show’s commitment to telling women’s stories as it does because the show’s cast is almost uniformly excellent. Mulgrew and Brooks both exemplified the show’s strengths in different ways: Red is the driving force of season one, and Taystee begins as comic relief only to become increasingly significant and tragic as the show realized the value of Brooks’ performances. Next year, I’ll be loudly advocating for Wiley and Uzo Aduba in this slot (as I would have been this year, had the Emmys not arbitrarily submitted Aduba and Cox in the Guest Actress category). For now, this award belongs to Mulgrew or Brooks. (In the actual Emmys, Laura Prepon seems more likely to get a nod than Brooks, but Brooks is the more inspired choice.)

Also Considered: Laura Prepon, Orange is the New Black; Michaela Watkins, Trophy Wife; Carly Chaikin, Suburgatory; Allie Grant, Suburgatory; Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live; Melissa Fumero, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Cecily Strong, Saturday Night Live; Samira Wiley, Orange is the New Black; Retta, Parks and Recreation; Lauren Weedman, Looking

Gunn

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Betsy Brandt, Breaking Bad
Erika Christensen, Parenthood
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Emily Rios, The Bridge
Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men

Explanation: Anna Gunn for the win. That is all.

Just kidding. But it seems crystal-clear to me that she is the deserving frontrunner for this prize. But who should her competition be? Her co-star Brandt seems a clear choice, and like Norris, a perennial viewer favorite who hasn’t managed to garner awards recognition. Her work this year should change that. Speaking of lacking awards recognition, Hendricks and Shipka both deserve tremendous credit for keeping their characters interesting seven years in, with particular credit to Shipka for evolving into a compelling, gifted actress. Rios was my favorite part of the uneven first season of The Bridge, which occasionally grew top-heavy. Her quiet performance as a journalist roped into covering the ongoing serial killer investigation proved a window into the kind of character we rarely see on television.

For my final slot, I went with someone who did terrific work with an iffy storyline: Christensen, whose arc on Parenthood this season frequently stalled and lacked direction, but nonetheless required the actress to conjure some rather painful emotions on the way to a tentative reconciliation with her husband Joel in the season finale. Christensen has always been good, but this storyline required better, and she delievered.

Also Considered: Bonnie Bedelia, Parenthood; Annet Mahendru, The Americans; Susan Misner, The Americans; Michelle Monaghan, True Detective; Jessica Pare, Mad Men; Mae Whitman, Parenthood

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