2011 Dream Emmy Ballot: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

It’s that time again, folks. The Emmy nominations will be announced on July 14, which means I have almost an entire month to flood this space with hopes, dreams and predictions about what could happen come nomination time. To kick things off, I’ll be bringing back the Dream Emmy Ballot. It’s something I did last year and even with my much smaller readership back then, folks seemed to enjoy it. You can find the archives of previous Dream Emmy Ballot posts here.

In any event, just a qualifier or two: This is obviously my Dream Emmy Ballot. Meaning, these initial picks are going to be who I would love to see be nominated for the awards. I know that many of these people don’t actually have a chance in garnering a nomination, just as I know that I will miss some of your personal favorites because I don’t watch that series. I watched more television than ever this season, so I imagine my personal picks will more closely align with more “official” selections, but nevertheless, this is all based on my personal taste and wishes. I’ll do more concrete, objective analysis as we get closer to the actual nomination announcement. Secondly, these picks are all based on the official nomination ballot, just so you know.

My Independence Day gift to you? My dream picks for one of the most competitive categories in this year’s Emmy race. Here we go with Lead Actor, Drama.

Jon Hamm, Mad Men

It’s so weird that we complain about Mad Men‘s award show dominance and yet, its lead actor has yet to walk away with one of these statues. A lot of that has to do with Jon Hamm’s AMC peer Bryan Cranston, but he’s out of the race this year and luckily for Hamm, this was his strongest season to-date. As Don Draper sunk lower and lower into his personal nadir as the season continued, Hamm continued to turn in compelling and sympathetic performances. With the armor taken off, Hamm’s Draper was less perfect and glamorous and more disheveled and destructive, which always makes for great bait for Emmy voters. His performance in the first half of the season was tremendous, with “The Suitcase” serving as the apex of his multi-dimensional work as New York’s best ad man. I have a more personal investment in a few of the candidates on this list, but if and when Jon Hamm’s name is read this fall, I will fist-pump relatively strongly. My lord does he deserve a win.

Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights

You know, it’s nice to live in a world where picking Kyle Chandler for a nomination in this category isn’t something that automatically gets filed under “dream.” After last year’s surprise nomination, Chandler is much more likely to grab a second one this year and rightfully so. His work in the fifth and final season of Friday Night Lights was arguably his best ever — and that’s saying something. In season five, Coach Taylor had more balls in the air, personally and professionally, and had more stresses to deal with than ever before, but Chandler played his character’s consistent batch of frustration, exasperation, pride and enjoyment perfectly. Even when the story called for a less likable and more bull-headed Coach, Chandler made certain that the audience never looked negatively upon him. Instead, we knew Coach and Chandler’s embodiment of him so well that all we could do is be slightly disappointed, but totally understanding of why he was acting in a certain way. I’ve had a lot of favorite television characters in my short time on this planet, but Coach Taylor is right near the top of that list. I know Jon Hamm deserves a win, but Kyle Chandler DESERVES A WIN.

Timothy Olyphant, Justified 

A weird thing happened during Justified‘s second season: The supporting and guest cast became so good, it was difficult not to talk about Walton Goggins, Margo Martindale, Jeremy Davies, etc. each and every week. The cast is so deep on that series that it sometimes becomes a bit easy to not talk about how freaking tremendous its lead is. Timothy Olyphant raised his game to meet in season two, allowing Raylan to become a much more complicated, conflicted and damaged character. In season one, Raylan was mostly a bad-ass. In season two, Raylan was rarely a bad-ass. He was consistently distracted, upset and disjointed and oftentimes, outwitted by the more mischievousness characters. The series deconstructed the typical outlaw hero throughout season two and Olyphant’s performance made that possible. He was asked to play more beats more consistently and handled himself very well.

Donal Logue, Terriers

This is where we move into major dream territory. Terriers‘ infectious shaggy-dog nature only worked because it starred one of the best shaggy-dog performers around. Donal Logue has proven he can handle all sorts of material, but no role allowed him to present all his skills within one character. Hank Dollworth wasn’t always the most likable or respectable character, but man was he compelling to watch. He screwed up on a regular basis and constantly got himself and his friends into situations he could only just barely escape and Logue made sure the audience felt every wrench of discomfort, pain and sadness Hank went through in those situations. Without question, this is one of my favorite performances of the year and unfortunately the least likely of my six choices to be nominated for real.

Peter Krause, Parenthood

It’s odd to think that Peter Krause, three-time nominee in this category for his work on Six Feet Under, is a fairly solid underdog now. There are a number of factors for this. First, this is a jam-packed category with very little wiggle room for new nominees. Second, not enough people watch Parenthood, which is a substantial shame in its own right. And third, Parenthood isn’t a series with a capital-l Lead, which might hurt Krause’s chances just a little. I’d argue that he and Lauren Graham are the leads and even though some of the supporting characters were given meatier storylines in season two, Krause’s Adam is the intense, but grounded center that the drama needs. His work isn’t spectacularly showy or dramatic, but Krause knows how to turn on the frustration and anger that is required of the “responsible one” in a massive family. Oftentimes in season two, Adam was overbearing and annoying in regards to who his oldest daughter’s love life, but Krause did good work balancing the raw honesty of that kind of parenting without letting his character become too unlikable.

James Badge Dale, Rubicon

There is absolutely no question that James Badge Dale will not be nominated in this category. Not only will Emmy voters have forgotten Rubicon (or worse, never even known what it was to begin with), but Badge Dale’s performance isn’t the kind that usually catches the eyes of the voting committee. For the majority of Rubicon‘s lone season, Badge Dale spent his time looking intensely off into the distance, sometimes down dark alleys and other times on the top of rooftops. He is a performer who is excellent at portraying a deep and conflicted thinker with a heart and somehow, it’s never boring. As his will Travers started to rethink his own genius mind and let the conspiracy take hold of him, Badge Dale became unhinged, but still relatively controlled and subtle. The paranoid vibe of Rubicon would have never worked had Badge Dale not been so wonderful.

Notable performers left just off the list: Hugh Laurie, House; Michael C. Hall, Dexter; Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire; Jason Clarke, The Chicago Code

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