WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: In the CW musical comedy’s freshman season, the series’ multi-talented co-creator transformed into something truly original a character that, in lesser hands, might have been merely the stereotype that the series’ title suggests. Make no mistake, her Rebecca Bunch is crazy and was Josh’s ex-girlfriend (and probably will be again, come fall). But, thanks to Bloom’s nimble portrayal of a hot mess who’s as likely to hurt herself as anyone else, the show’s opener didn’t really need to remind us each week that “the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.” So here’s hoping Emmy voters are smarter than Greg, and, rather than playing it cool, declare their love instead of getting so hammered, they puke.
AYA CASH, YOU’RE THE WORST
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Cash mastered the trickiest of challenges during the edgy romcom’s second season: bringing hilarity to pathos. As Gretchen struggled with clinical depression, the actress brought us into her character’s downward spiral with heartbreaking intensity. At the same time, she never lost sight of the fact that the FXX series is a comedy, finding humor in even the darkest moments of Gretchen’s storyline. When the PR exec went on the offensive and started attacking her boyfriend and friends’ faults, it hurt like hell, but we also couldn’t help but laugh – and maybe cry, too? – at Cash’s biting delivery. It was the worst of times for Gretchen, but the best of times for her portrayer.
LENA DUNHAM, GIRLS
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Honestly, we didn’t think the three-time Emmy nominee could possibly make human disaster area Hannah Horvath any, well, Hannah-ier. We even predicted that, having hooked up with nice, sensible Fran, the character might mature. But damned if, in Season 5 of Dunham’s HBO series, she didn’t prove us wrong — and make us glad that she had. Over and over again, Hannah started what, in rare moments of self-awareness, she’d call “a new nuclear missile crisis with [her] emotions.” And, whether the schoolteacher was flashing her principal to get out of trouble, doing a nude photo shoot to replace Fran’s spank bank or dumping her boyfriend so urgently that she was left stranded in the middle of nowhere, Dunham milked every moment for all it was worth — and then some!
ELLIE KEMPER, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Her character may have smelled like something died in her mouth, but Ellie Kemper remained a breath of fresh air throughout Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s sophomore season. In addition to delivering the culturally inept zingers we’ve come to appreciate — mistaking SpongeBob SquarePants for “Cheese Business Man” was among her best — she also added unexpected depth to Kimmy’s ongoing journey of self-discovery. Kemper managed to forge real emotional connections with the audience without detracting from the show’s madcap tone; watching her act opposite Tina Fey (as Kimmy’s alcoholic therapist) and Lisa Kudrow (as her estranged mother) was merely the icing on the cake of a stellar season.
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, VEEP
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Thank goodness there are no term limits on funny. Selina Meyer may be the worst president the United States has ever endured, but portrayer Julia Louis-Dreyfus consistently found ways to keep her commmander-in-chief alter ego obliviously hysterical, and inefficiently hilarious — even in Season 5 of the HBO comedy. Louis-Dreyfus, who has taken home the Emmy four times for the role, deftly pulled off gags both silly (Selina sporting aviator sunglasses to hide her plastic surgery during all moments of a Thanksgiving visit to the troops) and subtle (the prez’s Col. Kurtz-esque late-night, Oval Office monologue about how everyone’s trying to take her down because she’s a woman) over the course of the season. Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina cares not at all about what people think of her — unless, of course, they live in a swing state — and this season, the actress played that disregard to a perfect, frenzied pitch.
TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, BLACK-ISH
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Sure, Bow Johnson sometimes gets stuck with the task of reeling in her crazy sitcom hubby Dre — really, though, who wants a urinal in the master bathroom? — but in Tracee Ellis Ross’ masterful hands, the black-ish matriarch has delicious eccentricities and -isms of her own. Whether navigating dueling churches she’s not sure she wants to attend or engaging in snarky battle with her seldom-approving mother-in-law, Ellis Ross never fails to squeeze every last comic drop from her show’s first-rate scripts. And in “Hope,” as her character tried to shield her youngest children from news about police brutality against an unarmed black man — and clung to her belief that an indictment was inevitable — she proved she could crack hearts as effortlessly as she cracks us up.
JESSICA ST. CLAIR, PLAYING HOUSE
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: We’d like nothing better than to bake some Celebrate Me Scones to mark a nomination for St. Clair, who deserves all the mazels for her work in Playing House‘s second season. Emma lost love with Rabbi Dan, kind of found it during a moment of truth with Mark and even managed to win the Kimmewah Cup — and all of these moments were better because they were infused with St. Clair’s bubbly, infectiously funny performance. The incredibly satisfying USA Network comedy has gone underappreciated by too many for too long: Wouldn’t it be a waffle-level treat if Emmy recognition of one of its leading ladies finally put it on the map?
CONSTANCE WU, FRESH OFF THE BOAT
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Part tiger mom, part real estate entrepreneur, part loving wife, Wu’s Jessica is a master of everything, including the unintentional-but-maybe-not putdown. Whether taking on flight attendants (“They walk back and forth, pushing a cart. They’re the homeless of the sky!”), Melrose Place‘s summer hiatus (“Not even teachers take 20 weeks of vacation!”) or the idea of a best friend (“That’s just something Hello Kitty made up to sell more Hello Kitty.”), the actress’ deadpan line readings are perfectly delivered and perfectly hilarious. And who could forget Wu dressing up as Santa Claus as Jessica made a pretty compelling argument for why Kris Kringle’s thoughtfulness must mean he’s actually a woman? Consider us a believer – in Mrs. Klaus and Wu!