When the 2016 Emmy Awards nominations were announced a few weeks ago, alongside heavyweights Messrs Kevin Spacey and Liev Schreiber, three younger actors stood out: Mr Robot’s chiselled enigma Mr Rami Malek (35), Silicon Valley’s post-Zuckerberg gamma-male Mr Thomas Middleditch (34) and Master Of None’s second-generation American dreamer Mr Aziz Ansari (still, terrifyingly, only 33). None of them are what you might typically consider leading-man material, and as a mirror to modern life, non-conformity is only a good thing. But what exactly does their enshrinement as establishment favourites say about the way men speak, work, treat each other, dress, plan ahead and fall in love in 2016?
Take Mr Malek and Elliot Alderson, his character in the acclaimed hacktivist series Mr Robot. Elliot is a disconcertingly gifted vigilante, alienated from society but determined to improve it, and far more powerful in his dissociative fantasy underworld than his corporate day job. In theory, the show’s voice-in-the-head narration (where Elliot articulates his state of mind out loud to the audience, à la Peep Show in a minor key) gives us an extra insight into his consciousness, but his perspective is so unreliable that most of what we see through his eyes is false, distorted or imagined. Silicon Valley’s protagonist Richard Hendricks is a gentle techno-prophet – loyal, perceptive and principled, but terrible at selling himself, emotionally constipated and anxious to the point of throwing up after meetings. Dev Shah, who Mr Ansari plays in Netflix’s Master Of None (which he also writes and co-created), is the dapper everyman, open-minded, over-articulate and unfulfilled, a crisp twist on the man-child.