Outstanding Drama Series is one of the biggest prizes in the Emmy race; it is at least a face card in the royal flush the networks hope to accumulate at the end of the night. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and Netflix’s “House of Cards” are both getting a lot of attention in the race for this award. Although they face stiff competition from PBS’s rebroadcast on this side of the pond, of the British drama “Downton Abbey,” and the two signature AMC series “Mad Men and Breaking Bad,” Thrones and House are strong contenders.
“Game of Thrones” is a groundbreaking series, even for HBO. Epic in scope, scale, budget and sheer number of characters (let alone plot lines), the fantasy adventure series based on the novels of George R. R. Martin has everything television never used to have: big, bloody battles; sexy, nude women; and, of course, fire-breathing dragons. The big picture is matched by a big story – and one that has drawn in fans of the books and made new fans (and new readers) from those who had somehow never heard of the Starks, Lannisters, Targaryen’s or others of the great and contentious families who game for the iron throne.
“House of Cards” by Netflix is a remake of a classic British drama (which once aired on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater” with the U.S. Congress standing in for the British Parliament, and Democrats and Republicans taking the roles of Labour and Tory politicians. Devious, delightful, extremely well-written and even better acted by such big names as Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright (both of whom are up for Emmys), “House of Cards” is a smart, literate drama done as only the Brits can do – or at least as only the Brits had done, until Netflix stepped up to the plate.
Two great movie actors going head-to-head for a drama Emmy? This may be the duel at high noon of the night, for both men have made their marks on the big screen and are making new ones on the small.
Jeff Daniels’ news anchor Will McAvoy on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series “The Newsroom” is part tough journalist and part wounded lion. His strengths and weaknesses are as much a part of the story as is the news he covers, and whether in a bar or in front of the camera, when his character speaks, America listens. Sorkin has given him many great lines, the most famous (or infamous, depending on the political leaning of the viewer) is when McAvoy calls the Tea Party “the American Taliban.” Such willingness to be controversial was a Sorkin hallmark on NBC’s “West Wing,” but as he is now on HBO, even the few restraints the peacock placed upon him have been removed.
Kevin Spacey does not need to prove himself; he is already one of America’s greatest dramatic actors, as any who have seen “American Beauty” or “The Usual Suspects,” among so, so many other great films, can attest. In “House of Cards,” Spacey gets to play one of the great political manipulators of all time – Francis “Frank“ Underwood, the man who manipulates and runs Congress as if it were his family business. Spacey has a great supporting cast to help him (as does Daniels on “The Newsroom”), but when he is on the screen there is no argument as to who is the King of Spades in this “House of Cards.”
Don Cheadle of Showtime’s “House of Lies” is an experienced comedic and dramatic actor (as is evidenced by his participation in the “Oceans” series, not to mention his stunning performance in “Hotel Rwanda”). As the consummate corporate con man, his character on “House of Lies” is a joy to watch. Americans have always loved a huckster, especially when he makes the rich and famous pay for their sins. Cheadle, and his character, are strong contenders for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.
Jason Bateman has been around television and the movies his entire life, but nothing he has ever done has won him as many fans and accolades as his role in “Arrested Development.” That Netflix chose this show, with its original cast, including Bateman as Michael Bluth, to break into the original content field says a lot about both the series and its actors. Resurrecting the late, lamented Fox series was one thing, but then making its entire 15-episode season available all at once for marathon (or binge) viewing was a brilliant as well as historic move. This is one of the reasons Netflix is being rewarded with 14 Emmy nominations, including one for Bateman as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.
Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.