Emmy Underdogs: 4 Lead Actors I’d Like To See Break Into The Race (Drama Edition)

lead actors drama

The lead actor/actress drama categories proved to be the most difficult ones for me to weigh in on. For one thing, I rarely have many complaints with the nominees in these two categories, especially on the actor’s side (Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm, Timothy Olyphant–who I’ll be completely heartbroken over if he doesn’t earn another nod this year–even Michael C. Hall, whose show has seen better days, all deserve their spots), and as long as Elisabeth Moss keeps getting recognized in the lead actress category, then all is right in my world. Meanwhile, Damian Lewis and Claire Danes are virtual locks to enter the race this year thanks to their terrific performances in Homeland, so I can hardly count them as underdogs.

Unfortunately, I also have to ignore deserving actors like Kelsey Grammer and Dustin Hoffman because I simply haven’t seen enough of their shows to have strong feelings about their performances. Still, even though I’m ultimately picking from the small pool of dramas that I watch that are unlikely to garner nominations, I’ve settled on four actors I believe consistently turned in award-caliber work this past season.

1. Emmy Rossum–Shameless

Shameless (Showtime) "Just Like the Pilgrims Intended" Season 2 Episode 11 (6)

I would like to see the other three performers on this list honored, but I can understand how they could all miss the cut in such a competitive field. Where Emmy Rossum is concerned, I feel the lack of a nomination is absurd. Rossum is giving one of the best lead performances on television– it just happens to be on a show that Emmy voters apparently don’t watch.

Rossum’s Fiona isn’t a glamorous character. She’s not a lawyer, she doesn’t work for the CIA or an ad agency. She’s a young woman who works crap jobs to keep her five younger siblings clothed and fed, who sacrifices her own dreams so they can have the opportunities she missed out on. All the while she has to deal with her addict parents swooping in and out of the kids’ lives leaving only Fiona to pick up the pieces. In lesser hands, I can easily see Fiona coming off as shrill or long-suffering, but Rossum’s performance is fearless, funny and raw. When she is called on to sell the dramatic material she doesn’t just break your heart, she rips it out, but then she can turn around and make you laugh with just as much ease. She was amazing in season one, but if it’s possible she actually got better in season two as Fiona allowed herself the luxury of a little irresponsibility.

Rossum may not be as high profile as the women who are likely to be nominated over her in this category, but she’s a newcomer who deserves to join their ranks.

2. Michelle Dockery– Downton Abbey

Michelle Dockery

Downton Abbey was less of a stately period piece than it was a soapy mess this season, but Michelle Dockery found a way to cut through the melodrama to give a quiet, sharp edged performance as the iron-hearted Mary. Dockery adheres to the less is more approach of acting, which gives the rare moments when Mary breaks all the more weight. Dockery’s costar, Elizabeth McGovern is the de facto nominee for the series stateside, but Dockery is indisputably the lead. If anyone from Downton Abbey deserves a nomination in the category it’s most certainly her, especially coming off a year where she added so much gravitas to such flimsy material.

3. Jason Isaacs–Awake

Jason Isaacs

Jason Isaacs is on this list based solely on the pilot episode of Awake. Normally, I wouldn’t talk up a performance on a show that I had seen exactly one episode of, but Isaacs was so good in the first episode (and I imagine it would be his submission episode anyway if he did somehow sneak into the race) that I’m breaking my own rule. The two worlds approach allowed Isaacs to not only play up the grief of losing a wife and a child, but also to capture the sense of wonder his character felt as he tried to hold onto both realities at once.

His performance in the pilot was beautiful and moving, top-notch work from a brilliant actor. If Awake had managed to earn a second season, I have no doubt Isaacs would have been a serious contender in the race this year.

4. Peter Krause– Parenthood

Peter Krause

Parenthood is one of television’s true ensembles, but if it has a lead it’s certainly Krause. His character, Adam, is the eldest of the Braverman siblings, and the family’s anchor. What Krause does every week looks deceptively easy. He plays the good guy; the dutiful husband, the loving father, the steadfast big brother to his demanding younger siblings–all traits that set his character apart from the antiheroes that seem to earn the lion’s share of accolades in the lead actor category, but just because his character is a decent guy that doesn’t make Krause’s work less laudable than his dark and broody colleagues’.

In season three, Adam grappled with career changes, money problems and accepting his little girl was growing up. He struggled to help his autistic son fit in at a new school and welcomed a new baby daughter, started a business venture with his brother and almost cheated on his wife. It was a season full of change for Adam, and Krause rose to the occasion, making Adam sympathetic and believable at every turn.

I know antiheroes make for fascinating television, but Krause is proof that there’s real joy to be found in watching a good guy too.


I’ve shared my favorite underdogs in the lead actress and actor categories, now I’d love to hear from you. Which underrated actors are you hoping to see get a shot at Emmy gold this year?

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  • Marleenandlouie

    I totally agree with you about Peter Krause.  He is so good he makes it look effortless.  I have loved him since Sports Night and I have never seen him give even an average performance–he always performs above the rest.

    • Sabienna B.

      There is something so natural about Krause, I think it makes what he does look deceptively easy.  He’s such a talented performer.

    • IKnowDrama

      Peter Krause was amazing in Six Feet Under and he earned 3 lead actor nominations for that show.

      But I totally agree about Emmy Rossum for Shameless. Completely Absurd if she doesn’t get a nomination this year. She did get a Critics Choice nod though, and that might be more telling than an Emmy.  A Critics vote is more rewarding than a Kardashians right?  Also Jeremy Allen White needs a supporting actor nod as Lip.  He is very underrated.

      Besides that, I hope Breaking Bad deservedly takes the cake in basically everything it gets nominated for.  Homeland will win Lead Actress but it better not get in the way of the best show on tv.

      • Sabienna B.

        I loved him in Six Feet Under too, I think that was actually where I first saw him. I’m hoping he’ll eventually nab a nomination for Parenthood as well. The work he’s doing there, especially opposite Max Burkholder, has been terrific.

        It’s so nice to see more love for Rossum, she never fails to amaze me on Shameless. And yes, you’re absolutely right, the critics’ recognition of her work is probably more meaningful than Emmy recognition given how odd some of their choices are nomination wise. I put Jeremy Allen White on my supporting actors list, he was insanely good this season (and the previous one).

        Thanks so much for the comment!

        • IKnowDrama

          I love how you reply to comments.  That’s so cool!  I didn’t get to see as much of Parenthood this season as I have in the past, but of the few I caught was the one where Adam drove the girl home in the rain and then talked to his wife about how he felt.  I really like the honesty of Parenthood. This show still surprises me with what it’s willing to discuss and show.
          Are you going to publish your Supporting Actor nominees?  Max would make my young actor list, if that was a category.  I really think they need a few more categories, but I wouldn’t know where to start.  Would you?  Also, How would you feel about expanding the categories to 10?  There really are too many good shows.  The “snubs” list is always longer than the nominees.  Excellent shows like Parenthood, Shameless, and Justified will certainly not get their due this year.  A real shame.

          • Sabienna B.

            I did a supporting actor underdogs list a week or so back, you can check it out here: http://www.tvequals.com/2012/06/28/emmy-underdogs-4-supporting-actors-id-like-to-see-break-into-the-race-drama-edition/ What I found when I was putting it together is how many young actors I’d love to see sneak into the race. If I were going to advocate the Emmys adding another category I think it would be one for young performers (like the Daytime Emmys has). There are so many terrific child actors working right now (Max, Kiernan Shipka, the kids on Game of Thrones, etc.) and they’re consistently overlooked come awards season.

            I think it’s a tempting idea to expand the categories to 10 nominees, but as much as I’d love to see more shows get recognized, I understand why they stick with 6. I wasn’t of fan of the expansion when the Oscars did it a few years ago, as much as I loved seeing a few smaller films get a nod, it ultimately felt like the expanded number diminished things a bit.

            Still, I’d have a hard time arguing with anything that resulted in shows like Shameless and Justified getting more love.

            • IKnowDrama

              Thank you for the info!  I didn’t like when the Oscars did it also, but thats because movies, in general, did not explode with quality anytime recently like television has.  Independent filmmakers have been moving to TV because less are being made, and its becoming very noticeable in the amount of shows that deserve attention.  In 2007, the show Boston Legal, yes with William Shatner, was nominated for outstanding drama series.  In 2012, Parenthood, Shameless, and Justified will probably be shut out.  I don’t think ten would diminish anything compared to that.  Thank you for getting back to me!

  • ptjackson

    Totally agree about Jason Isaacs. Miss Awake….. 8-(

    • Sabienna B.

      He was excellent in the pilot, I need to catch up with the rest of the episodes over the summer, but it’s almost too depressing knowing I only have twelve more to look forward to.