For Your Consideration: Supporting Actors – Neil Patrick Harris and Michael Emerson

[In Week One of Cultural Learnings’ 59th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations Preview, we’re looking at possible contenders for the Supporting Actor awards in both comedy and drama. Today, we present our first two candidates.]

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Neil Patrick Harris (Barney)
How I Met Your Mother

I started watching How I Met Your Mother at the beginning of May, and have gone through the entire two seasons within a month. After watching the pilot when it premiered in 2005, I remember thinking closely about the performance of the former Doogie Howser. In the pilot, you can tell that he was meant to be wacky, with the focus on catchphrases like “Suit Up!” and “Legendary”. And, as a result, part of me wrote the character off as I lost touch with the series. I now realize that this was a terrible mistake, and after a fantastic two seasons of work Neil Patrick Harris deserves an Emmy nomination.

Barney has become something more than a womanizing flack with a high-end job and a lair-like apartment over the past season, and the result was some strong character moments. We saw the inside of his apartment, we learned that he had played a major role in Lily’s return from San Francisco, and we got to become an Uncle to his gay brother’s adopted boy. The character got a fair amount of dynamism in his storylines to go along with his usual strong supporting comedy, and that is the mark of a great supporting actor. When he needs to be simple and foil for the leads or other characters, he is fantastic at quips, comebacks, and all of that fluff. However, when the show asks more of him, Neil Patrick Harris always steps up to the plate. Even in its more derivative moments, Neil Patrick Harris raises How I Met Your Mother to whole new levels of awesomeness.

Episode Selection: Showdown (Airdate: April 30th, 2007)

There is no better example of Neil Patrick Harris’ finest moments than within this tour de force that literally becomes the Barney show in its last act. Believing since childhood that Bob Barker was his biological father, Barney finally gets the guts to travel to Los Angeles and confront him live on the show. From his price memorization (He knows everything) to his fake surprise, it’s all fantastic comedy…but then the moment where he prepares to inform Bob that he is his father is just heartbreaking, and the arc actually means something to him as a character to see that he couldn’t go through with it. If Emmy voters see this episode, I do not see how Neil Patrick Harris won’t be on the ballot.

YouTube: Showdown

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama

Michael Emerson (Ben)


Last season, Michael Emerson made an impact on Lost as Henry Gale, the captured Other who was kept within the Hatch for an extended period of time. He gave an eerie and compelling performance, but we were not yet truly introduced to the character in question. It is thus impressive that Ben, the leader of the Others, has managed to develop into a full fledge part of this ensemble cast with mysteries, intrigue, and a fantastic performance from Michael Emerson worthy of an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama.

Emerson deserves Emmy attention because he has managed to keep Ben a mysterious and powerful figure even after a lot of that mystery was blown away. Revealed as their leader, his allegiances and influences remain secret, and his true power has yet to be revealed. A quiet and meek performance at times, Emerson is at his most powerful while sparring intellectually with those around him. He plays mind games with friends and foes, twisting a web of deceit; the result is a lot of meaty dialogue and character work for the actor. It is his words that are the most powerful: even crippled in a wheelchair, the actor stepped up to the plate with vicious exchanges.

In an ensemble cast that often is unable to garner attention thanks to its size, Emerson deserves commendation for not getting lost in the shuffle. His performance as Ben has always hit the mark, and when he was asked to step up to the plate for his backstory in The Man Behind the Curtain he did so in spades. With performances like that one, Emerson deserves a shot at Emmy gold.

Episode Selection: “The Man From Tallahassee” (Airdate: March 21st, 2007)

While it might make more sense to show voters the episode that features Ben’s flashback, I have selected an episode that I think has Emerson’s strongest supporting performance. In The Man from Tallahassee, a bedridden Ben is the ying to Locke’s yang as we finally learned how Locke broke his legs. Emerson’s performance in this episode is powerful, even as he remains immobile. He is damaged, weak, and yet still he isn’t helpless: his balance of these perspectives is an acting tour de force, which is why I have selected it. That said, The Man Behind the Curtain features many of the same themes, and is the more likely choice.

YouTube: The Man from Tallahassee

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Filed under ABC, Award Shows, Emmy Awards, How I Met Your Mother, Lost, Television

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