Road to the Emmys: The Actress - Drama

This year’s roster for nominees is procedural heavy, with four of the six noms lauded for their work on legal and detective series.

From Kathy Bates’ cantankerous patent attorney on “Harry’s Law,” to Mariska Hargitay’s tough-as-nails sex crime investigator on “Law & Order: SVU” (NBC), to Julianna Margulies’ turn as a litigator reclaiming her career in the wake of her husband’s political sex scandal in “The Good Wife,” the female characters in this category aren’t wont for guts, gusto or self-determination.

Contenders Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) and Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) may not wrangle with the American justice system in their roles, but they fight daily battles on the work and home fronts. Emmy has taken a shine to third-time nom Moss, whose character cleverly circumnavigates the dicey world of 1960’s sexual mores. Britton, who plays the long-suffering wife of a football coach in a small Texas town where wins and losses are everything, is nominated for the second year in a row.

Bates, Hargitay and Margulies have a collective pile of past Emmy noms for tough-girl roles – Hargitay won the lead actress prize in 2006 and Margulies earned hers for “ER” back in 1995 — but it’s Emmy’s inclusion of first-timer Mireille Enos, who plays a willful homicide detective on AMC’s “The Killing,” that further proves the Academy is far more interested in feisty femmes than they are in wilting flowers.

Kathy Bates
“Harry’s Law” (NBC)
Best scene: In the season finale Bates and co-star Nate Corddry run over the day’s events as the lights dramatically fade to black. The setting and tone is decidedly theatrical, a likely homage to Bates’ extensive Broadway career.
Why she might win: Bates’ career dates back to the early ’70s but she’s newly finding stardom. She’s forever sassy, always believable, and plays the curmudgeonly Harry with utmost comfort and ease.
Maybe not: Critics were not bowled over by the series’ first season, and ratings after starting well began to drop. Voters might wait to see if “Harry” sticks around before gifting her with an Emmy.

Connie Britton
“Friday Night Lights” (NBC/DirecTV)
Best scene: Britton’s character is at odds with Eric (Kyle Chandler) over a job she’s been offered in Philadelphia. When members of the local booster club come to the door to persuade Coach to take over a superteam, Britton’s character manages a happy face, but she pulls Chandler aside to make things clear: After 18 years of following him wherever his career took their family, she’s ready to reclaim her own life.
Why she might win: The acclaimed series that so often hung on the precipice of cancellation has come to the end. Britton has consistently impressed critics and this is her character’s swan song. Emmy might reward Britton not only for her perf, but also as a lasting tribute to the show itself.
Maybe not: Though it’s not a series solely about football, some voters who have never paid attention may not grasp that concept and write it off as a generic sports sudser.

Mireille Enos
“The Killing” (AMC)
Best scene: In the penultimate episode, Enos is in the apartment of mayoral candidate Darren Richmond. When she sees a series of email come across his computer, she has reason to believe he is Rosie Larsen’s murderer.
Why she might win: There have been few TV cops as interesting Enos’ Sarah Linden, a woman so obsessed with her job that she blows off her upcoming marriage and is constantly neglecting her teenage son.
Maybe not: While the season started strong, many critics and viewers were outraged when the murder mystery wasn’t wrapped up in the finale. Though that wasn’t Enos’ fault, of course, voters may take out their frustration on her.

Mariska Hargitay
“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (NBC)
Best scene: In “Bang,” Hargitay’s character boldly confronts guest star John Stamos, playing a smug, self-obsessed venture capitalist-cum-sociopath who manipulates a string of women into having his baby.
Why she might win: It’s Hargitay’s eighth consecutive bid in the category and five years since her 2006 win. She’s clearly got footing here and voters could sense that enough time has passed to award her a second time.
Maybe not: Because she’s the only nominee with a prior win in the category, the Acad might opt to look at one of the other equally deserved contenders.

Julianna Margulies
“The Good Wife” (CBS)
Best scene: In the episode “In Sickness,” Margulies discovers that her colleague and close friend has bedded her philandering husband. In that same episode, she’s forced to tell her children that she and their father are getting divorced.
Why she might win: In an era of sordid sex scandals, Margulies’ outstanding work has hit a collective chord with critics and given viewers food for thought when it comes to politicians’ often dysfunctional families.
Maybe not: Though Margulies is “The Good Wife,” it’s her exceptional cast who sometimes receive more headlines for their characters’ often salacious exploits.

Elisabeth Moss
“Mad Men” (AMC)
Best scene: In the two-hander episode “The Suitcase,” Moss’ inebriated copywriter comforts sobbing ad exec boss Jon Hamm, for whom she’s had a lingering (and long suppressed) attraction since the series’ first season. Here, their platonic relationship ascends to a level of emotional intimacy unmatched by any of their romantic dalliances.
Why she might win: Moss’ role gets significantly meatier with each season, a series with ever-increasing stamina. It’s Moss’ third time up for consideration in the category and given her consistency of strong perfs, voters might very well deem her primed for a win.
Maybe not: It’s really the most supporting of all the noms here, as compared to the others, who are clearly leads.

ROAD TO THE EMMYS: THE ACTRESS
Bigscreen actresses adjust to TV fame
Drama | Comedy | Movie & Miniseries

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more