This is one helluva category at the Emmys! Every. Single. Year. It’s absolutely packed with such powerful, resonant performances by such talented ladies. And most every year, the deserving are recognized. That’s because they all pretty much are.
Though, of course, nothing can be 100 percent predicted, right? For that reason, here are six performances by lead actresses in a drama series I would like to see recognized:
Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
It’s easy to take a HBIC character and go to town. Actors in those roles appear to have the most fun. But How to Get Away With Murder‘s Viola Davis never seemed like she was having much fun. Her lead character was strained, cunning, cutthroat, and absolutely damaged. For Annalise Keating, even a win in court was just an evident result, a circumstance defined by all the baggage she was carrying. Every relationship for her was something more—have we figured out her connection to Wes yet? All credit goes to Davis’ performance in the role. What could have been a similarity to many other women in this category was something wholly original, and a power-driven performance unseen before Davis stepped into the role.
Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel
Vera Farming absolutely nails the voice of her A&E drama Bates Motel. We all had our doubts when the Psycho faux-prequel was announced, but it quickly became a respectful homage and its own entity. Farmiga, and her costar Freddie Highmore, are the reason for it. How Farmiga can utter such insane lines and deliver a laugh—and bouts of anxiety—from the audience is a remarkable talent. Her chemistry and relationship to Highmore is also one of the most unique dynamics on television at the moment. Simply put, Farming is a dynamic talent, and it’s a shame she hasn’t been recognized as much as she should.
Taraji P. Henson, Empire
Has there been a bigger breakout character than Cookie Lyon this season?! Has there been a bigger breakout show than Empire? But somehow, Cookie is bigger than Empire. Taraji P. Henson might agree; she recently said that even her own friends want to talk to her as if she’s Cookie. As soon as she lifted her coat, slapped her behind, and said, “This is an ass!” I knew that this was Henson’s category to lose this year. Henson is an absolute joy to watch on screen. She took Cookie and elevated the character into pop culture icon status. If she’s not at least nominated, we might all have to give up.
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
As with every year, it was another stellar season for Julianna Margulies and her portrayal of Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. I’ve mentioned this several times, but Alicia Florrick is one of the most actualized characters on television, and Margulies completely understands her. No note she plays seems out of place, and yet they all seem daring. An intentionally cyclical season six saw Alicia have to come to terms with the fact that perhaps she can’t really make a difference, or even be different. Watching Margulies wrestle Alicia’s strive for success and her own moralities was one of the most powerful performances this season… and every season.
Keri Russell, The Americans
Elizabeth is like a quiet cat in the night—she’s cunning, she’s conniving, and she’s absolutely guarded. Keri Russell’s steely performance is a big portion of why The Americans just works. Well, for one: every other element is executed perfectly. But Russell gives a subtle, thoughtful performance that is a standout in a series full of them. Her character’s stunted emotions, or rather, her lack of wanting to be vulnerable, is hurtful to watch—in the best, possible way, and in only a way that a television performance such as this can deliver. Her relationship with Philip is one of the most layered ones on television, to boot! Watching Russell play with all those characters, all those dynamic relationships, is just reverberating. She should get an Emmy for that forced suicide scene alone.
Robin Wright, House of Cards
If you want to see a master class in acting, watch Robin Wright in any episode of House of Cards. Wright’s performance is the epitome of understanding the source material while making the character a living being. In this case: House of Cards is a slick, stylish thriller; Wright glides across the screen like some sort of ephemeral essence. Watching her character go through the season, breaking bit by bit, coming to terms with her own immorality for the sake of power was an incandescent experience. She’s a you-know-what powerhouse.
Honorable Mentions: This really is the toughest category every year because there are just so many deserving ladies. This season, Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black, continues to be absolutely epic. I still forget that she’s the same actress playing all the parts. During episodes, they have those little interviews with her before or after commercials, and I think, “OK, but where’s the other actress? Oh! That’s right.” Kerry Washington, Scandal, continued to slay, as she always does. Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex, was a vision to watch. And Gillian Anderson, The Fall, gave such a thoughtful performance.
Predictions: This may be the first category where my picks so closely match what I predict will be the final roster. I think this awards season it-actress will be recognized. I am, of course, talking about Ruth Wilson, The Affair. And then I think everyone else on my list, sans Keri Russell and Vera Farmiga, is going to get a nomination: Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson, Julianna Margulies, and Robin Wright. The last slot is kind of a wild card, but something tells me that Claire Danes, Homeland, will get recognized again.
This is one in a series of Emmys posts this awards season. Check out the Emmys tag for more dream nominees and features.