Thomas Middleditch (‘Silicon Valley’): We should stop underestimating him at the Emmys

A big surprise could be brewing in the Best Comedy Actor category at this year’s Emmys, and it may come in the form of Thomas Middleditch. Two-time winner Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”) might be vulnerable this year, so Middleditch’s performance as coder-turned-tech entrepreneur Richard Hendricks on the HBO laffer “Silicon Valley” might be the one that can take advantage of the opening.

The fourth season only recently started airing, but Sunday night’s episode “Intellectual Property,” the third episode of the season, would already make a strong acting submission for Middleditch. In the episode Richard is so dead-set on creating a new type of internet that he hasn’t gotten any sleep in several days. This makes him more erratic than usual and gives the actor several scenes of physical comedy to play, including the aftermath of walking fully clothed into a pool and putting his foot through a closet door. This can be a big plus for Emmy voters as other actors have won with showy physical humor in their episode submissions, including Ricky Gervais for “Extras” with “Sir Ian McKellen” (2007) and Alec Baldwin for “30 Rock” with “Rosemary’s Baby” (2008).

Also good news for Middleditch is that several have won Best Comedy Actor on their second try as he is now trying to do. Most recently Jim Parsons won his first Emmy in 2010 for “The Big Bang Theory” after scoring his first nomination the previous year and losing to Baldwin. Just two years before that, Baldwin himself picked up his first Emmy for “30 Rock” in 2008 after losing to Gervais in 2007. Eric McCormack won on his second nomination in 2001 after losing his first to Michael J. Fox for “Spin City” the previous year. Jack Albertson also achieved this feat when he won this category in 1976 for “Chico and the Man” after losing his first nom in 1975 to Tony Randall for “The Odd Couple.” So there’s plenty of precedent for the TV academy giving belated kudos to an actor on his second try.

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In addition, “Silicon Valley” is a show that has been consistently underestimated at the Emmys. Back in 2014 only one of our site’s experts, Scott Feinberg (Hollywood Reporter), predicted that “Silicon Valley” would even be nominated for Best Comedy Series. And just last year only one expert, Jarett Wieselman (Buzzfeed), correctly predicted that Middleditch would be nominated. And not only has the show exceeded expectations, it has also improved its showing at every ceremony. It started with five nominations in 2014, then earned seven in 2015 and last year received nine. So we might also be underestimating the amount of academy support there is for Middleditch, especially if the show sees another uptick in nominations this year.

The last factor that makes Middleditch a serious threat in this race is the new voting system that went into effect last year. The final round of Emmy voting used to be preferential, with academy members ranking the nominees from their favorite to least favorite. Now it’s a plurality vote in which an academy member checks a single name on the ballot, which means that a nominee can win if they have a passionate following. And it doesn’t even have to be a large following. With six nominees in a category you could theoretically win with as little as 17% of the vote.

Last year we saw wins for the kinds of niche shows and performances that might never have won under the old voting system, including Louie Anderson for “Baskets” (Comedy Supporting Actor), Tatiana Maslany for “Orphan Black” (Drama Actress) and Kate McKinnon for “Saturday Night Live” (Comedy Supporting Actress). “Silicon Valley” has demonstrated that it has a core of passionate followers within the TV academy. If enough of those voters rally behind Middleditch, he could find himself scoring his first Emmy victory.

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