This year’s lead drama actor category may be the one that trips up Emmy office pools more than any other major race. It’s hard to say whose win might be the surprise, or who might be considered a snub, between frontrunners Jason Bateman (“Ozark”) and Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”). But previous winner Sterling K. Brown, outgoing “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harington, standout “This Is Us” star Milo Ventimiglia and first-time nominee Billy Porter (“Pose”) all deserve to be in the mix as well. Good luck with your predictions, but here’s how it looks like the field shakes out right now.
The Case for Jason Bateman
Audiences watched Bateman grow up via TV, from “Silver Spoons” to “The Hogan Family,” and marveled as he rather effortlessly segued to a successful career in adulthood — not always an easy task for child stars. “Arrested Development,” of course, gave him a huge boost as viewers — and Hollywood — saw him lead a series with more sophisticated storytelling mixed with plenty of farce and satire. And then came “Ozark,” starring Bateman in an even grittier role, as Marty Byrde, a financial adviser whose scheme to launder money for a Mexican cartel goes sideways — triggering a move to the Ozarks, where things get even more complicated. Bateman won the SAG Award earlier this year and has also been nominated two years in a row both by the Golden Globes and the Emmys. He also directed the first two episodes of Season 2 (having earned a drama directing nomination in Season 1), further demonstrating his evolution as a Hollywood creative force. The actor has scored five nominations, but no Emmys over the course of his career; perhaps this is the year that changes.
The Case for Bob Odenkirk
As “Better Call Saul” marches closer to the timeline of “Breaking Bad,” it also becomes even more about the tragedy of what happened to Jimmy McGill. That character, played by Bob Odenkirk, is slowly transforming into the huckster attorney Saul Goodman, and Odenkirk continues to showcase the heartbreaking nuance of that evolution. Odenkirk was long known as a comedian and sketch star, especially thanks to his work on “Mr. Show With Bob and David,” while his time on “Breaking Bad” offered a bit of comedic relief to the underlying drama of cancer diagnosis and meth production. But “Better Call Saul” has revealed Odenkirk’s chops as a bona fide supreme dramatic actor, and he’s been rewarded with four nominations in this category. Odenkirk’s previous Emmys are both for variety writing (in 1989 for “Saturday Night Live” and 1993 for “The Ben Stiller Show”), so it’s time for an overdue recognition of his acting work.