While it’s hard to tell exactly what wins or loses someone an Emmy, one crucial step is selecting which episode will be the official submission for each nominee. Unlike the series categories (Outstanding Drama and Comedy Series get five episodes per show), nominated actors can only submit one episode for voters to consider. Sure, voters can choose to watch more if they’ve got the time, but there are more nominees — and more to watch — than ever. That makes choosing FYC episodes vital. Good calls can highlight the appealing aspects of a performer’s efforts, elevating him or her to the top of the pack. Pick poorly and nominees may fall out of contention faster than you can say “oops.”
Based on this year’s batch of episode selections, the below decisions represent difference makers in the 2015 race — for better and for worse.
Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
Episode Selection: “Five-O”
• Perhaps the most obvious choice of all the acting nominees, “Five-O” gave Banks’ beloved character Mike a full episode to himself and provided enlightening backstory for both “Better Call Saul” as well as its sequel series, “Breaking Bad.” That could play a huge factor in his success, seeing how much fans and voters adored the old show.
Julie Bowen, “Modern Family”
Episode Selection: “Valentine’s Day 4: Twisted Sister”
• Though callbacks to favorite moments of yesteryears can be a winning strategy when you’re appealing to the laziest of Emmy voters, Bowen would have done better submitting something bold, like her Mac-POV episode “Connection Lost” or when she had to confront her father about finding a new job in “Crying Out Loud.” Her work in “Valentine’s Day 4” is merely recreating a character she’s already played three times before. That being said, she’s a two-time winner. She might know what she’s doing.
Andre Braugher, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Episode Selection: “The Mole”
• “The Mole” may be the best episode of Season 2, but it’s not Braugher’s best episode. “Lockdown,” where he’s holed up with Terry (Crews), “Beach House,” where he ruins a squad party, “AC/DC,” featuring a dinner party at the Captain’s home, and “Johnny and Dora,” the season finale where Captain Holt is forced to leave the precinct, are all better showcases of the man’s many talents.
Titus Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Episode Selection: “Kimmy Goes to School!”
• Two words: “Pinot Noir.”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Episode Selection: “Crying Out Loud”
• This seems like a safe bet when considering Burrell’s most memorable scene: Cast in shadow behind an old movie screen, Phil (Burrell) and his son fall prey to a series of physical gaffes in an ode to slapstick of yesteryear. It could play well to older Emmy voters…or it could come off as a technical trick. Too many cuts and ADR lesson the scene’s impact — especially from an acting standpoint. I don’t like questioning whoever makes the decisions for this two-time winner, but it’s also Burrell’s only quality scene in the episode. It seems like “The Cold” or “The Day We Almost Died” would have better displayed his range.
Kyle Chandler, “Bloodline”
Episode Selection: “Part 12”
• In slow burn seasons, it’s important to highlight the moment the flame actually sparks. Thirty minutes of Chandler dealing with John Rayburn’s complex emotions regarding his brother’s presumed death combined with one helluva kicker make for quite the hard sell. This was also Ben Mendelsohn’s submitted episode. Both actors should receive a needed boost because of it.
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Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Episode Selection: “Convention”
• Chlumsky was given a scene any actor would kill for and then proceeded to kill it herself — in a good way. Amy’s mic drop of a speech is the obvious pinnacle of an outstanding overall season for the actress.
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”
Episode Selection: “Person to Person” (Series Finale)
• Despite all the pressure surrounding Hamm after seven straight losses for his star-making, iconic TV role, this couldn’t have been too difficult a decision. How can you not choose Don’s breakthrough moment in (hippie) group therapy as what you want all Emmy voters to remember? A sobbing Jon Hamm hugging the man he was finally ably to empathize with is an unshakably moving image. Add in difficult phone calls with Peggy and Betty, and you’ve got an acting cocktail voters shouldn’t be able to refuse.
Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men”
Episode Selection: “Lost Horizon”
• It’s always tempting to choose a finale for your episode selection, so kudos to Hendricks (and AMC) for recognizing an earlier episode as her best bet to win. What could have been Joan’s tragic end serves as a reminder of the series’ dutiful respect for the never-ending plight of women. Oh, and Hendricks is simply remarkable. Bravo.
Michael Kelly, “House of Cards”
Episode Selection: “Chapter 27”
• While maybe not so much a bad choice as a safe one, the Season 3 premiere of “House of Cards” did dedicate most of its time to Doug Stamper…to the fury of viewers everywhere. It wasn’t that people were disappointed to see him – far from it — but even if this episode showcased the most acting on the part of Michael Kelly, “Chapter 39” (the season finale) had the best, most effective and efficient depiction of his character. Betting on his likability may be a bankable strategy, but only if viewers don’t remember where he ends up.
Jane Krakowski, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Episode Selection: “Kimmy Gets a Job!”
• Why would anyone want to highlight the early season Jacqueline when she’s given so much more to work with later in the year? A cheating husband, mid-life crisis and cross-country drive to rediscover her Native American origins are nowhere to be found in Episode 2. Krakowski is sharp and on point from the get go, but her character is more likable and well-rounded in later episodes.
Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”
Episode Selection: “Episode 405”
• While “Episode 405” does feature more “Friends” callbacks than normal (including a cameo from David Schwimmer), LeBlanc does better work in the following episode, when his character’s father has to go to the hospital. It’s more Matt-centric, as well, making for a more memorable performance.
Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men”
Episode Selection: “Person to Person” (Series Finale)
• Leaving voters with a) Peggy turning down Joan to form the ultimate Feminist Marketing Firm after eight years of living with boys being dicks, and b) that divisive scene where she ends up with Stan, is risky for the wrong reasons. Many won’t like her character’s choices, which admittedly isn’t what’s supposed to be under consideration, but still plays a factor. Plus, it’s just not a great showcase for Moss, whereas “Time & Life” — with Peggy’s inspirational and incredible speech — was outstanding on every level.
Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation”
Episode Selection: “One Last Ride”
• Her only shot at winning is the nostalgia/guilt card — how “Parks and Recreation” wasn’t a perennial winner in all comedy categories remains a glaring black mark on the TV Academy — so choosing this episode is necessary, even if other episodes (like “Leslie and Ron”) better highlight her immense talent.
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Episode Selection: “Chapter 32”
• This makes sense as Robin Wright’s episode submission, but it’s a much stranger choice for Spacey. Not only does the episode only contain one scene in which Spacey’s full weight as a two-time Oscar winner shines through, but that scene is far more important for Claire (Wright) than Frank (Spacey). After counseling a detained gay rights activist through to an unsuccessful end, Claire is shaken and lashes out against Russian President Petrov and then her husband. Their dialogue is as powerful as it is telling, but casting Frank as a ruthless monster in an episode more prone to draw votes for Claire makes little sense for Spacey’s camp.
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”
Episode Selection: “The Letting Go”
• It seems as though most voters behind Tambor this year are there for more than just his performance; it’s the progressive movement that matters just as much. But selecting an episode to remind voters of both was key. Tambor and Amazon nailed it, avoiding the easy choice (the season finale) and instead featuring the series’ most memorable line, “My whole life I’ve been dressing up like a man,” said during its most powerful moment. Both hit home because of Tambor, and he should be rewarded justly.
Lily Tomin, “Grace and Frankie”
Episode Selection: “The Vows” (Season Finale)
• In a series that was as much a drama as a comedy, Netflix chose to play toward the former with this pick. It’s a smart move for Tomlin, as Emmy voters tend to value dramatic moments over comedic ones (which are more subjectively judged and, thus, risky).