Emmy spotlight: Don’t underestimate Hugh Laurie (‘Veep’) as beguiling and formidable foe to Julia Louis-Dreyfus

“What the **** are you?” asks an infuriated Tom James (Hugh Laurie) of Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in his expletive-filled final scene in the series finale of “Veep.” Laurie, who joined the cast of the three-time Emmy-winning Best Comedy in the recurring role of former senator and Selina’s flame in the fourth season, plays a particularly prominent role in the final seven episodes of the show as one of Selina’s most formidable rivals for their party’s nomination for President.

Despite his increased presence in the farewell season, Gold Derby’s combined odds currently have Laurie far afield from a Comedy Supporting Actor nomination. Based on Laurie’s performance and his track record at the Emmys, though, we may be underestimating his prospects for a “Veep” farewell bid. Indeed, Laurie’s simultaneously charming, smug, and slimy performance as Tom is one of the many highlights of the show’s last batch of episodes, particularly when he goes hilariously toe-to-toe with the incomparable Louis-Dreyfus.

SEE ‘Veep’ can’t match the record of Best Comedy Series Emmy wins, but it’d join a pantheon of classics

One reason Laurie lags behind in our odds could certainly be the incredibly robust ensemble of actors from “Veep.” From its very first season eight years ago, “Veep” has boasted a large cast and in its final season, the series invited back a host of recurring characters like Tom. As a result, the show has submitted a whopping nine supporting actors on the Emmy ballot (Diedrich Bader, Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn, two-time Emmy winner Tony Hale, Laurie, Sam Richardson, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, and two-time Emmy nominee Matt Walsh). Unlike fellow Comedy Series champ “Modern Family,” which in its heyday landed three or four nominations in the category for Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ed O’Neill, and Eric Stonestreet, “Veep” has only ever managed to secure a maximum of two spots for Hale and Walsh in 2016 and 2017.

According to our editors, experts and users alike, Hale and Walsh look solid for one last “Veep” nomination, which leaves out the comedy’s seven other supporting actors. While a number of them, including Simons and Scott, seem on the cusp of a nomination, Laurie surprisingly trails that quartet by double digits in our rankings. While Hale and Walsh certainly have an advantage as previous nominees in this category—both landed bids in 2017 when “Veep” was last Emmy eligible—Laurie stands out just as much if not more because of his character’s fantastic material throughout the final season.

After a brief appearance at the end of the season premiere, “Iowa,” in which Tom officially announces his campaign for President, Laurie takes center stage opposite Louis-Dreyfus in the second episode, “Discovery Weekend.” In Aspen, Tom and Selina vie for the backing of billionaire Felix Wade (William Fichtner), and when Selina gains Felix’s favor, Tom throws her off her game by once again professing his love for her. Their scenes, at once heartfelt and deeply cynical, evoke their brilliant confrontation/confession in the season six episode “Blurb,” for which Laurie received a Guest Actor nomination. In the next two episodes, “Pledge” and “South Carolina,” Tom and Selina work together and backstab each other until Selina edges Tom out of the Presidential race altogether.

While consistently great in these episodes, the series finale stands out as a potential Emmy submission for Laurie. Absent from the fifth and sixth episodes of the season, it looked like Laurie’s Tom may not reappear in the final episode. Just before its midpoint, though, Tom surprisingly swoops into the brokered convention and emerges as the presumptive frontrunner for the party’s nomination. It’s an incredibly welcome return for Laurie, and writer David Mandel gives the actor two standout scenes. First, when Tom visits Ben (Dunn) in the hospital following his heart attack, he promises to end Selina’s political career by refusing to offer her a position in his seemingly inevitable administration, professing, “You don’t have a political future, Selina. That is your punishment.” Refusing to admit defeat, though, Selina turns Tom’s campaign manager Michelle (Rhea Seehorn) against him as Michelle comes forward with sexual misconduct allegations. Laurie brilliantly balances Tom’s seething rage and genuine bewilderment in his confrontation with Louis-Dreyfus in a simultaneously delightful and sad scene of ultimate comeuppance.

SEE Will Timothy Simons (‘Veep’) get his 1st Emmy nomination for final season as power-hungry Jonah Ryan?

Of course, Laurie has other hurdles in the category aside from Hale and Walsh, most significantly Simons. Like Laurie’s Tom James, Simons’ Jonah Ryan has a prominent role in the final season as a primary challenger to Selina. Otherwise, the two character could not be more different, with Laurie’s Tom exuding an air of professionalism that masks his conniving, self-serving attitude, and Simons’ Jonah evolving into a Trump-esque figure of political depravity and stupidity, complete with hysterical campaign speeches and blunders.

While Simons would also make a deserving nominee, especially given his character’s incredible arc over the past seven seasons, Laurie’s industry clout gives him an upper hand. Laurie already has 10 Emmy nominations under his belt, including six in Drama Lead Actor for “House,” one for Movie/Mini Supporting Actor for “The Night Manager,” and two as a producer. Unlike Simons, who has unfortunately not yet received a nomination for playing Jonah, Laurie earned a Guest Actor nomination for “Veep” for its sixth season. If the Emmy voters who nominated him in that category two years ago follow him to the Supporting Actor category, then Laurie will have a stronger chance at a farewell nomination than most predict.

PREDICT the Emmy nominees now; change them until July 16

In the near future, you can check out how our experts rank this year’s Emmy contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own 2019 Emmy predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on July 16.

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