(Note: I only considered nominees for the categories to which they were actually submitted. For example, I could not select Alan Cumming for The Good Wife, since he did not submit himself as a Best Supporting Actor in a Drama.)
Best Drama Series: The Killing
After it controversially failed to resolve its storyline in its first season and then meandered to the case’s conclusion in its second, many viewers gave up on The Killing. What had once seemed to be AMC’s best bet for a post-Breaking Bad critical hit was now forgotten and seemed destined to be canceled. But the show was brought back for one final season on AMC and easily bested itself in quality. By exploring groups rarely showcased on television, like street kids and death row inmates, The Killing recaptured what made it unique in its first season: it was a cop show that cared about more than just cops. What truly makes The Killing worthy of a nomination this year, though, is its acting. The performances by its two leads, Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, were as solid as ever, and both actors found new layers to their characters rather than just rehashing their previous performances. And two new series regulars, one Hollywood famous and the other a complete unknown, stunned audiences with their talent. Peter Sarsgaard portrayed one of the most complex characters on television as a death row inmate whose ambiguous guilt or innocence did not prevent anyone from sympathizing with his struggles and Bex Taylor-Klaus played a street kid with such raw energy that she managed to turn her seemingly inconsequential storyline into the show’s most gripping one. The whole series bounced back from the doldrums of its second season to be worthy of a nomination, yet it seems likely it will go unnoticed.
Best Actor in a Drama: Demian Bichir, The Bridge
Demian Bichir became a surprise Oscar nominee for his role in A Better Life, so he certainly isn’t a stranger to pipe dream nominations turning into reality, but it would be quite shocking to hear his name read on Thursday morning, even though his work as Marco Ruiz in The Bridge would bring a breath of fresh air to a drama category full of brooding anti-heroes. Ruiz is no saint, but Bichir brings a warm presence that does the rare thing with a male lead on television of late: make him likeable. He is patient with his partner’s Asperger’s syndrome and he’s a loving father to his children. He also cheats on his wife, but compared to the monstrosities committed by Walter White or the self-loathing of Don Draper, that seems a minor concern. Also impressive about Bichir’s performance is the bilingual aspect: he’s required to act and emote in both English and Spanish, and he’s consistently amazing no matter the language. In a year when two troubled cops played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey are surefire nominees, hopefully Emmy voters can find room for one more and nominate Bichir alongside them.
Best Actress in a Drama: Mireille Enos, The Killing
Mireille Enos was an Emmy nominee during The Killing’s first season for her work as troubled detective Sarah Linden, but following the backlash and massive drop in ratings during the second season, did not repeat her nomination for the second. As mentioned previously, The Killing’s third season was stunning return to form and Enos easily surpassed her already brilliant work in the first two seasons. Opening an old case of Linden’s allowed Enos to peel back more layers of her character, revealing both a lighter side of her than previously seen and a darker side that seemed previously unimaginable. She was especially good acting opposite Peter Sarsgaard in the episode “Six Minutes,” an excellent two-person showcase a la Mad Men’s “The Suitcase.” In a crowded category where even should-be locks like Julianna Margulies have something standing in their way to a nomination, there’s little chance she can get nominated, but anyone who watched The Killing this year would be unsurprised if she pulled it off.
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama: Jordan Gavaris, Orphan Black
Everyone is gunning for a Tatiana Maslany nomination for the BBC America sci-fi drama and that buzz is well deserved, as she plays more than five clones. But after a surprise Golden Globe nomination and a year’s worth of critical whining, this might finally be her chance to break through. As much as it feels like it however, Orphan Black is not a one-woman show, and as Felix, the compelling, gay foster brother of one of the clones, Jordan Gavaris stepped up to ground the series. After being largely used as comic relief in the first season, Gavaris showed off his knack for the dramatic as well, as Felix supported the rehabbing Alison and finally reached a breaking point with Sarah’s selfish flightiness. It was also refreshing to see an openly gay character who wasn’t defined by his abstinence or his over-sexualization: he just had multiple love interests, just like any straight character would. But much like in the first season, Gavaris truly shined when paired with Maslany. Anyone who can hold his own with a dynamite actress like Maslany deserves something, and while it’s unlikely, perhaps that something is an Emmy nomination.
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama: Bellamy Young, Scandal
Bellamy Young has yet to receive an Emmy nomination for her work as First Lady Mellie Grant on Scandal. It’s incredible that an actress who regularly turns in the best performance on a hit drama like Scandal would go empty-handed, but the show did not garner nearly as many Emmy nominations last season as its popularity, both critical and public, would seem to merit. The problem is most definitely not her performance, which just won her a Critics’ Choice Television Award, but the competition. Emmy voters enjoy giving repeat nominations and every nominee from last year is eligible to return. This season may be her best bet yet for a nomination, though, as she received a showcase episode where Mellie’s past as a rape survivor is revealed and in which Young was simply stunning. And as frequently happens on Shonda Rhimes shows, in the third episode of the season, Young had the chance to deliver a stunning monologue where she got to play drunk, flirty, hurt, furious, and triumphant. All simultaneously. If Emmy voters cannot appreciate that, the awards might not be worth it.