WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Brown’s showing in Season 2 of the NBC drama might be even more impressive than his Season 1 tour de force performance: Absent a heartbreaking gut punch like William’s death, Brown mined small moments — a long-simmering argument with Beth, a quiet conversation with foster daughter Deja — for their maximum emotional impact. Though Randall floundered a bit in the wake of so much life upheaval, Brown’s instincts and choices never wavered. He won in this Emmy category for the same role last year — and he certainly deserves a chance to do so again.
SAM HEUGHAN, OUTLANDER
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Even if you disregard the first five episodes of Season 3 (in which Heughan imbued a devastated Jamie with haunted eyes and a disinclination to engage with the world around him) and the last seven episodes (in which the actor took Jamie through the mystifying process of accepting that Claire had, indeed, returned to him), Heughan would still deserve an Emmy nod for Episode 5 — aka the “print shop” — in which he had Jamie fall to beautiful pieces upon reuniting with his wife. We’re not sure that many actors could’ve so effectively conveyed the awkward sense of wonder and joy with which Mr. Fraser re-encountered his Mrs.; Heughan nailed it.
MATTHEW RHYS, THE AMERICANS
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: In his final season as disillusioned Soviet spy Philip Jennings, Rhys crafted an exquisite portrait of a man whose life was slowly but surely falling apart. Rhys made us feel every last ounce of the crushing weight of Philip’s desperation, whether through a sad, silent stare into space — or a long, impassioned speech in, say, a parking garage. Philip was an expert liar, to the very end, but Rhys’ finest work of the series came when that liar finally decided to tell the truth.
J.K. SIMMONS, COUNTERPART
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: In the hands of a lesser actor, Starz’s Counterpart might have been a serviceable bit of sci-fi-tinged drama. Simmons, though, elevated the material to the next level, by crafting two characters who on the surface are identical, but in every other way are distinct — and distinctly compelling. As this side’s Howard Silk, Simmons led us to instantly sympathize with a low-level espionage wonk who is pulled from his sad routine into a higher-stakes crisis. Meanwhile, with the slightest tweaks to Simmons’ comportment, Howard “Prime” scrutinizes our world through steely eyes, while brimming with confidence. It’s the Howards’ evolution, however — respectively gaining gumption and rediscovering empathy — where Simmons’ Academy Award-winning skills shine brightest.
MILO VENTIMIGLIA, THIS IS US
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: It would be easy to overlook Ventimiglia’s performance in Season 2 of the NBC hit; his Papa Pearson is the quintessential dad, consistently turning in reliable, touching performances that often don’t get the acknowledgement that his co-stars’ bigger moments do. But to confuse Ventimiglia’s steadfastness with less-than-Emmy-level work would be a massive mistake. In Season 2, he was as brilliantly effective as aged-up Jack in the vow-renewal fantasy as he was sharing the character’s de facto last conversation with Rebecca in the hospital room. In short: The man behind the family stalwart deserves another shot at Emmy gold.
JEFFREY WRIGHT, WESTWORLD
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: As Bernard, Wright has one of the most thankless tasks in Westworld, serving as the audience’s cipher to the twisty sci-fi drama. How amazing, then, that the actor not only helps viewers understand what’s happening but also manages to wring such pathos out of the perpetually confused android. Bernard is never quite sure what is real, what is artificial, what is happening now and what is a long-stored memory. As such, Wright has him react to everything with a pureness of emotion that feels authentic and true. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, and Wright does so with grace.