Emmy episode analysis: Donald Glover (‘Atlanta’) wonders if he’ll ever catch a break in ‘The Big Bang’

Donald Glover goes into this year’s Emmy Awards with an impressive four nominations, all for his work on FX’s “Atlanta.” In addition to writing and directing nominations — for the episode “B.A.N.” — he is also nominated for Best Comedy Series as a producer and Best Comedy Actor for his starring role on the series, which has already earned him equivalent prizes at the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe Awards.

Glover’s acting nomination is for his role as Earnest “Earn” Marks, a college dropout who tries to become the manager for his cousin Alfred, an aspiring rapper who goes by the name Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry). His performance in the show’s pilot episode, “The Big Bang,” has been submitted to Emmy voters.

In the episode, Earn is has dropped out of Princeton and is living with Van (Zazie Beetz), the mother of his young daughter. Van asks Earn for rent money, but his dead-end job isn’t enough to make ends meet. Earn goes to his parents for help, but they show no interest in giving their son a dime. After hearing a mix tape by Paper Boi, Earn decides that he needs to be the up-and-coming musician’s manager. But Paper Boi is reluctant to hire his cousin, given his track record.

Earn decides to make things happen on his own by using the last of his savings to bribe a local DJ into playing Paper Boi’s song on the radio. The episode ends with Earn being the subject of a manhunt after Paper Boi gets into an altercation outside a convenience store.

Will “The Big Bang” help Glover dethrone two-time champ Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”)? Let’s examine the pros and cons:

PROS

Glover’s performance is full of charm. We see Earn as a loving father and an affectionate boyfriend, but he just can’t catch a break. In one poignant scene, we see Earn on the bus holding his daughter, and he gives a speech where he talks about how he just keeps losing, and wonders whether his difficulties occur just to provide balance for the winners. Glover’s endearing performance engenders our sympathy, and Emmy voters love to reward sympathetic characters.

“Atlanta” is the hottest new comedy from this recent television season, having won Best Comedy Series at the Golden Globe, Producers Guild, and Writers Guild Awards. The series is also up for four TCA Awards next month, with Glover earning a nomination for Best Individual Achievement in Comedy. As the creative force behind the show, Glover may be rewarded by voters for the totality of his work on “Atlanta” with a victory in this category.

Glover’s profile as an entertainer has never been higher. Along with “Atlanta,” he has a role in the box office hit “Spider Man: Homecoming” and is currently filming his role as Lando Calrissian in the as-yet-untitled Han Solo prequel film. He will also play Simba in the upcoming remake of Disney’s “The Lion King.” Rapping under the name Childish Gambino, Glover currently has a top-20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with his single “Redbone.” With so many high-profile successes, Glover’s popularity in the industry can only help him at the Emmys.

CONS

Glover is essentially the straight man in his own show, as much of the humor in “Atlanta” comes from the characters surrounding Glover’s more low-key protagonist. If voters are looking to reward a performance with greater range and impact, they may choose to look elsewhere.

With nominations in acting, writing, directing, and producing, Glover has multiple chances to be rewarded on Emmy night. But history shows that this scenario doesn’t typically result in multiple Emmy wins. In recent years, we’ve seen Aziz Ansari (“Master of None”) and Louis C.K. (“Louie”) each nominated for these four awards, with both men going home with only the writing prize. In fact, the only actor to win Emmys for writing, directing, and acting was Alan Alda (“M*A*S*H”), but he won each award in different years. With Glover currently favored to win for Comedy Directing, a simultaneous win for acting would be unprecedented.

Be sure to make your Emmy predictions so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our Emmy odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on September 17. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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