As much as we like to try and predict the key Emmy races, some categories are more tough to figure out — and therefore, more interesting — than others. Outstanding drama series? Shhh, I think we have a pretty good hunch what’s going to win. (Apologies, “Andor,” it’s not you.) This year’s acting categories have some obvious favorites. However, I would not be surprised by almost anything — particularly as performers have stopped campaigning in the wake of the SAG/AFTRA strike.
One of my favorite categories this year, however, is lead actress in a limited or anthology series or movie. And here’s the top reason: This is the only acting category this year that features not a single previous Emmy winner among its nominees. As a matter of fact, half of them have never been nominated at all. Other categories come close (lead limited/anthology/movie actor has one previous winner in Evan Peters, while supporting drama actress has just one in Jennifer Coolidge). But lead actress in limited/anthology/movie is the only category where I can, with 100% confidence, tell you that the winner will be holding their first-ever Emmy.
And yet, there are no slouches in the group — each could make a case for deserving a win. At this point, “Beef” star Ali Wong is so far considered the front-runner in this race for good reason. If you only know Wong for her stand-up, you have no idea. The comedian pulls off one of the best dramatic roles of the season, playing a complicated and conflicted woman whose internalized trauma collides into the similarly pained character played by Steven Yeun — sparking a road rage incident that tears apart their lives. Wong has been nominated once before (last year, in variety special writing, for Netflix’s “Ali Wong: Don Wong”) and this year also picked up a nod in character voiceover for “Tuca & Bertie.”
Critical fave Kathryn Hahn, who, believe it or not, was only nominated twice before (in 2021, for “WandaVision” in the supporting actress in a limited/anthology/movie, and in 2017, for “Transparent,” in supporting comedy actress). Hahn’s third nomination, for Hulu’s “Tiny Beautiful Things,” is also well-deserved. Even in her mixed review of the series, Variety TV critic Alison Herman had nothing but high marks for the actor — even calling it a “miracle of modern television” that Hahn has now led multiple series “delivering nuanced portrayals of messy, horny, hilarious women who bluster their way through middle age.”
Then there’s Lizzy Caplan, previously nominated in 2014 in drama lead actress for “Masters of Sex,” and this time in the running for FX’s “Fleishman Is In Trouble.” Caplan is always a welcome addition to anything she’s in, going back to “Freaks and Geeks” and then, of course, “Party Down” (including her surprise cameo in this year’s revival).
As for the first-timer’s club, they all earned their spot for incredible performances as well — coincidentally, all with a music bent. Dominique Fishback is fascinating and terrifying as a music fan who loves her idol a bit too much in Amazon Prime Video’s “Swarm.” I still can’t believe Riley Keough hadn’t sung before “Daisy Jones & the Six” (especially given her family), but she couldn’t have impressed me more as the lead singer of the ill-fated band in the Prime adaptation. And Jessica Chastain also found her groove as Tammy Wynette in Showtime’s “George & Tammy.”
Voters can do no wrong with whomever they pick in this category, and I’ll be happy to see one of them take home their first-ever Emmy. In a competition where we talk so much about snubs and surprises, this is one where we’ll just take the win.
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