Monday, September 7, 2015

2015 Emmy Nominations: Drama, Acting

Unlike the series nominations, the acting nominations in the drama categories have a bit more fresh blood in them. As you'll see below, there's a healthy mix of old and new here, including a handful of great performances that were unexpectedly included.

BEST LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Taraji P. Henson, Empire ("Pilot")
Claire Danes, Homeland ("From A to B and Back Again")
Robin Wright, House of Cards ("Chapter 32")
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder ("Freakin' Whack-a-Mole")
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men ("Person to Person")
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black ("Certain Agony of the Battlefield")

Henson

Overview: This category got a lot more eclectic this year, with first-time nominees Davis, Henson, and Maslany joining Wright, Moss, and two-time previous winner Danes. The big thing of note here is that for the first time ever, two black actresses will be competing for this prize in the same year. Even better, they're the frontrunners for it (see below).

Biggest surprise: Even though she plays at least six distinct characters in every episode, most of us assumed that Maslany would never be nominated because of her show's sci-fi leanings (that's what had to have prevented Sarah Michelle Gellar from being nominated for Buffy). Maybe Game of Thrones has made the Academy more lenient towards genre shows, or maybe there's just no way to ignore her anymore, but Maslany was probably the most pleasantly-surprising nominee this year in any category.

Most notable exclusion: The reigning champ in this category, Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), somehow missed the cut. It's not the first time this has happened - she missed out in 2013 too - but given her previous-year win, it's rather surprising that she wasn't invited back. Also notable: Golden Globe winner Ruth Wilson failed to be recognized here for The Affair, and Kerry Washington couldn't make it three years in a row for her performance on Scandal.

Who's likely to win? As mentioned above, this one is likely going to come down to Davis and Henson (who also competed against one another at the Oscars in 2008 for Best Supporting Actress; they both lost to Penelope Cruz). Both are on uneven, often-ridiculous shows, but they are unquestionably always fantastic on them. I'd give the slight edge to Davis, though; she has career momentum thanks to strong performances in movies like The Help and onstage in Fences, and unlike Henson, she's truly the only reason to watch her show. That's going to only strengthen her showcase.

But watch out for... Henson, Danes, Wright, Moss...actually, there's a good chance at winning for literally everyone in this category. It is by far the most stacked this year. Six-way tie and call it even?

Best Lead Actor, plus the supporting and guest categories, after the break.


BEST LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul ("Pimento")
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline ("Part 12")
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards ("Chapter 32")
Jon Hamm, Mad Men ("Person to Person")
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom ("What Kind of Day Has It Been?")
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan ("Walk This Way")

Odenkirk

Overview: With Breaking Bad ending its run and True Detective out of the running, there were vacancies where Bryan Cranston, Matthew McConaughey, and Woody Harrelson were last year alongside returning nominees Daniels, Spacey, and Hamm. Odenkirk proved that a spinoff of a minor character who many worried only worked in small doses could work, while 2011 winner Chandler (Friday Night Lights) held down the lead of Netflix's Floridian family potboiler. And Schreiber earned his first nomination for his Showtime series, despite being nominated at the Golden Globes twice for this role.

Biggest surprise: Schreiber's inclusion is perhaps the least expected, if only because even though he tends to receive kind reviews for his performance, his show is generally regarded as a mess. And after being ignored for the first two seasons, there wasn't much reason to believe that he would be included this time around.

Most notable exclusion: A lot of people were counting on Clive Owen to be nominated for his work on The Knick, yet he couldn't quite cut through into the category (this is funny because he plays a surgeon; I'm good at humor!)

Who's likely to win? This is Hamm's eighth consecutive nomination for his performance as Don Draper. In general, Mad Men has accrued 34 acting nominations over its run. Both Hamm and the show have a win total of zero. All signs points to that ending this year. Hamm's submitted the finale, which may be the most sublime performance he's given on a show in which he's been nothing but sublime. He should finally hear his name called this year.

But watch out for... Spacey. It feels like the window for Spacey to win this prize is closing; he was favored in the show's first season, but the prize went to Jeff Daniels instead for that speech that your politically-minded friends keep sharing on Facebook. He's been excellent on the show, and this year gave him an opportunity to add a lot of nuance to President Frank Underwood, but it kind of feels like now-or-never for him. That could motivate voters to go for him instead of Hamm.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Joanne Froggat, Downton Abbey ("Episode 5.08")
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones ("Mother's Mercy")
Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones ("The Dance of Dragons")
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife ("Loser Edit")
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men ("Lost Horizon")
Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black ("Hugs Can Be Deceiving")

Headey

Overview: Last year, as a comedy, Orange is the New Black was able to amass a slew of nominations for its performers, many of them under the "Guest Actress" category despite appearing in almost every episode. This year, only Aduba could break through in the drama categories, joining five women who have all been nominated here in the past two years (Clarke missed out last year, but was nominated in 2013).

Biggest surprise: There's no one in the category who is really all that surprising, so the big surprise is who got left out. For the first time since she's been eligible, Maggie Smith was not nominated for Downton Abbey. To be fair, it had seemed like the Academy was just coasting with her as a default nominee the past couple of years, but it's still a big deal that she didn't make the cut this year. Also of note: the cast of Orange is the New Black. It was just very competitive this year...

Most notable exclusion: ...and yet somehow they managed to forget how phenomenal Carrie Coon was in The Leftovers. "Guest" was the highlight of the television season, as Coon's character struggles to deal with the loss of her entire family in the Sudden Departure. Go see it, then come back to me and explain how the hell they could have ignored her.

Who's likely to win? There's no true frontrunner here at the moment, but let's give the edge to Headey. Her show definitely has the moment, and the episode she selected has a powerful scene for her that she just slays. It would certainly be a welcome win.

But watch out for... Aduba. She has a fascinating arc in this season, one that's funny, yes, but also devastating. She could pull off the upset.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul ("Five-O")
Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline ("Part 12")
Jim Carver, Downton Abbey ("Episode 5.09")
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones ("Hardhome")
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife ("Undisclosed Recipients")
Michael Kelly, House of Cards ("Chapter 27")

Mendelsohn

Overview: This category, like Lead Actor, underwent a lot of change this year, with only Carver and Dinklage returning from last year's crop. Mendelsohn and Kelly are first-time nominees, while Cumming returns for the first time since 2011. And here's a fun fact: with his nomination for Better Call Saul, Banks is the first actor to receive nominations in this category for three separate shows (his current program, Breaking Bad in 2013, and Wiseguy in 1989).

Biggest surprise: Kelly's Doug Stamper had an interesting episode that focused mostly on him (naturally, it's the one he submitted), yet even then the character continues to essentially be a non-entity on the show. So it's a bit odd that he managed to grab a nomination for his work here.

Most notable exclusion: Between Maslany's nomination and the embrace of Game of Thrones, its clear that genre TV is making inroads with the Emmys. That's obviously not the case for superheroes, however. As key villain Wilson Fisk on Marvel's Daredevil, Vincent D'Onofrio delivers one of the best performances of his career, going for cold calculation over mustache-twirling histrionics. More than that, he uses his imposing physique to cut a truly threatening figure. It was one of the year's finest performances, yet no nomination.

Who's likely to win? Sometimes, it's all about episode selection. No one chose better than Banks, who picked an episode that gives him a phenomenal showcase that will undoubtedly earn him a slew of votes. He didn't win for this role on Breaking Bad. That should be rectified this year.

But watch out for... Mendelsohn. He's playing the catalyst in all of the family drama on his show, and he was singled out for praise by most critics. He's definitely a threat to win it.

BEST GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Margo Martindale, The Americans ("I Am Abassan Zadran")
Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones ("The Gift")
Rachel Brosnahan, House of Cards ("Chapter 39")
Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away with Murder ("Mama's Here Now")
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex ("Parallax")
Khandi Alexander, Scandal ("Where the Sun Don't Shine")

Tyson

Overview: Last year's victor in this category, Janney, returns, as do Rigg and Martindale. Brosnahan is the only one making her Emmy debut, however, as both Tyson and Alexander have been nominated in the past, though this is their first nominations in this category. Tyson and Alexander are also nominated for playing the star's - Viola Davis and Kerry Washington, respectively - mother.

Biggest surprise: Definitely Brosnahan. Like her co-star Michael Kelly, she's mostly been a distraction on the show, a side plot that most fans don't particularly care about and most critics describe as dull. So it's pretty surprising that the Academy felt the need to recognize her this year.

Most notable exclusion: Her role was reduced enough to be considered a guest performer this year, but Kiernan Shipkin has consistently been terrific as Don Draper's daughter Sally on Mad Men. This year offered some of her finest moments; it's a shame that she couldn't get a bit of recognition in the show's final hours.

Who's likely to win? This one is Tyson's to lose. She was excellent in her small role, and she's got enough cache as a showbiz legend to pull votes. It's going to be hard for anyone to catch her.

But watch out for... Janney. She's the incumbent winner, and she did well-received work this season as well. Even though the heat for her show has cooled, she's still a longtime Emmy favorite. It'd be foolish to count her out.

BEST GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Alan Alda, The Blacklist ("The Decembrist")
Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife ("Red Zone")
F. Murray Abraham, Homeland ("A Long Time Coming")
Reg E. Cathey, House of Cards ("Chapter 34")
Beau Bridges, Masters of Sex ("Parallax")
Pablo Schreiber, Orange is the New Black ("40 Oz. of Furlough")

Alda

Overview: Cathey and Bridges may be the only returning nominees this year, but Fox has been dominant in this category, earning six nominations in the past ten years including a win in 2009 (for Rescue Me). Similarly, Alda is a longtime favorite, thanks to longstanding goodwill for M*A*S*H. Abraham is an exciting addition, as is Schreiber, who has brought blustering-asshole swagger to Orange is the New Black.

Biggest surprise: Schreiber has been great on his show, and this past season saw him only appear briefly since he had been pushed out in season one. However, his has been an especially comedic performance, so it's a little surprising to see him make the cut in a drama category.

Most notable exclusion: The most notable is Dylan Baker, who is frequently nominated for The Good Wife but has established a pattern of only being nominated every other year. So we'll see him again here in 2016.

Who's likely to win? Bridges has a truly heartbreaking arc in his selected episode, which should propel him to the podium.

But watch out for... Alda and Fox. Being television legends helps in this category, and if they feel like recognizing their returns to the medium, then either of them could end up with the victory.

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