Last year’s Lead Actress in a Drama Series winner Viola Davis is back for a second go-round, nominated opposite category regulars Claire Danes, Taraji P. Henson, Tatiana Maslany and Robin Wright, making this year’s lineup look like a carbon copy—with one welcome addition. In her fourth year of eligibility, The Americans’ Keri Russell finally gets to join the crowd. Could she be a spoiler, or will we be seeing a more familiar outcome?
Definitely the mainstay of this category, Danes has won for this show in 2012 and 2013—Homeland’s first two seasons—as well as being a nominee now every year of its five seasons on Showtime. She’s no stranger to the Emmy stage, having also won in 2010 for her TV movie Temple Grandin. It’s a tough act, though, to come to the winners’ circle for Carrie Mathison when she couldn’t break through in the past three years. It has been done, but not often. She’s an Emmy favorite either way.
How To Get Away With Murder
Davis became the first African-American actress ever to win in this category when she took home the gold on her first try last season. The show doesn’t have the same buzz it did when it premiered, and that could hold her back from repeating, although Annalise Keating is a strong role on her own and certainly deserving of more recognition. And Emmy voters like repeat winners. Just ask Claire Danes.
Taraji P. Henson
Cookie Lyon could not be denied last year; even if it was the hottest new show on TV, Empire was virtually ignored by the TV Academy. Henson delivers an over-the-top character with sublime style and, while once again virtually ignoring her series, Emmy voters are showing the love with a second consecutive nomination. The show, still a big hit, isn’t nearly the watercooler item it was last year, though, and that could hurt Henson’s chances of hitting the podium.
Perhaps the most critically acclaimed performance on TV the last few seasons was the master of disguise work Maslany displays in bringing six vividly different women to life in this BBC America show. Critics kept shouting her praises, and finally, the Academy took notice last season, and now again this year, where I maintain she has a real shot to win this thing on her sophomore try—certainly if voters do their homework and actually watch her show.
Like her co-star Matthew Rhys, Russell was curiously overlooked for much of this acclaimed show’s run on FX. Finally, this year, voters were shamed into watching. Once they did, they could see what all the praise has been about, not only for the show, but also for Russell, who is a terrifically underrated actress. As Elizabeth Jennings, who isn’t exactly who she says she is, Russell has deserved this recognition for a while, and it may be enough that she finally got it just when fans thought all was lost.
House of Cards
Like Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright has pulled a nomination in this category for every single year of the series, and she only gets better, playing the complex and intriguing Claire Underwood. A Golden Globe winner for the show, she is looking to advance to the Emmy stage—and just possibly could this time—if voters feel the timeliness of her show is more than enough reason to binge, and discover an actress who is way overdue.
PETE’S PICK: Viola Davis—especially if voters want to hear another great acceptance speech.
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
With a trio of contenders from Game of Thrones battling for the hearts and minds of Emmy voters, it seems logical that Emilia Clarke as Daenerys, Lena Headey as Cersei, and Maisie Williams (who is new to the category this year) as Arya will cancel themselves out. I expect that to be the case, leaving Maura Tierney’s exemplary work in The Affair, newbie Constance Zimmer in the cult fave UnREAL, and veteran Maggie Smith carrying the acting torch for Downton Abbey’s final season to duke it out for the win.
Of course, it is plausible that one of the Thrones trio could emerge victorious, but odds are against that happening. A new show like UnREAL has the advantage of being fresh blood, and those screeners were the first to arrive this season. However Zimmer’s was the only acting nomination the acclaimed series got, so odds are also long for her. It is time The Affair got some sort of recognition, and Tierney is well-liked—and never an Emmy winner—so there could be some affection there. However, Smith, a three-time Emmy winner, is formidable and could benefit from sentimentality over the end of the enormously popular series.
PETE’S PICK: Maggie Smith. She got the last word in Downton Abbey, and will get the last word at the Emmys, too.
This post was originally published August 19, 2016.