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10 TV Stars Who Deserve Emmy Nominations (But Probably Won't Get Them)

by Oliver Lyttelton
July 5, 2012 12:02 PM
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Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten in "Awake"
No one watched "Awake." No one was ever really likely to watch "Awake," a mind-bending police procedural from Kyle Killen, creator of the excellent, but immediately cancelled Fox show "Lone Star" from a few years back. The concept was... well, not really simple, which was part of the problem. Michael Britten is an LA detective whose wife Hannah died in a car crash a few months before, leaving him to look after his teenage son Rex. But when he goes to sleep, he wakes up in a subtly altered reality, where his wife survived the crash, but Rex died. And when he goes to sleep in that world, he wakes up again in the other. Unable to tell which is real and which is a dream, and unable to face the idea of living without one or the other, Michael tries to keep going in both, all the while solving cases which seem to bleed between the two realities; a clue from one helping find a killer in the other. It was a hugely ambitious concept, and one that only lived up to some of its potential, but the one thing that absolutely did succeed was the central performance of Jason Isaacs. The veteran has done fine work on TV that was ignored by the Emmys before, most notably as an Irish gangster on Showtime's "Brotherhood," but his turn in "Awake" was perhaps his most compelling yet, a man seemingly losing his sanity, and sort of revelling in that. It was a wonderfully human take on a show that could have threatened to become overly bleak, and Isaacs' light touch (a skill that too often he doesn't get to use) meant that Michael was always a fascinating, character without sinking into a mire of grief. The show's disastrous ratings saw it cancelled after a single season (it's unlikely it would have finished the run if NBC had anything else to put in the slot), and means that it won't make any headway in the awards race, but hopefully Isaacs' turn will live on.

Danny McBride as Kenny Powers in "Eastbound & Down"
This week's news that, despite the third season long having been thought to have been the conclusion for Kenny Fucking Powers and "Eastbound & Down," that creators Danny McBride, Ben Best and Jody Hill had signed a deal with HBO for a fourth, means that the cult comedy does have one more chance at awards after this year. But that doesn't change the fact that McBride might have been on his best-ever form for the third season, which saw Powers back in the U.S., confronted with a son, and a new sidekick, Shane (Jason Sudeikis). Powers, a major league washout constantly dreaming of a comeback, has been one of the worst human beings on television since the show debuted in 2009, but McBride's skill, like Ricky Gervais before him (the creators have long acknowledged their debt to "The Office"), is in giving humanity to his creation, making the viewer sympathetic even while not forgiving and forgetting the character's abominable, selfish behavior. And season three saw both the very worst of Kenny -- watching Shane fatally OD on coke, failing to call 911, finishing the drugs and stealing his truck -- and the best -- embracing maturity, breaking up with his college-age girlfriend, and walking away from his major league comeback for a new life with long-time love April and son Toby. And while we have mixed feelings both about the show's Kenny-is-dead fakeout and the wisdom of a fourth season, it'll be a treat to see McBride once again reprise the role he'll likely always be best known for, given that he was the height of his powers in season three; walking that line between man and monster expertly, and rarely being anything less than uproariously funny. It has precisely no chance of ever being recognized by Emmy voters, but that doesn't mean it wasn't one of the finest comic performances on TV in the last year.

Danny Pudi as Abed Nadir in "Community"
It's no surprise that "Community" has not been an awards favorite so far; it's too much of a curate's egg to win over approval for a wider body of voters, particularly given the older demographic of Emmy voters. Why would they go for NBC's black sheep when "The Big Bang Theory" exists? And even if one actor snuck through, it's most likely to be the show's nominal lead Joel McHale. Which is a shame; not because McHale's not great on the show, but because his lesser-known co-star Danny Pudi is pulling off some of the finest acting on television week by week. The 33-year-old Pudi plays half-Palestinian half-Polish student Abed Nadir, a pop culture obsessive who helps to serve as a sort of commentary on the show's nature as a sitcom. And that aspect has helped Pudi deliver some of the show's biggest laughs, either through his double-act with fellow standout Donald Glover (most of the episodes close with a tag of the two messing around), or pop culture gags, like his astonishing Don Draper impersonation. But it's also his difficulty to connect with or even understand his friends, that has often been the emotional center of the show, and none more so than in this season's "Virtual Systems Analysis," a tour-de-force that saw Pudi impersonate the rest of the cast, as his friend Annie (Alison Brie, who played touchingly off her co-star) tries to delve into his psyche. It was an episode, like last seasons's staggering "My Dinner With Andre" parody "Critical Film Studies," which was truly nothing like else ever seen on TV, and Pudi was once again at the center. With the show likely not long for this world, this may be the last opportunity to honor the actor.

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  • John | July 9, 2012 5:29 AMReply

    "The Middle" is the best comedy on the air, yet its always ignored. Wake up people.

  • Mark | July 8, 2012 7:51 PMReply

    I agree with most of this list, namely Kerry Washington, Anna Chlumsky and definitely Jared Harris (who was superb on "Mad Men" this season), however, I would like to add the name of a spectacular actress doing stunning work on her series: Khandi Alexander in "Treme". Alexander should have been nominated for an Emmy before (for her incredible work in the HBO mini-series "The Corner" and last season's work on "Treme"), but continuing to ignore her would just be criminal.

  • Scandal is not a soap, Ollie | July 6, 2012 11:55 AMReply

    Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope is so entertaining. Hope she makes the cut.

  • beardy man child | July 5, 2012 6:09 PMReply

    Mark Margolis should get a nom for his performance in Breaking Bad, didn't speak a word but my God did he knock it out of the park

  • Derek | July 5, 2012 5:59 PMReply

    If fucking pains me that Dean Norris' name hasn't been mentioned. One of the best actors on tv. Pitch perfect on Breaking Bad.

    Good call on Anna Chlumsky. Always wanted to finger blast that.

  • RH | July 5, 2012 2:48 PMReply


  • Mitchell | July 5, 2012 2:12 PMReply

    Among the many who deserve to be mentioned, I feel the need to give shout outs to Alfie Allen in "Game of Thrones", Shea Whigham in "Boardwalk Empire" and basically the whole cast of "Happy Endings", but especially the three females (Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert and Casey Wilson). They won't be getting nominated, but they all really should be.

  • sp | July 5, 2012 2:36 PM

    Mitchell, I agree with your choices, but also the men of "Happy Endings.". I also agree with Playlist's choices : Jared Harris, Jason Isaacs( always great) , and Madeleine Stowe .

  • ryan | July 5, 2012 1:40 PMReply

    i definitely agree Rich, Anna Torv is equally worthy of a nod. I just feel Noble should have WON both the Emmy and Golden Globe by now!! makes you wonder if Torv's ties with Murdoch is keeping the liberal Hollywood (i am liberal minded btw) at bay...everything is politics. but it is a crime to not consider Noble for anything. he is proof that the talent pool is very deep with fairly unknown actors until they get a big break.

  • Sigh | July 5, 2012 11:21 PM

    (Please ignore "Torvwatch," she's a nutjob who posts this crap everywhere.)

  • TorvWatch | July 5, 2012 9:33 PM

    so you are saying that Anna Torv is the reason your Noble did not get an Emmy?????
    how pathetic , sad and insulting.

    1. Anna Torv is NOT related to M, other than being estranged from her father and his side of the famile (including M's exwife) since she was a child.
    She grew up with her mother and brother, payed her own way through NIDA, did her stage and tv in Australia.
    BTW. Anna Torv must be the most humble, modest person in the business, and the returning description of fans meeting her is Shy, Sweet en so greatful to fans.

    2. Noble is so overrated, all the credit he gets for the writing and material he gets is shocking.
    he is so much a Look at me actor.

    3. Anna Torv is just as much Underrated , since the pilot. What she has done with a character as Olivia Dunham, with the little material she gets, is beyond amazing.
    Anna is a brilliant actress, and if she would have gotten a decent story arc about her past from the beginning (what Noble has gotten in Overkill),
    Anna Torv would have been on the Emmy and Golden Globes lists from season 1.

    Big mistake of the showrunners to underuse Anna Torv, but the way she has handled all the crap in S1 she got in the USA, and how she has dealt with remarks like Ryan above, shows what a class-act Anna Torv is.

  • holly | July 5, 2012 1:08 PMReply

    Idris Elba overacts like mad in Luther, A very over rated actor. He chews the scenery in most things and cant do an american accent to save his life.

  • Zack | July 5, 2012 1:22 PM

    Seriously? Because I know lots of people who knew him as Stringer Bell first and they're always shocked to find out he's English.

  • Kim | July 5, 2012 12:43 PMReply

    Lena Headey should get a nod. Cersei was written to be hated! That's all. A flat one dimensional cartoon character. But in her hands, Cersei is anything but. I love her Cersei.

  • Nolan | July 5, 2012 12:39 PMReply

    I would think that a show as popular as Game of Thrones would get some recognition, although they may just nominate Dinklage every year and call it a day. That said, Headey especially deserves it when you compare her work in season 2 to her work in season 1. She was actually fairly weak the first time around, but really stunned a lot of people this time. Her scene with Tyrion where she discusses her children was fantastic, as was the drunken siege scene.

  • Zack | July 5, 2012 12:44 PM

    That one, wordless moment where Tyrion clearly wants to put a hand on her shoulder, but they both understand that that's not their relationship? Best acting in the series, thus far, I think.

  • ry | July 5, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    what about JOHN NOBLE!!! his character of walter on Fringe is he plays three people!!

  • Sigh | July 5, 2012 11:24 PM

    "Torvwatch," please stop tearing down other actors just to build up your favorite. It's really tiresome and weird.

    (Anna Torv is just fine as an actress, but I find the obsessive girl-cult worship surrounding her to be rather inexplicable...)

  • TorvWatch | July 5, 2012 9:38 PM

    Anna Torv is awesome, and hs been from the start. She finally got the material she should have gotten from the start, in season 3.
    Anna Torv should have been on the Emmy lists since season 1, playing a character like Olivia Dunham, with so littke material, is so much more difficult than the Overwritten and Overacted Walter by Overrated Noble.

  • jonathan | July 5, 2012 3:58 PM

    Yup, scrolled down to type exactly that. John Noble has been the greatest thing on tv for years, but doesn't get the credit. Also Jason Isaacs was awesome on Awake. And I wish that Isaacs's character from Awake could join the Fringe Division, because that would be amazing.

  • Rich | July 5, 2012 1:25 PM

    The same goes for Anna Torv, the lead on FRINGE. She has showed incredible range, including playing Leonard Nimoy's character William Bell, with all of his vocal intonations. the show has been completely ignored by the Emmys in the past.

  • MissJinx | July 5, 2012 12:30 PMReply

    I agree with a lot of these... but I would like to add Nelsen Ellis as Lafayette Reynolds on True Blood. He has some great lines and portrays such power and loss all at the same time. He is a wonderful actor and I want to see him in many more seasons of the show and to see him in many other roles in tv and film.

  • Someome | July 5, 2012 12:24 PMReply

    Hello Jason Isaacs.

  • Zack | July 5, 2012 12:16 PMReply

    Some that I'd like to see but probably won't:
    -Jack Huston and Gretchen Mol in "Boardwalk Empire"
    -Andrew Scott in "Sherlock"
    -Raymond J. Barry in "Justified" (he's done a similar thing to Headey in terms of abruptly, subtly stealing several scenes)
    -Pretty much everyone in "Game of Thrones" who's not Peter Dinklage

  • E | July 5, 2012 12:09 PMReply

    Anna Chancellor? Ew, it's Romola Garai who should get recognition for The Hour!

  • Zack | July 5, 2012 12:11 PM

    I imagine they left her out because she was nominated for a Golden Globe, and therefore is less of a long shot.

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