Jalal’s Take: Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Jalal Haddad takes a look at the Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy race in a series of posts leading up to the Emmy nomination announcement on July 14th. Over the next few weeks, Jalal will be providing his own expert analysis in individual races and covering the top ten contenders in each category.


1. Viola Davis (Annalise Keating), How to Get Away With Murder

Viola Davis became the front runner the second that ABC released their first trailer for HWTGAWM two years ago, and she’s gone on to win every peer popular vote for her role as Annalise Keating ever since (An Emmy and two SAG awards). Actors love her and there are very few other actresses that can break her winning streak. Some critics were bored with the second season, but as long as the show remains a hit she’ll be the front runner for the Emmy.


2. Robin Wright (Claire Underwood), House of Cards

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Season four was all about Claire Underwood even more than it was about her husband, President Frank Underwood. She took on her mom, her husband, the president of Russia, and just about anyone else who stepped in her way. Voters are going to be even more impressed with Wright when they realize she directed almost a third of the season. Robin Wright is the only actress with any chance of beating Davis. After dominating the entire season Claire joins her husband in his breaking of the fourth wall, and voters are going to feel very conflicted on who to vote for.


3. Juliana Margulies (Alicia Florrick), The Good Wife

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Photo courtesy of CBS.

Emmy voters aren’t going to ignore Juliana Margulies in the final season of a show for which she has won two Emmys over the past six years. They’ve left her out in the past, but that was probably a result of being dismissed as an obvious favorite in a crowded category. Even though the network drama has been dismissed in the past in favor of cable TV, fans of Juliana are going to rally behind her in her final season. If her ten previous nominations are any indicator, she has a lot of support.


4. Claire Danes (Carrie Mathison), Homeland

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Photo courtesy of Showtime.

Claire Danes’ performance as a bipolar CIA operations officer is looked at as one of the most iconic performances of the 21st century even as the show goes in questionable directions plot-wise. She has been nominated for all four seasons and until there is some sort of hint that voters have moved on (like she or the ensemble being dropped at SAG), she is just about assured of another nomination.


5. Taraji P. Henson (Cookie Lyon), Empire

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Photo courtesy of Fox.

Empire was the most buzzed about new show last year, but voters largely ignored the show aside from a nomination for Taraji P. Henson’s heavily celebrated performance. Now that the show has lost a lot of that steam, she is one of the more vulnerable actresses in danger of not returning. Lucky for her voters will probably continue to embrace her for a consistently strong performance and continuously being the most entertaining person at just about every awards show and interview.


6. Kerry Washington (Olivia Pope), Scandal

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Photo courtesy of ABC.

Emmy voters dropped Washington last year after two nominations after a lot of fans felt the show jumped the shark. The show still isn’t the ratings juggernaut that it used to be but it has regained some of that attention for following the election year throughout the season. Especially with Olivia’s shocking scene involving a chair she has the potential to sneak back into the lineup. Especially since she will be one of the first names on some of the ballots.


7. Shiri Appleby (Rachel Goldberg), UnReal

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Photo courtesy of Lifetime.

Critics have been championing Shiri Appleby’s performance as a mentally unstable producer of a Bachelor-esque reality show, and it’s the type of breakthrough performance that Emmy voters should be celebrating. She should be the a frontrunner in the category, but voters have proven time and time again they are willing to ignore any show on a network like Lifetime, especially shows that don’t focus on men. If Appleby is nominated by the acting branch, it will show that the academy’s outreach to younger voters is working.


8. Vera Farmiga (Norma Bates), Bates Motel 

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Photo courtesy of A&E.

ADTV has been Vera Farmiga’s biggest cheerleader for her work on Bates Motel. Season four probably gave Farmiga her strongest material since the first season (when she was last nominated), and bloggers and critics have kept her in the competition since that shocking finale last May. Voters proved that they are willing to put aside their genre and network bias when they nominated her for the first season and if the buzz convinces them to return to the show she could easily sneak back into the category.


9. Tatiana Maslany (Multiple Characters), Orphan Black

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Photo courtesy of BBC America.

Tatiana Maslany’s surprise nomination last year was the best example of a successful campaign by critics and fans incessantly championing a performance from a small show. It took three seasons to convince voters to seek out Maslany’s performance of an eclectic group of clones, but it eventually paid off after SAG voters took the first step. Most voters probably didn’t stick with the show after the plot became increasingly complicated and boring. Many of them will probably return to actors from stronger shows.


10. Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Pulpy crime shows like Jessica Jones aren’t the typical types of programs that attract Emmy voters, but Netflix has been heavily campaigning the show, especially Ritter’s lead performance. Just about every industry website has featured full ads for the show. Even if the show wasn’t on the radar of many voters they will at least remember Ritter when they go to fill out their ballots. A nomination is unlikely, but if Netflix is really successful with their massive campaign anything could happen.

Worth Mentioning: Michelle Dockery, Eva Green, Laura Carmichael, Taylor Schilling, Keri Russell, Gillian Anderson, Carrie Coon

While compiling my top ten I continuously questioned including so many prior nominees. With the buzz around Homeland and Empire fading I’m particularly curious to see of Danes and Henson make the cut next year. The more time goes by I’m convinced an upset could happen by Appleby or Farmiga (particularly Appleby). Readers, what do you think? Should I follow my gut and move up Appleby or will voters once again prove they are creatures of habit and continue to nominate their usual lawyers and politicians?

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