Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Why She Was Nominated: The TV academy really had no choice. While this is Moss’ third consecutive nomination for Mad Men (two for lead, one for supporting), it’s one that for the first time raises Moss above the crowd. The submitted episode, “The Suitcase” (written by creator-showrunner Matthew Weiner), is an actress’ dream. It elevates her to the favorite’s position in a year when none of the past three category winners (Kyra Sedgwick, Glenn Close and Sally Field) is in the running.
Why She Has To Win: From the time it premiered, “The Suitcase” episode of Mad Men has been hailed as the show’s clear-cut accolade vehicle. It found Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olson (Moss) hanging together in the office after hours when Don finds out a close friend has died. They get plastered on booze, and Draper lets loose in a way he rarely does. Moss more than holds her with Hamm in an episode that stands to win a bunch of people a bunch of Emmys (Moss included). “This episode is absolute magic,” a producer tells me, “and Elisabeth Moss is a big reason why.”
Why She Can’t Possibly Win: She’s never won before, and neither has anyone else from Mad Men — yet. If it doesn’t happen this year, we can all start writing about the cast being cursed. It’s also a fact that Julianna Margulies could win here and no one would be the slightest bit shocked.
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Why She Was Nominated: Perhaps no actress consistently delivers superb work week in and week out better than Margulies does as Alicia Florrick on Good Wife. Consequently, she tends to get nominated for Emmys a lot. This is in fact her eighth nod going back to the six she earned for ER and two in as many years for her CBS drama. Margulies is the anchor that drives a show that somehow generates cable-level quality.
Why She Has To Win: Her peers like her, they really like her. And after three years of honoring actresses on cable shows, voters may figure it’s time to reward a good old-fashioned network primetime performer. A fellow actor and TV academy member believes, “No disrespect to Kyra Sedgwick, but I heard a lot of lingering disappointment last year after Julianna got passed over. There’s a certain feeling that this year, it’s her turn.”
Why She Can’t Possibly Win: Margulies had all of the momentum going for her last year heading into the Emmys, having pretty much swept all of the major awards — only to hit an academy brick wall. She’s taken the prize just once in seven previous tries: the first time she was nominated in ’95. It’s now been a 16-year drought between triumphs. In other words, Margulies is either way overdue or doomed to remain underappreciated.
Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law
Why She Was Nominated: She’s Kathy Friggin’ Bates, that’s why. You need more reason than that? OK, here it is: She’s an Oscar winner (1991 for Misery). Her performance as Harriet “Harry” Korn on the offbeat NBC legal hour from David E. Kelley is as colorfully quirky as we’d expect. But a longtime TV writer summed it up well: “When Kathy Bates is eligible, you nominate her.”
Why She Has To Win: After having gone winless in eight previous Emmy nominations covering eight different projects, Bates is more than ready to take a walk to the podium. It’s going to start getting a tad embarrassing if she can win an Oscar but not an Emmy. To be sure, Bates’ cinema pedigree gives her a solid outside shot to take home the golden girl. Older actresses also tend to do well in this category. The average age of the last five winners is 53; Bates is 63.
Why She Can’t Possibly Win: There isn’t a lot of love in the critical community for Harry’s Law, which some dismiss as one of Kelley’s worst creative efforts. Even if Bates rises above the show’s overall quality, it’s not exactly high-profile water-cooler material. The competition figures to be too strong for Bates to crash this winner’s circle.
Mireille Enos, The Killing
Why She Was Nominated: Enos was something of a revelation in this freshman AMC thriller, portraying Seattle homicide detective Sarah Linden with an effortless élan. It was good enough to generate Enos’ first Emmy nomination. But she was already well known to viewers of HBO’s Big Love, where she portrayed twins. Depicting just a single character on The Killing had to be a comparative breeze.
Why She Has To Win: The Killing became not just appointment viewing but an obsession, which Enos both helped to create and benefited from. “I couldn’t take my eyes off of Mireille or this show,” a producer admitted to me. “There was a freshness to her work that really captivated me.” Her show airing on AMC also brings added weight to Enos’ candidacy.
Why She Can’t Possibly Win: It would take something of a miracle for Enos to win in her first try. Neither she nor her series are familiar enough to the academy, so it was quite a feat simply for the series to earn six nominations (including for writing and directing). But on the down side, the backlash that erupted over The Killing’s unsatisfying conclusion in June can’t help but cost its nominees votes.
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Why She Was Nominated: Not enough viewers supported Friday Night Lights to keep it from finally getting the ax, even given the diminished expectations of airing on DirecTV its last two seasons. But those who were into it loved it with uncharacteristic devotion and zeal, and that extended to leads Britton (as Tami Taylor) and Kyle Chandler (as her husband, Coach Eric Taylor). Both earned Emmy nominations last year and this time, even with the executioner poised over it.
Why She Has To Win: Bill Prady, co-creator and showrunner of the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory, counts himself as one of FNL’s most ardent fans. He saw the football drama as “a master class in writing and acting. Connie Britton has these just really beautiful moments in her performance.” She certainly has the sentimental vote working for her as part of a series that’s finally getting its due posthumously.
Why She Can’t Possibly Win: Any actress nominated for a canceled show from DirecTV is by any measure a significant underdog. Unless the support for Lights among the TV academy membership is far greater than imagined, it ain’t gonna happen for Britton. If it somehow does, the cheers from the fan base may never subside.
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Why She Was Nominated: The TV academy bylaws were quietly amended to mandate that Hargitay be nominated for an Emmy every time she’s eligible. This makes it eight nominations in as many years for her work as Detective Olivia Benson on NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Solid, comfortable, dependable, like a great pair of high-end sneakers. That’s Hargitay.
Why She Has To Win: Um, Hargitay has won one time previously — in 2006. That makes her perhaps the darkest of horses, but a horse nonetheless. In case voters want to give the statuette to a nominee from a broadcast series, but they’re not big fans of Margulies or Bates, it could fall her way. One writer quipped to me, “I think Mariska’s best chance would be if the presenter reads her name by mistake on the card.”
Why She Can’t Possibly Win: One could make the argument that a percentage of voters don’t even realize Hargitay is nominated. That’s no shot at her or her talent, but it speaks more to the fact that her network and studio aren’t devoting much in the way of resources to her candidacy.