The lead drama actress category may wind up being one of the most exciting competitions in this year’s Emmy race. Part of that comes from the unexpected surprise of Zendaya’s nomination for “Euphoria.” Although it was a possibility, the fact that Television Academy voters — who often seem late to the party (and still are with certain overlooked stars) — know enough about the young star to recognize her in the HBO drama’s freshman year is heartening. It’s a sign that perhaps the voting body is indeed evolving, and that it’s paying attention to a new, diverse crop of young thesps. Also back in this race are “Killing Eve’s” Sandra Oh and last year’s winner, Jodie Comer, a nice reminder that the show’s heart remains the cat-and-mouse relationship between those two. And then there’s the arrival of “The Morning Show’s” Jennifer Aniston, a previous comedy actress winner, to the world of the hour-long. But ultimately, this is a race between two awards favorites: “The Crown’s” Olivia Colman and “Ozark’s” Laura Linney.

The Case for Olivia Colman
In our “In the Running” column earlier this awards season, I called Colman “awards catnip,” and it’s easy to see why. Colman is on a roll, and Netflix’s “The Crown” is just the latest chapter in a career that spans countless critically acclaimed works. As 1960s- and 1970s-era Queen Elizabeth II, a role she took over in Season 3 from Claire Foy, Colman manages the “extraordinarily tricky balancing act” of “embodying such a resolutely staid character while leaving room for telltale cracks,” Variety’s Caroline Framke wrote in her review. Foy won the Emmy for the role in 2018, setting the stage for Colman (previously nominated in supporting categories for “The Night Manager” and “Fleabag”). She already won the Golden Globe for “The Crown” (her third overall) and, of course, won the Oscar in 2019 for “The Favourite.” Now, it may be time for the Emmys to coronate Colman as well.

The Case for Laura Linney
Linney should probably be included in that “awards catnip” designation as well. The “Ozark” star already claimed four Emmy Awards, including three as lead limited series/TV movie actress via “Wild Iris” (2002), “John Adams” (2008) and “The Big C: Hereafter” (2013). (Linney also won a guest comedy actress Emmy in 2004 for “Frasier.”) Nominated last year in this category as well, Linney was beat out by Comer — but there’s less heat on “Killing Eve” this year, while “Ozark” appears to have gained some. The Netflix drama received 18 nominations this year, the most of any program for the streamer, and double the number the show landed in 2019. As the show sets sail for one more season, which will be split into two halves, the opportunity window is narrowing to honor Linney as Wendy Byrde, one-half of a couple in too deep with the cartel, and with nowhere to go.