Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Lauren Graham (Lorelai)
There is little question that Lauren Graham is perhaps the individual most snubbed by the Emmys over the past decade. In an awards show dominated by the big four networks, and one where even cable champions like HBO have struggled to win the big trophies, there was little place for a lowly network like The WB. As a result, the deft handling of rapid fire dialogue and fabulous mother/daughter interaction being delivered by the Gilmore Girls star was basically left unnoticed. Not even last year’s rule changes allowed Graham a chance to sneak into the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category. And, well, chances are that this year she won’t make it either, being on a different network and in a different category. However, nonetheless, I cannot possibly ignore her performance. I shall stand on the side of optimism every year when it comes to Lauren Graham. Even next year, when the show is off the air? I’ll still sing her praises. Because her lack of recognition is one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes, and it is with no hesitation that I consider her worthy of an Emmy nomination.
This season has been a dramatic one for Graham, so it is perhaps fitting that she is submitting in drama this year (The show has submitted in comedy for the past number of years). After sleeping with Christopher, she basically screwed up what she had going for herself with Luke, and spiraled a tiny bit out of control in the process. She married Christopher and found herself swept up in wedding parties, family dinners, and realizing that Christopher doesn’t actually fit into her life. And that her life was about her daughter, about her family, about her friends in Stars Hollow. After being mired in a bit of a funk (Which coincided with new showrunner David S. Rosenthal finding his legs with the show’s dialogue), Graham hit her stride in the second half of the season. After breaking things off with Christopher and finding her feet again, her character’s journey of self-reflection brought her back to her daughter and to Luke…but not easily.
And that’s the thing: much like the show’s dialogue, Lorelai’s life was never simple. Financially, well, things were fine; but her complicated relationship with everyone around her was something very different. Graham always managed to balance the comedy and the drama in a way that always portrayed Lorelai as someone who could at any moment spin out of control. That balanced, intricate performance has been, is, and will be deserving of Emmy Awards consideration.
Episode Selection: “Farewell My Pet” (Aired February 13th, 2007)
Now, I am of two minds with this selection: on the one hand, I did not like this episode all that much. It was actually kind of borderline annoying, and did not feature many of the elements that I enjoy most about the show.
However, on the other hand, it is that final moment where Lorelai realizes that her marriage with Christopher is never going to work. As she has to balance holding a memorial for Michel’s deceased dog Chin-Chin, Lorelai slowly comes to terms with her reality, and the hard decision she has to make. When she ends her marriage at the end of the episode, it is an emotional moment no matter whether you’ve watched the season or not. I think she’s better in the finale, to be honest, but it’s much more of a fan-friendly as opposed to voter-friendly episode.
And this final scene is, perhaps, one of her strongest of the season. And it will likely give her one last shot at her nomination.
YouTube – “Farewell My Pet”
Sally Field (Nora)
Brothers & Sisters
There’s a lot of talk right now about Sally Field and her co-star Calista Flockhart regarding their Emmy chances. Since both are likely to make the Top 10, voters will basically get to see two episodes worth of material from them. While I’m sure this will benefit Flockhart, I want to focus more on Field for the fact that, well, she is absolutely stunning in this series. This series could exist without Flockhart: while not terrible by any means, she doesn’t seem necessary in a way. Field, however, has crafted a matriarch so damaged, so haunted, so powerful that you can’t turn away. Nora is a character capable of being wildly comic (Smoking up in the back of a car) and powerfully dramatic (Just about every single episode). It is hard to imagine the show without her, but she was actually a post-pickup addition to the series. That decision was perhaps the smartest one made this television season, and the result was a tremendous performance from a veteran actress. And Sally Field’s work is more than deserving of Emmy consideration.
Nora had a rough year: her husband died, her son got sent to Iraq, she reunited with her long estranged daughter (Flockhart), she found out her husband had a mistress, and that they had a child, and also had to deal with the rest of her kids being the relative nutcases that they are. And yet, somehow, she ended up being the character most unscathed throughout the series’ first season. Even though she was heartbroken over her son being shipped off, her reaction seemed natural and powerful. The moment where she finally said goodbye to her husband by tossing his wedding ring into the ocean was silent, but the moment echoed within the show’s narrative. Always the character to give the motivational speeches and set her children straight, Nora is headstrong almost to a fault. Field always brought that sense of unease to life: unsure of her past, uncomfortable with her present, trying to hold everything together, Nora was damaged goods. And yet, in the eyes of viewers she was anything but damaged, and that is almost entirely thanks to Field’s subtle and broad dramatic work done throughout the season.
Episode Selection: Mistakes Were Made, Part Two (Aired November 19th, 2006)
Flockhart is submitting the first part of this episode, but Field has a bit more dramatic work in its conclusion. In the present, the show deals with Justin’s overdose after learning he would be shipped back to Iraq, which obviously puts Nora into a bit of a state. However, perhaps more baity, we also flashback to Nora’s initial reaction to Justin enlisting and how she blames Kitty (A republican) for it. Those scenes are particularly weighty: unlike, say, the work of Aaron Sorkin, there is a sense that these are real people having these frustrations and that there is emotional stakes involved. Field, unsurprisingly, is up to the task. While it wore down over the episodes, Field’s most traditionally dramatic work was her rocky relationship with Kitty, and focusing on that is a very smart move for Emmy consideration. Unfortunately, YouTube is being unhelpful, so here’s another great Nora/Kitty scene.
YouTube – “Nora”
Mary McDonnell (Laura Roslin)
I believe that President Laura Roslin is perhaps one of the best characters to rise out of the 2004 reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, which is saying a lot considering the amount of great ones that have been part of the series. What I love about Mary McDonnell’s portrayal of the character is that, without fail, you are always rooting for Laura Roslin to succeed except for those moments where she is clearly wrong. In those cases, McDonnell makes you want to see Roslin get let down as easily as possible, in order to ensure that she isn’t too damaged in the process. After becoming President from the lowly position of Secretary of Education, Laura Roslin had to learn the ropes and find her own middle ground on a variety of issues. This year has really been one where she had to face the consequences of those actions, and one where she was forced to deal with the growing problems facing the people under her command. All the while, her own personal demons came back to haunt her, and her journey forward into the show’s final season is perhaps its most interesting. Through it all, Mary McDonnell has delivered a subtle, visceral performance that is certainly to be considered for an Emmy nomination.
This season hasn’t been an easy one for Laura Roslin; she began it as a Kindergarten teacher on New Caprica, was arrested and interrogated by new President Gaius Baltar who she lost to in an election she tried to rig, was almost assassinated, reassumed the presidency, and found herself in charge of a fleet still searching for their purpose, their land, their home. McDonnell was great at being Presidential: her return interrogation of Baltar after his arrest for Treason was incredibly compelling television, and her completely and she was a strong figure when she needed to be. However, perhaps it’s the old softie in me, but I liked Roslin best when she was vulnerable, open to this world around her that she clearly fears more than anything else. Her tender moments with Admiral Adama were both major internet shippage and some great acting, and seeing her on New Caprica as a simple teacher showed the level to which Roslin is forced to “act” as President in a fashion. McDonnell’s grace in balancing these two aspects of her life, a common theme in my potential nominees it seems, is certainly something to be considered when selecting potential Emmy nominees.
Episode Selection: “Crossroads, Parts 1 & 2” (Aired March 18th and 25th, 2007)
While McDonnell perhaps had showier episodes in terms of her Presidential abilities, I like this decision for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it features Roslin without any control over the fate of Gaius Baltar’s trial. She is not able to influence it any further, and her attempts to do so are real and strained; she is struggling with her lack of power in this scenario, as she basically just wants to kill him outright.
However, more importantly, Roslin herself is put on the stand to answer her own questions about the situation. Faced with interrogation from Lee, who smelled something within her tea, she is forced to give up her ‘secret’: she is once again taking Kamala extract, as her cancer has returned. That realization stuns even Lee, but Roslin’s reaction to the entire situation is just impeccable. McDonnell portrays her as strong, defiant, powerful; she knows that any sign of weakness will destroy her, and she reacts accordingly. It’s a great performance, and one that I only hope Emmy voters have a chance to see. However, since that clip isn’t on YouTube, here’s her kicking Baltar’s ass instead. Which she smartly didn’t submit, since it would scare voters to death.
YouTube – “Roslin v. Baltar”
Kristen Bell (Veronica)
Let’s be honest: Kristen Bell will not be nominated for an Emmy award. The show is too lowly rated, and struggled too much creatively in this its third season, for it to ever be considered a serious contender. However, I cannot help but continue to be engaged by Kristen Bell’s characterization of this young woman struggling with pretty well everything around her. She smart, intelligent, savvy, and yet is in many ways just as damaged as the rest of us. While her character has lost depth in the past two seasons, I still think that Bell remains the show’s highlight: without her turn as Veronica, I don’t know if the show would have ever engaged fans in the first place. As she moves on from the now cancelled Veronica Mars, I believe she has a bright future ahead of her. However, before she moves on, I think it is important that we at least bring attention to the fact that without her strong performance, Veronica Mars wouldn’t have lasted half a season. With wit and charm, Kristen Bell brought sophistication to the realm of teen dramas that it had not seen before: the result was a performance that, to hell with reality, is worthy of Emmy consideration.
The problem with Veronica this year was that she seemed out of her elements, and lacked her status as social outcast that she had gathered in high school. The show tried to recreate this by having Veronica investigate the rapes on Heart’s campus, thus making enemies, but it all felt arbitrary and at times I think the audience actually turned against her. However, I think that Bell weathered that storm fairly well: her emotional performances remained emotional, and her banter with her most trusted companions (Keith, Wallace, Mac) was as good as ever. Really, the season never gave her a true chance to shine: there was never a moment where Veronica, as a character, was truly able to step forward and return to her former status. That wasn’t Kristen Bell’s fault, though; her performance of the material provided her was strong, and she remained the principle reason to continue watching the series. While surrounded by strong supporting performances, such as in her interactions with Jason Dohring’s Logan, Kristen Bell had to handle most of the work herself this season, and it almost echoes Veronica’s own grit and determination. And it’s grit and determination, if perhaps two years late, would ideally receive Emmy attention.
Episode Selection: “The Bitch is Back” (Aired May 22nd, 2007)
[Note: Kristen Bell actually submitted “Of Vice and Men” where she is drugged and almost abducted by the Hearst rapist. I don’t like that submission.]
That bitch in the title? It’s the Veronica Mars we knew and loved. It’s the Veronica Mars who lays the smack down on her ex-boyfriend Logan, the one who messes with a guy’s credit cards to get the information she needs, the one who sneaks into mansions looking for information, and the one who falls apart as her world comes down around her but doesn’t let anyone see it. This is the Veronica Mars I felt was missing all season, and it is unfortunate that it only arrived in what will be the show’s series finale. When Veronica marches off after having placed a likely futile vote for her father in the Sheriff’s election, you understand the emotional weight on her shoulders and feel for her. That is something you can’t say about the rest of the season, and it’s her best performance of the year by far.
YouTube – “The Bitch is Back”
Connie Britton (Tami Taylor)
Friday Night Lights
There is something about Friday Night Lights that needs to be made extremely clear, if it wasn’t already: this is not just a show about football, and it is not just a show about teenagers being teenagers. Although it contains both of those elements, one of its most heartfelt dynamics is that of family. While there are plenty of examples of this theme throughout the show, none is more powerful than the trio of Taylors. Being the Coach’s family is not easy, and this is most abundantly clear for Tami Taylor, his less-than-doting wife. She loves him with all of her heart, don’t get me wrong, but she will not take any of his shit and will not back down when he wants her to. What Connie Britton brings to this role is that sense of Southern toughness combined with an absolutely charming exterior. Watching her put on the charm (begrudgingly) is like watching a real woman dealing with real nutjobs like Buddy Garrity on a regular basis. Whether as the school’s guidance counselor, or as a mother and wife, Tami Taylor exists as one of the most realistic and relevant women on television today. Connie Britton brings her to life with grace, and her performance is deserving of Emmy consideration.
Tami’s life changed forever when her husband became coach of the Dillon Panthers. Suddenly, she was expected to host parties, deal with the townsfolk, and get swept up in all of the madness that high school football in Dillon entails. This was a strain on her relationship with her husband, sure, but it was more of a surface tension than anything else. Tami found her own passion by assisting the students of Dillon as their guidance counselor, and she had to deal with raising her blossoming daughter in the process. There has been some talk that she perhaps belongs in supporting categories, but I think this is a mistake: Briton’s performance, much like Tami’s, cannot be overlooked or marginalized because of her more feature co-star/husband. Much as the wives of likely many coaches and other professionals are often left behind, so too was Tami often forgotten.
But how can she be forgotten when people see her relationship with her husband, perhaps the season’s finest. As the season ended, and she presented her husband with an ultimatum that would have been a moment of betrayal for any other relationship…but here it was different, loving if perhaps contrary. While Chandler certain held up to his end of the bargain at all times, I think that a lot of his performance was made that much better by Britton’s reactions, quips and charm. Without her, Friday Night Lights would not be the same: and although not as “featured” as other Leads, she more than deserves to be considered in this category.
Episode Selection: “I Think We Should Have Sex” (Aired February 21st, 2007)
There were episodes that featured Britton giving more lead-style performances, but this episode was selected because it features Britton dealing with her daughter, Julie, deciding that she is ready to have sex with her boyfriend. Tami’s reaction is both natural and more intense than I could possibly imagine. I remember watching this episode and realizing how important Connie Britton was to this show. In dealing with what could be an after school special, producers and performers need to keep things simple while maintaining the dramatic elements. Britton could have just been an overprotective mother in this episode, but she was something more: she was a scared mother, a shaken mother, and a strong mother all at the same time. And it is an Emmy worthy performance.
YouTube: “I Think We Should Have Sex”