Emmy Episode Analysis: Will Movie Actresses Dominate at The Emmys?

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Countless film actresses have moved to television to chase the great storytelling and characters people invite in their homes on a weekly basis. Look no further than the three lead actress races at the Emmys to illustrate this. In fact, six Oscar winners have turned up in this category. Will any of these ladies add “E” to their “EGOT”? Only time will tell.

Each Comedy and Drama Actress nominee submits one episode to be judged on. In the Miniseries category, actresses are judged by the whole season. We will continue to delve into these categories each Friday until the Emmys.

Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.

Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series

Viola Davis as Annalise Keating in “How to Get Away with Murder” for “Wes”

IMDB Synopsis: Annalise and the Keating 4 see how far they’ll go to keep themselves safe as the night of the fire reveals who killed Wes.

There’s little doubt that Viola Davis hails as one of the greatest actors currently working today. Only the Grammy eludes her from becoming the latest performer to EGOT. In fact, Davis holds the distinction of being the only African American winner in this category. That win, for her role on “How to Get Away with Murder” came only two years ago. While Davis gets a typically bombastic and emotional episode with “Wes,” the Shondaland novelty of the show has worn off. There’s little new to her character, even as she struggles with her addictions and the truth about her student’s death. After winning the Oscar earlier this year, there could be some coattail momentum. However, there are stronger and more buzzed about performances in this category this year.

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in “The Crown” for “Assassins”

IMDB Synopsis: As tensions with Phillip increase, Elizabeth spends time with her old friend Porchey. Churchill’s portrait is painted for his 80th birthday.

Few roles inspire more awards wins than a monarch does. Claire Foy steps up to the plate as she chronicles Queen Elizabeth II and her journey adjusting to the throne. Her submitted episode, “Assassins,” focuses on such pains. Under immense pressure from the public, she finds her husband also scrutinizes her, albeit for a friendly interaction with a man from her past. Foy shows steely resolve as she issues a poised declaration of love to her husband. The episode also ends with her in a powerful speech clothed in full royal garb. “The Crown” seems to be popular with the Emmys and Foy makes an impact. The early frontrunner, Foy faces stiff competition from a fellow nominee from a freshman show, Elisabeth Moss.

Elisabeth Moss as June/Offred in “The Handmaid’s Tale” for “Night”

IMDB Synopsis: When a punishment is handed down for Janine, June and the other handmaids must face the unthinkable. Serena discovers Fred’s secrets. Meanwhile, Moira makes it into Canada.

Elisabeth Moss commands every frame of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” particularly in the submitted finale. Offred’s act of defiance galvanizes and inspires. Moss imbues the character with a steely, revolutionary resolve that is particularly resonate. Much has been made of the topical nature of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The show would not have clicked as much had it not been for Moss’ masterful work at the center. The finale highlights the heroism of her character, the horrors of Gilead, and her highly emotional past. It helps that Moss holds a major Emmy IOU, as she never won for “Mad Men” as Peggy Olsen. With “The Handmaid’s Tale” set to do well this year at the Emmys, Moss seems like the show’s best bet for a win.

Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings in “The Americans” for “Dyatkovo”

IMDB Synopsis: A surprise assignment from the Centre divides Philip and Elizabeth, forcing them into a moment of profound crisis. Stan gives Henry a tour of the FBI — but will he see too much?

As a Soviet spy who poses as an American housewife in the ‘80s, Russell dominates every frame she’s in. Her calm, calculated demeanor shows cracks as a recent job pushes her into a moral quandary. The Emmys love to shower performances that are transformative. Elizabeth dons multiple disguises to go on her perilous missions. This showcases the range and expressiveness in a performance that sometimes can air on the side of chilly. While Russell remains a commanding talent on the show, voters seem to have fallen out of love with “The Americans.” After breaking through last year, with nominations for Drama Series and both Russell and Matthew Rhys in acting, the show fell out of the Drama Series lineup this year.

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores in “Westworld” for “The Bicameral Mind”

IMDB Synopsis: Ford unveils his bold new narrative; Dolores embraces her identity; Maeve sets her plan in motion.

As a robotic creation who discovers her purpose, Wood delivers a performance that is anything but mechanical. The finale puts Wood’s Dolores front and center of the action – both physical and emotional. Dolores carries the twists in the episode. However, Wood’s Dolores falls much more on the science fiction angle of the show. These performances face a more uphill battle at the Emmys. Yet, this didn’t stop Tatiana Maslany from surprising last year in this category. In addition, Foy and Moss have sucked up much of the conversation among new performances. Still, with “Westworld” support prominent, Wood stands an outside shot at spoiling.

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood in “House of Cards” for “Chapter 65”

IMDB Synopsis: In the wake of a surprising announcement, everything at the White House is shaken up. A decision must be made about whether to go to war.

Only moments into her Presidency does Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) have to weigh pardoning her husband and entering into war. It’s a great, high stakes moment from a popular character. Wright has had many opportunities to win before, only to falter at the last minute. “House of Cards” showed early promise, but has yet to net either of its leads an Emmy win. Despite another nomination for Drama Series, many believe the series has shown quite a bit of fatigue. With Claire as President, voters may cast their vote in order to honor a female President. However, with a trio of buzzy new performances, Wright may be passed over for new blood.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Elisabeth Moss – “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  2. Robin Wright – “House of Cards”
  3. Evan Rachel Wood – “Westworld”
  4. Keri Russell – “The Americans”
  5. Claire Foy – “The Crown”
  6. Viola Davis – “How to Get Away with Murder”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Elisabeth Moss – “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  2. Claire Foy – “The Crown”
  3. Robin Wright – “House of Cards”
  4. Evan Rachel Wood – “Westworld”
  5. Viola Davis – “How to Get Away with Murder”
  6. Keri Russell – “The Americans”

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series

Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox in “Better Things” for “Future Fever”

IMDB Synopsis: Sam struggles to connect with Max, taking her out to lunch where she interferes in another couple’s date. Max finally admits to her mother’s friends that she’s afraid she doesn’t have much of a future. Duke takes her savings to the bank.

Pamela Adlon emerges as one of the darkest horses of the Emmy race. Upon Emmy nomination announcement, her FX show perhaps had the lowest profile of any major nominees. However, Adlon delivers in her Emmy episode. Adlon perfectly inhabits the character of Sam Fox, a brash, memorable single mother. In this episode, she deals with her eldest daughter who stresses about getting in to college. The best moment comes as Sam intervenes in a pedantic first date gone bad. While there are other new performances in this category, Adlon is the only performer from a freshman series to break through here. No one has been able to defeat Julia Louis-Dreyfus for the past five years. Could Adlon, who really stands out, be the one to finally defeat her?

Jane Fonda as Grace in “Grace and Frankie” for “The Pot”

IMDB Synopsis: Grace and Frankie continue to argue over the gun incident. Grace, Brianna and Mallory smoke Frankie’s pot before Grace and Frankie settle their fight.

Jane Fonda finally joins her co-star Lily Tomlin in the Best Actress in a Comedy category. After Frankie (Tomlin) leaves the beach house due to Grace’s (Fonda) gun, Grace retaliates by smoking Frankie’s pot. One of the most popular tropes for wins in this category involves actresses accidentally getting drunk/high. Melissa McCarthy recently pulled off a surprise win in this category for a similar episode. Fonda delivers the laughs, as the normally uptight Grace gets high. While Tomlin has received nominations for the first two seasons of “Grace and Frankie,” this is Fonda’s first nomination for the show. This illustrates that, between her and Fonda, the Emmys tend to prefer Tomlin. Still, one cannot count out an actress as esteemed as Fonda, even as a real longshot.

Allison Janney as Bonnie Plunkett in “Mom” for “Tush Push and Some Radishes”

IMDB Synopsis: After Bonnie’s mother dies, Bonnie and Christy discover a big secret she kept.

Allison Janney moves up from the Supporting Actress category to take down Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Much like Dreyfus, Janney also holds seven Emmy wins in the acting categories. If either she or Louis-Deyfus wins this year, they will tie the record holder for most acting Emmy wins, Cloris Leachman. Janney submits quite an episode with “Tush Push and Some Radishes.” Bonnie learns that her birth mother has passed. When emptying her apartment, Bonnie finds a chunk of money, but also more secrets about her mother’s life after she gave Bonnie up for adoption. Janney gets a particularly Emmy-ready scene as she reads a letter at her Mom’s grave. Yet, it isn’t necessarily a comedic performance. Many performances that are more dramatic lose to more simple comedic performances in this category.

Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” for “Kimmy Goes to College”

IMDB Synopsis: Kimmy makes a splash at Columbia University while doing odd jobs to save up for college. Titus sings backup for a controversial musician.

Ellie Kemper adds infinite amounts of sunshine to the lineup. She plays Kimmy Schmidt, an optimistic woman who gains a new lease on life when she is released from the bunker she’s been held captive in. Her season three submission finds Kimmy applying for college. On a task rabbit assignment, she befriends Xan’s college athlete roommates. The episode allows for Kemper to show off many physical and vocal eccentricities with Kimmy. The end also shows how the bunker made her strong, which pays off in a college acceptance. However, the episode feels more slight. There were more noteworthy moments in other episodes for Kemper to shine. With tough competition, she will most likely be an also ran.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer in “Veep” for “Groundbreaking”

IMDB Synopsis: Selina and her team prepare for the long awaited opening of her library.

After five consecutive wins for the role of Selina Meyer, who can stop Julia Louis Dreyfus? The seven time acting Emmy winner Louis-Dreyfus submits yet another great episode with “Groundbreaking.” In the present day, we witness Selina about to break ground on her Presidential library. However, amidst the chaos of this, we get our first flashbacks to both Selina’s early days and her time spent in a mental health clinic following her loss of the Presidency. We see many shades of a character we’ve already followed for six seasons. This stands with the other great episodes Louis-Dreyfus has submitted in the past. However, could voter fatigue keep her from winning six in a row? 

Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow Johnson in “Black-ish” for “Being Bow-Racial”

IMDB Synopsis: Junior gets a white girlfriend which is celebrated by all except Bow. Bow must now confront her own racial issue in order to accept Junior’s new love.

Ross submits the first episode of “Black-ish” centered around Bow’s narrative, rather than Dre’s (Anthony Anderson). When Junior brings home a white girlfriend, Bow delves further into how her mixed race identity manifests itself in her reaction. The episodes showcases a myriad of Ross’ comedic and dramatic gifs. Ross takes Rainbow through the many identity issues she faces as a teenager, college student and adult woman in hilarious fashion. It all culminates in a touching rumination with her Father (Beau Bridges). Ross won the Golden Globes, giving her some momentum. If the tapes were more prominent in the decision making factor, Ross would stand quite a good chance at dethroning Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Lily Tomlin as Frankie in “Grace and Frankie” for “The Burglary”

IMDB Synopsis: After they’re robbed, Frankie is rattled, but Grace has a secret. With Robert in rehearsals and making new friends, Sol feels left out.

Tomlin’s manic antics continue to impress the Emmys. The legendary actress earns her third consecutive Emmy nomination for the role of Frankie, the free-spirited hippie of the titular pair. In the submitted episode, Frankie reels from an attempted burglary in her beach home. This prompts her to take extra safety precautions and attend a self-defense class for senior citizens. Tomlin perfectly brings to life Frankie’s hysterics and eccentricities in both her and Fonda’s episodes. It’s a great double showcase for the revered actress. Granted, Tomlin hasn’t been able to defeat Louis-Dreyfus yet. However, voters clearly enjoy “Grace and Frankie” and Tomlin has been going through a career renaissance. 

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Julia Louis-Dreyfus – “Veep”
  2. Tracee Ellis Ross – “Black-ish”
  3. Ellie Kemper – “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
  4. Pamela Adlon – “Better Things”
  5. Lily Tomlin – “Grace and Frankie”
  6. Allison Janney – “Mom”
  7. Jane Fonda – “Grace and Frankie”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Julia Louis-Dreyfus – “Veep”
  2. Tracee Ellis Ross – “Black-ish”
  3. Allison Janney – “Mom”
  4. Lily Tomlin – “Grace and Frankie”
  5. Ellie Kemper – “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
  6. Jane Fonda – “Grace and Frankie”
  7. Pamela Adlon – “Better Things”

Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries/TV Movie

Carrie Coon as Gloria Burgle in “Fargo”

IMDB Synopsis: Various chronicles of deception, intrigue and murder in and around frozen Minnesota. Yet all of these tales mysteriously lead back one way or another to Fargo, ND.

Few actors have had as good a year as Carrie Coon. Other than giving one of the best performances on TV in “The Leftovers,” Coon also found herself at the center of the popular FX anthology series “Fargo.” Gloria Burgle falls in the category of Marge Gunderson types that populate the series. What separates her is the tougher, internalized strength Coon brings to the character. An episode that finds her in Los Angeles based on clues in her investigation positively radiates with tension and intrigue. Much of this is due to Coon’s expert performance. If both “Feud” and “Big Little Lies” ladies split their votes, Coon stands to benefit the most.

Felicity Huffman as Jeanette Hesby in “American Crime”

IMDB Synopsis: An undocumented Mexican worker discovers modern servitude thriving in an agricultural community; a woman learns the shocking truth behind a family’s wealth; a social worker wants a young prostitute to testify against her pimp in court.

Jeanette wants to use her free time as a housewife to make things better for the workers on her husband’s farm. However, her husband’s family turns on her for siding with the workers. This marks the third consecutive nomination for Huffman in this series. Unfortunately, it also marks the weakest role she’s gotten to date on the show. Jeanette means well and tries to help where she can, but she’s got much less depth or narrative relevance than Huffman’s other roles on the show. Season three marks the final season of ABC’s crime anthology. Voters clearly admire the show as they’ve rewarded Regina King twice in a row for her performance. If they are incredibly attached to it, they may want to reward Huffman for the final season.

Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright in “Big Little Lies”

IMDB Synopsis: The apparently perfect lives of three mothers of first graders unravel to the point of murder.

Where does one start with Nicole Kidman’s performance as Celeste? The Oscar winning actress utterly devours her role as a seemingly perfect Monterey housewife. The cracks in her facade fade as the domestic abuse her marriage is built on takes an undue tole on her. The scenes between her and her therapist (the magnificent Robin Weigert) are a master class in acting. It all culminates in an explosive finale that yet again cements Kidman as one of the all time greatest actresses. Her role has dominated Emmy chatter and would be an easy win, if not for the exemplary work done by her co-worker (and co-producer) Reese Witherspoon. Vote splitting could open her up to a loss. However, she remains the frontrunner.

Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford in “Feud: Bette and Joan”

IMDB Synopsis: An anthology series centering on famous feuds, including Bette Davis & Joan Crawford.

While the show may have been titled “Feud: Bette and Joan,” the narrative was very tilted towards Joan. The show delves into Crawford’s insecure psyche and how a late in her career hit only further exacerbated her internal demons. The last episodes in particular depict Crawford in her final years, which is where Lange’s work really shines. However, the earlier episodes seem as if Lange is in another “American Horror Story,” rather than playing Joan Crawford. Lange has seen quite the revival on TV, particularly with Ryan Murphy (one of the creators of “Feud”). Over the past decade, Lange has won three Emmys, two from “American Horror Story,” created by Murphy. Emmys surely love her, regardless of the quality of the show around her. Even with a performance as towering as Kidman’s, voters may feel more comfortable voting for Lange, especially playing a famous movie star.

Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis in “Feud: Bette and Joan”

IMDB Synopsis: An anthology series centering on famous feuds, including Bette Davis & Joan Crawford.

Bette Davis beat Joan Crawford to be the only Oscar acting nominee for “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Will this help Sarandon beat Lange here? Bette Davis remains a gregarious, famous figure in film history. Sarandon captures this vibrancy and take no prisoner attitude. Her performance particularly soars earlier in the series as we watch Davis on the set of the film. However, the show seems to be weighted towards her co-star, Lange, as Joan Crawford. Still, Oscar winner Sarandon, much like Davis, knows how to steal scenes. If voters are feuding between who to pick, fans of both Davis and Sarandon’s filmography may lean towards her.

Reese Witherspoon as Madeline Martha McKenzie in “Big Little Lies”

IMDB Synopsis: The apparently perfect lives of three mothers of first graders unravel to the point of murder.

The Reese-surgence continues in glorious fashion with “Big Little Lies.” As the Type-A Mom-ster Madeline, Witherspoon goes deeper into examining the woman’s insatiable desire for perfection. As the show progresses, we see Madeline’s family life, including the relationship with her daughter, tested. Witherspoon conjures up substantial amounts of empathy for Madeline in between zingers. The show starts with a bang as we are greeted with Witherspoon’s boundless, insatiable energy. For those who don’t have time to watch the whole season, they will take instant recognition of Witherspoon. She carries the first couple episodes, while Kidman carries the latter. This could nab her some votes and make her a dark horse.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Nicole Kidman – “Big Little Lies”
  2. Reese Witherspoon – “Big Little Lies”
  3. Susan Sarandon – “Feud: Bette and Joan”
  4. Jessica Lange – “Feud: Bette and Joan”
  5. Carrie Coon – “Fargo”
  6. Felicity Huffman – “American Crime”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Nicole Kidman – “Big Little Lies”
  2. Jessica Lange – “Feud: Bette and Joan”
  3. Carrie Coon – “Fargo”
  4. Reese Witherspoon – “Big Little Lies”
  5. Susan Sarandon – “Feud: Bette and Joan”
  6. Felicity Huffman – “American Crime”

Who do you think will win the Actress categories at the Emmys? Share with us in the comments.