Kyle Chandler rode off into the proverbial sunset last year winning the lead actor drama Emmy for the final season of “Friday Night Lights.” It was an impressive victory, given the show’s long-running struggle to find viewers beyond its small legion of admiring fans and TV critics.
All the more striking: Chandler, playing the show’s noble high school football coach, beat a slate of actors portraying the sort of unsavory types that Emmy voters typically favor.
Last year’s nominees included perennial dark-siders: Michael C. Hall’s serial killer (“Dexter”), Jon Hamm’s serial philanderer (“Mad Men”), Hugh Laurie’s antisocial autocrat (“House”), plus newcomer Steve Buscemi, as a crooked political kingpin on “Boardwalk Empire.”
And that’s not even including Bryan Cranston, a three-time winner for his intense turn as the high school teacher turned meth kingpin on “Breaking Bad,” since that show took the year off.
“Score one for the good guys, right?” says Jason Katims, head writer and exec producer on “Friday Night Lights” and creator of NBC’s “Parenthood.”
“I think, on a whole, most people are just trying to be good and trying to make their lives work,” he says. “The inherent conflicts and struggles in life come from the things that get in the way of that pursuit. To me as a writer, that’s what’s interesting.”
That’s clearly the case, since Katims has another strong, good-guy contender this year in the lead drama category, “Parenthood’s” Peter Krause.
Krause’s dedicated dad joins a few other father-of-the-year candidates — Noah Wyle from “Falling Skies,” “Downton Abbey’s” Hugh Bonneville and Kiefer Sutherland from “Touch” — as well as the Timothy Olyphant’s U.S. marshal on “Justified.” (Olyphant won his first nomination for lead drama last year.)
Decent men have captured Emmy voters’ attention in the past. James Spader’s Alan Shore, first seen on “The Practice” and, later, on “Boston Legal,” might have bent the rules occasionally (OK, frequently) in his pursuit of justice, but he was always fighting for the “right” side. Andre Braugher’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” detective dedicated himself to battling crime, while Tom Skeritt’s sheriff operated on a small-town level on “Picket Fences.”
The challenge with such characters, says “Falling Skies” show runner Remi Aubuchon, is moving beyond the qualities typically associated with white-hat heroes to create well-rounded characters learning from their mistakes. He points to Wyle’s “Falling Skies” protagonist, a weary man who has his hands full leading the resistance against an alien invasion while trying to keep his three sons out of harm’s way.
“Noah didn’t want to play a good guy who does everything right,” Aubuchon says, “but a man who doesn’t always get it right, someone whose strengths can turn into weaknesses if he’s not careful. Someone like that, to me, can have just as many colors as a tragic figure like Walter White on ‘Breaking Bad.’ ”
Chandler transitioned from “Friday Night Lights” to J.J. Abrams’ bigscreen sci-fi thriller “Super 8” playing a variation of Wyle’s “Falling Skies” character. For him, much of the pleasure in portraying these moral men can be boiled down to finding the characters’ flaws. And these imperfections don’t always have to be taken seriously.
“Some of my favorite scenes in ‘Friday Night Lights’ were the ones with Coach Taylor at home,” Chandler says. “Coach could be a real idiot at times. … I think his wife would be the first one to tell you that. And yet, he’d usually fight her to the end, though, to his credit, I think he always apologized. Those were nice moments, too. The dichotomy between Coach’s work life and home life always kept things interesting for me.”
Katims says that kind of contrast can be as dramatic and interesting as, say, a Jersey mobster trying to keep both his crew and family under control. Maybe more so, he says, because, if done honestly, viewers will find the situations more relatable.
Krause, on “Parenthood,” deals with raising an autistic son, unexpectedly becoming a father late in life and finding himself unemployed.
“Every family I know has something going on behind closed doors,” Katims says. “None of us ever imagine these complications, yet we deal with them. That’s the stuff of drama.”