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Who'll win Emmy as best drama actor: Hugh Laurie, Bryan Cranston or Gabriel Byrne?

September 9, 2009 | 10:23 am

The Emmy slugfest over best drama actor is a true heavyweight bout. There are three key players — Hugh Laurie ("House M.D."), Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") and Gabriel Byrne ("In Treatment") — according to our pundits Chris "Boomer" Beachum and Robert "Rob L" Licuria (

Hugh Laurie House Bryan Cranston Breaking Bad

Also check out Rob's and Boomer's (often clashing) predix in these categories: best comedy series, lead comedy actor, lead comedy actress, supporting comedy actor, supporting comedy actress, guest comedy actor, guest comedy actress, comedy writing, comedy directing, best lead actor in movie/mini and lead actress in a movie/mini. Read more in our forums.

1.  Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment" ("Gina: Week 4")
2.  Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad" ("Phoenix")
3.  Hugh Laurie, "House M.D." ("Under My Skin")
4.  Jon Hamm, "Mad Men" ("The Mountain King")
5.  Simon Baker, "The Mentalist" ("Pilot")
6.  Michael C. Hall, "Dexter" ("The Lion Sleeps Tonight")

ROB'S COMMENTARY: The drama categories are usually quite difficult to predict, generally because there are usually at least 10 to 15 amazing performances that are in the running for these coveted spots, that, depending on the episode submission, could all be contenders for an Emmy win. This is never more the case than what is typically one of the hottest categories year in year out -- drama lead actor. This year is no exception.

Michael C. Hall plays Dexter as a serial killer with a heart of gold, protecting his girlfriend’s children from a sex offender does make his character more likeable and perhaps less of the, let’s face it, monster that he inherently is. Although he is reliably great in this episode, you can't help but feel that because he is up against such fierce competition, this relatively low-key performance will probably not be enough to propel him over the edge.

Having never seen "The Mentalist" before, I was a little skeptical that this nomination was a bit bogus. However, I was won over by Baker's undeniable appeal in a show that is more entertaining than I initially gave it credit for. That being said, he does come across as a bit of a lightweight in comparison to some of the other heavy hitters in this group. I suspect that a nomination might be enough of a reward for the category rookie this year.

Jon Hamm is the center of gravity on what is probably the best and most lauded show on TV right now. Although very subtle and understated in his performances, he is magnetic when he is on the screen, and is probably not given enough credit for the control he displays in his portrayal of Don Draper. He has enough screen time to warrant at least a small shot at the win, but his overall impact left me wanting a bit more before I could crown him a front-runner in this race.

I suspect that the guys in the top-three group have the best chance at winning. It is no coincidence that all three are given the most do to, tend to show more range, and definitely make more of an impact. Hugh Laurie starts off low-key in his episode, but by the end of it he perfectly portrays the physical and mental suffering of an ill Dr. House. Many voters may also keep in mind that Hugh Laurie is way overdue for an Emmy win, and this year might be the perfect time to do so.

Bryan Cranston is superb in "Breaking Bad." Coming off a win last year, he could easily repeat with this performance, which is mostly understated, with Walt's pain and rage barely noticeable as it bubbles under the surface. And then we get two key scenes that almost seal the deal. The tender, touching scene where he proudly shows his newborn daughter the stash of cash he has hidden for her future is a real winner. And of course, the climactic scene where he stands, frozen, over Jane choking and spluttering to her death while Jesse sleeps next to her in a drug haze. Amazing stuff.

But then I watched Gabriel Byrne’s episode. Although the episode runtime is under 30 minutes, Byrne is practically in every frame, front and center. It's very much like a play, with a huge spotlight on him, where he gets to play against one of the greats in Dianne Weist. There’s anger, frustration, and then the dynamite scene at the end of the episode where he cries over the deathbed of his estranged father. It really is the perfect Emmy submission, and had me in tears. The question here is whether voters can be bothered voting for a show that appears to be dead and buried, and definitely lacks the buzz of those actors in best drama series contenders "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men" and "House."

I am very tempted to go with Bryan Cranston, but have decided to go out on a tiny limb for Gabriel Byrne.

1.  Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad" ("Phoenix")
2.  Hugh Laurie, "House" ("Under My Skin")
3.  Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment" ("Gina: Week 4")
4.  Jon Hamm, "Mad Men" ("The Mountain King")
5.  Michael C. Hall, "Dexter" ("The Lion Sleeps Tonight")
6.  Simon Baker, "The Mentalist" ("Pilot")

BOOMER'S COMMENTARY:  For this category, let's start at the bottom of the rankings and work forward. I was incredibly entertained by Simon Baker in his new, highly rated show and am very happy for his nomination. He gives a star-type performance, but it certainly is a quiet one with very little emotion or range (at least in this pilot episode). It even made me want to see the rest of the first season to find out what happens. I don't think he has a prayer of winning with this type of episode, however. 

The episode choice by Michael C. Hall is a strange one since I also didn't think his character had any emotional range (previous selections gave him a much better chance at winning for both "Dexter" and "Six Feet Under"). Jon Hamm portrays one of my favorite characters on television, and his choice of episodes was certainly the best he had available from the second season. Unfortunately, the subdued, extremely private, non-emotional nature of his character doesn't provide much for the Emmy voter to chew over (unless they watch the show regularly and want to reward him as part of a "Mad Men" sweep).

Gabriel Byrne really gets to open up to his own psychiatrist in his episode and even has a moderately weepy scene in his father's hospital room at the end.  He has a decent shot at a win, but the show always feels more like a play than a TV show.

I am extremely tempted to choose Hugh Laurie to finally win his first Emmy. The final 10 minutes of his episode find him at home struggling mightily to overcome his pain medication addiction. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode is a pretty standard "solve-the-medical-mystery" and might not provide enough for the Emmy voter to vote for him yet again. This is absolutely one of his best chances, though.

My ultimate prediction is for Bryan Cranston to win again because he portrays the most interesting and diverse character of this batch of nominees. He has three impact scenes with lots of emotion (missing his child's birth, the showdown with Jesse in the school lab, the overdose scene at the end) plus the nice touching moment showing his baby all the money he has collected. That is just too much to overcome for these other men. Cranston triumphs again at this year's Emmys.


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Photos, clockwise from top left:  HBO, AMC, Fox TV

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