Until Emmy nominees are actually announced, I get to be in denial about who actually has a chance. In that spirit, these are my Emmy picks for best drama performances drawing only from roles that have never been nominated before.
Best Lead Actor
Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel)
The lack of Emmy recognition for this performance is baffling to me. Freddie Highmore captures the mannerisms of the iconic Norman Bates while creating his own character, true to this unique, contemporary interpretation. He has a sweet innocence when needed that can turn in an instant to raw anger. He’s equally terrifying and sympathetic. It’s a truly nuanced performance.
Stephen Amell (Arrow)
Oliver Queen went through a lot this season, including briefly dying and briefly being the head of the League of Assassins. Stephen Amell’s job was to keep his character consistent and believable even through the huge twists and turns of the season. From the scenes where he had to show tough guy bravado to his tender scenes with Felicity Smoak, Stephen Amell showed great range as he brought Oliver to life.
Patrick J. Adams (Suits)
Mike Ross is a unique blend of clueless puppy and brilliant strategist and Patrick J. Adams always navigates the particulars of this character beautifully. This was a season of intense rivalries and intense romance for Mike and Patrick J. Adams nailed every scene.
Matt Bomer (White Collar)
Matt Bomer has brought charming con man Neal Caffrey to life perfectly for six years and he definitely didn’t start slacking in the show’s final season. This was possibly the most emotional season for Neal and, as always, Matt Bomer sold his moments of vulnerability when he needed to while still capturing his cool confidence.
Grant Gustin (The Flash)
The casting of Grant Gustin as Barry Allen was absolutely perfect. He brought an incredible sense of joy to the show, while also being heartbreakingly raw in the scenes let us see Barry’s deep sadness.
Gabriel Macht (Suits)
Harvey Specter could easily have fallen flat, as the archetypal always cool guy. But, Gabriel Macht’s performance has always brought out the unique depth of Harvey’s writing. Each season reveals a little more of Harvey. The most recent season let us see more of his relationship with Donna Paulsen, to great effect.
Best Lead Actress
Sherri Saum (The Fosters)
Lena Adams had an incredible season. Watching her try to hide her conflicting feelings towards her relationship with Stef and her decision over what to do about Ana’s baby was always fascinating. Her scenes comforting Jude and standing up to Connor’s father were powerful. She became an even more nuanced character as the season went on and it really showed us everythign Sherri Saum can do.
Rose McIver (iZombie)
Rose McIver had a uniquely daunting task in her role as Liv Moore: she had to play a character whose personality is wildly affected in each episode. She was able to navigate this while still letting us see who Liv truly is. After only one short, thirteen episode season, she’s created one of the strongest sci-fi protagonists I’ve seen.
Taraji P. Henson (Empire)
Cookie Lyon became an iconic TV character almost immediately. Taraji P. Henson’s unique performance helped the show snowball into incredible ratings success which will hopefully translate into awards nominations.
Troian Bellisario (Pretty Little Liars)
Troian Bellisario’s smart performance knows exactly how to navigate the campy material of this show while bringing the emotional weight necessary to keep the audience interested. Whether she’s being tortured in A’s ridiculous bunker or having earnest emotional conversations with her mom, Troian Bellisario has made Spencer Hastings a believable, interesting character even as she navigates a hugely overblown world.
Vanessa Marano (Switched at Birth)
Bay Kennish had a heartbreakingly rough season. Vanessa Marano’s performance makes your heart go out to this poor girl. She brings a mix of strength and perseverance and raw vulnerability that makes it impossible not to root for Bay.
Teri Polo (The Fosters)
Stef Foster is stiff and not always likeable, but she’s a nuanced character who’s always interesting and Teri Polo captures that perfectly. Her deliveries often bring a unique, surprising humor to the show while she also brings incredible emotional resonance to the dramatic material.
Best Supporting Actor
Michael J. Harney (Orange is the New Black)
In season one, Sam Healy was the clear villain of the show. This season he became something else in this complicated universe. The show never expected the audience to forgive him, it just showed that there are multiple sides to every character. He was as misogynistic and disgusting as ever, while still having this surprising, sweet desire to be the good guy.
Hayden Byerly (The Fosters)
Last season was really the season of Jude Adams-Foster, as his character development and his relationship with Connor really started to get screentime. Hayden Byerly captured the rough transition from kid to teenager and the pain of not knowing where you stand with someone you care about.
Max Thieriot (Bates Motel)
As Norma and Norman’s lives started looking more and more bleak, Dylan Massett really provided the sense of hope on this season of Bates Motel. He might be the closest thing this show has to a hero who has a chance of overcoming. Max Thieriot was more than up for the job of making you root for Dylan with your whole heart.
David Anders (iZombie)
In his performance as Blaine DeBeers, David Anders created a really fun, playful villain who was perfect for the tone of this show while still being genuinely scary enough to keep up the suspense. He’s a great love-to-hate him character.
Jeff Perry (Scandal)
Despite its popularity, Scandal has only gotten Emmy recognition for Kerry Washington’s performance and the occasional guest star. This overlooks how many incredible, nuanced characters the supporting cast contains and Cyrus Beene is definitely one of the strongest among them. He’s a sympathetic but deeply coldly calculating sometimes-villain sometimes-hero who adds a lot to this show.
Jussie Smollett (Empire)
Jussie Smolett gave one of the more subtle performances on this show as Jamal Lyon, who generally tried to avoid the family drama but ended up getting sucked in anyway. The character was an important exploration of black gay masculinity, brought to life wonderfully by Jussie Smollett.
Best Supporting Actress
Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel)
Emma Decody could easily have been a flatly sad, tragic character. But, she’s proven herself over the past three seasons to be a unique, often surprisingly funny, insightful character who’s not quite like anyone else on TV.
Yael Stone (Orange is the New Black)
Lorna Morello had an incredible second season, as more and more layers to her character were revealed. She got her first featured episode with “A Whole Other Hole”, which was easily one of the most memorable of the season.
Bellamy Young (Scandal)
Mellie Grant is one of the most complicated characters in Scandal‘s supporting cast. Bellamy Young captures her intensity and drive perfectly and has made her story one of the most engaging threads on teh show.
Barbara Rosenblat (Orange is the New Black)
Rosa Cisneros’s story was one of the most interesting parts of Orange is the New Black‘s second season. Barbara Rosenblatt captured her cynical attitude while still bringing a spirit of fun to the role.
Sarah Rafferty (Suits)
Donna Paulsen has been a fan favorite of Suits since it began and this season arguably explored the depths of her character more than any previous season. Sarah Rafferty’s performance makes Donna the funny, uptight, nuanced heart of the show.
Danielle Panabaker (The Flash)
Danielle Panabaker has captured Caitlin Snow’s duality as both the stern force of reason in the STAR Labs Team and a softly sweet, deeply caring person. Like so many characters on this show, Caitlin has been through it all and experienced her fair share of heartbreak, but is still able to light up the screen and infuse the show with its sweet optimism.