Danny McBride, “Eastbound and Down”
It’s not an easy thing to make extreme self-obsession feel so lovable, but that’s the comedic beauty of Danny McBride’s work as Kenny Powers on HBO’s “Eastbound and Down.” The character is an ego-maniac with a huge temper and a blind sense of reality, which meant he was never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But what made Kenny more appealing, and what was essentially the key to making the entire series work, was McBride’s performance. The actor knew the character’s brash and unappealing ego had to be coming from a place of severe insecurity, and McBride never lost sight of that over the show’s four seasons. Kenny Powers was an asshole, but he was also a wounded underdog. McBride made the character an anti-hero of inspiration and left viewers laughing so hard on a weekly basis it hurt.
Michael McKean, “Better Call Saul”
For the record, nothing’s ever certain when Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are telling the story — so, given that “Better Call Saul” is coming back for a fourth season, there’s always a chance that Michael McKean’s shot at this isn’t officially over. But when you look at the work he turned in during the first three seasons of this searing drama as Jimmy McGill’s spiteful, yet shockingly human brother Chuck, the fact he has yet to be recognized is staggering. Chuck has been both villain and victim, schemer and truth-teller, and the range of performance McKean has brought to the screen has stood out for years. Has he been overlooked over the years in favor of co-star Jonathan Banks, who was deservedly nominated for Season 1? That’s unfair to say, as both men deserve recognition. But McKean has sadly been denied that honor.
Mads Mikkelsen, “Hannibal”
Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning turn as Hannibal Lecter is the kind of iconic performance most actors wouldn’t dare touch, but that’s what makes Mads Mikkelsen’s brilliant interpretation so ballsy. Rather than merely rehash what Hopkins had already perfected, Mikkelsen introduced a new kind of Lecter on Bryan Fuller’s NBC cult favorite “Hannibal,” one far more seductively menacing and, dare we say, memorable.
What was so frightening about Mikkelsen’s take on the role was just how much his Lecter seemed to admire humanity. He had a general interest and curiosity in human behavior and the ways in which he could manipulate it. This notion made Mikkelsen’s Lecter a twisted voyeur into the human mind, and the actor was delicious at twisting the knife as Lecter pushed boundaries and brought Will Graham to the dark side.
Nick Offerman, “Parks and Recreation”
The mustache alone was Emmy-worthy — which is perhaps an indication of how Nick Offerman’s silly yet grounded work as Parks department director Ron Swanson was so bold and fearless, because from time to time, he’d sacrifice those beautiful follicles in the name of a perfect sight gag. But Ron wasn’t just a source of comic relief; because “Parks and Recreation” was the sort of show to imbue all of its characters with a deep inner life. Ron Swanson was a modern-day Lou Grant (and Ed Asner won five Emmys for playing Lou Grant). It’s frankly absurd that Offerman was never recognized.
Kaitlin Olson, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”
What’s been so impressive about Kaitlin Olson’s work over 12 seasons of “It’s Always Sunny” is how ugly she lets herself get on the hunt for a joke; it’s fearless work that’s taken her to the same insane extremes as her male colleagues. The FX/FXX comedy has always gone unrecognized by the awards race (a fact they’ve never shied away from acknowledging), but Olson’s work has always especially stood out, the kind of performance which should be honored more often.
Clive Owen, “The Knick”
Playing an emotionally damaged medical genius proved great for Hugh Laurie at the Emmys, where he was nominated six times for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series, but perhaps Steven Soderbergh’s “The Knick” was a bit too graphic in nature for Clive Owen to have similar luck. Owen’s committed turn as Dr. John W. “Thack” Thackery was eye-opening for fans of the actor: Never before had Owen plunged to the darkest depths of a character the way he took on Thack’s addiction struggles. He played the character as if he were the world’s most interesting damaged goods, and it paid off tremendously. Owen earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (Drama), and those of us who hoped that would get him on the radar of the Television Academy were disappointed when neither season gave the actor a much-deserved nomination.
Katey Sagal, “Sons of Anarchy”
As the bad-ass queen bee of SAMCRO, Katey Sagal played one of the most fascinating characters of “Sons of Anarchy,” a woman whose personal loyalties could never be defined as anything less than complex. Murderer, rape survivor, and more, Sagal dug into the role of a lifetime here, and for seven seasons she proved impossible to ignore. But while, for the show’s entire run, Sagal was considered a serious candidate who deserved recognition, she never received it despite serious campaigning, You know what? She deserved it.
Adam Scott, “Party Down”
“Party Down” was officially a comedy, but Adam Scott’s work gave it such dramatic heft that it deserved real consideration. As the straight man of the series, Scott still managed to be a punchline powerhouse — it’s rare that the leading man is also often the funniest one on screen (especially in comparison to the rest of the stellar ensemble cast) but Scott, as the anchor of “Party Down,” pulled it off. It’s the sort of role that should get Emmys recognition, because Scott never showboated, never oversold a moment, and yet consistently held the series together.
Jason Segel, “How I Met Your Mother”
“How I Met Your Mother” asked a lot of its talented cast, pushing them from the most dramatic extremes to the most absurd comedy heights over the course of nine seasons, and Jason Segel had some amazingly standout moments as the show’s goofy but endearing heart. Neil Patrick Harris had more showy work, but even just for his work during the arc surrounding the death of his father in Season 6, Segel deserved serious Emmy consideration.
David Tennant, “Broadchurch”
David Tennant has always been a versatile performer, even when playing a singular role like the Doctor of “Doctor Who,” but it was “Broadchurch” where we saw his ability to both rage at his co-workers while underplaying the darker moments of Detective Alec Hardy. Of course, a British actor getting recognized for a British import (that isn’t “Sherlock”) is incredibly difficult to imagine happening, which might have been behind Fox’s unsuccessful attempt to remake the series for American audiences. But one intention behind it seemed truly pure: the idea of exposing Tennant’s talents to a wider audience.
Michael K. Williams, “The Wire”
“The Wire” never landing a Best Drama Series nomination will forever be the Emmys’ biggest and most ridiculous oversight, and the same could very well be said for failing to acknowledge the breakout work of Michael K. Williams as Omar. The actor upends the conventions of masculinity many associate with black criminals, delivering a performance so tender and respectable (Omar won’t curse or harm innocent civilians) that his presence alone speaks volumes to what makes “The Wire” so essential. Just when you think you’ve got Omar figured out, Williams adds a new shade of vulnerability. Most audience members don’t go into “The Wire” thinking they’ll be able to identify with a Baltimore thug, but that’s the power of Williams’ work. He takes a very specific archetype and forces you to see the universality inside of him. That’s acting at its most important.
Constance Wu, “Fresh Off the Boat”
The “Fresh Off the Boat” matriarch still has a chance at an Emmy nomination, as the ABC family sitcom is still airing for hopefully the foreseeable future. But the fact that she hasn’t been recognized yet has us concerned. Constance Wu has elevated herself beyond every single one of the potential tropes which might haunt her character — she deserves a real shot at a major award.
Aden Young, “Rectify”
James Minchin/Sundance TV
Ray McKinnon’s SundanceTV drama “Rectify” was never going to break into the Emmys race given its low viewership and lack of overall buzz, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept the fact that star Aden Young failed to earn a nomination over four seasons. Young was an emotionally sensitive force of nature as Daniel Holden, a man who moves back to his hometown after spending the last 19 years on death row for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. Holden’s innocence provides the show with its initial allure, and Young’s performance is closed off enough to make his character’s past intriguingly ambiguous. But what “Rectify” is more concerned with is the healing process and the way life creeps into our bones and reminds us what’s worth living for. Young is so fragile and delicate, he makes every reawakening of Daniel feel like the emotional climax of a film. He can turn the sight of Daniel watching trees blow in the wind or lint from a pillow make its way across the room into an introspective meditation on the meaning of life. Young’s work is poetic in that way, and it will forever be one of the great overlooked performances of the 21st century.