Emmys: Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of Each Lead Actress Nominee

9:00 AM 8/8/2017

by Scott Feinberg

THR's awards analyst weighs in on the comedy and drama actress contenders as a first-timer (Claire Foy), a seven-time winner (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and two old friends (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) face off.

Viola Davis, Elisabeth Moss and Julia-Louis Dreyfus
Viola Davis, Elisabeth Moss and Julia-Louis Dreyfus
Courtesy of ABC; Hulu; HBO

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Pamela Adlon

    'Better Things' (FX)

    Courtesy of FX

    PRO A previous Emmy winner for her voice­over work on King of the Hill and a nominee for her work as a producer, writer and guest star on Louie, she's back in the running for her semiautobiographical portrayal of a divorced actress raising her three daughters alone on this dramedy, which she co-created with pal Louis C.K.

    CON Unlike any of her fellow nominees, she represents her show's sole nomination.

  • Viola Davis

    'How to Get Away With Murder' (ABC)

    Mitch Haaseth/ABC

    PRO For her portrayal of attorney Annalise Keating, this category's 2015 winner is now its sole nominee of color and sole representative from a broadcast show. She also landed a Critics' Choice nomination this season.

    CON Of this category's nominees, she's one of only two whose show did not receive a drama series nomination, and her soapy hour has the fewest total noms (just two).

  • Jane Fonda

    'Grace and Frankie' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    PRO An Emmy winner 33 years ago for The Dollmaker, the 79-year-old has picked up four other noms since, this one her first for the Netflix two-hander that pairs her with her 9 to 5 co-star Lily Tomlin. She garnered a SAG Award nom this season.

    CON With her show failing to snag a series nom, and because she's competing with Tomlin, it's hard to see her picking up trophy No. 2 this year.

  • Claire Foy

    'The Crown' (Netflix)

    Photofest

    PRO The diminutive up-and-comer navigated the tricky terrain of playing Queen Elizabeth II — how does one convey the inner life of a woman famous for hiding her emotions? — in the first of two seasons in which she'll play the part. She already has captured a SAG Award and a Golden Globe.

    CON Unlike Elisabeth Moss, she's not American and not well known, at least beyond this part, to most TV Academy members.

  • Allison Janney

    'Mom' (CBS)

    Courtesy of CBS

    PRO Playing a recovering addict, she won supporting Emmys in two of the past three years. Now jumping to lead — as she did on The West Wing, after which she kept winning — she, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is poised to tie Cloris Leachman's record of eight acting wins.

    CON Janney's show, unlike those of three fellow nominees, didn't receive a series nom and, unlike all but one, is constricted by broadcast regulations.

  • Ellie Kemper

    'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    PRO For her work this season, in which Kimmy went off to college, she landed SAG Award and Critics' Choice noms ahead of her second consecutive Emmy nom. She also helped to propel her Tina Fey/Robert Carlock-produced show to its third consecutive series nom.

    CON Some find Kimmy, with her arrested development, to be lovable, but for others, her chirpy tone is like nails on a chalkboard.

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus

    'Veep' (HBO)

    HBO

    PRO Her record 18th acting nom for a comedy turn — namely, bumbling Selina Meyer on HBO's best series three-peat hopeful — could result in two other record-extenders: a sixth straight win and seventh in this category. She already won a SAG Award and bagged Golden Globe and Critics' Choice noms this season.

    CON Selina no longer seems as crazy — or, to some, as funny — in the Trump era.

  • Elisabeth Moss

    'The Handmaid's Tale' (Hulu)

    George Kraychyk/Hulu

    PRO The Mad Men alum's eighth nom comes for playing sex slave Offred in Hulu's timely breakout, the freshest show in this category (it released episodes through June 14), which received as many nominations as any drama.

    CON Unlike Foy, she doesn't have awards cred from other groups this season (if only because her show debuted after they voted). And some voters still are catching up to Hulu.

  • Tracee Ellis Ross

    'Black-ish' (ABC)

    Courtesy of ABC

    PRO This year's surprise Golden Globe winner (also a Critics' Choice nominee), nominated here for the second year in a row (along with her show), is one of only two nominees in this category who hails from broadcast (and accordingly has a large audience). She could become only the second black winner in this category (after The Jeffersons' Isabel Sanford).

    CON Louis-Dreyfus has been unstoppable in this category.

  • Keri Russell

    'The Americans' (FX)

    Ali Goldstein/FX

    PRO Never, during her show's five seasons, has the story of a KGB spy felt more timely, and the critics' darling, nominated for the second year in a row (having already garnered a Critics' Choice nomination this season), is the best thing about it.

    CON She is one of only two nominees in this category whose show didn't get a series nom this year; it fell off after getting one last year, with some grumbling about its slow-burn pacing.

  • Lily Tomlin

    'Grace and Frankie' (Netflix)

    Melissa Mosely/Netflix

    PRO Few stars are better known or loved by the TV Academy than this 77-year-old veteran, a SAG Award nominee this year, who has accrued 24 nominations dating to 1971.

    CON She has won six Emmys, but none for acting (five for writing, one for narration), and in a year in which her show doesn't have a series nom and she's competing for the first time against Fonda, the odds seem against her.

  • Evan Rachel Wood

    'Westworld' (HBO)

    Courtesy of HBO

    PRO For her portrayal of Dolores — a humanoid host who becomes sentient — on the most nominated scripted series of the year, this 2011 nominee (for Mildred Pierce) already won a Critics' Choice award and garnered a Golden Globe nom. She's HBO's sole rep in the category.

    CON At 29, she's this category's youngest nominee, and very few actors have won an Emmy while still in their 20s.

  • Robin Wright

    'House of Cards' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    PRO For all five seasons of her show, her work as the calculating Claire Underwood has been recognized with a nom in this category. This season, during which she also starred in the hit film Wonder Woman, she garnered Critics' Choice and SAG Award noms as well.

    CON The general consensus seems to be that her show is on the decline, and since she hasn't won yet, it's hard to imagine her picking up her first victory now.

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