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10 Great Performances That Deserve Emmy Nominations (But Probably Won't Get Them)

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
June 27, 2013 2:19 PM
40 Comments
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Deserving Emmy Nominees 2012/2013

As we said yesterday when we were running down the best TV shows of the last year, the season is officially over, and Emmy voting for the 2013 installment of the awards closes tomorrow. Having run down our favorite series, we wanted to turn our attention to some of the performers who've been appearing in them.

With returning Emmy favorites like "Mad Men," "The Good Wife," "Breaking Bad," "Homeland" and "Modern Family" often dominating the awards, it can be hard for relative newcomers -- or even for long-running shows that never worked up a head of steam -- to break in. So as we did last year, we wanted to use the occasion to highlight some of our favorite small-screen performances that don't have much chance at earning nominations, but certainly deserve them. Check out our picks below, and let us know who you'd be casting your votes for in the comments section.

Peter Capaldi
Peter Capaldi - "The Thick Of It"
It's not all that easy for actors in British productions to break into the Emmy field, but thanks to the likes of "Downton Abbey" and "Luther" of late, the gates are a little more open than they used to be. And it feels like the right time to highlight one of the best TV performances of the last few years -- Peter Capaldi as the foul-mouthed Machiavellian spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in Armando Iannucci's phenomenal sitcom "The Thick Of It" (as well as the movie spin-off "In The Loop"). From his first appearance, Tucker was an indelible character; a terrifying terrier of a man, albeit with the choicest selection of insults around ("You look like you've shat a Lego garage" et al.). But as the style of politics that inspired him fell out of favor with the passing of New Labour, Tucker had to be on his way out, and season four of the show saw his long-awaited fall, falling victim to a Leveson-style public inquiry. And as his powers failed, and past victims got to indulge in shameless schadenfreude, Capaldi found new notes to a character who lesser actors would have let dip into caricature long ago. His desperate attempt to find a quiet, dignified exit, and the way it was utterly thwarted, humanized and dimensionalized the character in a way that only serves to make us miss him more, and it would be a shame if Capaldi (who has a BAFTA, but no Emmy nomination) went unrewarded for his work.

Dancy Mikkelsen
Hugh Dancy & Mads Mikkelsen - Hannibal
As we said yesterday, "Hannibal" turned out to not just be one of the year's most pleasant surprises, but one of the year's very best shows. And while the writing and directing were both top-notch, so much of the show's appeal comes to the performances. From memorable guest appearances by Eddie Izzard and Lance Henriksen to great regular work from Caroline Dhavernas, Gillian Anderson and Laurence Fishburne (the most engaged he's been in years, it seems to us), there isn't a weak link in the bunch. But it all comes down to the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, and at the end of the first season, it's hard to think of better alternatives than Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen. The latter's casting was something of a surprise, given his flourishing big-screen career, and that it came hot on the heels of his Best Actor win at Cannes. But it's not difficult to see why he signed on: creator Bryan Fuller has found a new take on cinema's most famous cannibal, and by getting to see Hannibal in the wild, and embodied by the cheekboned Dane, it's the most complete portrait of the character to date. Mikkelsen can be charming, sexy even, but the beast underneath isn't too far from the surface, even if the other characters can't see it yet. That was to be expected to anyone that knows his work, but Dancy, who's often been overlooked despite strong turns in the likes of "Martha Marcy May Marlene," is the revelation here. It's an incredibly difficult role -- a man so empathetic that he can imagine himself committing the murders he investigates, yet not really able to relate to the people around him. But Dancy just keeps it this side of full-on crazy, with a puppy-dog vulnerability and moral center that makes him a legitimate hero even as he comes to doubt himself. As many have pointed out, it's not a dissimilar turn to Dancy's wife Claire Danes on "Homeland," and if we had our way, the two would both be nominees (along with Mikkelsen) on Emmy night.

Laura Dern
Laura Dern - "Enlightened"
One of the great things that television can do is give new leases of life to careers of actors who might once have headlined movies, but now find work to be somewhat scarcer. Laura Dern never exactly disappeared, but before "Enlightened," her most notable role since "Inland Empire" had been in "Little Fockers," of all things. But in "Enlightened" she found a part that sits alongside Lula Fortune, Ellie Sattler and Ruth Stoops as the ones she'll be remembered for. Almost more than any other show on TV, "Enlightened" is a laser-focused character study on Dern's Amy Jellicoe. A once ambitious executive at a company, Amy has a nervous breakdown after sleeping with her boss (a breakdown aided, we discover later, by various substances) and has gone away to a rehab center, where she's returned from with a new age-y look on life and a desire to do good. The trouble is that she's an awful person; a selfish, petulant, self-absorbed giant child, albeit one with good intentions. There's an amazing lack of vanity in Dern's performance, a remarkable unwillingness to be liked by the audience, and despite that, or maybe because of it, she manages a sympathy that you wouldn't have imagined from the character, and you really do want Amy to turn it around. Dern won a Golden Globe in 2012, and picked up a Critics' Choice nomination earlier in the year, and will likely be on the outside in a tough category at the Emmys, but there are few more deserving nominees.

Ron Eldard
Ron Eldard - “Justified”
The recurring players of "Justified" have been reasonably well-rewarded since it began, with Emmy wins for Margo Martindale and Jeremy Davies along the way. This year could see Walton Goggins pick up another nod, and Jim Beaver deservedly has a good chance at a nomination for Guest Star, but there's one performer who joined the show this year that we think deserves consideration too, in the shape of veteran character actor Ron Eldard. He's a familiar face on screen thanks to the likes of "Sleepers," "Black Hawk Down," "House of Sand and Fog" and, maybe most notably, "Super 8," but Eldard was almost unrecognizable, long-haired and grunge-y and looking like a sort of paunchy bear, when he turned up in Harlan County as Colton 'Colt' Rhodes. Colt was a military policeman who'd tangled with Goggins' Crowder when they were both in the service, but now he's been demobbed, and has come to Harlan looking for a job. As it turns out, he's pretty unstable due to a heroin problem, and proves to be more of a liability than asset. Eldard didn't last long on the show, but made a real impression, creating a deeply sad, wounded man who has less killer instinct than he'd like you to think. His final, desperate confrontation with Marshal Tim Gutterson was one of the best bits of acting we've seen all year, and while it's unlikely to result in awards attention, we hope it gets the revelatory Eldard a lot more work down the line.

Derek Luke
Derek Luke - "The Americans"
It's hard to tell if "The Americans" will break into the Emmys this year -- as a new series, it has a trickier path than some, but we think that the critical acclaim could be enough to get it attention for leads Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, and maybe even the superb Noah Emmerich too. But someone who's likely to miss out, due to being caught in that tricky wasteland between guest star and a regular is Derek Luke. Best known for his movie work in the likes of "Friday Night Lights" and "Captain America" (the short-lived paramedic series "Trauma" is his major incursion into TV to date), Luke only cropped up a few times as Gregory, a D.C. radical who was one of the first people that Philip and Elizabeth recruited into the KGB. But what Philip didn't realize is that his wife/partner had fallen in love with Gregory, and they've had an on/off affair for over a decade. The central spy duo were essentially put in an arranged marriage, but are now starting to fall in love for real, whereas Elizabeth and Gregory are somewhat the reverse; he was her first love, but while he still adores her, she wants to be all business. With relatively little screen time and set-up, Luke breaks your heart a little, even when he's petulantly telling Philip that he was screwing his wife. And when the net closes in on him later in the season, there's a dignity and sense of sacrifice that makes you wish he's been around a little bit more. He won't be back, but it's a reminder of what a consistently undervalued talent Luke is.

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40 Comments

  • ellie | August 26, 2014 11:17 AMReply

    I really agree about supernatural and i think both jensen and jared deserve more recognition than they got from Supernatural. It really is one of the best shows ever - an awesome mix of drama, horror, action and humor. Not many actors would be able to pull of dean and sam winchester with the ease that they do.

  • John | July 18, 2013 1:20 PMReply

    Would agree that Supernatural is the most overlooked. I'd actually go with Padalecki for an Emmy the last few seasons. The guy has literally grown-up in the series and become an impressive actor. He is not the tentitave teenager of Gilmore Girls or the first year of SPN anynore, and for the last few seasons he has taken on and scored in juicy acting challenges. The one advantage CW has is that it is a good place to learn your craft and Padalecki has sure taken advantage of the opportunity.

  • DJ | July 11, 2013 3:05 PMReply

    John Noble as 'Dr Walter Bishop' on FRINGE !

  • Lily | July 9, 2013 7:11 PMReply

    I have learned to live with Bill Macy and Emmy Rossum being snubbed every year for Shameless but if Maslany doesn't get a nomination while they nominate Margulies for that CBS soap again, I'll go to the library and burn "Emmy Awards" from the dictionaries.

  • Evelin | July 3, 2013 5:38 PMReply

    Honestly, it's a shame that genre shows are overlooked by the Emmys. I'm not just talking about "Supernatural," with Jensen Ackles as Dean, but also "Once Upon a Time." I admit that this year's season wasn't as great as the first, but Robert Carlyle always gives such a fabulous performance I have to keep watching.
    First of all, he's highly underrated as an actor. Second, he's playing four different personalities who are incarnations of one person; the woobie spinner, then the cynically insane Dark One, than as the notorious pawnbroker, and finally the man who perfectly blends all of those beings in a single guise.
    I could go on and on rambling about this. In short, Robert Carlyle is one of the greatest actors I've ever seen and he does deserve an Emmy nod.

  • Angelor | July 10, 2013 8:54 PM

    Have to agree with EVELIN on this one. I have been incredibly impressed with Robert Carlyle and find him to be the standout on this show. He is incredibly fun to watch. There is every reason for him to be an unsympathetic character, but I find myself rooting for him--and as unattractive as they make him, I see what Belle sees in him.

  • Derrick James | July 3, 2013 1:57 PMReply

    How about Harold Perrineau for his portrayal of Damon Pope on Sons of Anarchy? Probably the shows worst villain to date, and definitely unexpected bad guy turn from Harold Perrineau.

  • Derrick James | July 3, 2013 1:55 PMReply

    How about Harold Perrineau for his portrayal of Damon Pope on Sons of Anarchy? Probably the shows worst villain to date, and definitely unexpected bad guy turn from Harold Perrineau.

  • JenT | July 1, 2013 9:22 PMReply

    Just what Does AMC's The Walking Dead HAVE to do, just to get Nominated? OMG, How can the Number one show NOT get the ''critic's '' vote? ...what date do the Nominations come out?

  • Lily | July 9, 2013 7:09 PM

    Just goes to show popular doesn't mean good. And The Walking Dead is not good. The pilot was good. Then it drowned under predictability, twists and groaning melodrama, not to mention all the clichés and tropes of the zombie genre.

  • Brad | July 2, 2013 8:58 AM

    I don't know it could try being good for starters, that would be a start.

  • Jose | June 29, 2013 2:11 PMReply

    Southland's Micheal Cudlitz.

  • Ha | July 2, 2013 8:11 PM

    Ha, I was going to say the same thing. The Walking Dead isn't really a good show, when you actually think about it, it's quite hollow. With horrendous writing and character development at times.

  • Jose | June 29, 2013 2:16 PM

    Also, Happy Ending's Casey Wilson and Adam Pally.

  • Lucas | June 28, 2013 10:24 AMReply

    CHARLES DANCE

  • Mike | June 27, 2013 9:45 PMReply

    A few that come to mind for me are Michael Rooker in The Walking Dead, Michael Chiklis in Vegas and Matthew Perry in Go On. They were all great but I suspect none of them will be nominated.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | June 27, 2013 9:59 PM

    michael rooker is amazing perfect casting for 'The Walking Dead'

  • Pamela | June 27, 2013 7:11 PMReply

    For me Shameless takes my vote, Joan Cusack got a nomination but Emmy Rossum & William H Macy are great every season!

  • Jackie | June 27, 2013 6:53 PMReply

    Voters always seem to overlook the work done on procedurals. Maybe because the characters spend much of the story doing things not directly related to their arc for the season? And many of them are just standard performances- good but not legendary. But over on NCIS, Cote de Pablo got thrown some of the heaviest material I have seen on a show in a while, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. I'd like to see some love for Michael Weatherly, too, but the chances of a mega-successful procedural in it's tenth season pulling multiple nominations is laughable, so I've got to give it to Cote.

    Another show that the Emmys will never give a second glance to is Supernatural- I mean, ghosts and demons and all on the CW. Never gonna happen. But the two leads consistently deliver some of the greatest performances I've ever seen, particularly Jensen Ackles. There was nothing particularly stand-out about this season (not that he in any way gave a subpar performance), so I wouldn't expect to see anything even if the voters did suddenly take note. It would be nice to see some Supporting Actor love for Mark Sheppard, though.

    (The all-time biggest Emmy miss in my book, however, goes to snubbing Bradley Whitford for his guest appearance on The Mentalist)

  • Jackie | June 27, 2013 6:53 PMReply

    Voters always seem to overlook the work done on procedurals. Maybe because the characters spend much of the story doing things not directly related to their arc for the season? And many of them are just standard performances- good but not legendary. But over on NCIS, Cote de Pablo got thrown some of the heaviest material I have seen on a show in a while, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. I'd like to see some love for Michael Weatherly, too, but the chances of a mega-successful procedural in it's tenth season pulling multiple nominations is laughable, so I've got to give it to Cote.

    Another show that the Emmys will never give a second glance to is Supernatural- I mean, ghosts and demons and all on the CW. Never gonna happen. But the two leads consistently deliver some of the greatest performances I've ever seen, particularly Jensen Ackles. There was nothing particularly stand-out about this season (not that he in any way gave a subpar performance), so I wouldn't expect to see anything even if the voters did suddenly take note. It would be nice to see some Supporting Actor love for Mark Sheppard, though.

    (The all-time biggest Emmy miss in my book, however, goes to snubbing Bradley Whitford for his guest appearance on The Mentalist)

  • lily | July 9, 2013 7:12 PM

    Supernatural has good acting? De Pablo? I think you are confusing good performances with people you like. You should watch better tv.

  • Jackie | June 27, 2013 6:53 PMReply

    Voters always seem to overlook the work done on procedurals. Maybe because the characters spend much of the story doing things not directly related to their arc for the season? And many of them are just standard performances- good but not legendary. But over on NCIS, Cote de Pablo got thrown some of the heaviest material I have seen on a show in a while, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. I'd like to see some love for Michael Weatherly, too, but the chances of a mega-successful procedural in it's tenth season pulling multiple nominations is laughable, so I've got to give it to Cote.

    Another show that the Emmys will never give a second glance to is Supernatural- I mean, ghosts and demons and all on the CW. Never gonna happen. But the two leads consistently deliver some of the greatest performances I've ever seen, particularly Jensen Ackles. There was nothing particularly stand-out about this season (not that he in any way gave a subpar performance), so I wouldn't expect to see anything even if the voters did suddenly take note. It would be nice to see some Supporting Actor love for Mark Sheppard, though.

    (The all-time biggest Emmy miss in my book, however, goes to snubbing Bradley Whitford for his guest appearance on The Mentalist)

  • Jackie | June 27, 2013 6:53 PMReply

    Voters always seem to overlook the work done on procedurals. Maybe because the characters spend much of the story doing things not directly related to their arc for the season? And many of them are just standard performances- good but not legendary. But over on NCIS, Cote de Pablo got thrown some of the heaviest material I have seen on a show in a while, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. I'd like to see some love for Michael Weatherly, too, but the chances of a mega-successful procedural in it's tenth season pulling multiple nominations is laughable, so I've got to give it to Cote.

    Another show that the Emmys will never give a second glance to is Supernatural- I mean, ghosts and demons and all on the CW. Never gonna happen. But the two leads consistently deliver some of the greatest performances I've ever seen, particularly Jensen Ackles. There was nothing particularly stand-out about this season (not that he in any way gave a subpar performance), so I wouldn't expect to see anything even if the voters did suddenly take note. It would be nice to see some Supporting Actor love for Mark Sheppard, though.

    (The all-time biggest Emmy miss in my book, however, goes to snubbing Bradley Whitford for his guest appearance on The Mentalist)

  • Ricky | June 28, 2013 8:50 AM

    If anyone on Supernatural should have gotten any kind of nod, its Jim Beaver

  • Jamie Chamberlin | June 27, 2013 4:09 PMReply

    Brent Sexton as Stan Larson on The Killing deserves one. I'm surprised that show hasn't made any of your recents lists.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | June 27, 2013 10:00 PM

    doesn't he remind you of Lisbeth Salander ?

  • Will | June 27, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    I think Jonathan Banks work on Breaking Bad absolutely deserves the nod and the win, especially for taking a character who started so one note and making it one of the show's best creations, so much so that when SPOILER he died it felt like a great loss. It's tough to call whether he'll get a nomination or not but I think he deserves to be on the list.

  • Brianna | June 27, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    Charlie Day - It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

  • benutty | June 27, 2013 3:25 PMReply

    Arya from Game of Thrones

  • Ryan Oliver | June 27, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    It would have been last year's Emmys that the nomination "should" have happened, but I'm consistently upset that Danny McBride has gotten no love at the Emmys for "Eastbound and Down." A stellar comedic, depressing portrayal of the lost American dream if I've ever seen one.

  • Ryan Oliver | June 27, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    It would have been last year's Emmys that the nomination "should" have happened, but I'm consistently upset that Danny McBride has gotten no love at the Emmys for "Eastbound and Down." A stellar comedic, depressing portrayal of the lost American dream if I've ever seen one.

  • Sarah | June 27, 2013 3:16 PMReply

    Jake Johnson is always great on New Girl, but he KILLED this season. James van der Beek and/or Krysten Ritter deserve nods for Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, but I sadly doubt they'll get any. Practically everyone on that show was fantastic, especially this year.

  • Mike | June 28, 2013 6:44 PM

    I think Jake Johnson has a good shot at actually getting nominated (the other 2, yeah, no chance, particularly since the show was cancelled) since Emmy voters clearly like New Girl (Zooey and Max Greenfield both got nominated last year) and the only real locks for nominations in that category are Jim Parsons, Alec Baldwin, and Louis C.K..

  • rrho | June 27, 2013 2:58 PMReply

    Anna Torv should have won an Emmy or two for FRINGE already; her impersonating two characters that impersonate each other at some point, always without missing a beat, was at least equal, if not superior to Tatiana Maslany's role in ORPHAN BLACK. But, alas, FRINGE's last season was hardly its best.

  • Angelica Jade | June 27, 2013 2:40 PMReply

    That character in "Top of the Lake" was anything but complex. He came off as a disgusting, uninteresting caricature of a sexist man. The character wasn't interestingly written or acted. I felt that show ended up being troubling on so many levels.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | June 27, 2013 10:01 PM

    watch him in 'MY NAME IS JOE'

  • NewYorker | June 27, 2013 2:33 PMReply

    for me probley
    William H. Macy, Jeremy Allen White & Emmy Rossum all from Shameless.
    Jake Johnson from New Girl
    Jane Levy, Cheryl Hines & Jeremy Sisto from Suburgatory
    Krysten Ritter from Don't Trust The B
    Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs from 2 Broke Girls

  • Ivy | June 27, 2013 2:32 PMReply

    Tatiana Maslany for all the awards!

  • oogle monster | June 27, 2013 2:29 PMReply

    Kiernan Shipka from Mad Men should (and prob won't) be nominated.

  • Ricky | June 27, 2013 2:26 PMReply

    Mostly good choices, the only not good ones are because I haven't seen the show and can't speak on it.

    I had thought Peter Mullan would be more of a shoe-in than a snub

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