If I had an Emmy ballot 2012: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Senior Television Writer
06.28.12 36 Comments


We’re in the home stretch now of our look at the 2012 Emmy ballot. (Today is, in fact, the deadline for Academy members to turn in their ballots; we still have two categories to go, but we’ve never assumed that these stories have any impact on the actual voting.) As always, Fienberg and I are going to approach things in two ways. I’ll pretend that I have an Emmy ballot and make my picks for the six actors or shows I would put on my ballot, while Dan will rank the potential nominees from most likely to least. And, as always, we are working off of the actual Emmy ballot, so we can’t consider people who didn’t submit themselves, nor can we reassign anyone to a more suitable or easier category.

We’re up to our final acting category, with Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Dan’s predictions are here, and my preferences are coming right up…

In years past, I often had trouble filling out a full ballot for this category’s comedy counterpart. This year, though, I had more comedy actresses than I knew what to do with, while I ultimately didn’t have six names I was happy putting down here.

Two of my picks from last year weren’t eligible, as “Friday Night Lights” ended (and even if I liked “American Horror Story,” it’s somehow eligible as a miniseries) and Lauren Graham submitted as a supporting actress this year. A third, Anna Torv, fell off my ballot because I stopped watching “Fringe” fairly early this season, and I don’t feel comfortable choosing actors where I didn’t watch a representative enough sample of their work. I’m sure Glenn Close was good on “Damages” last season, but I only saw the premiere; similarly, I only watched 3 or 4 episodes of “Once Upon a Time,” and 2 of “Revenge,” so no one from those shows was seriously considered. And other performers where I watched all the work wound up elsewhere, like Romola Garai from “The Hour,” which was submitted as a miniseries (even though, like “Downton Abbey” a year ago, a sequel series has already been commissioned).

Ultimately, I was able to come up with six names I felt satisfied with, but it took almost as long to do that as it took to winnow down more than two dozen drama supporting actors into the same six.

Then again, there’s such a clear frontrunner for this category that it may not even matter. Unless Emmy voters somehow fail to nominate her the way the SAG voters did, Claire Danes has to be a lock to win, right? The only knock I could even come close to making about her performance on “Homeland” as mentally unstable CIA analyst Carrie Mathison is that it’s not particularly subtle, but some roles call for big, broad acting, and this is one of them. There was no ignoring Danes on this show, no missing just how frayed and smart and terrified Carrie was, and how difficult it was for her to accept that no one else believed her about Sgt. Brody. If she gets nominated, she wins, and deservedly. But the SAG snub still puzzles me.

Elisabeth Moss kept herself in the lead actress race even though screentime-wise this season, she definitely fell far behind Jessica Paré (whom I liked at times, but not enough to vote for her). When called upon, though, she responded, as Peggy dealt with disappointment both personal (Abe’s non-proposal) and professional (Don literally throwing money at her) before finally finding the strength to stand on her own. The panic many “Mad Men” fans had over the idea of Peggy leaving the show is a testament to how important that character has become, but also to the superb work Moss does, episode after episode, season after season.

I still ask myself whether Showtime would have been better off submitting “Shameless” as a comedy a year ago, but what’s done is done, and it’ll be treated as a drama for the rest of its run. And the show’s best performance, by Emmy Rossum, continues to exist largely on the show’s serious side. Rossum is asked to do so much on that show – this year adding Fiona’s self-destructive streak to her more fiery, protective side – and carry so much of the story, and the emotional weight, and she does it all. Despite her name making for lots of pun-filled headlines, though, I fear Emmy voters are never going to notice this show (the Emmys in general aren’t great about acknowledging fiction about poor people), but she’s easily giving one of the best dramatic performances by any woman on television.

I’m not sure exactly when Alicia Florrick ceased to be my favorite part of “The Good Wife,” but that’s less the fault of reigning Emmy winner Julianna Margulies than of the abundance of juicy supporting and guest characters. Much of the time, Margulies is being asked to play straight woman to Alan Cumming, Michael J. Fox, Archie Panjabi and company, which she does excellently. And when the opportunity is there for her to do more – to wander through the house where Alicia used to live with Peter and the kids and reflect on the good and bad memories of that time, or to do battle with her mother-in-law (see below) – she more than rises to the challenge.

There was such an avalanche of contenders for the drama supporting actor category that I completely forgot about Sean Berdy from “Switched at Birth,” whom Fienberg made a good case for. In this less crowded field, it was easier to remember his frequent scene partner Katie Leclerc, who fits Dan’s “this isn’t a great performance by a hearing-impaired performer, but a great performance, period” descriptor. That show’s stories about deaf culture were always more compelling to me than the soapier material, not only because it’s more novel for TV, but because Leclerc and Berdy were doing such good work in playing these two characters who were so at ease with each other, and so tentative around all the hearing people who had swooped into their lives. Leclerc won’t be nominated (Emmy voters don’t know ABC Family exists), but she’s more than deserving.

There are a lot of different kinds of performances on my list of six, and Kerry Washington‘s work on “Scandal” is one I’d consider a good old-fashioned star performance. Shonda Rhimes let her play a wide range of emotions as elite Washington fixer Olivia Pope, but ultimately the role is about giving Washington a chance to display a level of charisma that her movie roles have never really exploited. “Scandal” isn’t a great show, but it’s a fun one, in large part because of the chance to watch Washington take command of scene after scene.

Others considered: Michelle Dockery from “Downton Abbey,” Mireille Enos from “The Killing,” Olga Kurylenko from “Magic City,” Jessica Paré from “Mad Men,” Ellen Pompeo from “Grey’s Anatomy,” Katey Sagal from “Sons of Anarchy.”

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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