Emmys: Checking In on the Close Race For Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama

We’re continuing to examine the Emmy races, and Lead Actress in a Drama is another tight one. That said, there is a clear top-tier, mid-tier, and a lot of actresses that simply won’t make the cut. We’ll break down those tiers, and give some picks.

First up, there’s undeniable momentum for two top actresses. First is Elisabeth Moss, who looks like she’s on a rocket ship to the Emmy stage. Her turn in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a critical darling, and the show’s success largely rests on Moss. She shows a vulnerability in the face of oppression that makes the show feel real. Moss is widely regarded for her longevity in television, first emerging in the public eye in “The West Wing” in 1999. The role set her up in a recurring spot on one of the prestige dramas, and in 2007 that exposure helped her land “Mad Men” on AMC. She almost won an Emmy for “Top of the Lake” a few years ago as well. With the track record and overdue factor here, Moss makes a strong case for the trophy.

While Moss seems like the favorite to win, don’t count out Claire Foy. Foy is the heartbeat and soul of potential Drama series winner “The Crown” and audiences love her performance as Queen Elizabeth II. Foy’s evolution as a character may be the most subtle, yet complex character arc for any actress this Emmy season. What is most amazing about Foy’s turn that she makes the Queen of England feel real and relatable. Foy already took home the Golden Globe and SAG awards for her performance. Emmy voters have had her name checked off for months. Foy emerged as a star during “Wolf Hall” in 2015, so she also has a track record to remind voters about. Foy vs. Moss feels like the battle we’ll be watching in the coming weeks.

That said, you can’t count out recent Emmy breakthrough Keri Russell from “The Americans” on FX. While Emmy voters may love the two actresses from the freshman shows, Russell has four seasons of overdue material in her current role. Russell has been lauded as one of the best actresses on television for her performance as Elizabeth, a Russian spy in America during the 1980s. It is an incredibly showy role, with Russell often transforming several times an episode to complete her missions. It’s also a role that gives her the ability to be a warm and caring mother, while simultaneously letting her coldly murder a target. Russell finally got her first nomination last year, and Emmy voters may feel like it is her time for gold.

While those actresses establish a strong top tier, there are several actresses that appear likely to fill out the nominations. One of those actresses is Robin Wright. Wright has been brilliant on “House of Cards” since its inception, and it is amazing she hasn’t won for her performance. She is also a star that transcends television, with her recent role in “Wonder Woman” pushing her front and center. On paper, Wright should be in the top tier making a run at a win for the category. However, the critical reception to the most recent season of “House of Cards” makes it feel like the show is on the decline again. If voters agree, can Wright remain the Teflon actress she’s been, or could she fall victim to the crowded field?

One actress that is in the “Keri Russell” role of the last few Emmy seasons is Carrie Coon. Coon has been a tour de force on “The Leftovers” since it debuted, yet has not received an Emmy nomination for the first two seasons. However, Coon has a lot more moving in her favor this year. First, HBO is focusing on “The Leftovers” in this year’s drama race, especially without “Game of Thrones” in the mix. Second, the final season of the show was a critical darling and received nearly universal praise. Finally, the show ends with an episode about her character, Nora. She’s also pulling double duty in “Fargo” this year, so Coon is highly visible to Emmy voters. All of this should point toward a nomination, but the Emmys haven’t noticed her before. For that reason alone, stay cautious.

Viola DavisThe last spot in the category is essentially a five-way toss up featuring former winners, veterans, and newcomers. Right now, Viola Davis seems like she’ll grab another nomination on the heels of her Oscar victory.  Emmy voters have already rewarded Davis for her talent, but with her show sliding, there’s a chance she doesn’t pull through. The same can be said of Taraji P. Henson, who has grabbed nominations each of the last two years. Again, the show’s weakness versus fresh new shows puts Henson at a disadvantage, but Henson seems resistant to the negative attitudes about her show. Evan Rachel Wood is another actress coming from a buzzy show, but it’s not clear she’s impressed voters enough. Her role isn’t as showy as some of her co-stars, yet she’s undeniably the center of the series. If voters like the show, they might go for her as well.

Perhaps the most interesting two contenders are the veterans of political series. While “The Good Fight” is a freshman show, Christine Baranski is an Emmy darling you can never count out. Baranski is the definition of overdue for her tremendous work, and while she took home an Emmy in 1995, she’s been on a Meryl Streep-like run since then. She has 15 nominations, with 10 coming since 2009. “The Good Fight” is also a spin-off of her role in “The Good Wife” which earned her six nominations for playing Diane Lockhart. For some voters, they won’t even need to see “The Good Fight” to know she’s worthy, so don’t be surprised if Baranski comes in hot into the melee.

Last but not least is Claire Danes, who is the sole potential nominee with multiple wins under her belt. While many had written off “Homeland” coming into last season, Danes proved Carrie Mathison still had some juice in the tank and powered the show to series and Lead Actress nominations. It is tough to bet against Danes grabbing another slot in the category, but overall there’s been a cooling on “Homeland” over the past few months. With buzz almost non-existent, can she make it through one more time?

Overall, the lead actress drama category is one of the busiest categories in years. These top 10 can stack up against any in Emmy history and showcases the expansion of these roles for women in 2017. What amazing is that so many amazing performances have almost no chance at all. Ruth Negga, Rose McIver, and Rachel Keller showcased women based on absurdist comic series. Mandy Moore will likely fall short for “This is Us” and its huge ensemble. Both Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishe carry “Halt and Catch Fire,” but critics may be the only ones watching. Speaking of multiple leads in a show, it is a travesty that no one pushed Rutina Wesley and Dawn-Lyen Gardner for their roles on “Queen Sugar” from Ava DuVernay.

Katherine Langford is like a populist pick for “13 Reasons Why” but it’s hard to break through this year. Netflix stablemate Brit Marling will likely suffer the same fate. Ruth Wilson can’t seem to gain any traction this year and will be left out again. All of this showcases there is way too much TV to get to, and the field this year is stacked. Unfortunately, that means some will fall short, despite brilliant performances.

What do you think? Who is your dream nominee for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama series? Let us know in the comments below! 

What do you think?

AC Fan

Written by Alan French

Alan French is a movie buff, a TV lover, and a sports fanatic. His favorite TV shows are 'Parks and Recreation,' 'Rick and Morty' and 'Game of Thrones.' He's also a Spielberg fanatic. You can find him on Twitter and Medium @TheAlanFrench.


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