The Television Academy of Arts & Sciences released this year's Emmy ballots on Monday. Now that the ballots are out, it's time for our annual two-pronged experiment, in which Dan tries to predict the likeliest nominees in each major category, while I pretend that I'm an actually TV Academy member and pick the six nominees that would make me the happiest.
We are, as always, playing by the Emmy rules, which means we can't argue for someone who didn't submit themselves (say, Donald Glover for “Community”), can't move someone from lead to supporting or vice versa, and can't declare that “True Detective” is a miniseries and therefore clear more room in the drama categories. I'm also obviously limited by what I watched and what I haven't. I think I saw maybe three episodes of “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” this season, for instance, and while I like the show a lot, the sample size wasn't enough.
Today's category is Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Dan's analysis is here, and mine is coming right up.
Last year, Anna Gunn finally broke through and won an Emmy for her harrowing work as Skyler White on “Breaking Bad,” relying on a dynamite submission episode in “Fifty-One” (aka “Skyler Goes Swimming”). She has an equally great option from the final run of eight episodes in “Buried,” in which Skyler has to deal with her sister and brother-in-law's questions about her husband's business. For that matter, she could submit “Granite State,” which aired the night she won her first Emmy, or “Ozymandias” (which is more of a Walt episode but has Skyler at the center of the series' single most devastating scene) and still likely walk away with a second one. Some of the fans didn't like Skyler, but the show's writers very clearly did, and they teamed up with Gunn for a slew of incredible moments before closing the curtain.
I spent much of the first season of “The Americans” fearing that Nina would be killed off, both because she was a sympathetic character in an impossible situation and because Annet Mahendru was giving such a fascinating, nuanced performance as this woman lying to everyone to try to save herself. Fortunately, Nina survived into the second season, and Mahendru's work only grew more riveting and mysterious, to the point where even people who work on the show get into arguments about the character's true loyalties at any given moment in time.
There have been years when it seemed like Christine Baranski got nominated less for her work on “The Good Wife” (in seasons when she didn't have a lot to do) than because she was Emmy Darling Christine Baranski. That would definitely not be the case this year, with the show coming off its best season and Baranski coming off her own. Whether dealing with Alicia and Cary's betrayal, the death of a close friend or a series of dismaying professional twists of fate, Baranski was a delight: cutting and funny at times, heartbreaking at others.
You could fill five of the six spots in this category with “Game of Thrones” actresses without any of them seeming undeserving. But the best of the bunch this season was Lena Headey. She continually finds the humanity hidden underneath Cersei's haughty, evil exterior, to the point where you can appreciate the depths of her feelings for her monstrous son, and even on some level her hatred for the otherwise hugely sympathetic Tyrion. It's been a great performance throughout the series, but she was particularly good this year.
I can roll my eyes a lot at the seemingly inexhaustible life of “The Killing” (season 4 coming soon to a Netflix queue near you!), but the show has always been good on the performance end, and the third season introduced me to the previously-unknown Bex Taylor-Klaus, who became the secret ingredient the show never really had with the Rosie Larsen: a very human, complicated, sympathetic face for the crime. It was a standout performance that has understandably led to a bunch of other work for Taylor-Klaus, including a recurring role on a show featuring my last selection.
For this final spot, I thought long and hard about the various women of “Parenthood” (though I wasn't always crazy about the writing of the Joel/Julia arc this season, for instance, Erika Christensen was excellent in it), about Bellamy Young from “Scandal” and a few others. But I decided to go another way and pick Emily Bett Rickards from “Arrow,” who was so appealing from her first appearance as nervous hacker Felicity Smoak that the show essentially reconfigured itself around her, turning a brooding solo hero story into a somewhat lighter series about a team of crimefighters where Felicity is the eyes, ears and brains. Rickards isn't asked to emote on the scale of somebody like Gunn or Baranski or Headey, but it's the perfect performance on the show she's on, and when she has to do something complicated (like, say, Felicity's reaction to the truth of Oliver's plan in the season 2 finale), she nails it.
What does everybody else think? What would be your ideal top 6?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org