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Decider Lists

10 Lead Actresses in Dramas Who the Emmys Better Not Overlook

The nominations for the 68th Emmy Awards are still a couple months away — July 14th, mark your calendars — but it is NEVER too early to start making sure that voters don’t forget the best shows and performances of the year. For the next few weeks, then, we’re going to make sure that some potentially overlooked accomplishments don’t get missed. The Emmys, more than any other award, can fall back on inertia, nominating the same stuff year-in and year-out. The idea with these posts is to shake up the status quo. And shake it we will.

And yes, we realize that there are only six possible nominees per category. So we’re technically setting the Emmys up for failure by demanding ten. We’re incorrigible that way.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

The lead actress in a comedy category is a fortress which will be incredibly tough to break into. Of last year’s nominees …

Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder (WINNER)
Claire Danes, Homeland
Taraji P. Henson, Empire
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Robin Wright, House of Cards

…only Elisabeth Moss is ineligible to return (though it’ll be interesting to see if the Tatiana Maslany Emmy momentum continues now that nobody’s screaming about how she’s never been nominated before). And with Julianna Margulies riding the momentum of the final season of The Good Wife to a likely return to the field. it’s looking like at the most one or two new actresses will be able to crack this particular egg. Here’s hoping it’s one of the following:

1

Shiri Appleby ('UnReal')

Shiri-Appleby
Everett Collection

One of the lowkey best success stories of the past year was watching Appleby, onetime teen star of The WB’s Roswell, come into her own on UnReal with the best role of her career. She played the shifting morals of her reality-television producer with skill and empathy, and she never lost the audience despite doing some really messed-up stuff. A nomination would be recognition of some of television’s most daring work.

[Where to stream UnReal]

2

Hayley Atwell ('Agent Carter')

Hayley-Atwell-
ABC

Agent Carter may have fallen victim to the cancellation bear this spring, but that doesn’t mean that Atwell doesn’t deserve accolades for her charismatic, stylish, hugely enjoyable turn as Peggy Carter on Marvel’s most creatively successful foray into television. Marvel could do better when it comes to finding good roles for women, but this list shows they’re doing at least a couple things right.

[Where to stream Agent Carter]

3

Caitriona Balfe ('Outlander')

Caitriona-Balfe
Everett Collection

If there is one outsider who’s going to crack the Emmy lineup — perhaps yanking Maslany’s slot away from her — I would put my money on Balfe. Outlander has done a great job placing itself at the intersection of tony, edgy, literary, and dangerous that the Emmy voters have been known to embrace in the past. This feels like the right time for its buzz to crest.

[Where to stream Outlander]

4

Kerry Bishé ('Halt and Catch Fire')

Kerry-Bishé
Everett Collection

It’s no coincidence that the sharp turnaround in quality for Halt and Catch Fire happened when Bishé was called up from the bench and asked to lead the way. A business pioneer in the least likely of housewife packages, Bishé’s Donna was the TV protagonist you most wanted to root for.

[Where to stream Halt and Catch Fire]

5

Carrie Coon ('The Leftovers')

Carrie-Coon
HBO

Only one of The Leftovers‘ superb season 1 cast got bumped up to lead status for season 2, and Carrie Coon could not have been more deserving. The move to Jardin, Texas didn’t do much for Nora’s frayed nerves, particularly as she began to wonder whether she was some sort of nexus for disappearances. There’s a scene midway through season 2 where Coon and Regina King face off in a series of extreme close-ups that should be on every Emmy clip package this year.

[Where to stream The Leftovers]

6

Mackenzie Davis ('Halt and Catch Fire')

Mackenzie-Davis
Everett Collection

While Kerry Bishé saw her role increased for season 2, Mackenzie Davis’s Cameron saw her role shift a bit. Now she was the unlikely genius, butting up against what she saw as her own limitations and freaking out in the face of a kind of success that might not be on her own terms. Davis is one of the most charismatic actresses working in television or film right now, so the Emmys would do well to get onboard immediately.

[Where to stream Halt and Catch Fire]

 

7

Kim Dickens ('Fear the Walking Dead')

Kim-Dickens
AMC

As successful as The Walking Dead has been, it’s never really been a show recognized for its acting, a reputation that’s been passed on to its TV descendant, Fear the Walking Dead. Which is too bad, because Kim Dickens is quietly giving television’s most indelible portrait of fierce motherhood and steely leadership. When the zombia apocalypse comes, I’m lining up behind her.

[Where to stream Fear the Walking Dead]

8

Eva Green ('Penny Dreadful')

Eva-Green
Everett Collection

Like Hannibal was for years, Penny Dreadful finds itself a non-starter with the Emmys simply due to its horrific subject matter. Which is too bad, because Eva Green is massively deserving of a nomination for her portrayal of Vanessa Ives, devil’s prospective concubine. If she’d only done the episodes where she and Patti LuPone hole up at that cottage in the moors, she’d be worthy, but Green plays so many different colors on the show. Look no further than Vanessa’s sweet friendship with John Clare for that.

[Where to stream Penny Dreadful]

9

Krysten Ritter ('Jessica Jones')

Krysten-Ritter
Everett Collection

Krysten Ritter owns every second of Jessica Jones from first episode to last. It’s the kind of tour-de-force that actresses aren’t usually afforded. If it were happening outside the Marvel/superhero genre, she’d probably be a shoo-in for a nomination. As it stands, she’s a long shot. Which is a terrible shame.

[Where to stream Jessica Jones]

10

Taylor Schilling ('Orange Is the New Black')

Taylor-Schilling
Everett Collection

Hear us out! Yes, Piper as a character is hard to root for. Yes, we all like the other women at Litchfield a lot better. But Piper’s move to the dark side in season 3 was her most intriguing turn to date, and Schilling did some of her best work playing it. That scene in the yard where Piper calls upon her fellow women to dirty up them panties was the stuff of deranged comedic genius. Dare we say it, Taylor Schilling is underrated.

[Where to stream Orange Is the New Black]