Friday, June 12, 2009

Emmy Race: Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series

The Emmy Award nomination are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be quite competitive in all the major categories, even with the notable addition of an extra nominee in each category. This year, there will be six, rather than five, nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July once episode submissions become clear. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.


Last year’s nominees:
GLENN CLOSE as PATTY HEWES, DAMAGES (1 nomination/1 win)
Powerhouse actress Close, last year’s winner, returns for a second season of FX’s legal thriller as cutthroat, corrupt attorney Patty Hewes. Close takes on a more prominent role in the second half of the season as her own history is explored, and voters are sure to invite her back for a second chance at a trophy, even if they don’t love the show quite as much anymore (which also may not be true – time will tell). Consider her a frontrunner as things stand and the surest lock for a nomination.

SALLY FIELD as NORA WALKER, BROTHERS & SISTERS (2 nominations/1 win)
Field scored this trophy on her first nomination for the freshman season of the ABC family drama. Buzz for the show is not strong, with the exception of Field’s recent SAG win for Best Actress. The show received Emmy mentions only for Field, supporting actress Rachel Griffiths, and casting, so it would be easy for Field to be left out without much hoopla, but she is a respected actress who should be able to hold on to her perennial nominee status.

MARISKA HARGITAY as OLIVIA BENSON, LAW & ORDER: SVU (5 nominations/1 win)
Ever since popping up on Emmy’s radar out of the blue in the middle of SVU’s run, Hargitay has been nominated each year, winning in 2006. She’s had the longest-running streak of any “Law & Order” franchise star. Her show is a clear procedural, but it seems she’s popular enough that she keeps returning to other lists after taking years off, like the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards. She’s the most vulnerable simply because she doesn’t have the same kind of intensive role that demands she carry a show, though she’s certainly well-liked enough to serve as a filler nominee who could easily get in over one of the more out-there genre possibilities like Anna Paquin or Mary McDonnell.

HOLLY HUNTER as GRACE HANADARKO, SAVING GRACE (1 nomination)
Hunter is that Oscar-winning actress whose move to headline a basic cable television series would have netted her an Emmy last year if not for that other Oscar-winning actress on basic cable. Hunter continues to single-handedly carry her fantastical show, and she’ll likely return to the Best Actress list based on the merit of her performance. That said, it’s easily possible that her show could be ignored without much fuss being made.

KYRA SEDGWICK as BRENDA LEIGH JOHNSON, THE CLOSER (3 nominations)
Sedgwick’s Southern drawl and unending cravings for chocolate have propelled TNT’s procedural drama to brilliant ratings success and extremely positive critical reviews. Sedgwick’s status as a contender is unchanged from previous years, and she’ll likely continue to be nominated until her show goes off the air or the category becomes too crowded. She’s at risk of being left off because there’s no new buzz for her show, but that argument can also be made for Hargitay, Hunter, and Field – and Sedgwick is ahead of all of them.

Fresh contenders:
ANGELA BASSETT as DR. CATE BANFIELD, ER
Bassett’s turn on the final season of the now-departed, long-running medical drama has garnered buzz from other awards bloggers like Tom O’Neil, but I think it’s all rubbish. “ER” hasn’t been a major contender in any category except for guest acting since 2001, and the fact that it ended doesn’t change a thing. The once-heralded “NYPD Blue” went out with a whimper a few years ago, and no one’s claiming any sort of excessive critical resurgence. The one piece of history Bassett does have going for her is the example of James Spader, whose role on the final season of “The Practice” earned him an Emmy. Still, the field is too crowded and Bassett is a longshot at bets.

JANUARY JONES as BETTY DRAPER, MAD MEN
Jones was classified as a supporting actress for the first season of AMC’s period advertising drama, and controversially failed to even make the top ten runoff list. This year, she was far more front-and-center, and deservedly earned a categorical promotion. Last year’s “Mad Men” lead actress Elisabeth Moss, also eligible this year, couldn’t make the top five, but Jones is a much more justifiable lead whose work this season was nothing short of incredible. It would be a real shame if she was left off, an unfortunately existent possibility, but the buzz for her show should help her out.

ANNA PAQUIN as SOOKIE STACKHOUSE, TRUE BLOOD
The actress who won an Oscar at age 13 picked up a Golden Globe for her portrayal of a telepathic Southerner whose romance with a vampire gets her into a world of trouble. Golden Globe voters, who have recognized lead actresses from genre shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dark Angel” in the past, embraced the fantasy series, but will Emmy voters? The fact that it airs on HBO should help, but it will still be an uphill battle for Paquin and the series.

JILL SCOTT as PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE, THE NO. 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY
Here’s another new offbeat HBO drama with a lead actress earning rave reviews for her performance. Jill Scott stars in the title role as Botswana’s top female detective, and her unique sense of optimism and perseverance will likely turn as many people off as it will enthrall. Scott’s case will likely be similar to other HBO shows, either meagerly awarded (like “Deadwood”) or all but completely ignored (“Rome,” “Carnivale,” “Big Love”). Competition this year in the Best Actress category is stiff, so it’s unlikely Scott will make the top five, but she could be back in future years if her show persists.

Resurgent, past winners:
PATRICIA ARQUETTE as ALLISON DUBOIS, MEDIUM (2 nominations/1 win)
Arquette won an Emmy for NBC’s midseason psychic drama back in 2005, then returned to the nominees list two years later. Last year she was nowhere to be found. NBC cancelled her show this year and CBS picked it up almost immediately. I have a feeling that “Medium” will be like its new Friday night lead-in “Ghost Whisperer” – a huge ratings draw that doesn’t garner awards. It’s always possible that Arquette could slip back in, but I certainly hope not.

There’s always a chance:
MARY MCDONNELL as PRESIDENT LAURA ROSLIN, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
McDonnell has been praised since the first season of the Sci-fi Channel’s wrapped space series, and she even made it as far as the top ten runoff list last year. Now, the show’s over, and this is the last chance for Emmy voters to show that they can think outside the box and recognize a science fiction series. The trouble is, the field is terribly croweded and the similarly genre-heavy “True Blood” has a contender in Anna Paquin also vying for a spot. Voters might not be willing to recognize two actresses from sci-fi / fantasy shows. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” managed a Best Drama Series nomination for its final year, but star Patrick Stewart didn’t make the cut. Can McDonnell do it? I certainly hope so.

ELISABETH MOSS as PEGGY OLSON, MAD MEN
Don Draper’s ambitious secretary has been promoted to copywriter, and Moss continues to perform well on AMC’s extraordinarily well-reviewed series. In an ideal world, Moss would find herself nominated alongside costar January Jones, but it’s likely that there isn’t quite enough room for both of them. As the cast member with a more diminished role, Moss is more vulnerable, and she would probably be better off in the supporting category (though that didn’t fare too well for Jones) last year. On the plus side, Moss did manage to edge out Jones for a SAG nomination this past year, so she has a shot.

The roundup:
Last year’s nominees could all return, but there’s still room for one more. Jeanne Tripplehorn (Big Love) and Ellen Pomepo are the only other major contenders who might fill the slots, but given the fact that neither have been nominated thus far, chances are slim. January Jones is the most likely pick, but I’d like to think outside the box and presume that genre television might make history this year. It may be unwise of me, but this is the last shot for BSG’s McDonnell, and if I can think outside the box, maybe Emmy voters can too.

Current predictions:
GLENN CLOSE, DAMAGES
SALLY FIELD, BROTHERS & SISTERS
JANUARY JONES, MAD MEN
MARY MCDONNELL, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
ANNA PAQUIN, TRUE BLOOD
KYRA SEDGWICK, THE CLOSER


Who could win? January Jones

Next up: Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

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