John Lithgow surprised many with his sensitive portrayal of Winston Churchill in Netflix’s “The Crown,” winning Best Drama Supporting Actor at the Critics’ Choice Awards, making SAG Awards history by winning Best Drama Actor (he’s the first to have won SAG for both comedy and drama), and picking up a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Supporting Actor. Heading into the Emmys he is favored to win Best Drama Supporting Actor.
But why settle for one nomination when he could have two thanks to his other new show, “Trial & Error,” which premiered March 14.
“Trial & Error” is a spoof on the true-crime documentary phenomenon currently sweeping television (e.g. “The Jinx,” “Making a Murderer”). A young lawyer (Nicholas D’Agosto) goes to a small town to defend an eccentric poetry professor, Larry Henderson (Lithgow), who is accused of murder. Lithgow’s genius comedic timing is evident in the first two episodes of the series, which aired back-to-back in a one-hour premiere. During both episodes he seems blissfully unaware of the seriousness of being charged with murder and facing a possible death sentence. Larry is more concerned that the court understand the difference between roller skating and roller exercising.
Critical response to “Trial & Error” has been generally positive. It received an 86% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 66 score on Metacritic. And the critics agree that Lithgow is the highlight. Robert Bianco (USA Today) writes, “Something about the hangdog, somehow unbalanced look Lithgow uses here so often and effectively just makes you want to both comfort Larry and run from him in terror — sorry that he’s sad; worried that he’s crazy.” Erik Adams (A.V. Club) states, “Playing an accused murderer who’s also a lovable kook is a formidable task, and Lithgow rises to it.” And Daniel Fienberg (Hollywood Reporter) praises, “Lithgow’s career has been split between playing genial comedic everymen and chilling sociopaths. The actor’s ability to make his rollercizing character both unrelentingly silly and also possibly amoral works so well that if the finale of ‘Trial & Error’ decided to be entirely straightforward and dramatic, it could probably work, at least as far as Larry is concerned.”
Many performers have reaped two acting Emmy nominations in the same year. Last year alone three actors received multiple notices. Sarah Paulson won Best Movie/Limited Series Actress (“The People v. O.J. Simpson”) and was nominated for Best Movie/Limited Series Supporting Actress (“American Horror Story: Hotel”). Amy Schumer was nominated for Best Comedy Actress (“Inside Amy Schumer”) and Best Comedy Guest Actress (“Saturday Night Live”). And Laurie Metcalf was nominated in three categories: Best Comedy Actress (“Getting On”), Best Comedy Guest Actress (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Best Drama Guest Actress (“Horace & Pete”).
What would make Lithgow unique is that both of his nominations would be for regular roles on continuing series.
To score a Best Comedy Actor bid, first he’s going to have to knock out one of last year’s nominees: Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”), Aziz Ansari (“Master of None”), Will Forte (“Last Man on Earth”), Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”) recent SAG champ William H. Macy (“Shameless”) and two-time reigning Emmy champ Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”) are all eligible again (or expected to be, as “Master of None” doesn’t have an official premiere date yet).
Best Comedy Actor has been a stronghold for Tambor the last two years, but he was proven vulnerable when he unexpectedly lost the SAG Award this past year to Macy. Lithgow is just as respected in the acting community, and has the accolades to prove it.
He’s already a five-time Emmy winner: three for Best Comedy Actor (“3rd Rock from the Sun,” 1996-1997, 1999) and twice for Best Drama Guest Actor (“Amazing Stories” in 1986, “Dexter” in 2010). On top of that he’s a two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee (“The World According to Garp” in 1982, “Terms of Endearment” in 1983). The SAG Awards honored him as Best TV Comedy Actor for “3rd Rock from the Sun” twice (1996-1997) and Best Drama Actor for “The Crown” this year. He’s even won two Tony Awards for his work on stage: Best Featured Actor in a Play (“The Changing Room,” 1973) and Best Actor in a Musical (“Sweet Smell of Success,” 2002).
Add in the fact that Lithgow will also be the frontrunner for “The Crown,” and this makes him a formidable threat to Tambor. The Emmys recently changed their voting from a ranked system to a plurality vote, which might make it easier for someone as respected as Lithgow to win not one but two Emmys come September.
Be sure to make your Emmy predictions. Weigh in now with your picks 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 nominees are announced on July 13. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums.