Make Your Case: Best Actress in a Drama Series

For the next week, (Pop) Culturally Informed will be running a brand new series called Make Your Case, where Ben and Nina will take on one major category in turn for next week’s Emmys, pick who they think should win, and make their case. Note: We aren’t going to say who WILL win, but who should. Sometimes these will be one and the same- but we like to choose the road less traveled. Enjoy!

Let me begin by saying that this is an excellently stacked category. We have mainstays like Claire Danes (Homeland) and Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), both of whom have taken home this particular statue before. We have buzzy fan favorites like Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Kerry Washington (Scandal) and Robin Wright (House of Cards). We also have Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), whom I have already forgotten about. (Her?)

These are all lovely and talented women, but I’m going to have to make a decision here, and it’s not easy – but my gut has to go with Kerry Washington. I know, I know. Allow me to explain.

I am very aware that Claire Danes is probably going to win. Claire Danes always wins. Claire Danes could appear in a Sensodyne commercial and win an Emmy. But I just don’t want her to. Homeland has entered the ranks of “once-great” shows, and frankly, Danes’ shaky, weepy performance isn’t doing it for me after so many years. Julianna Margulies is great, and actually probably deserves the win the most, since this season of The Good Wife was, by all accounts, its strongest and most emotional yet. Robin Wright’s bad bitch Claire Underwood is a shitload of fun to watch, but doesn’t have the full emotional depth of these other characters. And… sorry, Michelle Dockery. I got nothing. You’re very pretty. You look great in gowns.

For me, it came down to Caplan or Washington, both of whom are phenomenal actresses who have the enormous task as serving as the emotional anchor for their respective shows. Masters of Sex wouldn’t survive without Caplan’s Virginia Johnson – as a contrast to Michael Sheen’s stiff, unfeeling William Masters, Virginia is the warm, human presence that gives its show its heart. But, as good as Caplan is, I think it’s time to finally reward Washington.

And again, let me be clear: Scandal is a soapy, ridiculous show, but I love it, and I’m certainly not alone. But Washington’s performance as Olivia Pope, the Washington fixer with a single weakness (which, yes, is a weakness for the President), grounds the entire show and keeps it from sliding completely off the rails. The show itself could practically be classified as fantasy or sci-fi – there’s (probably) not that much cold-blooded murder in Washington, and it seems slightly unlikely that a woman who would grow up to work for the US government would have TWO super-spy parents. (Although. I STILL MAINTAIN that they straight up stole that plot twist from Alias, mostly because THEY DID.) But Olivia remains human through all of it, especially because just about every problem is personal.

Washington has discussed how this season was especially difficult for her as an actress, and part of that was due to her pregnancy, which did lead to some particularly hilarious camera angles as her stomach grew (Olivia Pope from behind a lamp! Olivia Pope from behind a chair!), but this season’s difficulty also stemmed from its tough material. Olivia is used to solving other people’s problems, but this time, she does have to deal with both super-spy parents, one of whom she thought was dead for years. (Again. They definitely watched Alias in this writer’s room.) In grappling with not only Rowan and Maya Pope, but having to deal with a secretive super-spy boyfriend, a love-lorn President, and a drunken, destroyed First Lady – not to mention a grieving and frankly crazy Chief of Staff – Washington’s adept performance showed us that sometimes, even Olivia
Pope has to take off her white hat and completely lose her shit. Her scenes this year were raw, emotional, and less controlled, but all the better for it.

Claire Danes will probably win, and Julianna Margulies will if Danes doesn’t. But I’d love to see Kerry Washington sneak in and grab this one. I mean, the woman deserves an Emmy just for NEVER spilling red wine all over her fabulous white wardrobe. (I told you. Sci-fi.)

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