The diversity of shows represented in the lead drama actress Emmy race — from the sudsy antics of “Empire” to the clone club fantasy of “Orphan Black” — underscores how the field is wide open this year. Viola Davis made history last year as the first African-American to prevail in the category for her tour de force debut in ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.” This time around, “Murder” doesn’t have the same momentum going into final judging. Emmy watchers think 2016 could be the year for “House of Cards” pillar Robin Wright, who has nabbed four consecutive noms but has yet to win.
Viola Davis is still the favorite. Although there was less chatter about the bravado of “Murder” anti-heroine Annalise Keating in season two, Davis still can assemble a hell of a clip reel of Keating delivering razor-sharp observations about the human condition in stentorian tones. Robin Wright, on the other hand, virtually took over “House of Cards” in its fourth season as first lady-turned-veep Claire Underwood’s conniving antics became that much more central to her husband’s survival as commander-in-chief. The underdog to watch in this race is two-time past winner Claire Danes, who had a crazy-good fifth season on “Homeland.”
The Case for Davis
That voice, those eyes, that command of the stage. Davis brings all of her well-honed skill and confidence to playing a character she dearly loves. Legal scholar Keating is brilliant, temperamental, sexy, angry, and vulnerable. She’s anything but the second- and third-banana parts that Davis was relegated to for so many years. And the character only grew more complex in the show’s second season. Auds met Keating’s ex-girlfriend (Famke Janssen) and discovered the tragic backstory behind the loss of her unborn child. With Davis at the wheel, “Murder” transcends even its weakest material to keep us coming back for more.
The Case for Wright
“House of Cards’” very own Lady Macbeth is due for her moment in the spotlight. Wright’s Claire Underwood maneuvered so much throughout season four that she left her conniving husband, Frank, in the lurch — until she decided to rejoin his cause for the sake of — what else — winning.
She negotiated with extremists, she joined her husband on the ticket as VP, and she took time to help her mother die with dignity in a move that conveniently also boosted her own fortunes. Wright’s steely resolve has grounded Claire’s outrageous antics for four seasons. Nobody would demand a recount if voters gave her the gold.
Claire Danes (“Homeland”)
The former champ achieved the seemingly impossible by bringing new layers to Carrie Mathison’s trademark intensity in a strong season for the Showtime drama.
Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”)
She won the Golden Globe in January, and Cookie Lyon lived even larger in season two of the Fox smash.
Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”)
After two seasons of “snubs,” Maslany broke into Emmy contention last year, and the woman of 1,000 faces took the BBC America drama to new heights of popularity in its fourth season.
The stony exterior of Elizabeth Jennings cracked in season four to reveal a woman of wildly conflicting allegiances and impulses regarding her family, landing Russell her first nom.–