Part 2 of our journey through the Emmy ballot brings us to Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. As always, Fienberg will attempt to rank the contenders from most likely to least likely to be nominated, throwing in a bunch of preferential wild cards along the way. And, as always, I will pretend that I am an actual Academy member who has a ballot and therefore has to narrow his choices down to six people.
Same rules apply: we are working off of the actual Emmy ballot, so we can’t nominate people who didn’t submit themselves (like Maisie Williams from “Game of Thrones”), and we have to consider people in the category they submitted themselves for, even if that means supporting actors submitting as leads (Rob Lowe, every year) or vice versa (Amy Schumer as supporting for a show that’s named after her). I’m also obviously limiting myself to shows where I watched enough this season to feel comfortable picking names. (I fell way behind on “Grey’s Anatomy,” for instance, which is a show that usually produces several contenders for this category.)
Dan’s exhaustive analysis is embedded below (click Launch Gallery to see it), and my picks are coming right up.
Yesterday, I said that no nomination (or, God help us, win) would make me happier than Michael Cudlitz from “Southland.” But Monica Potter for her work on this season of “Parenthood” would be way up there. Where Cudlitz is an actor I’ve often liked but never seen him give this level of performance, Potter is a performer whose characters I usually tend to dislike. Working on a Jason Katims show tends to do wonders for actors, though, and Potter’s usual brittleness has here been tempered by an extreme sense of warmth and empathy. The breast cancer arc Potter’s Kristina went through is pretty standard awards show bait, but she and the writers made it into great awards show bait, and after a certain point I knew that tissues would be required, and welcome, for that week’s viewing of any Kristina/Adam scene. With the glut of great cable dramas, “Parenthood” has all but been ignored by the Emmys (its lone nominee: Jason Ritter for guest actor last season); I would hope that the hype for this arc allows Potter to crack the field, even if she should arguably be competing as a lead. (Peter Krause is the only submitted lead for the show.)
Some years, I attempt to deal with the glut of potential nominees by instituting a “only one nominee per show per category” rule for myself. This is not one of those years. I already had two “Breaking Bad” actors on my list yesterday, and here I’m going to include Potter’s co-star Mae Whitman, who carried the season’s other strongest plotline: Amber getting involved with an Afghanistan veteran suffering from PTSD. Like Potter, Whitman brings an enormous sense of vulnerability to the table, so that I feel protective of Amber in a way I don’t of most fictional TV characters I otherwise like. Whitman, like most of her co-stars, is called on to cry quite a bit, but with her it always feels real and honest and not like the work of a show that is diabolical at manipulating your emotions. (Even though it is.)
And we’ve got another pair of co-stars in Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey from “Game of Thrones.” Clarke was so poorly-served by the writers in season 2 that fans of the show began asking if she was actually a terrible actress and we just hadn’t noticed the first year. As it turns out, she’s a great actress who can’t do anything with whining about her dragons (though that at least inspired this), but who is flat-out amazing when she gets to be in command, as Daenerys has been throughout this season’s journey across Essos. The scene where Dany acquires her slave army is among the most chilling, awe-inspiring you’ll watch all year, and she was plenty great even in less hyperbolic moments. Headey, meanwhile, continues to find the person inside the villain that is Cersei Lannister, and she got to do some fine work as the queen regent realized just how little influence she had over both her father and her monster of a son.
Anna Gunn was at the center of the most memorable image of “Breaking Bad” season 5.0: Skyler, fully-clothed, floating calmly in the White family pool, considering what a relief it would be if she stayed under the water until she no longer had to think about how she was trapped in a marriage to a monster like Walter White. But beyond looking cool and disturbing underwater, Gunn got to do her usual great work playing Skyler’s internal struggle, which has only gotten tougher the more brazen Walt has become about who he is, what he wants, and how little say Skyler has in the matter.
Our last selection is an actress I’d never really noticed before “Rectify.” I’d seen Adelaide Clemens in small roles in the past, but not enough to remember her beyond “the one who isn’t Carey Mulligan or Michelle Williams.” I will not forget her after her work in the Sundance Channel series, which blew me away. What seemed in the show’s first hours to be a minor part – the wife of the main character’s stepbrother, whom he had never met – became one of the show’s emotional centers, as Clemens’ Tawney pushed Aden Young’s Daniel to be born again, hoping he could find the peace through Christ that she had. It’s the kind of character that could very easily fall into stereotype, if not outright caricature, but Clemens found a level of strength, decency and hope in Tawney that made her scenes with Young absolutely gorgeous to watch.
Others considered: Abigail Spencer, Kelly Macdonald, Kate Mara, Caroline Dhavernas, Christine Baranski, Jennifer Carpenter, Natalie Dormer, Christina Hendricks, Kiernan Shipka, Melissa Leo, Sharon Gless, Annet Mahendru, Gretchen Mol, Maggie Smith, Bellamy Young
What does everybody else think? Who would your top 6 be in this category?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com
PREVIOUSLY: Supporting Actor in a Drama