It’s not easy to become an icon, but Jon Hamm seems to have done it. His role as Don Draper on Mad Men is easily one of the most recognizable and influential characters of the new millennium, and a far classier candidate for the position than his rival Snooki. It’s a role that has become a fashion symbol, a new icon of masculinity, and has garnered both critical and popular acclaim. But despite all of this and three years of nominations, Hamm has never won an Emmy.
This discrepancy may reflect the unique position that Mad Men holds on television. They show has become something of a cultural phenomenon, inspiring the return of 60’s chic and a number of copycat series, from The Playboy Club to Pan Am. But it’s still not a highly watched show, averaging under 3 million viewers an episode. Despite the cultural buzz surrounding it, more people talk about watching Mad Men than actually watch it. Hamm may be getting the short end of the stick, because people are more aware of the idea of the character than of Hamm’s actual performance on the show.
While Draper’s generally presented as a charming cad, Hamm does a skillful job balancing a character who walks the line between sympathetic and unsympathetic -- making him likable and still difficult to like. If your desire to slap some sense into a character is a metric of how good a job the actor is doing, than forget an Emmy, Hamm deserves a golden plaque on the moon by this point. Last season was among Hamm’s best performances, with Don Draper’s divorce serving as an opportunity to explore the character in a new context. And Season Four also included the series’ current highlight, 'The Suitcase,' an episode which was basically a forty-minute showcase for Hamm and Elizabeth Moss to act their well-tailored and stylish pants off. (That, and stage an old man fight.)
Of course, Hamm has faced stiff competition for the Emmy. He’s lost three straight years of nominations to Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, an actor who certainly deserves the honor for his fabulous work. But at this point, giving Cranston another win for the same role seems a tad redundant. Why not share the love, and recognize another deserving actor this year? If not for his formidable acting talent, than at least for the fact that he looks like a cartoon pilot. Besides, while you might take Mad Men’s quality for granted now, disputes with AMC may kill the show before its time. If the Academy has been waiting to honor Hamm, there’s not going to be a better time.