Since its debut on February 18, Severance has become one of the buzziest shows of this Emmy season, receiving profuse praise for its exceptionally cast ensemble, endlessly witty writing, and wholly engaging worldbuilding. Creator Dan Erickson has already been afforded considerable attention for his sharp scripts, while Ben Stiller’s distinguished direction has received equal acclaim from critics, and Adam Scott, Britt Lower, Patricia Arquette, and John Turturro all look like promising contenders for potential acting nods when the Emmy nominations are announced later this July. For some, like Arquette, this is nothing new, after receiving four Emmy nominations throughout her career and winning twice (once in 2007 for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Medium and once in 2019 for Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for The Act, and of course, an Oscar in between). However, for others, such as Scott, this would be the first time Emmy has come calling, despite starring in several projects that were honored elsewhere. Will Severance be the show to turn the tide for him?
Though Severance is indeed an ensemble show – with significant storylines for Scott’s co-stars Lower, Arquette, and Turturro too – Scott’s Mark S. is the audience’s entry point into the insidious practices of Lumon Industries, and he’s tasked with initiating our immersion in this increasingly weird world. Additionally, Scott essentially must give two performances in the part, portraying the Mark we see when he’s at work – who is at first obliviously allegiant to Lumon’s duplicity and dutifully diligent – and the Mark we see after hours in “reality” – who is disenchanted with life and still depressed following the sudden death of his wife, Gemma. At Lumon, Scott is allowed to stretch his comedic muscles, fitting in perfectly with this absurdist environment (at least until the latter half of the season, when he and his coworkers are alerted to Lumon’s alarming activities), while at home, Scott shows that he can deliver dramatically as well, diving into dark subject matter with skillful sophistication.
And, if his performance alone weren’t enough to warrant an Emmy nomination this year, there’s the additional narrative of the fact that this could be the first time to honor Scott for all of his contributions to the television medium over the course of his career. While his first leading role came with the Starz sitcom Party Down, Scott truly became a star with his standout supporting role on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, where he played state auditor Ben Wyatt, who later becomes the love interest of Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope. But despite Poehler and the show receiving Emmy attention, Scott never did (though he did earn Critics’ Choice Television Award nominations for Best Actor in a Comedy Series in 2013 and 2014). His next strongest awards plays came with NBC’s The Good Place – where he guest-starred as Trevor, a diabolical demon from “The Bad Place” – and Big Little Lies – where he had a supporting role as the second husband of Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline Mackenzie, whom she later cheats on – but once again, the shows themselves were recognized while Scott was not.
Thankfully though for Scott, there might be an opening in the Lead Actor in a Drama Series category this year. Assuming we receive six nominees again, current conventional wisdom says five will go to Succession’s Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong, Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae, Ozark’s Jason Bateman, and Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk, leaving one up for grabs. Who’s standing in Scott’s way? That would be Yellowstone’s Kevin Costner – a former Emmy winner (for the 2012 miniseries Hatfields & McCoys) and a contender whose show is experiencing its first major awards breakthrough moment in the industry, four seasons in – and This Is Us’s Sterling K. Brown – a former Emmy winner for this same show, which is concluding this spring, potentially giving him a sentimental push. The good news for Scott? Despite their potentially strong narratives, Costner and Brown haven’t generated near as much media attention as any of the five contenders “ahead” of them at this point or Scott and Severance. There’s always the possibility that the Television Academy defaults to some these old faves, but the momentum is with Scott now.
Sure, one might worry that Scott will once again be snubbed while the series he stars in is lauded, but there’s one difference between Severance and Parks and Recreation/The Good Place/Big Little Lies: here, Scott is arguably the star of the show, and he’s not playing second fiddle to Amy Poehler or Reese Witherspoon. Sure, Lower, Arquette, and Turturro are scene stealers in their own right, but just look at the poster for Severance – it’s Scott! It’s impossible to think of the show without thinking of him, and if Emmy voters are as over the moon for Severance as we believe they will be, it makes it that much more likely that they list its leading man for a nomination as well. Still, Scott’s nomination is far from a done deal, and there are many more stops on the campaign trail to make to close the deal, but as of now, he’s not out of the running whatsoever – and this is perhaps the best shot he’s ever had.