By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 17, 2014 at 3:13PM
We're having a sustained and much needed break from the Oscars, but that doesn't mean that awards are completely banished from the cultural landscape. For better or worse, Emmy season is sneaking up. The biggest and most prestigious TV awards in the calendar ended their qualifying season at the end of May, and ballots opened only a few days ago, with voting set to finish next week, ahead of the announcement of nominations on July 10th (with the awards themselves following on August 25th).
Because they mostly focus on ongoing series, the Emmys are even more of a closed shop than their big-screen equivalent: once you're in the club, you're in the club, and many series continue to rack up the nominations long past their prime (*cough* "Modern Family" *cough*), while newer series, or performers without the same kind of star power, can end up missing out.
So, with the close of voting approaching, we wanted, as we've done before, to shine a light on some of our favorite TV performances of the 2013/2014 season that, unfortunately, stand little chance at joining the mainstays like Jim Parsons, Bryan Cranston, Julianna Margulies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus when nominations are announced next month. You can take a look below at the twelve we picked, and let us know your own favorites in the comments section.
Laurence Fishburne - "Hannibal"
The chances of "Hannibal" ever picking up any love from Emmy voters is pretty minimal. It's a show that finds new ways to disgust, repulse and horrify every week (in a good way!) , and hardly anyone watches it anyway. Which is a shame, because all the show's leads are pulling off phenomenal work (even Caroline Dhavernas, whose character has rather less to do than the others), with Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen adding new shade and complexity to Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter this season. But our favorite performance of the last season might have come from Laurence Fishburne, who's doing some of the best work of his career as FBI agent Jack Crawford. On paper, it's a thankless part, with the actor essentially playing the standard police chief-type role, something even Fishburne has done plenty of times before. But the writing and the performance have superseded the archetype. Fishburne has brought real paternal warmth, and even humor, to Crawford, and with season two, a truly wounded sense of betrayal, at first a sickening self-loathing that he could have been taken in by Will Graham, then, an even more stomach-churning reaction as he slowly realizes that the real evil is still under his nose. The nature of the plotting meant that Crawford took a back seat in the second half of the season, but he was so good in the first half (especially in scenes with real-life wife Gina Torres) that we'd love him to pick up a nod.
Annet Mahendru - "The Americans"
"The Americans" went from being one of last year's strongest debut dramas to being one of the best things on TV for its second season. It remains to be seen whether the deserved critical raves convert to Emmy love (it has a better chance this time, but might still be an outsider), but if anyone from the show gets an acting nomination, it'll be leads Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and/or Noah Emmerich. Not that that wouldn't be well-deserved, because it would be, but the real gem on the series is relative newcomer Annet Mahendru. The Groundlings graduate (born in Afghanistan to a Russian mother and Indian father) had only a handful of one-off TV gigs behind her when she joined "The Americans" in season one as recurring character Nina Sergeevna, a Soviet employee blackmailed by FBI agent Stan (Emmerich) into betraying her country, only to soon turn the tables on him, even as the pair became lovers. Upped to a regular for season two, Mahendru continued to turn in a performance that made Nina the most complex and ambivalent figure in a series packed with complex and ambivalent figures, deftly layering levels of doubt as to what her real motivations were, and keeping you guessing without muddying the waters too much. The result is that even as she continued to play Stan for a fool, you could see the toll on her soul as she did so, which is a more than impressive feat. Hopefully the character will continue to get material that's just as interesting in the third season, assuming she returns...
Alison Tolman - "Fargo"
The most unexpectedly brilliant new series of 2014, "Fargo" should never have worked, and it should never have featured as many brilliant performances as it does. Competing in the miniseries/movie category means that it actually has a chance at picking up some nominations (probably for Billy Bob Thornton, maybe for Martin Freeman too), but we worry that one of the loveliest turns in the series may end up being overlooked. Alison Tolman has, until now, been virtually unknown, plying her trade mostly on stage, but she's front-and-center on "Fargo," as Deputy Molly Solverson, the closest thing the series has to a surrogate for the film version's Marge Gunderson—not that Tolman's just Xeroxing Frances McDormand's Oscar-winning performance. Molly has the same sweetness in the face of evil, the same intrinsic goodness, but it's a sadder, lonelier turn, even after she finds love with Colin Hanks' Gus, the traffic cop who accidentally shot her. Watching her spirit be a little more crushed in the face of the evil (as represented by Thornton's Malvo and Freeman's Lester) around her is heartbreaking, and yet it only makes you root for her to catch the bad guys even more. She's a hugely winning presence, and whether or not she returns for any second season that might come to pass, and whether or not she picks up a nomination, we'll be seeing a lot more from her.
Laverne Cox - "Orange Is The New Black"
"Orange Is The New Black" is timed slightly curiously for the Emmys: the series has debuted two seasons in the last twelve months, but the second landed on June 3rd, just after the window for eligibility for this year's ceremony ends, so only season one will be competing. That means that Lorraine Toussaint will have to wait until 2015 to win ALL THE AWARDS for playing Vee, but it's also a good chance to fight for some of the actors in the show's tremendous ensemble who got a slightly shorter shrift second time around. To wit: Laverne Cox, who's become something of a figurehead for the series (being the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine to promote season two), but actually faded somewhat into the background for the most part with the most recent batch of episodes. But one shouldn't forget how astonishing she was in season one, regardless of the groundbreaking nature of her casting. Cox played Sophia, a transgender inmate who went down for credit card fraud she performed to finance her operation, and the dignity, wisdom and ferocity she brought to the part, especially in the early episode that focused on her character, is emblematic of the compassion and humanity that makes the series so special. As with "Game Of Thrones," the depth of the series' ensemble makes it hard for anyone to stand out from the pack, but it's definitely Cox who lodged herself in our memories.