Geez, ladies! What’s with all the drama? See what I did there? #TVpuns
Listed below you’ll find a list of exceptional actresses whose performances absolutely enthralled. Paring the field down to just six presented a (hyperbole warning) Herculean task, forcing me to trim great performances from the likes of Game of Thrones just to make way for some of the women you’ll see here. And when Game of Thrones winds up on the cutting room floor, you know the competition is fierce. For me, determining my dream ballot for this category was easy: which performances stuck with me after having moved me profoundly or shaking me to my core or, as is often the case, both at the same time?
Fun game: contrast the thumbnails below to those just recently posted to accommodate my picks for comedy categories. From steely eyes to ugly cries, here we go!
Christine Baranski, Anna Gunn,
The Good Wife Breaking Bad
Taraji P. Henson, Annet Mahendru,
Person of Interest The Americans
Melissa McBride, Mae Whitman,
The Walking Dead Parenthood
Honorable Mention: Lena Headey, Game of Thrones; Ivana Milicevic, Banshee; Sophie Turner, Game of Thrones; Erika Christenson, Parenthood
“Show your work…”
If you scoffed at my selection of The Walking Dead‘s Melissa McBride, then allow me to provide my five-word retort: “Look at the flowers, Lizzy.” I mean, right? McBride absolutely killed it (too soon?) in portraying the weight of the soul-crushing decision to euthanize Lizzy before she transformed into a full-blown psychopath. I watched this scene, hands clapped to my slack-jawed mouth, in awe of her spellbinding performance: McBride wore Carol’s moral conflict on her face like a grotesque Halloween mask. As a show, The Walking Dead can be frustratingly inconsistent, but that in no way diminishes the wallop Melissa McBride packs in the all-time great episode “The Grove.” A stunner.
A thousand times da, Nina Sergeevna! I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen any performer–actor or actress–pull off the kind of high-wire balancing act required of Annet Mahendru on FX’s brilliant series The Americans. Mahendru manages a mind-boggling paradox: Nina is both one hundred percent sympathetic and one hundred percent untrustworthy. Perhaps it has to do with the woman’s gorgeous face, which emotes so completely that we feel her feeling the burden of her betrayal as a double agent. I hope with every fiber of my being that Nina’s walk down the stairs at the end of season two did not serve as her permanent exit from the show because The Americans–for all its strengths, which are myriad–must credit this outstanding actress as a major contributor to its overall success.
Look, Mae Whitman. We need to talk. Can you do me a huge favor and not rip my still-beating heart out of my chest every time you’re on screen? Thanks, Mae! That would be just darling of you. Seriously, a mere quiver of the lip is enough to send me into paroxysms of despair. If you’ve read this blog before, then you know I hold a very soft spot in my heart for NBC’s Parenthood; the cast is excellent, the writing spot-on. I could single out any one of the talented performers from this showcase of a series, but Amber’s doomed relationship with Ryan was one of the best things this show has done, and that has a great deal to do with Mae Whitman (and Matt Lauria, but he ain’t no lady, so back off!). Even better? This arc forced Amber to reconnect with her deadbeat dad Seth, which always forces me to feel every single feel. #MaeMayWin Let’s get that trending!
Speaking of the ugly cry, was there anything more gut-wrenching than Skyler White’s mid-street collapse in Breaking Bad‘s best episode, “Ozymandias?” Truly intense stuff, and that’s to say nothing of the minutes preceding her futile sprint down the street. Geesh, Anna Gunn, you’ve already won an Emmy for your excellent portrayal of Mrs. Walter White. Can you leave some for the rest of us? I know fans loved to hate on Skyler throughout the course of the show’s run, but I found Gunn consistently compelling in the role and never more affecting than in the series’ final stretch of episodes.
Person of Interest very confidently strode to the head of the network drama class this season, and Ms. Taraji P. Henson helped it get there. Jos Carter’s multi-season struggle with the nefarious HR reached its brutal climax halfway through the third season, though Carter’s victory came at a steep cost. Along the way, Henson elevated what could have amounted to little more than a stock character into a multi-faceted, complex woman whose belief in justice motivated many of her decisions and actions. Embodying the show’s heart, Henson proved Person of Interest anything but a flash-in-the-pan science fiction show. For that alone, her nomination would be very well-deserved–unfortunately, I’m not counting on the Emmy machine picking Henson’s number this time around.
On a television show full of bad-ass women, Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart still manages to stand out from the pack. The Good Wife reinvented itself this season, and Diane found herself at the epicenter of these narrative shifts. Baranski’s refusal to rely on obvious histrionics as Diane leaned over the body of her fallen friend is indicative of the subtlety and restraint she brings to the role without sacrificing palpable pathos. Yet somehow, Baranski’s best work came after her partner’s death, whether grappling with her grief or butting heads with the circling sharks of fellow partners. But, for me, Diane’s reconnection with Alicia and her gradual separation from the firm she helped build really carried this performance. Where this character ended up–knocking on the door of Alicia’s firm–might have been inevitable, but the journey Baranski took us on with her her character to arrive there felt like an acting masterclass.
That’s the end! Next time, let’s see what the supporting gentlemen are doing in their respective dramatic roles, shall we? Looking forward to it!