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Emmy Essays: Predicting the Best Actor and Best Actress in a Drama Series Winners

Best Actor in a Drama Series

Jason Bateman, Ozark
Brian Cox, Succession 
Lee Jung-jae, Squid Game
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Adam Scott, Severance
Jeremy Strong, Succession

Bob Odenkirk has been nominated six times in this category, one time for each of the seasons he’s played Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul. Interestingly, he never earned a Supporting Actor nod for playing it on Breaking Bad, probably because three-time winner Aaron Paul was monopolizing the attention in that category (with occasional appearances by Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks, of course). But Odenkirk’s work as Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman over the last six years has consistently been one of the best things on television. Honestly, if the second half of the final season, which just ended last month, didn’t make the show eligible for next year’s Emmys, I would say he’s a shoo-in for his first acting Emmy (he’s won two for writing).

But, because voters get one more shot to reward Odenkirk’s incredible consistency, they’re going to look elsewhere this year. Jason Bateman did his usual excellent work as Marty Byrde in the final season of Ozark, but he’s already been recognized for the Netflix show, earning a win for directing the show’s first season. Likewise, it’s nice to see Adam Scott finally get his due with some Emmy love after years of charming viewers on shows like Party Down, Parks and Recreation, and Big Little Lies. Severance took a lot of people by surprise — including me — but his work shouldn’t have. Still, there is no chance he’s going to win his first time around up against this batch of heavy hitters.

Because that’s who the remaining three nominees are. Jeremy Strong has already won this award once, two years ago for the show’s second season, and as good as he was in this third season, I think he was overshadowed by the man who plays his father, Brian Cox. Cox’s work this past year was transcendent, arguably the best thing he’s done in a truly remarkable career. I love watching Cox act, and even if I have issues with Succession as a whole, and just how unrelentingly awful every single character is, it’s impossible not to recognize just how good the acting and writing are in every moment. Since we’re not here to talk about the writing, of course, it’s worthwhile to point out Cox’s greatness. Just as every other character has to react to Logan Roy, so does every other actor have to react to what Cox is doing. Every episode, he puts on an acting clinic, demonstrating the perfect blend of underplaying something and absolutely erupting. Also, no one can say “f—- off” like he can.

And yet, I don’t think he’s going to win, because of the sensation that is Squid Game, and the brilliant job Korean actor Lee Jung-jae did fronting the thing. Lee brought a humanity to what could have been a caricature. His performance took viewers along for the ride. Without his centering the story, who cares? And yet, part of why the show was so addictive is because we cared so much about Lee’s Seong Gi-hun. Good writing helps that, but it’s an actor’s performance that solidifies it. Add in the fact that he won the Screen Actors Guild Award for this category back in January, and I think you’re going to see the first South Korean actor ever to win this award take the stage on Emmy night.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Bob Odenkirk
WHO WILL WIN: Lee Jung-jae

Best Actress in a Drama Series

Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Laura Linney, Ozark
Melanie Lynskey, Yellowjackets
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Reese Witherspoon, The Morning Show
Zendaya, Euphoria

Are you like me, in that you watch The Morning Show and constantly want it to be better than it actually is? I mean, there is just so much talent on both sides of the screen, and yet, in both seasons, I have sat there thinking, “Yeah, but…why aren’t I enjoying this more?” Eh, maybe you love it, I don’t know, but either way, it always surprises me when there are two stars fronting a show and only one of them gets this kind of recognition. How is Reese Witherspoon nominated and Jennifer Aniston isn’t? Was Witherspoon’s work that much better than Aniston’s? I certainly wouldn’t say so, but then, I’m not an Emmy voter. Still, I don’t know how you nominate Aniston for the first season without doing so for the second. Was her work the second time around not as good? Again, I don’t think so. Regardless, I don’t see how Reese walks away with this trophy. Maybe someday, but not this year.

Similarly, as much as I love both Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, and the work they did over four seasons of Killing Eve (Comer actually won this award three years ago), I think the last season ended in such a polarizing fashion (for the record, I wasn’t a fan), I don’t see how they don’t cancel each other out.

That leaves three. Laura Linney has been nominated three times now for playing Wendy Byrde, and though she lost the first two times, her Lady Macbeth act was hypnotic. I am of the opinion that Ozark peaked a couple seasons back, though I did like how they ended it. Still, Linney’s work never wavered. She was menacing and fearsome in the show’s first three seasons, and she was menacing and fearsome in the final season, too. If not for two other standout performances this year, I would give this award to her.

But of course there are those two other performances that must be discussed. The first is Zendaya, who won this award two years ago for the first season of Euphoria. I think she’s the odds on favorite to win again, because even if the second season was … well, it was certainly something, she was every bit as incredible the second time around as she was the first. Yes, I know the show was nominated for Best Drama Series, but I cannot fathom why. Again, not an Emmy voter. Let’s move on.

So let’s assume that Zendaya is going to win again, but before we hand her the award outright, let’s look at the last nominee: Melanie Lynskey in Yellowjackets. Lynskey has been doing amazing work for so many years, in so many TV shows and movies, and yet I think she’s never really gotten her due. I think she’s one of those actresses who we don’t think of immediately, but when someone mentions her, we say, “Oh, yeah! I love her!” That has never been truer than with Yellowjackets, a show I had to be convinced to watch, and then, once I started, couldn’t stop. Lynskey’s central performance was a big reason. I still think Zendaya takes this award, but
if anyone pulls an upset, it’ll be Lynskey.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Melanie Lynskey

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