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10 Great Performances That Deserve Emmy Nominations (But Probably Won't Get Them)

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by Oliver Lyttelton
June 27, 2013 2:19 PM
39 Comments
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Zosia Mamet - Girls
Though "Girls" took a tiny bit of a dip quality-wise in its second season, following one of the best debut runs we can remember, there's not much shame in that. Plus for the occasional wrong turn it took, there were many right ones, not least in developing some of its more neglected characters. In the first season, Zosia Mamet's Shoshanna stole scenes, but didn't have much dimension; she was the Phoebe or the Charlotte of the group, good for comic relief, but not necessarily given the depth of the others. Mamet continued to bring the comedy gold this time around, but also got to stretch her dramatic legs a little more too, as she embarked on her first relationship with Alex Karpovsky's Ray, only to find that she wanted something more. Mamet did a lovely job at showing that Shoshanna was more than just a naive princess, all the while continuing to be one of the more original comic creations of the last few years. Mamet might have had some bad press in the last few weeks due to her ill-advised Kickstarter plan, but so long as she keeps knocking it out the park like this, we don't care too much.

Tatiana Maslany - "Orphan Black"
Star-free, vaguely premised and in a less-than-spectacular Saturday timeslot on BBC America (admittedly after "Doctor Who," but still...), "Orphan Black" turned out to be something of a gem, with an ever-growing cult. And Tatiana Maslany's central performance isn't just the best thing in the show, it is the show. To begin with, she's plays Sarah Manning, a con-artist and foster child who returns to Canada to  reunite with her daughter, only to witness the suicide of a woman who looks identical to her. It's already an impressive performance, but then you discover that Sarah is one of a series of clones, and Maslany does-quintuple duty as a German whistleblower, a Ukranian assassin, a Canadian soccer mom and an American scientist, each entirely distinct in personality. And it gets more complex when the characters start impersonating each other. It's head-spinning stuff just to watch, but to be switching between them on a dime, and in turning in such truly excellent performances while carrying the entire show on her back, the mostly-unknown Maslany is deservedly becoming a star. Of everyone on the list, she probably has the best chance of actually getting an Emmy nod -- there's been a steady swell of buzz behind her, and a lot of critical support. If it happens, it'll be the most deserving nomination all year.

Tracy Morgan - "30 Rock"
No one can say that "30 Rock" has been overlooked by the Emmys: it's won ten trophies over the years, and has broken the record for the most nominations in the comedy category twice, with 17 in 2008, and a whopping 22 in 2009. That said, it's dropped off of late, failing to win any for a few years now, and despite this year's season being the last one, it'd be a surprise to see it return to former glories. In particular, there's one performer on the show who's never quite got the awards acclaim he deserves -- Tracy Morgan, as semi-namesake Tracy Jordan. Morgan did pick up a nomination in 2009, but that remains his lone nod, and if season seven made anything clear, it's the monumental contribution that he makes towards the show, at least on a par with more lauded co-stars Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Jane Krakowski. Perhaps he's overlooked because of the similarities between his public persona and character, which are often deliberate, but his arc this season (which saw Tracy set up his own Tyler Perry-style movie studio, complete with Madea-esque Aunt Phatso character) hammered home that whatever the links, it's always been a performance, and always a deeply brilliant one. It's hard to imagine the show being the same without him, and it'd be a shame to see him go unrewarded again. Especially as it would put Morgan on the path to a real-life E.G.O.T.

Peter Mullan - "Top Of The Lake"
It's hard to know how Emmy voters will take to "Top Of The Lake," which we named the best show of the 2012/2013 season. On one hand, the miniseries/TV movie category is a bit thinner, on the other, it was a foreign-made Sundance Channel series barely watched by anybody. We suspect it'll pick up some nods, but if Peter Mullan doesn't get one -- in fact, if he doesn't win -- it'll be a downright tragedy, because the ever-undervalued Scottish actor gave probably the greatest performance in a career already full to the brim with great turns. At first glance, it's the kind of thing Mullan's done plenty of times before (indeed, there was something similar on British TV only just before "Top Of The Lake" aired, in ambitious but middlingly-executed miniseries "The Fear"); a Scottish-accented, thuggish crime boss. But Matt Mitcham was a different kettle of fish altogether. He was terrifying, yes, notably in a scene where he kills a dog in front of police inspector Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss, also superb, and probably getting a nomination). But he could also be tender, as when he strikes up a relationship with an American woman and takes ecstasy with her, or with what seems to be genuine love for his daughter Tui. But that tenderness only goes so far, and within seconds, Matt could be flagellating himself on his mother's grave, or threatening violence. It was a spectacularly complex role, truly one for the ages, and you couldn't ask for a better actor than Mullan to pull it off.

Meg Chambers Steedle - "Boardwalk Empire"
"Boardwalk Empire" has such depth in its ensemble that you're surprised that no-one except Steve Buscemi and Kelly Macdonald have picked up Emmy nominations in the past; every week brings great turns from Stephen Graham, Shea Whigham, Gretchen Mol, Jack Huston, Bobby Cannavale and more. But our favorite performance in season three came from someone we'd never heard of before, but will certainly be keeping an eye on going forward -- Meg Chambers Steedle -- playing Nucky's new mistress, and aspiring actress Billie Kent. Steedle has almost no credits so far, bar a one-shot appearance in "Body Of Proof," but as with much of the cast of the show, she broke out in New York theater, having made a splash as the lead in a revival of Neil Simon's "Barefoot In The Park." And the instant she appears on screen as babyfaced, flapperish free-spirit Billie, you know she's going to be a megastar at some stage -- it sometimes feels like the casting directors found some previously unknown silent movie star frozen on ice, dethawed her, and let her loose in front of the cameras. She was a breath of fresh air to both the audience and to Nucky, and her explosive death at the hands of Gyp Rosetti is one of the most bruising of the series' many grisly endings. 

Honorable MentionsJames Wolk and Linda Cardelleni from "Mad Men," Anna Torv and John Noble from "Fringe," Dakota Johnson from "Ben & Kate," Kate Mara in "House Of Cards," Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza in "Parks and Recreation," Charles Dance in "Game Of Thrones," and Luke Wilson in "Enlightened." Anyone you think deserves some recognition? Agree with our picks? Weight in below.


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39 Comments

  • John | July 18, 2013 1:20 PMReply

    Would agree that Supernatural is the most overlooked. I'd actually go with Padalecki for an Emmy the last few seasons. The guy has literally grown-up in the series and become an impressive actor. He is not the tentitave teenager of Gilmore Girls or the first year of SPN anynore, and for the last few seasons he has taken on and scored in juicy acting challenges. The one advantage CW has is that it is a good place to learn your craft and Padalecki has sure taken advantage of the opportunity.

  • DJ | July 11, 2013 3:05 PMReply

    John Noble as 'Dr Walter Bishop' on FRINGE !

  • Lily | July 9, 2013 7:11 PMReply

    I have learned to live with Bill Macy and Emmy Rossum being snubbed every year for Shameless but if Maslany doesn't get a nomination while they nominate Margulies for that CBS soap again, I'll go to the library and burn "Emmy Awards" from the dictionaries.

  • Evelin | July 3, 2013 5:38 PMReply

    Honestly, it's a shame that genre shows are overlooked by the Emmys. I'm not just talking about "Supernatural," with Jensen Ackles as Dean, but also "Once Upon a Time." I admit that this year's season wasn't as great as the first, but Robert Carlyle always gives such a fabulous performance I have to keep watching.
    First of all, he's highly underrated as an actor. Second, he's playing four different personalities who are incarnations of one person; the woobie spinner, then the cynically insane Dark One, than as the notorious pawnbroker, and finally the man who perfectly blends all of those beings in a single guise.
    I could go on and on rambling about this. In short, Robert Carlyle is one of the greatest actors I've ever seen and he does deserve an Emmy nod.

  • Angelor | July 10, 2013 8:54 PM

    Have to agree with EVELIN on this one. I have been incredibly impressed with Robert Carlyle and find him to be the standout on this show. He is incredibly fun to watch. There is every reason for him to be an unsympathetic character, but I find myself rooting for him--and as unattractive as they make him, I see what Belle sees in him.

  • Derrick James | July 3, 2013 1:57 PMReply

    How about Harold Perrineau for his portrayal of Damon Pope on Sons of Anarchy? Probably the shows worst villain to date, and definitely unexpected bad guy turn from Harold Perrineau.

  • Derrick James | July 3, 2013 1:55 PMReply

    How about Harold Perrineau for his portrayal of Damon Pope on Sons of Anarchy? Probably the shows worst villain to date, and definitely unexpected bad guy turn from Harold Perrineau.

  • JenT | July 1, 2013 9:22 PMReply

    Just what Does AMC's The Walking Dead HAVE to do, just to get Nominated? OMG, How can the Number one show NOT get the ''critic's '' vote? ...what date do the Nominations come out?

  • Lily | July 9, 2013 7:09 PM

    Just goes to show popular doesn't mean good. And The Walking Dead is not good. The pilot was good. Then it drowned under predictability, twists and groaning melodrama, not to mention all the clichés and tropes of the zombie genre.

  • Brad | July 2, 2013 8:58 AM

    I don't know it could try being good for starters, that would be a start.

  • Jose | June 29, 2013 2:11 PMReply

    Southland's Micheal Cudlitz.

  • Ha | July 2, 2013 8:11 PM

    Ha, I was going to say the same thing. The Walking Dead isn't really a good show, when you actually think about it, it's quite hollow. With horrendous writing and character development at times.

  • Jose | June 29, 2013 2:16 PM

    Also, Happy Ending's Casey Wilson and Adam Pally.

  • Lucas | June 28, 2013 10:24 AMReply

    CHARLES DANCE

  • Mike | June 27, 2013 9:45 PMReply

    A few that come to mind for me are Michael Rooker in The Walking Dead, Michael Chiklis in Vegas and Matthew Perry in Go On. They were all great but I suspect none of them will be nominated.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | June 27, 2013 9:59 PM

    michael rooker is amazing perfect casting for 'The Walking Dead'

  • Pamela | June 27, 2013 7:11 PMReply

    For me Shameless takes my vote, Joan Cusack got a nomination but Emmy Rossum & William H Macy are great every season!

  • Jackie | June 27, 2013 6:53 PMReply

    Voters always seem to overlook the work done on procedurals. Maybe because the characters spend much of the story doing things not directly related to their arc for the season? And many of them are just standard performances- good but not legendary. But over on NCIS, Cote de Pablo got thrown some of the heaviest material I have seen on a show in a while, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. I'd like to see some love for Michael Weatherly, too, but the chances of a mega-successful procedural in it's tenth season pulling multiple nominations is laughable, so I've got to give it to Cote.

    Another show that the Emmys will never give a second glance to is Supernatural- I mean, ghosts and demons and all on the CW. Never gonna happen. But the two leads consistently deliver some of the greatest performances I've ever seen, particularly Jensen Ackles. There was nothing particularly stand-out about this season (not that he in any way gave a subpar performance), so I wouldn't expect to see anything even if the voters did suddenly take note. It would be nice to see some Supporting Actor love for Mark Sheppard, though.

    (The all-time biggest Emmy miss in my book, however, goes to snubbing Bradley Whitford for his guest appearance on The Mentalist)

  • Jackie | June 27, 2013 6:53 PMReply

    Voters always seem to overlook the work done on procedurals. Maybe because the characters spend much of the story doing things not directly related to their arc for the season? And many of them are just standard performances- good but not legendary. But over on NCIS, Cote de Pablo got thrown some of the heaviest material I have seen on a show in a while, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. I'd like to see some love for Michael Weatherly, too, but the chances of a mega-successful procedural in it's tenth season pulling multiple nominations is laughable, so I've got to give it to Cote.

    Another show that the Emmys will never give a second glance to is Supernatural- I mean, ghosts and demons and all on the CW. Never gonna happen. But the two leads consistently deliver some of the greatest performances I've ever seen, particularly Jensen Ackles. There was nothing particularly stand-out about this season (not that he in any way gave a subpar performance), so I wouldn't expect to see anything even if the voters did suddenly take note. It would be nice to see some Supporting Actor love for Mark Sheppard, though.

    (The all-time biggest Emmy miss in my book, however, goes to snubbing Bradley Whitford for his guest appearance on The Mentalist)

  • lily | July 9, 2013 7:12 PM

    Supernatural has good acting? De Pablo? I think you are confusing good performances with people you like. You should watch better tv.

  • Jackie | June 27, 2013 6:53 PMReply

    Voters always seem to overlook the work done on procedurals. Maybe because the characters spend much of the story doing things not directly related to their arc for the season? And many of them are just standard performances- good but not legendary. But over on NCIS, Cote de Pablo got thrown some of the heaviest material I have seen on a show in a while, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. I'd like to see some love for Michael Weatherly, too, but the chances of a mega-successful procedural in it's tenth season pulling multiple nominations is laughable, so I've got to give it to Cote.

    Another show that the Emmys will never give a second glance to is Supernatural- I mean, ghosts and demons and all on the CW. Never gonna happen. But the two leads consistently deliver some of the greatest performances I've ever seen, particularly Jensen Ackles. There was nothing particularly stand-out about this season (not that he in any way gave a subpar performance), so I wouldn't expect to see anything even if the voters did suddenly take note. It would be nice to see some Supporting Actor love for Mark Sheppard, though.

    (The all-time biggest Emmy miss in my book, however, goes to snubbing Bradley Whitford for his guest appearance on The Mentalist)

  • Jackie | June 27, 2013 6:53 PMReply

    Voters always seem to overlook the work done on procedurals. Maybe because the characters spend much of the story doing things not directly related to their arc for the season? And many of them are just standard performances- good but not legendary. But over on NCIS, Cote de Pablo got thrown some of the heaviest material I have seen on a show in a while, and she absolutely knocked it out of the park. I'd like to see some love for Michael Weatherly, too, but the chances of a mega-successful procedural in it's tenth season pulling multiple nominations is laughable, so I've got to give it to Cote.

    Another show that the Emmys will never give a second glance to is Supernatural- I mean, ghosts and demons and all on the CW. Never gonna happen. But the two leads consistently deliver some of the greatest performances I've ever seen, particularly Jensen Ackles. There was nothing particularly stand-out about this season (not that he in any way gave a subpar performance), so I wouldn't expect to see anything even if the voters did suddenly take note. It would be nice to see some Supporting Actor love for Mark Sheppard, though.

    (The all-time biggest Emmy miss in my book, however, goes to snubbing Bradley Whitford for his guest appearance on The Mentalist)

  • Ricky | June 28, 2013 8:50 AM

    If anyone on Supernatural should have gotten any kind of nod, its Jim Beaver

  • Jamie Chamberlin | June 27, 2013 4:09 PMReply

    Brent Sexton as Stan Larson on The Killing deserves one. I'm surprised that show hasn't made any of your recents lists.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | June 27, 2013 10:00 PM

    doesn't he remind you of Lisbeth Salander ?

  • Will | June 27, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    I think Jonathan Banks work on Breaking Bad absolutely deserves the nod and the win, especially for taking a character who started so one note and making it one of the show's best creations, so much so that when SPOILER he died it felt like a great loss. It's tough to call whether he'll get a nomination or not but I think he deserves to be on the list.

  • Brianna | June 27, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    Charlie Day - It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

  • benutty | June 27, 2013 3:25 PMReply

    Arya from Game of Thrones

  • Ryan Oliver | June 27, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    It would have been last year's Emmys that the nomination "should" have happened, but I'm consistently upset that Danny McBride has gotten no love at the Emmys for "Eastbound and Down." A stellar comedic, depressing portrayal of the lost American dream if I've ever seen one.

  • Ryan Oliver | June 27, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    It would have been last year's Emmys that the nomination "should" have happened, but I'm consistently upset that Danny McBride has gotten no love at the Emmys for "Eastbound and Down." A stellar comedic, depressing portrayal of the lost American dream if I've ever seen one.

  • Sarah | June 27, 2013 3:16 PMReply

    Jake Johnson is always great on New Girl, but he KILLED this season. James van der Beek and/or Krysten Ritter deserve nods for Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, but I sadly doubt they'll get any. Practically everyone on that show was fantastic, especially this year.

  • Mike | June 28, 2013 6:44 PM

    I think Jake Johnson has a good shot at actually getting nominated (the other 2, yeah, no chance, particularly since the show was cancelled) since Emmy voters clearly like New Girl (Zooey and Max Greenfield both got nominated last year) and the only real locks for nominations in that category are Jim Parsons, Alec Baldwin, and Louis C.K..

  • rrho | June 27, 2013 2:58 PMReply

    Anna Torv should have won an Emmy or two for FRINGE already; her impersonating two characters that impersonate each other at some point, always without missing a beat, was at least equal, if not superior to Tatiana Maslany's role in ORPHAN BLACK. But, alas, FRINGE's last season was hardly its best.

  • Angelica Jade | June 27, 2013 2:40 PMReply

    That character in "Top of the Lake" was anything but complex. He came off as a disgusting, uninteresting caricature of a sexist man. The character wasn't interestingly written or acted. I felt that show ended up being troubling on so many levels.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | June 27, 2013 10:01 PM

    watch him in 'MY NAME IS JOE'

  • NewYorker | June 27, 2013 2:33 PMReply

    for me probley
    William H. Macy, Jeremy Allen White & Emmy Rossum all from Shameless.
    Jake Johnson from New Girl
    Jane Levy, Cheryl Hines & Jeremy Sisto from Suburgatory
    Krysten Ritter from Don't Trust The B
    Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs from 2 Broke Girls

  • Ivy | June 27, 2013 2:32 PMReply

    Tatiana Maslany for all the awards!

  • oogle monster | June 27, 2013 2:29 PMReply

    Kiernan Shipka from Mad Men should (and prob won't) be nominated.

  • Ricky | June 27, 2013 2:26 PMReply

    Mostly good choices, the only not good ones are because I haven't seen the show and can't speak on it.

    I had thought Peter Mullan would be more of a shoe-in than a snub

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