Deal With It

In Defense of Jeff Daniels: Why He Deserved to Win the Emmy

In a night of Emmys upsets, none was more reviled than the surprise win of Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels. But give him a break, writes Anna Brand—it’s the show you hate, not the actor.

Melissa Moseley/HBO

No, Will McAvoy never strangled a man to death with a bicycle lock. He never had an affair with a woman half his age to secure his dominance in the newsroom. He never revealed trauma from an abusive childhood. He never tried to kill the vice president. And he didn’t lose all his money investing in stupid shit either.

At least not yet.

Jeff Daniels, the star of HBO’s The Newsroom, may not deliver dramatic scenes that leave you shocked and disturbed for days, but that doesn’t make his performances less respectable. He hasn’t received the same kind of love and support from the Internet that his fellow nominees in the Best Actor in a Drama category enjoy, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve to win the Emmy—even up against such a strong group: Hugh Bonneville for Downton Abbey, Jon Hamm for Mad Men, Bryan Cranston for Breaking Bad, Kevin Spacey for House of Cards, and Damian Lewis for Homeland.

The problem is that the way Newsroom is set up, it’s easy to fuse Daniels and Sorkin as one. But let us not confuse our frustrations with Aaron Sorkin with how well Jeff Daniels executes the character he’s asked to play. If you can eventually separate the two, you’ll see Daniels shines in the category—arguably brighter than the rest by far.

I’m not saying it’s not easy to rag on The Newsroom. The show was ridiculed in its first season for being an unrealistic portrayal of an actual newsroom, even called an ”unpardonable train wreck." And Sorkin’s complicated monologues—once a happy addiction during The West Wing days—and cheesy subplots, made it easy to board the hate train. Many warmed up ever so slightly to Season 2’s Genoa plot line, but the ongoing misconception that Jeff Daniels is also running the show behind the camera remains, as he continues to get roped into mockery.

In spite of Sorkin’s sometimes questionable conducting, Daniels truly brings it. His character may be considered wildly hyperbolic, but he’s got no choice—this is his job. He’s the one who has to confidently recite all those run-on sentences without a hint of paraphrasing. He plays the part of the boastful anchorman with coiffed hair and a naive-yet-jaded idea of romance beautifully, and just as he’s supposed to. And by the end of Season 2, he arguably becomes a lovable character.

Of course, there’s no doubt Bryan Cranston truly shone as a ruthless Walter White in Breaking Bad, and Lord knows Jon Hamm deserves an Emmy before his time is up on Mad Men, but it shouldn’t be such an upset that Daniels took the prize. Who would have bet the dumber part of Dumb & Dumber could transform into a serious anchor—or more importantly, that his electrocuted-like hair would clean up so nicely?

Daniels isn’t in control of the show’s debated women problem, or the exhausting dialogue—and he certainly can’t bring back Maggie’s (Allison Pill) hair, so stop blaming him for the problems you have with Sorkin.

Remember, he cares about you guys.