This category features a range of nominees from vastly different shows, with a few actors who have won previous trophies up against last year’s winner Tony Shalhoub. This could be where the expected Schitt’s Creek sweep continues or where it stops, depending on whether any of these other men can prevail.
Here are the nominees and their selected episodes:
Mahershala Ali as Sheikh Malik, Ramy (Hulu)
Episode: “Little Omar”
Ali, a two-time Oscar winner, lands his fourth Emmy nomination overall, with his latest being his third for acting, after receiving recognition for his recurring part on House of Cards and his starring role in season three of True Detective. Ali joined Ramy for its second season as the spiritual advisor for its wayward protagonist. As Sheikh Malik, he exudes compassion and understanding in an incredible way, especially in his submitted episode, where he reconciles an act of violence with both parties involved. His would be the most serious performance to win an Emmy of those nominated in this category, but both the depth of his work and his awards track record could help him triumph.
Alan Arkin as Norman Newlander in The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
Episode: “Chapter 14: A Secret Leaks, a Teacher Speaks”
Arkin received his first Emmy nomination 53 years ago for ABC Stage 7. He has been nominated five times since, including last year for the first season of The Kominsky Method. The dry and direct way Arkin delivers his lines is one of the reasons that it’s so enjoyable, and he has the opportunity in his submitted episode to navigate relationships with both his onscreen daughter and his new girlfriend. The fact that Arkin, who won Oscar 40 years after his first nod, but still doesn’t have an Emmy is crazy. However, one can argue he’ll stand a better chance for the show’s upcoming third and final season.
Andre Braugher as Captain Ray Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC)
Braugher is back in this race after last being nominated for this role four years ago. With 11 Emmy nominations and two wins for Homicide: Life on the Street and the extremely underrated miniseries Thief (available to watch now on Hulu), Braugher is a dependable force on any show. Submitting an episode where his dog Cheddar is kidnapped gives him some great comedic moments, though his onscreen husband, played by Marc Evan Jackson, is the real MVP of the episode. If his show had merited any other mentions aside from stunt coordination, he’d have a better shot at potential win.
Sterling K. Brown as Reggie in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Episode: “Panty Pose”
Brown’s place here is notable because it’s the first instance of an actor being nominated in both comedy and drama series. While odd Brown campaigned in this category since he only appears in four of the show’s 10 episodes, he’s certainty a scene-stealer. In his submitted episode, Brown highlights his acting chops along with his singing ability. Co-star Shalhoub is the defending champion in this category, and it’s hard to argue Brown is the more prominent player, but the quality of the performance may just speak – and sing – for itself.
William Jackson Harper as Chidi Anagonye in The Good Place (NBC)
Episode: “Whenever You’re Ready”
Many had written off Harper’s chances altogether after his performance was omitted for the first three seasons of The Good Place. Fortunately, he made it in for the shows final season. As the voice of ethics in an afterlife largely devoid of them, much of the dramatic weight on his show falls on Harper’s shoulders. He manages to find the humor in the agony of it all, and his submission of the series finale is exceptional since he truly contemplates the meaning of eternal life. For fans of the show, it would be superb to see Harper win, but his show has been such a chronic underperformer over the years. And the sentimental buzz may instead go instead to another departing series star…
Dan Levy as David Rose in Schitt’s Creek (Pop)
Episode: “Happy Ending”
Many were disappointed when Levy was snubbed last year as Emmy voters finally recognized Schitt’s Creek in its fifth season. For the shows final season, Levy has also received nominations for writing, directing and producing. Anyone who loves the show finds Levy’s eccentric and oftentimes self-centered ways to be one of his most endearing elements. It’s a loud standout comedic performance that certainly fits more with historical winners of this category, like David Hyde Pierce or Brad Garrett. Similar to his costars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, Dan Levy is considered the frontrunner here.
Tony Shalhoub as Abe Weissman in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Episode: “Marvelous Radio”
It’s not a surprise that Shalhoub is an Emmy favorite. He won three of his eight nominations for Monk and triumphed last year on his second consecutive nomination for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. His constantly on edge professor is one of the most consistent and entertaining aspects of his show, and he gets even more willful and determined to have his voice heard when confronted with a potential career change in his selected episode. He collected his second straight SAG Award for this performance back in January, and even though he now has internal competition from Brown, he could very easily repeat here too.
Kenan Thompson as Various Characters in Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Episode: “Host: SNL at Home #2”
Thompson was nominated in this category two years ago, a year where he also collected an Emmy win for original music and lyrics for song “Come Back, Barack.” Also that year, then defending champion and costar Alec Baldwin was also a nominee, but now Thompson is the only representative from the variety show in this category. For his submission, it was a smart moving choosing one of the pandemic episodes in which everyone is filming from home. He appears mostly by himself in a few strong sketches, including one as O.J. Simpson. It’s a competitive category, but this a decent collection of impressions that could earn him some votes.
Who should win? It would be great to see Harper prevail after a few years of great work, but Arkin and Shalhoub deliver stronger performance. However, Ali is my pick here for a finely calibrated and quietly magnetic turn in Ramy.
Who will win? It could easily be Shalhoub again or maybe even Ali. The frontrunner, however, remains Levy.