[In Week Three of Cultural Learnings’ 59th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations Preview, we’re looking at possible contenders for the Lead Actor awards in both drama and comedy. Today, we present our fifth set of candidates. For complete listings for the Supporting candidates from the past two weeks, check out our For Your Consideration index]
Lead Actor in a Drama
Hugh Laurie (Gregory House)
Alone amongst procedural dramas, there is no question that there is a single star of FOX’s House; Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of the prickly doctor has perhaps been one of the most universally loved in recent years. There is something about his demeanor that is so incredibly engaging, and there is little question that it elevates this drama from being a mid-level success to one of the highest rated dramas on television. And yet, there is something more to House than just his jokes; he is a damaged man, struggling to come to terms with his own lot in life. While the character can occasionally be written into a bit of a hole (And parts of the season find him mired in annoying legal drama), Laurie always manages to pull something out of his ass that is sheer genius. What makes his performance Emmy worthy is that in those moments that the show reveals itself as the shallow procedural it is at its core, Hugh Laurie’s House always shines through as a beacon of hope and high class television. It may just be my affinity for British accents, but I must consider Hugh Laurie as a serious Emmy contender.
What Laurie brings to the table, every time, is a sense of complete and total apathy for his co-workers, his patients, and pretty well everything around him. It’s a difficult role to play while remaining likable, but Laurie always does it. Whether he’s tearing apart Chase, Cameron and Foreman, or sparring with Wilson, or torturing Cuddy, it always seems like House is having a hell of a lot of fun with himself. For an entire episode he exists only in that mode, but then he ends up stepping in by episode’s end, meets the patient, interacts with them, and all of a sudden he cares. It’s like a light switch very suddenly turns on, and Laurie makes that transition every time without seeming too obvious about it. I keep waiting to see whether House will at some point cross a line between cantankerous doctor and insufferable jerk, but Laurie always walks that line extremely carefully. And, in his show-making efforts, Hugh Laurie turns in an Emmy worthy performance.
Episode Selection: “One Day, One Room” (Aired January 30th, 2007)
Smartly, the episode Laurie is submitting is the one where all of that is challenged, and where someone sees him for the tortured soul he really is as opposed to the façade he places in front of people. Unfortunately, it’s not the episode I would have picked. One Day, One Room isn’t his selection, but I like it more than “Half-wit”. When a rape victim enters into the clinic and spends time with House, who of course is his usual clinic self, and decides that she will only speak to him. She realizes that he is kind of like her, in a way…or maybe she’s just crazy. Either way, the entire episode lets Hugh Laurie enter into deep philosophical discussions, and under the guise of “drama” I believe that it is his strongest performance of the season. Of course, he submitted a different episode (One where he treats Dave Matthews’ musical savant) that is also good, but I like this one better. So tough, Hugh Laurie.
YouTube – “One Day, One Room”
EDIT: Okay, so Half-Wit is good too. It has Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays”, a song I adore.
YouTube – “Half-Wit”
Lead Actor in a Comedy
Jason Lee (Earl)
My Name is Earl
I don’t watch My Name is Earl on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. While the show’s first season started strongly, I lost interest when it felt like nothing was really changing with the series. It was a charming show, and one that I enjoyed watching, but it just stopped surprising me at a certain point. What bits of this past season that I’ve seen haven’t been any more surprising, don’t get me wrong, but what I think has become clear is that consistency is the name of the game. And, central to that consistency, Jason Lee’s performance as Earl Hickey remains the central piece of the show’s puzzle. A show entirely about Joy, or Randy, or Darnell, or Catalina…none of it would work. Without Earl, the show would lack its everyman, a man who despite his past has a heart and has a purpose in life. I always believe Jason Lee in this role, and I empathize with him even as those around him might grate on my nerves. While the show might not have been able to keep my attention, I can’t help but believe that Jason Lee’s strong and consistent performance makes him worthy of Emmy consideration.
With most of the show’s buzz transferred to Emmy-winning The Office this past season, My Name is Earl continued its ratings success and I attribute much of this to Lee’s performance. What he brings to Earl is a sensibility that we can relate to: he is attempting to reform himself, but his past and his present both continue to come back to haunt him. He is surrounded by people who seem content on dragging him down, specifically ex-wife Joy, and in cleaning up their messes in the present he begins to create a whole new set of people to add to his list. And what makes Lee so engaging is that his spirit never seems to waver. He sighs, he adds to his list, and he moves on. He is a strong brother to Randy, a strong friend to Joy and Darnell, a father to his son on occasion, and someone who is trying to make the world a better place one problem at a time…he’s just not succeeding very often. As the person central to it all, Jason Lee embodies Earl in a way that makes us want to see the end of his journey turn out alright. And it’s a performance that might just get him an Emmy nomination.Episode Selection: “The Trial” (Aired May 10th, 2007)
In the show’s season finale, Earl made what could be his final sacrifice: with Joy on trial, Earl is on the stand defending her and realizes that his torturous past with her is about to see her convicted on the charges. Feeling responsible for breaking apart a family, Earl makes a stand…literally, as he stands and confesses to the crime himself in order to keep Joy at home with her kids. Taken away in handcuffs, his list in a box with the rest of his possessions, Earl seems at the end of his line…but it was a triumphant stand. It was an incredibly compelling performance from Lee, and proves his mettle as a comic actor with a heart. While Earl isn’t always laugh out loud funny, without him the show’s heart and the show’s comedy could not exist. And that couldn’t have been more clear than within this episode.
YouTube – “The Trial”