Cranston breaking back into thesp race

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actor Nominees - Drama

With an exceptional crop of television’s leading men, the battle for lead drama actor is filled with veteran faces and new contenders ready to challenge three-time champ Bryan Cranston.

The “Breaking Bad” thesp has reigned supreme — until the series took a layoff a year ago. Cranston’s dominance has been a detriment to Jon Hamm, whose work on “Mad Men” has now earned him five noms but is still without a victory. Unlike Cranston, however, Hamm has been part of series celebrations as “Mad Men” is on a four-year winning streak.

Michael C. Hall joins Hamm in the five-nomination club, and though Hall plays the titular serial killer on “Dexter” with the same perceptive snooping and prideful indignation as seasons past, voters were less generous to the Showtime skein overall this year.

Damian Lewis co-starred in “Homeland,” the most-buzzed-about freshman drama of the year. As in other projects — “Band of Brothers,” “Life”– the Brit native went Yank on us and pulls off the accent flawlessly. His scenes with Claire Danes were especially riveting.

Steve Buscemi has now been nommed for the first two seasons of “Boardwalk Empire” and serves as the centerpiece for all the activity — legal and otherwise — that swerves around him.

Finally, in “Downton Abbey,” Hugh Bonneville’s Robert Crawley, aka Earl of Grantham, is the moral compass in a category of liars and criminals. Last year, Kyle Chandler’s turn as a wholesome Texas football coach on “Friday Night Lights” won him the prize in a similar field.

“Boardwalk Empire”
Buscemi’s Enoch “Nucky” Thompson deftly plays a crooked Atlantic City treasurer — the man with a plan and a knife in your back — in HBO’s prohibition drama. In season two, Nucky’s brother Eli (Shea Whigham), his de facto son Jimmy (Michael Pitt) and foul-mouthed elder statesman the Commodore (Dabney Coleman) are gunning for his territory, forcing Nucky to scramble the chess board and bluff his way back on top. Though Nucky escapes the feds with blackmail and a tricky legal maneuver, then murders his protege to regain smuggling routes, he may find the biggest betrayal is sleeping in his own bed.
• With the sharks circling, Eli ask for Nucky’s help and forgiveness, only to be rebuffed with fisticuffs.
• Nucky shows his ruthlessness when he takes down Jimmy.

“Breaking Bad”
Caught in an ever-widening web of deceit and violence, Cranston’s Walter White spends much of the season trying to extricate himself from under the multi-cog meth empire of Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). The once-timid high school teacher proves adroit at murder as he applies his scientific genius to the task of assassinating his kingpin overlords and sating his superiority complex. With his plan spinning out of control, Walt sets in motion a last-ditch effort to save his life with nihilistic disregard for the collateral damage. “I won,” he tells wife Skyler (Anna Gunn). Maybe.
• After Gus threatens to kill Walt and his family, Walt returns to his house planning to flee but finds Skyler has given away all the drug money.
• With Gus on to his plan, Walt races to diffuse a car bomb.

Hall infused Dexter with that un-serial-killer-like emotion, empathy, in a season that saw the titular character searching for a higher power. Dexter continues to murder murderers, though with a bit more self-analysis as his brother Brian (Christian Camargo) returns to Dexter’s subconscious to battle his adoptive father Harry (James Remar) for influence over his dark passenger. As Dexter sleuths big baddie the Doomsday Killer, he is reminded of his slain wife when her killer makes a possible reappearance. With ghosts purged and sins confessed, Dexter puts the Doomsday Killer on the table, only to have his sister Deb walk in the moment he plunges a knife into his victim’s sternum.
• With the help of Brother Sam (Mos Def), Dexter gets on the path to faith. But when Brother Sam is shot, Dexter drowns his new friend’s killer in the ocean.
• When the pain of his wife’s murder resurfaces, Dexter interacts with a convenience store attendant and steals her gun to let off some steam.

“Mad Men”
Seemingly happily married, Don Draper settles into domestic bliss with his French-speaking twentysomething bride Megan (Jessica Pare) and embarks on the Sisyphean task of raising the agency’s profile. Though he struggles to clean up the fallout from his rebuke of big tobacco, the impulsive Don of seasons past is replaced with a more mature (if not self-assured) model, one that turns down call girls and is disgusted by the partners’ plan to pimp out Joan (Christina Hendricks). It’s Hamm’s ability to play a man fighting for his legacy that set this season apart.
• A mortified Don is having a difficult time believing Lane has taken his life, shortly after Don asked him to resign. Like his brother who had also killed himself, Don is feeling responsible and can’t quite comprehend this tragic news.
• As the agency buckles down before the big Jaguar pitch, Don pumps up SCDP with a classic Draper monologue.

“Downton Abbey”
Always the honorable gentleman, Downton Abbey patriarch Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, is guided by his duty to country and family. With the nation at war but already well into middle age, Bonneville’s character is suddenly feeling inadequate as the younger men go off to fight in the trenches. He finds some purpose, however, after he agrees to turn Downton into a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. His season-long loyalty to Bates and Carson — the former accused of murder — is a testament to Lord Grantham’s sense of honor and wanting to stand up for those who stand up for him.
• An intimate chat with his daughter, Lady Mary, explaining to her that she should she break her engagement with Richard Carlisle and marry her true love, Matthew.
• Testifying against at Bates’ murder trial, with the anguish knowing the truth will hurt his longtime friend.

A former Marine who returns home after eight years at the hands of the enemy, Lewis’ Brody must adjust to changes in his civilian life while carrying out his mission to commit terrorism as an Al Qaeda mole. The hurt after learning that his wife (Morena Baccarin) had an affair with one of his longtime military colleagues runs deep, and he remains conflicted about betraying his country — especially if it means innocent civilians will be killed. The question remains how far he will go to avenge what he believes is the United States’ overly aggressive role in the Middle East.
• Brody pummels his friend Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) on confirmation that the latter had been sleeping with Brody’s wife when he was presumed dead.
• Brody flips the switch to ignite his bomb-laden vest, but there is a malfunction and it doesn’t explode.

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actor Nominees
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Drama | Comedy | Miniseries/Movie