How open is the Lead Actress in a Drama Series race? It’s got three previous Emmy winners (including the reigning champ here), an Oscar winner and an ingenue breaking through big time. There are take it to the bank submissions and flat out bad ones, if you believe that ‘tapes’ matter like they used to. In other words, it’s surprisingly pretty open. There hasn’t been a repeat winner here since Claire Danes taking 2012 and 2013 trophies for Homeland but it’s not out of the question this year. Let’s take a look at the six nominees, what they submitted and who’s out in front as winner voting gets underway.
For last year’s winner here, Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer, she selected exactly what everyone thought she would, the classic mercenary-murderess-goes-home-to-bury-the-hatchet-with-mom episode, as it were. It’s an episode, from a cynical perspective, designed from top to bottom to be an Emmy submission. It doesn’t feature her also-nominated co-star Sandra Oh, so no overlap with attention there. It’s, at first, one of the more sympathetic representation of the extremely unsympathetic person that it Villanelle.
Speaking of, Sandra Oh went for “Are You Leading or Am I?” and if there isn’t a more metaphorical title for Oh this season of Killing Eve I can’t imagine what it would be. Oh was almost relegated to supporting status with so little in the realm of a real storyline (chasing around Kenny’s killer? Those boring office scenes?) in a season that put Comer front and center every week. Oh’s submission, the season finale, puts her in familiar territory, a face to face confrontation with Comer (how each of the three seasons have ended) without much in the way of resolution. AT least she wasn’t shot and left for dead this time, just her Emmy chances.
In this group, Laura Linney is an absolute Emmy beast. She’s a four-time winner from three different categories and this year could be her fifth win and breaking into yet another category to do it. The third season of Ozark really changed gears and put Linney’s Wendy Byrde in the power seat. It introduced her mentally unstable brother (the horribly robbed Tom Pelphrey) in a continuation of Linney’s ‘troubled brother’ series that earned her two of her three Oscar nominations. In this season though, and this submission, we saw such a different side of Linney as an actress. For someone who’s been in the business as long as she has, to show us new facets is nothing less than thrilling. Her submission, “Fire Pink,” is what we used to call a “Whitecaps” episode; one so good that there’s no way you can lose. But, we’re not a ‘tape’ system anymore so that phrase has fallen out of fashion. What is in her favor though is her Emmy history, the show’s incredible 18 nominations and a heartbreaking performance.
I don’t think anyone was anything less than completely shocked when it was revealed that Olivia Colman submitted “Cri de Coeur,” the season finale of The Crown, instead what we all thought she was going to pick, “Aberfan.” While the finale is fine, “Aberfan” was a picture-perfect submission for the actress, who already showed a shrewd understanding of strategy when she went lead at the Oscars for The Favourite and then beat out the perceived favorite, Glenn Close. Here though, Colman missed an opportunity to select one of the most important historical moments in Elizabeth II’s history as the Queen of England; an emotional cornerstone and a turning point in the season.
Jennifer Aniston chose the pilot The Morning Show, the flagship of the freshman streamer Apple TV+. It’s a good and bad choice as a lot of time is spent needing to introduce the show’s many characters, including co-leads Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon, and Aniston is gone for long periods. Performance-wise, Aniston is by far the best in show and gets a handful of juicy moments of yelling, crying, trying to ‘gotcha’ Witherspoon on live television. She shows the viewer what they’re in store for with Aniston’s seasoned morning anchor Alex Levy, a tough as nails woman navigating ageism, sexism and the very timely topic of sexual assault and abuse of women by their male bosses. That SAG win at the top of the year doesn’t hurt her either.
Zendaya shocked when she was announced as a nominee, not simply because it didn’t seem like Euphoria was a show the Television Academy was going to go anywhere near (teen girl mental illness, raw sexuality and drug use), but because when all was said and done she got in over two heavy hitting former winners, Viola Davis and Elisabeth Moss. The only first-time nominee of the bunch, Zendaya submitted a truly aggressive episode that shoots animated fan fiction blowjobs between One Direction’s Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, teen fetish sex work and a cornucopia of dick pics right between the eyes of voters. It’s a good submission (although not her best, I might have gone with the finale) and I applaud her brazen choice. I wonder if it’s actually more shrewd than we think it might be.
Something to consider; unlike Lead Actor, this category isn’t so closely tied to being in a Best Drama Series nominee. From 2014-2016, the three winners in those years won without it. For this batch that would include Aniston and Zendaya. All the rest are in shows nominated for Best Drama Series.
Here are my ranked predictions for Lead Actress in a Drama Series:
- Laura Linney (Ozark) – “Fire Pink”
- Jennifer Aniston (The Morning Show) – “In the Dark Night of the Soul It’s Always 3:30 in the Morning”
- Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) – “Are You From Pinner?”
- Zendaya (Euphoria) – “Made You Look”
- Olivia Colman (The Crown) – “Cri de Coeur”
- Sandra Oh (Killing Eve) – “Are You Leading or Am I?”