It seems like Jon Hamm just can’t catch a break.
Every year that the so-called “most acclaimed drama on TV,” “Mad Men,” has been on the air, Hamm has gotten a lead acting Emmy nomination for playing the most important role on the show, Don Draper. And every single year, he’s lost.
This is despite the fact that he’s been asked to carry much of the emotional load in the heavy AMC drama. Even though during the first four seasons he’s had to play the ups and downs of a man trying to figure out who he is while swimming in the shark-infested waters of 1960s advertising, he’s gone home from the Emmys without the top prize.
The first three times Hamm lost, you could have jumped to the easy conclusion that Bryan Cranston‘s searing portrayal of Walter White in “Breaking Bad” was simply a better performance than Hamm’s. But that theory got blown out of the water last year; with “Breaking Bad” not eligible, and Hamm putting in one of the best performances of his career, the path seemed clear for him to finally take home an Emmy. Yet he ended up losing to one of the biggest surprise winners in years, Kyle Chandler of “Friday Night Lights.”
So, what gives? Why does Hamm lose out every year, and why does it seem like his chances aren’t all that good this year, even if Cranston wasn’t back as the 800-pound gorilla in this category?
The academy sees “Mad Men” as a writer’s showcase. It’s won three Emmys for writing (and scored multiple nominations in the category each season it’s been on). The series itself has won for the last four years, but not one actor has won in any of the categories they’ve been nominated in — including guest actor/actress. It feels like when it comes to AMC’s two signature shows, the academy long ago decided that “Men” would get the writing and producing awards and “Bad” would get the acting awards. Why that is, we have no idea.
Hamm is the lead of a strong ensemble. Most of the actors nominated in the lead actor category are part of strong ensembles, but “Mad Men’s” ensemble is stronger than most. Even though he’s the clear lead of the show, perhaps the academy thinks he’s supported more than others. There have been periods where Draper isn’t the focus of the show — last season in particular had a number of Don-light episodes — and others where he’s more reacting to what’s going on around him than taking the dramatic ball and running with it. Not sure why he’s being punished for that, though, as the Chandler win proved that it shouldn’t be a detriment.
He’s shown more versatility in comedy. If there’s any place where Hamm may win an Emmy this year, it’s the guest actor in a comedy category (call it a Reverse Cranston; he was nominated three times for “Malcolm in the Middle” but never won). This is the third time he’s been nominated for “30 Rock.” This time around, he was nominated for the east coast version of this year’s live episode, where he not only ably subbed in for Brian Williams as straitlaced anchor David Brinkley, but he also got big laughs playing the racially inappropriate Abner in Tracy’s dream sequence. A performance like that might make Draper seem sleepy by comparison.
He’s just too darn handsome. We’re not joking. There isn’t much of a transformation Hamm has to make to play Draper. In fact, Hamm has shown up to some press events looking like a more easygoing version of Draper, mainly because the show has spurred a back-to-the-sixties fashion boom that Hamm has taken advantage of. Even though Hamm has had to navigate some emotional high wires during his run, perhaps academy voters aren’t looking at that closely enough. Either that, or they are more swayed by Cranston’s transformation into pure evil and Chandler’s farewell campaign for “FNL.”
Even if Hamm doesn’t go home with an Emmy this year, though, he should take solace that he’s the only person who’s been nominated for playing both a super-serious role and a refugee from an old “Amos ‘n’ Andy” episode. Not many actors in this day and age can say that.