If I had an Emmy ballot 2011: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama
Welcome to part five of our journey through the Emmy ballot on HitFix. Once again, Fienberg and I are approaching each category from two directions, with Dan as the pragmatist and me as the optimist. So as we move onto the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama category, Dan has his usual exhaustive photo gallery of potential nominees, starting with the most likely candidates before eventually moving onto a bit of wish fulfillment, while after the jump, I continue to pretend that I'm a voting member of the TV Academy and have to pick six nominees for this category. (And, again, actors determine what category to submit themselves in, or whether to submit at all. You can download the full performers list here.)
Speaking of actors choosing which category to place themselves in, Elisabeth Moss pushed herself up to the lead category this year, which seems reasonable given how prominent Peggy was to this season of "Mad Men." (January Jones, on the other hand, stayed lead, despite Betty being marginalized.) As Don Draper struggled with personal problems, Peggy came into her own professionally, and Moss and Jon Hamm had an acting duel for the ages in "The Suitcase." Assuming she gets a nomination (a reasonable assumption, unless it's just been so long that some voters forget about the show), and if she submits that episode, it's hard to imagine her not winning.
To my tremendous surprise and pleasure, Connie Britton somehow got a nomination last year - a long overdue recognition of how incredible she's been on "Friday Night Lights." She was, if anything, even better this season (though some of her best stuff has yet to air on NBC, so I'll say little). The bad thing about Emmy laziness is that it's hard for new blood to crack the various nomination fields. The good thing is that once new blood gets in, it tends to stay in for a while (unless that new blood is Michael Chiklis), so I have a reasonably good feeling that Connie will get her second and final nomination for this role. And that's nice, because she deserves an armful of those trophies
Showtime's version of "Shameless" as a whole was tonally uneven and suffered from spending too much time on William H. Macy's character (or, at least, for not realizing how unlikable and unfunny Frank was). But at the same time, the show features a bunch of terrific performances from its young cast, none better than Emmy Rossum as eldest sibling and defacto maternal figure Fiona Gallagher. She was fierce, she was vulnerable, she was funny, she was sexy as hell (even when fully and unglamorously clothed) and she commanded the screen. I'd never noticed her in anything before this, and have been told by others that this is a complete revelation from her past work; hopefully this isn't a career aberration but a young actress figuring it out and taking her abilities to the next level. Because if she can keep this up not only on "Shameless," but in other parts, she has the tools to be a very big star.
Everyone assumed Julianna Margulies was a lock to win this award a year ago. Instead, Kyra Sedgwick walked off with the Emmy (and will, along with Mariska Hargitay and some of the other usual suspects, make the final nominations list ahead of several of my choices). And there were times in "The Good Wife" season two - particularly late in the season, after Alicia found out about Kalinda and Peter - where the Kings seemed to be going out of their way to make sure their girl didn't go home empty-handed a second year in a row. Alicia Florrick overall is still a fairly cool, buttoned-down customer, but there was even more opportunity this year for Margulies to show the cracks in Alicia's armor. I still believe Moss is the favorite if she submits "The Suitcase," but scenes like this certainly give Margulies a fighting chance:
Lauren Graham was actually the last addition to the "Parenthood" cast, having been brought in to replace Maura Tierney when Tierney got sick after the pilot was shot. What's funny about that is that Graham, more than any of the show's other three leads and probably more than anyone in the cast, period, is so perfectly tailored to the messy blend of comedy and drama, of silliness and anguish. She can do self-deprecating humor with ease and cry like nobody's business - and there were times this season where it felt like she did noting but cry, and yet she was so good at it that it never got tedious. Graham was somehow never nominated for an Emmy for her outstanding work on "Gilmore Girls," but "Parenthood" is on a more Emmy-friendly network, and I hold out hope that one day the Academy will notice that she's been awesome for a whole lot of years now.
It's hard to remember there was a time in the life of "Fringe" when Anna Torv actually seemed like a liability. She was the bland, opaque lead who was there to deliver exposition, pull out her gun, and then try to stay out of the way while John Noble and Joshua Jackson made the show entertaining. That seems like a lifetime ago, after a season in which Torv played three different characters in Olivia, Fauxlivia and, briefly, Spock(*). Often, these kinds of mirror universe stories tend to underline how boring the regular version of the character is, but Olivia actually became just as compelling as Fauxlivia. And in the Fauxlivia-centric episodes, Torv was more than able to carry the show while Jackson was absent and Noble was both marginalized and sane. It took the "Fringe" writers a long time to figure out both this character and their leading lady's strengths and weakeness, but boy do they get it now.
(*) His character may have another name on "Fringe." I go with Spock.
Tough omissions: "Body of Proof" isn't my kind of show, yet I almost would have watched it every week just to enjoy Dana Delany's star turn as Dana Delany: Medical Examiner if the show didn't air opposite Margulies and Graham's shows. "The Killing" ultimately frustrated me and Sarah Linden turned out to be a maddeningly opaque character, but Mireille Enos' screen presence was the main thing keeping me interested in the show in the early going. Based on screentime and narrative importance, Lena Headey probably isn't a lead on "Game of Thrones," but I'm not sure anyone was, other than maybe Sean Bean, and Headey and the writers did an excellent job of making a character most of the books' readers despised into someone who was, if not sympathetic, then at least understandable. Melissa Leo has been strong again on "Treme" in the scenes involving Toni's grief and her relationship with her daughter, but a lot of her screen time has unfortunately been devoted to the season's weak link storyline, a cold case investigation in which she mainly delivers or listens to exposition. Similarly, Katey Sagal was terrific on "Sons of Anarchy" when the scripts allowed her to be - primarily in a tangential but still powerful arc involving Gemma's senile father - but a lot of the season's later scripts couldn't keep Gemma from turning into a caricature for a while. (In both cases, it's not the actresses' fault, but it's enough to vault some others past them.) The grown-up version of "Grey's Anatomy" this season suited Ellen Pompeo, whose material in the wake of the spree shooting wasn't quite as flashy as Sandra Oh's but was still quite good. And Jeanne Tripplehorn once again did her best to rise above some really iffy "Big Love" writing.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com