Tomorrow is a big day for television fans. Carson Daly and Mindy Kaling will announce the primetime Emmy Award nominations at 8:30 a.m. ET (you can view the nominations live on the Emmy Television Academy website). As any devoted viewer knows, this has been a banner year for television with breathtaking performances and groundbreaking episodes.
But, the Emmy Awards can sometimes be creatures of habit, nominating the same shows and actors year after year. We are hoping a few actors hear their name announced for the first time tomorrow morning. Here are our picks for the first-time nominees we would love to see.
With Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter so thoroughly engraved in the public consciousness, the idea of anyone else stepping into the role is as close to pop culture sacrilege as you can get (though Brian Cox did an admirable job as a pre-Hopkins Hannibal in Manhunter ). In rebooting the Thomas Harris universe for television, writer Bryan Fuller decided to go in a different direction with actor Mads Mikkelsen, and the gamble paid off handsomely. A national treasure in his native Denmark, the steely-eyed Mikkelsen has proven to be one of the great modern screen presences, with notable roles in the Pusher trilogy, After the Wedding and last year’s The Hunt. As Lecter, the actor oozes equal parts charm, sexuality and menace. Whereas Hopkins played up the character’s more flamboyant, Bond villain-esque aspects, Mikkelsen presents a more cunning, Machiavellian figure. He’s a monster hiding behind an expensive, stylish suit and, try as you might, you just can’t escape his orbit. —Mark Rozeman
Part of the fun in watching TV is discovering a new talent that bursts on the scene—that magic moment when you realize an actor you’ve never seen before is really something special. Such a delightful epiphany occurred every time Tolman, who had primarily done sketch comedy theater before landing her role as Molly Solverson in Fargo, came on the screen. There was something so graceful and confident about her performance. Whether she was shyly flirting with Gus (Colin Hanks) or quietly using her intellect to solve the case, Molly was a fully realized character. I believed her relationships. I believed her conversations. She was the hero on a show that really needed one—but also a realistic hero. Tolman’s performance got a lot of attention, not because it was a showy role and not because it featured a high-profile actor, but because Tolman was really, really good. —Amy Amatangelo
As “Crazy Eyes” on Orange is the New Black Uzo Aduba is something of a crowd favorite. Her unexpected sincerity and intimidating intelligence give humanity to a character that—in a lesser actor’s hands—could come across as… well… crazy. After being caught in Vee’s web of deception in Season Two, the audience is both worried for Crazy Eyes, and also a little proud that she’s finally standing up for herself. Aduba successfully plays multiple objectives, all seemingly at the same time and is so present in her scenes that it’s difficult to remember that Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren is not actually a real person. —Leland Montgomery
When I was little, I went through a period of time where I consistently asked for a pony. And every birthday and Christmas, I thought, “Maybe this is the year someone—my parents, Santa Claus, a really nice neighbor—will give me a pony.” Much like Sue Heck herself, I remained eternally hopeful. I approach Eden Sher’s prospects of this being the year she receives an Emmy nomination with the same optimism. Yes, the show should be nominated and, yes, the other actors on the comedy are equally terrific (I have a particular soft spot for Charlie McDermott’s Axl). But I’ve put all my energy towards willing a nomination to happen for Sher. She is simply brilliant as the gangling, gawky, ever-enthusiastic Sue Heck. No matter what embarrassing situation Sue gets herself into, no matter how many times she tries out for something and fails, viewers never feel sorry for her. That’s because Sue never feels sorry for herself—she’s pretty happy with who she is. That kind of subtle performance is tricky to pull off and, in the wrong hands, Sue could have become a one-note joke. But Sue and the actress who portrays her are amazing. I’ve given up on getting a pony but I will never give up on Sue Heck. —Amy Amatangelo
Amy Poehler is the star of Parks and Recreation, and there is a fine ensemble of supporting characters around her. But there is one man, and he is very much a man, who has risen above them all since the beginning. Even during the shaky first season of the show, Nick Offerman stood out as Ron Swanson, but since then the legend of Swanson has grown. There is a reason he is the character that gets most of the internet love, and shows up on Parks and Rec merchandise. And while the character is hilariously written, it’s Offerman’s performance that really allows Swanson to shine. He is a master of the deadpan. He can be ridiculous and goofy and histrionic when the moment comes. Offerman excels at every shade of Swanson. And while it’s worth noting that Ron Swanson probably would not care much for the Emmys, that’s no excuse not to give Offerman the plaudits he deserves. Plus, that little statuette would look great on a handcrafted shelf. —Chris Morgan
Eva Green is one of the best things about Showtime’s new series Penny Dreadful. “Breakout” might be the appropriate word except Green has already appeared in a number of films. In fact, she’s starred in some of my favorites (The Dreamers, Casino Royale). In the space of a few moments, Green can oscillate between so many emotions and objectives, that it’s hard not to feel a little breathless watching her. She’s always grounded, always specific and impossible not to love. —Leland Montgomery
Review is one of the best new comedies of the year and it all hinges on the fantastic performance of Andy Daly. Over the years, Daly has created a variety of increasingly insane characters, yet in Forrest McNeil, he’s created one of balance. Torn between his own personal life and a career he believes in so much that he just might give anything in his attempt to review life. Often in Daly’s performance, you can see this duality fighting it out in his brain, as he tries desperately to maintain both sides. Watching this struggle has me convinced that Daly is delivering one of the finest comedic performances in recent years. —Ross Bonaime
With her obnoxiously colorful sweaters and big hair, the matriarch of The Goldbergs could have been a goofy caricature. But McLendon-Covey imbues Beverly with motherly love and devotion, making her not only the funniest mom on TV, but also the most convincing one. Beverly will do anything—anything—for her children. She may mortify them in the process, but it all comes from a good place. McLendon-Covey, who was so hilarious in Bridesmaids, brings the perfect mixture of broad comedy and nuanced moments to the role. —Amy Amatangelo
Louie is such a singular show, that whenever Pamela Adlon gets thrown into C.K.’s way, it shakes the entire foundation of the plot. She started as just a single mother friend to Louie and at this point, she’s Louie’s confidant and the closest thing he has to real love. Adlon is brash, surprising, occasionally childish and refreshing—often becoming the personal manifestation of Louie’s deepest, true feelings. After this most recent season, Adlon could end up representing the very destruction of Louie’s life, or his personal savior. Regardless, she’s always fascinating to watch. —Ross Bonaime
*Adlon previously won an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance on King of the Hill, and was also nominated for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for Louie. We’re rooting for her to get a first-time nod for a live-action performance.
Television is not a great place for subtlety. By nature of the medium, most everything needs to be heightened and fast-paced in order to continually engage the audience’s attention after hours of content. With its deliberate pacing and emphasis on small moments rather than big, melodramatic ones, Sundance’s Rectify is not like most shows. At the center is Aden Young as Daniel Holden, a man who spent close to 15 years in prison only to be abruptly released due to DNA evidence. While the series boasts one of the most phenomenal casts currently on TV, it’s Young’s stoic, yet engaging performance that anchors the show. It’s a master class in economics, with the actor often using his emotive eyes in place of dialogue, making it the kind of role Robert De Niro, Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman would have fought to play back in their heyday. —Mark Rozeman
Danielle Brooks was only two years out of Juilliard when she was cast as Taystee on OITNB. While Brooks was amazing in Season One, she reigns supreme over Season Two. The addition of Yvonne Parker (Lorraine Toussaint) at Litchfield prison really gave Brooks a vehicle with which to demonstrate her classical training—the entire second half of this second season was Shakespearean. Brooks navigated her character arc like a champion and while thing might have ultimately tied up a little too neatly, Brooks always came across as totally sincere and honest in her delivery. —Leland Montgomery
A consummate scene-stealer, Caplan finally found a role to match her considerable talents in the much-beloved, if short-lived, Starz series Party Down. As with that show, the folks behind Masters of Sex understand how to employ Caplan’s considerable charm and comedic timing, while allowing her the chance to flex her dramatic muscles as well. As Virginia Johnson, Caplan walks a delicate line, endowing the character with a strong will and humanity without ever making her progressive tendencies feel anachronistic or out-of-step with the repressed ‘50s mindset. Whereas Michael Sheen’s William Masters can be a difficult and abrasive figure to follow, Caplan balances the dynamic perfectly and provides the show with its heart. —Mark Rozeman
For the heart attack he had in Season One, during which he continued his work as the White House Chief of Staff directly from the ambulance, give this man his Emmy [nomination]. For his countless, brilliant monologues about the true state of American politics (which he has likened to “Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny”), give this man his Emmy [nomination]. And for being this ruthless, powerful, and—almost incidentally—gay villain with the ability to still, somehow, melt our hearts, Jeff Perry as Cyrus Beene deserves all of the Emmy nominations and awards. He is, without a doubt, one of Shonda Rhimes’s most brilliantly written characters, revered by the real people and the republic which he so vehemently defends, exploits, and loves. —Shannon M. Houston
On OITNB, Queen Nathasha Lyonne proves again and again that her comeback is God’s gift to us lesser mortals. It was a smart move on the writers’ parts to create Nicky’s arc in a way that reflects so much of Natasha’s personal life. Not only are we invested in the character; we’re also deeply invested in the actress. Which isn’t to say that Natasha doesn’t slay just about every scene she’s in—she very much does. But when Nicky shows her heart surgery scar to another character, or ruminates about whether she should go back to doing heroin, her skill as an actor is enhanced by her bravery in committing to scenes which so closely resemble her personal struggles. —Leland Montgomery
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: it is insane that Vincent Kartheiser has never been nominated for an Emmy for his work as Pete Campbell. For seven seasons, he’s stolen just about every scene he’s been in, whether he’s falling down the stairs, duking it out with Lane Pryce or delivering perhaps the greatest line of the series (“NOT GREAT, BOB”). But, while he does hilarious indignation like no one else, Pete’s not just there for comic relief. Like, well, everyone on Mad Men, he can get dark as hell, and you don’t have to look much further than Kartheiser’s performance in the heartbreaking “Signal 30” showcase episode—or the quietly phenomenal way Pete asks Peggy if she pities him in season six, or his season five affair with Beth, or countless other instances that would take too long to list here—to find that Pete’s a multifaceted character. Kartheiser’s a utility player if ever there was one, shifting from slapstick to sob stories at the drop of a hat and pulling it all off seamlessly. Let’s get him that Emmy, huh? —Bonnie Stiernberg
One need only watch a few minutes of any Orphan Black episode to see why Tatiana Maslany deserves to win every acting award available. In portraying a group of clones with vastly different personalities, Maslany bounces back and forth between different accents, hairstyles and mannerisms. And while the show’s second season proved to be a bit weaker than its first, the actress continues her reign as one of television’s most valuable players. If nothing else, she deserves some kind of comedy award for her off-key rendition of “Sugar, Sugar.” —Mark Rozeman
Strip away all of the rumors and speculation as to what True Detective would end up becoming, and you still have one of the most exciting shows to premiere this year. More than yellow kings or hints at Cthulhu appearances, what really sticks out about the debut season is Ruste Cohle, a perfect addition to the recent McConassance. Cohle might be full of crap, or he might be a brilliant philosopher. Either way, he’s a haggard cop just trying to do what is right in a world that has beaten him down. From his “time is a flat circle” monologue to the season’s final moments, Cohle is one of the most memorable characters of 2014. —Ross Bonaime
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