WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: The worse things get for spy Philip Jennings, the better Rhys’ performance gets. And in Season 5, things got pretty bad indeed, with an angst-ridden Philip desperate to leave the spy game behind, only to get roped in again and again. Rhys made Philip’s hesitation in killing Nazi collaborator Natalie positively heart-wrenching, and when Philip angrily lashed out at his son Henry, we felt as wounded as Henry did. It’s true we haven’t seen Philip smile much lately… but with any luck, Rhys will be smiling when the Emmy nominations are announced.
RUPERT FRIEND, HOMELAND
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Thank goodness Peter Quinn didn’t die in that sarin-gas attack last season, because then we wouldn’t have seen Friend get his meatiest material yet — and respond with his finest performance. The CIA assassin was left a shell of his former badass self, hooked on drugs and struggling to communicate through garbled, halting speech. Friend bravely dove into Quinn’s PTSD-fueled rage with everything he had, which made his heroic final acts all the more poignant. Emmy voters, it’s your turn to be heroes and reward Friend for his searing, unforgettable Season 6 work.
JUSTIN THEROUX, THE LEFTOVERS
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Having marvelled at Theroux’s divine portrayal of Jesus-come-lately Kevin in the HBO drama’s first two seasons, we didn’t see how it could possibly get any better, deeper, rawer. Yet, as our beleaguered hero spent the series’ third (and last) season desperately trying to save the world, his sanity and his relationship, his portrayer — infuriatingly never nominated — pulled off performances that were nothing short of… well, miraculous.
STERLING K. BROWN, THIS IS US
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: We’re not that sorry that Randall Pearson couldn’t catch a break (dying biological father, lying adoptive mother, intense pressure at work, anxiety episodes) during the NBC drama’s first season, because all of that turmoil gave Brown so much to work with — and he nailed it. Brown’s engaging manner and willingness to make himself completely vulnerable in service of Randall’s story meant that every facet of the character — goofy dad, jealous brother, loving husband, hurt-but-hopeful son — came across in bittersweet, eminently believable detail. Also of note: Brown took home an Emmy last year for his portrayal of The People Vs. O.J. Simpson‘s Christopher Darden; Brown’s take on Randall is far different though equally moving, and if range like that doesn’t deserve a nomination, we’re not sure what does.
DAN STEVENS, LEGION
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: FX’s wildly inventive comic-book drama was a kaleidoscope of surreal imagery, but Stevens’ complex work as conflicted mutant David Haller was the anchor that kept it emotionally grounded. David has almost unimaginable powers at his disposal, but he’s also plagued by self-doubt after years spent in a mental institution, and Stevens breathed life into both David’s violent inner turmoil and the love he has for fellow mutant Syd that keeps him from going completely over the edge. Comic-book shows usually get the cold shoulder from Emmy voters, but Stevens’ marvelously nuanced performance deserves to (ka-pow!) smash that prejudice to bits.
FREDDIE HIGHMORE, BATES MOTEL
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: There’s but a single word that adequately describes the Emmys’ exclusion of Highmore from this category for the first four seasons of A&E’s superlative Psycho prequel: crazy. Were he to be overlooked again — with the series’ fifth and final season having allowed him to do killer work not only as poor Norman but also as his mercurial Mother — we’d have to change our assessment of the snubbery from crazy to just plain dumb.