No Emmy category demonstrates the wealth of material on TV these days better than lead actress in a drama. The nominees run the gamut and voters have a near-impossible choice of parsing standout performances from actresses working at the top of their game in anything but cookie-cutter roles. In a field this competitive, any one of the nominees could pull it out because voting is likely to be dispersed. But as the clock ticks down to final voting, frontrunner status goes to Elisabeth Moss and Keri Russell.
The Case for Elisabeth Moss
As the reigning champ in the category, “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Elisabeth Moss is the one to beat. The tour-de-force performance that blew the industry away last year only became richer in season two, even if the Hulu series itself came in for some criticism in its sophomore session. The intensity of the storyline for Moss’ Offred in the world of Gilead forced the star at times to bleed out on screen. Moss maintained a steely dignity amid her increasingly brutal imprisonment that is hard to deny. She also delivered more contrasts with an increased focus on Offred’s life as June back in Boston before the civil war that changed everything.
The Case for Keri Russell
Keri Russell’s work in the final season of FX’s “The Americans” was the culmination of a six-season slow burn of a tightly wound woman coming to grips with the crumbling of her world. Voters may opt to reward Russell’s body of work in the critical darling that has oddly never been a big Emmy magnet. From the start, Russell’s Elizabeth Jennings defied convention as the harder, tougher and more ruthless spouse in a sham marriage for espionage purposes that gradually evolved into love, under the most trying of circumstances. A triumph for Russell would also be a hat-tip to the talent and maturation of an actress who got her start while still in her teens.
Claire Foy — The queen of Netflix’s “The Crown” is absolutely regal in her role as Queen Elizabeth II and is easily the toughest competition for Moss and Russell. She limns the difficult task of portraying the public life and private struggles of one of the world’s most recognizable figures.
Tatiana Maslany — The “Orphan Black” star won the prize in 2016 for her incredible versatility in playing a character with so many different faces. A repeat victory for the final season of this BBC America drama seems a long shot even for this hard-working thesp.
Sandra Oh — The standout performance by the “Grey’s Anatomy” alum helped BBC America’s “Killing Eve” rise above the peak TV pack in its first season. Her meticulous portrayal of a detective obsessed with getting inside the head of a female serial killer was downright anxiety-provoking.
Evan Rachel Wood — The star of HBO’s “Westworld” brings a heartbreaking level of humanity to her robot-host character. But she is likely to be overshadowed this year by the noisier work of her fellow nominees.