Emmy Category Analysis: Lead Actor in a Drama Series – Blog

By Christopher James

Lee Jung-Jae won this category at the SAG Awards. Could he pull off a similar feat at the Emmys?

It’s a battle between the old and the new. The men of Succession battle it out, while promising newcomers hope to sneak past and claim victory. In particular, Lee Jung-jae (squid game), which won this award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Adam Scott is a joker for break, which earned fourteen nominations for its first season. Add in a few men fighting over their show’s final season (or at least the first half of a final season) and you’ve got yourself a real run. Jeremy Strong is the only previous winner in this particular category, although Jason Bateman also has an Emmy. Will Strong prevail again or will one of his opponents knock him down?


  • Jason Bateman – Ozark – Episode: “Pound of Fleah and Still Kickin” (Season 4, Episode 11)

  • Brian Cox – Estate – Episode: “All the Bells Say” (Season 3, Episode 9)

    • Description (IMDB): Matsson’s vision for the company leads Shiv and Roman to deal with the fallout, while Logan weighs his options.

  • Lee Jung-jae – Squid Game – Episode: “Gganbu” (Season 1, Episode 6)

    • Description (IMDB): The players team up for the fourth game. Gi-hun struggles with a moral dilemma, Sang-woo chooses self-preservation, and Sae-byeok shares his untold story.

  • Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul – Episode: “Plan and Execution” (Season 6, Episode 7)

  • Adam Scott – Severance – Episode: “Good News From Hell” (Season 1, Episode 1)

  • Jeremy Strong – Succession – Episode: “Too Many Birthdays” (Season 3, Episode 7)

    • Description (IMDB): At Kendall’s lavish birthday party, Shiv and Roman attempt to arrange a meeting with Lukas Matsson, a tech mogul who recently snubbed Logan.

Which one Succession are men most likely to win? On paper, Jeremy Strong is a stronger bet. It won the award for season two in 2020 and recently triumphed at the Golden Globes (not aired). It remains to be seen whether this much-discussed New Yorker article may have also influenced the industry’s perception of Strong. All of this could theoretically increase Brian Cox’s chances of being the winner of Succession, the leader of nominations in the Drama categories with 25 (!) nominations. Watching the submitted episodes, it becomes clear that season three belonged to Cox. The season finale finds Cox’s Logan taking matters into his own hands, making deals behind his children’s backs. A final confrontation between Logan and his children brings out the central tension between the generations. Strong’s Kendall and the other siblings are all fighting for what Logan has built, rather than building something of their own. Meanwhile, Jeremy Strong leans into his seriously mocking persona in his submission. Kendall throws an elaborate birthday party to upset her siblings. Kendall’s rudeness and pettiness only further illuminate her sadness. It’s a great performance. However, when Strong last won, it was because he managed to endear the audience to Kendall, a troubled sad bag who resists power. In this season, the relative moral superiority belongs to Logan, just like the Emmys.

Clearly, Succession could also split its votes in the interim categories. It would help SAG winner Lee Jung-jae, who could ride the popularity of squid game to a win here. While most newcomers submit the pilot as a way to introduce their character to voters, Lee Jung-jae wisely submitted “Gganbu,” the show’s most emotional episode. His character, Seong Gi-hun, is forced to participate in a one-on-one marble game with Oh Il-nam (Oh Yeong-su), an old man with dementia. Throughout the episode, Seong Gi-hun is forced to choose between taking advantage of the old man to stay alive or choosing fairness. It’s an interesting humanistic struggle that Lee wears well. If voters actually watch the episodes (a big if), this savvy choice could secure victory.

Could Adam Scott win his first Emmy for the Apple TV+ hit, “Severance?”Whereas squid game was the most popular show in the world at the time of the SAG Awards, Breakup has recency in its favor as a whole new sensation. The Apple TV+ thriller continues to pick up steam as more people discover it after the Emmy nods. This could be great news for its leader, Adam Scott, who delivers an incredible performance. Scott plays Mark, a man who has undergone the “separation” procedure, where his brain is severed so that his “work self” never knows what is going on in his personal life, and vice versa. It’s a tricky concept that comes to life through Scott’s deft performance. It is both our gateway to professional life “cut”, engaging in the darkest of office space jokes and the drama engine like a sad bag outside of work looking to find out what might be going on behind the office doors. It’s a matter of voters watching the show. If the number of viewers continues to increase, this would be a fantastic place to reward him

You better call Saul continues to make the buzz before its last episodes. However, shows don’t often see their biggest rewards in the first half of a finale. This is usually for the last batch of episodes (see breaking Bad and Mad Men as examples of shows that broke their final season in half for Emmy purposes). It doesn’t help that Odenkirk’s submission, while a great hour of television, doesn’t feature him much or show his range. On the contrary, Patrick Fabian presents himself as the best calculating lawyer over whom Saul takes over. Kyle Chandler (Friday night lights) and Matthew Rhys (Americans) picked up surprise wins in this category for the final season of their well-regarded shows. This momentum for Odenkirk could pay off next Emmy season, but this one? Unlikely.

In contrast, ozark has aired its final episodes, so this is the last chance the Emmys have to honor Jason Bateman. However, buzz for the show has dwindled from 18 nominations last season to 13 this season. Bateman’s submission features a particularly wild final scene where his character, Marty Byrd, beats a man to a pulp out of traffic frustration. Apart from this moment, there is not much else to tell. Voters may think that Bateman’s directing win a few years ago counts as a reward for Bateman for his work on the show.

Will win: Lee Jung-jae – Squid Game
Should Win: Adam Scott – Severance Pay
Disclose: Brian Cox – Estate