[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 seventh and last set of candidates. For complete listings for the Supporting candidates from the past two weeks, and soon the Lead Actors, check out our For Your Consideration index]
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin (Jack Donaghy)
Alex Baldwin gave, in my personal opinion, the best comic performance of the season on 30 Rock. He stole every scene he was in, shared great scenes with pretty well the show’s entire cast, and managed to find a balance between forceful boss and a man in need of attention. While his time spent hosting Saturday Night Live was certainly good training ground for Baldwin in terms of comic chops, what he really brings to the table is his ability to craft a character. So often, leads in comedies can fall into the same old clichés, the same old structures, and in the process don’t define a character. While he may also play a boss with insecurities, Baldwin doesn’t really steal from Steve Carell’s performance style; what he crafts is something all his own, a boss whose insecurities are so well hidden that he’s risen to the executive level. Jack is so good at hiding and limiting those insecurities that few would ever question his leadership, and in much the same way Baldwin commands respect. As a comic presence and as a character-driven actor, Alec Baldwin makes 30 Rock worth watching each and every week. While the show came together around him in the end, Alec Baldwin’s show-justifying role is worthy of Emmy consideration.
When you look at what Jack faced this year it’s kind of a laundry list of fantastic comic setups with every single character on the series. He spent a day as an NBC page with Kenneth cleaning Brian Williams’ office after one of his tirades, and played poker against him, he spent time dealing with racism with Tracy, he tried to help Pete’s love life by pushing him to wear a toupee, and perhaps greatest of all he constantly interacted with Liz. His chemistry with Tina Fey is palpable: their dialogues were sharp, their delivery perfect, their pace ideal. But it was always Fey keeping up with Baldwin, and that’s the way it really should be. And yet, in moments of insecurity, Jack does falter: whether it’s his ex-wife (Isabella Rossellini in a fantastic guest role), his troublesome family (Nathan Lane, Molly Shannon), or even his late season relationship with Phoebe the bird girl. Jack does have a heart, of sorts, but yet his life as a cutthroat executive is always first and foremost. He might eventually pull Kenneth out of performing sex acts to guest star Will Arnett, but he definitely sent him in the first place to help out his own cause. That duality is funny, charming, and pulled off wonderfully by Baldwin. And it’s a performance that is likely to garner him an Emmy nomination.
Episode Selection: “Jack-Tor” (Aired November 16th, 2007)
I am ignoring his actual selection here not because I dislike it, but because of my affection for this particular episode. “Hiatus”, the season finale, features some great interaction with Elaine Stritch playing his mother, and his arc within the episode is certainly a decent one. But it has Jack out of his element: he’s in bed with Phoebe, or stuck in a hospital bed. Jack is at his finest in his own habitat.
And thus I have to choose an early season episode that convinced me that this series was officially going somewhere. Jack-Tor covers everything great about Jack: his corporate background, his tough exterior, his attempts to fit in, his insecurities, his relationship with Liz, his…well, this episode has everything for me. More than Hiatus, this episode defines what Alec Baldwin is able to bring to this character on a weekly basis. Plus, it contains perhaps the greatest sequence in all of comedy this past year, which will follow in YouTube form. The rest of the episode has some other stuff…but this is basically an Emmy reel in itself.
YouTube – “Jack-Tor”
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor)
Friday Night Lights
A small town football team is only as good as its coach. While there may be individual stars, while there may be supportive fans, they will be nothing without the guidance of a coach who can step forward and lead his or her team to victory. Much like a small town football team, a television drama is nothing with its lead actor, and in this case this analogy could not be more apt. Kyle Chandler delivers a career performance as Coach Eric Taylor, a man who is still overwhelmed by the spectacle of small town Dillon, Texas, but is always powerful and strong when it comes to leading his team. I don’t think I knew Chandler had it in him: to be so vicious and intimidating in the locker room at halftime when his team needs encouragement or discipline takes a lot of skill, and Chandler always nails it. Coach Taylor is never too mean, too vindictive, and yet is never too soft in the process. Even as we see his softer side at home with his family, we always still believe he could kick our ass if he put his mind to it. That duality is brought to life in Eric Taylor by Kyle Chandler, and it is most certainly an Emmy worthy portrayal.
Faced with a tragedy in his very first game, Eric Taylor needs to take a team reeling from the loss of their star quarterback and keep the town from turning against him. As the show’s drama creates racial tensions, steroid problems, family drama, relationship drama, Taylor has to keep all of it from seeping onto the field. That job is not an enviable one, and it certainly provides a lot of stress for Taylor. And yet, more importantly, this is combined with his own family life. A daughter dating his quarterback might be tough enough, but then there’s his wife. Tami Taylor is opinionated, charming, and is simultaneously his rock and the thorn in his side. Chandler is so deftly able to balance being a father, being a husband, being a coach that I don’t know if I’d define him as just one of them in any situation. He never seems superhuman, dealing with all of this, and yet he never seems vulnerable either.At the end of the season, he faced a decision between his family and his future, putting everything on the line…and we never found out his decision. Whatever it will be, I believe that it will seem natural, honest in the hands of Kyle Chandler, and will be yet another reason why he deserves an Emmy nomination.
Episode Selection: “Eyes Wide Open” (Aired October 10th, 2006)
In the first episode written by series showrunner Jason Katims, Eric Taylor is in pretty well full-on Coach mode. While I talked a lot above about how his duality is perhaps his greatest quality, I cannot argue with this submission. His relationship with his wife is more suited to Connie Britton’s Emmy reel, and I figure that any attention she receives will likely showcase that side of his character. For Emmy voters, the powerful coach who is capable of inspiring even a terrified backup quarterback who has never played a full game in his life is the best angle. Chandler’s inspirational speech within this episode was just perfect: he is everything a coach should be, as relatable as a friend but as insightful as an elder. I’ve had this YouTube video selected since the idea for this preview began, and I won’t be switching now. It is one of the most inspiring dramatic performances of this past year, and is certainly worthy of Emmy consideration.
YouTube – “Eyes Wide Open”