July 12, 2011 2:33pm PT by Tim Goodman
Emmys: Love for the Longest of Shots, Vol. 2: Ray Romano
Emmy nominations come Thursday, but before they do I wanted to send a little love out to actors and actresses who are probably very long shots to get the acclaim they deserve.
I've already written about the actors and shows I would love for the Emmys to take notice of and nominate, but this batch is a little different. I don't think, given the conventions of the process, that they have much of a shot, so it's not like I'll collapse if they're ignored on Thursday (though I'll be damned upset if many -- maybe even any -- of the actors I picked in my original story are snubbed). Here then, an appreciation of the overlooked.
Ray Romano, Men Of A Certain Age, TNT: There's a pretty good likelihood that Romano's co-star, Andre Braugher, could get an Emmy nomination on Thursday. There's even an outside shot that the show itself could get one. But despite all of my hopes wrapped up and explained in that first story on deserving actors, I don't think Romano is getting a nod.
And that's too bad. Because if you go back to the key reason why Men Of A Certain Age was such a pleasant surprise when it showed up on TNT, it all revolves around Romano. The former stand-up comic and sitcom star couldn't have been more different as we met him in Men. It was an intriguing discovery -- Romano taking his laconic attitude and dipping it in some darkness. That first season remains a real stunner in that I kept waiting for it to all fall apart. But it didn't. And each episode, Romano got more interesting and impressive.
For me, the key attraction was how deft Romano was at encapsulating the essence of the series just by looking at him and watching him for one scene: Here was a guy who was getting older, his wife was leaving him, he had a gambling problem and he had a heartbreaking connection to his son, who was not only suffering from some anxiety issues but dealing with the break-up of his parents. Romano was able to nail everything (and still does). First, as some people no doubt sat there slack-jawed at the fact Romano wasn't going for funny, he presented viewers with the new character - a guy laden with woe. I mean, you could just look at Romano and get that, which was a fantastic achievement. And when he spoke - a kind of sad, modulated version of his laconic comedic delivery -- you could feel the characters sadness. From there, Romano never once -- even when he was more upbeat in scenes or having a laugh -- fell back into old habits, or the old Ray. He never let his sitcom character peek out.
Here's the thing about Men, and Romano's role in it. Neither he nor co-star Scott Bakula was going to out-act Braugher. Not many people could. But, critically, I always thought Bakula was the weakest of the three, mostly because his character was both the most far-fetched and the most desperate. It was Romano who was truly holding his own in that mix. And that's hard to do. Mostly because nobody really expected him to be that good. And so they -- I should include myself there - kept waiting for him to mess up, to get a script he couldn't deliver on, to betray the emotion in a scene. You know what? It never happened. So here you have a comedian turning serious -- a transformation that people are almost always dubious of and withhold their approval for the longest of time (see: Murray, Bill) -- and he was getting it done with aplomb. Braugher, of course, was brilliant and fearless. And whatever attention he gets is earned. But even he had to be impressed that the whole spirit of Men was being held together by a comic going serious for the first time.
That's impressive, no matter how you look at it. Hell, Romano gave an Emmy-worthy performance that first season and somehow managed to not get tons of ink out of it. How did that happen? Oh, right, the series is under the radar. Here's hoping it doesn't stay that way, gets renewed and viewers who thought they'd get the Ray Romano of his old sitcom days drop their bias and check out what is an exceptionally good, quite surprising drama held together by a guy who's not getting nearly enough credit for his dramatic contribution.