In a category long dominated by anti-heroes — from James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano to Bryan Cranston’s Walter White — a good guy is poised to take the trophy this year. There are some villains in the mix, of course — we’re looking at you, “Westworld” — but the momentum resides with two of TV’s most emotional men, who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Brown and Rhys both play husbands and fathers who will do anything for those they love, though Rhys admittedly takes it to the extreme.
The Case for Sterling K. Brown
The reigning champion for his work on the first season of “This Is Us,” Brown has become a familiar presence on the Emmy stage — he also claimed a statue for “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” where he embodied Chris Darden, standing out amid a sea of A-list co-stars. The twin trophies are a long time in coming for the journeyman actor, who’s making the most of his career surge, clocking in with roles in such films as “Black Panther” and “Marshall.” And season two of NBC’s tearjerker didn’t disappoint, as Brown’s anxiety-ridden Randall struggled with his foster daughter Deja; confronted his addict brother, Kevin; and even got his own surprise flash-forward, triggering yet another mystery set to play out in the third season.
The Case for Matthew Rhys
As with Brown, Rhys has had the kind of long career that actors love celebrating — from his stint on ABC’s family drama “Brothers & Sisters” to his ineffable Mr. Darcy in “Death Comes to Pemberley” — even playing against type as miscreant author Chuck Palmer in the final season of “Girls.” Despite that body of work — and three previous nominations — Rhys hasn’t yet made it over the finish line. The FX spy thriller’s final season may well change all that, as Rhys turned in his finest performance yet, as Philip struggled with his ever-increasing antipathy to his spycraft, causing a seemingly irreparable schism in his marriage. Underneath those elaborate wigs and costumes, Rhys uncovered the heart of a deeply conflicted man. It famously took until the final season for Emmy to recognize the work of Jon Hamm; history may yet repeat itself.
Jason Bateman — The versatile actor — who also showed off his comedy chops in “Arrested Development” — is nommed as well for his directing work on Netflix’s “Ozark,” in which he played a morally challenged financial adviser-turned-money launderer for the cartel.
Ed Harris — Given his long, storied career, it’s a bit of a surprise to realize he has yet to add an Emmy to his collection. And this time out, he runs the risk of splitting the vote among “Westworld” fans with co-star Jeffrey Wright.
Milo Ventimiglia — At last we all know how Jack died, but thanks to Ventimiglia’s heartfelt performance, the Pearson patriarch lives on as the soulful heart of NBC’s family drama. Could popular sentiment sway voters to cast their ballot for him?
Jeffrey Wright — He upgraded to the lead race for his role as Bernard in “Westworld” after competing last year in supporting (John Lithgow took the prize), but the competition might be even fiercer here.