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News / Life / Entertainment

2023 Emmys: All the drama from category

By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times
Published: August 19, 2023, 6:00am
3 Photos
From left, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin in HBO's "Succession." (HBO)
From left, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin in HBO's "Succession." (HBO) Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES — Are all those great moments, big and small, from the final, glorious season of “Succession” — the grief, the backstabbing, the ludicrously capacious bags, the thick and chewy earlobes, the off-the-rack, Reagan-with-tweaks funerals, the “eldest boy” staring off into the Hudson River — still burned in your brain?

Or have they faded, like the cosmic epiphanies you collected from the last time you tripped on mushrooms, the images now faint like the cross-veins on a dragonfly’s wings, the very same dragonfly that you felt at one with just moments ago.

If it’s the latter, A) I understand and B) just imagine how you’ll feel when you try to gather together your “Succession” flashbacks when the Emmys are handed out sometime next year — provided they are actually handed out next year. Fox has set Jan. 15 as the date for the ceremony, but that still feels like a sunburst of optimism given that studios and streamers remain adamant in their desire to cool out on their $500 million super-yachts and deny artists a fair share of the profits.

Still, Emmy voting began this week, which means I’m required to weigh in on the questions that are consuming Television Academy members’ minds right now — well, other than how they might be paying the rent and health insurance premiums.

Who wins lead actor from “Succession”? Kieran Culkin? Brian Cox? Or Jeremy Strong?

How will voters choose among these three deserving nominees? Let’s dig in. Cox had only two full episodes before departing the series, so he’s probably out. Except they were two great hours that allowed this great actor to lean into Logan’s loneliness and disappointment and hatred of being forced to listen to people singing “Happy Birthday” to him. And he hasn’t won for “Succession,” an oversight that can still be corrected.

But we are serious people, so let’s put that thought aside. Cox just wasn’t in enough of the season. So that leaves the actors playing the brothers from the same mother. I’ve noted that Strong has already won, which in my perfect “Succession” Emmy universe would have happened for Season 3 (following Cox’s victory) for his work in the episode that found Kendall throwing himself a 40th birthday party, singing Billy Joel’s “Honesty” and curling up into a fetal position after declaring himself “anti-fragile.”

And that would leave the final Emmy for Culkin, who I think will indeed win, as Roman spent the final season in a heartbreaking spiral, culminating in a eulogy to his father that he couldn’t pull off because a part of him still hadn’t fully accepted that Logan was no longer alive.

Couldn’t the three “Succession” nominees split the vote, allowing Bob Odenkirk to finally win for “Better Call Saul”?

You need only look to this year’s Oscars and Jamie Lee Curtis’ supporting actress win over, among others, nominated co-star Stephanie Hsu to be reminded again that vote-splitting really isn’t a thing. If the results from this category’s balloting were to be released, I’d imagine it’d be Culkin and Strong, one and two, light-years ahead of the other nominees. When a performance (or, in this case, two turns) lands with voters, the presence of a co-star among the nominees doesn’t matter.

OK. Fine. But is “Better Call Saul” going to win anything for its final season?

Nah. And at this point, I’d argue it’s better to go down as the most-nominated television program to never win an Emmy than to pick up a stray award for, say, picture editing.

You know what series also never won an Emmy? That would be “The Wire,” which managed just two nominations over the course of its five seasons and is now widely regarded as the greatest show in the history of television. With seven nods this year, “Better Call Saul” is up to 53 nominations, a record of futility it should wear as a historic badge of honor. I can imagine my grandchildren asking me in the future, “Papa … what is this show called ‘The Crown,’ and how did it win 20-some-odd Emmys and ‘Better Call Saul’ never won anything?” And I’d smile knowingly and answer, “Little ones, there are more important things than the Emmys. Now run along. Your five-minute rest break is almost over, and our robot overlords will be looking for you.”

Will Jennifer Coolidge win a second time for her “once-in-a-lifetime” role?

When Coolidge won the Emmy last year for playing Tanya in the first season of the HBO limited series “The White Lotus,” she rightly bristled when the producers tried to play her off, because “this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.” Then the music changed to an overly jaunty version of “Hit the Road Jack” (rude!), which prompted Coolidge not to give up, but to give in to the rhythms of the song, dance and earn yet another ovation.

This is to say: Yes, she will win a second time. And the DJ or orchestra or AI DJ-o-tron better not dare interrupt her again.

Guest actor Sophie’s Choice: Murray Bartlett or Nick Offerman?

When the apocalypse arrives, I sure hope I meet someone as resourceful as Bill (Offerman), the survivalist who has mastered the art of booby traps and pairing rabbit with Beaujolais, or someone as kind as Frank (Bartlett), the lovely man he meets and falls in love with in “Long, Long Time,” the beautiful third episode of “The Last of Us.” Offerman and Bartlett, writer Craig Mazin and director Peter Hoar gave us a magical, moving and, yes, epic love story, remarkable given that they sketched out the relationship’s 16 years over the course of about 40 minutes. Everyone I know was feeling Ellie and Carl vibes from “Up” after watching “Long, Long Time,” for the compact storytelling and the way it left them in tears.

How do you single out one actor when both are equally essential? Well, you have to vote for someone, and as Bartlett prevailed last year for “The White Lotus” and Offerman has never won an Emmy, I’d go Offerman.

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