WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Do-right Randall, with his priorities in perfect order? Brown’s had that on effortless lock since the NBC drama’s premiere. But ambitious Randall, who’s so driven that it nearly costs him his marriage? That’s a facet we hadn’t seen before Season 3, and Randall’s all-encompassing political run made for a meaty, trying and ultimately uplifting arc that Brown absolutely nailed. If we were the actor, we’d move those two previous Emmys over a little on the shelf: There’s a good chance he’ll need space for a third come September.
RICHARD MADDEN, BODYGUARD
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: As a protection officer who gets caught up in a political conspiracy, Madden commanded the screen with unwavering intensity from the show’s fraught opening minutes to its gripping conclusion. In every perilous situation his character David Budd faced, the Golden Globe-winning actor exuded vice-grip control, while also conveying the trauma of a man haunted by war. It was the kind of captivating performance that could deservedly earn Madden the job of bodyguard to the Emmy Award.
BOB ODENKIRK, BETTER CALL SAUL
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Season 4 of AMC’s superb Breaking Bad spinoff saw Jimmy McGill take his final, fateful steps toward becoming Saul Goodman, and Odenkirk deftly played every note of his agonizingly tragic downfall. Reinventing himself in the wake of his brother Chuck’s demise, Jimmy embraced his dark side and turned on the charm to fool everyone around him — including his girlfriend Kim — but Odenkirk also let us see the rage and resentment churning just below the surface.
BILLY PORTER, POSE
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Whether he’s announcing the next young hopeful to the ballroom floor or cutting down an unprepared entry with his signature sass, Pray Tell is the human equivalent of an exclamation point: loud, impactful and impossible to ignore. Frankly, the role fits Porter like a glove. (Actually, make that a bedazzled velvet glove. With feathers!) But it’s when the records stop spinning and the lights come up that Porter’s true talents shine. Pray Tell’s fraught, complicated experience with HIV — as he watches what it’s done to his community, what it’s doing to his lover and what it may eventually do to him — calls for a heartbreaking performance, one that Emmy voters should give a perfect 10.
WYATT RUSSELL, LODGE 49
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: This is an oddball choice, we admit — how did AMC’s quirky, low-stakes mystery even end up in the Drama Series category? — but Russell’s thoroughly charming work as laid-back surfer dude Dud was one of our favorite TV debuts of the year. Ambling through life in a California beach town, Dud found himself unwittingly wrapped up in the strange lore of a local fraternal lodge, and while the series took some truly bizarre turns, it was always anchored by Russell’s amiable, Big Lebowski-esque stoner act.
J.K. SIMMONS, COUNTERPART
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: It is hard to hop aboard the Emmy train after it has already passed you by. And this Starz drama’s cancellation craters the odds further. But maybe on the other side, Simmons can get his due for this dual role? Season 1 riveted us with the novelty of dueling Howards, but the espionage thriller’s sophomore run allowed Simmons to explore the nuances as each man became a bit more like his other. Howard bidding the other Emily farewell, and his ferocity when holding Howard Prime at gunpoint, are moments that will stay with us well beyond the series’ prematue end.
JEREMY STRONG, SUCCESSION
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Do we love to hate Kendall Roy? Or do we just hate him? Without Strong’s engaging portrayal of media titan Logan Roy’s scheming scion, HBO’s dysfunctional family drama wouldn’t work. He leads us to wonder how someone so determined to escape his father’s shadow might do so while becoming a version of that same man. Yet for all of Kendall’s posturing as a wheeler-dealer, it’s in the character’s rare, quieter moments — such as his season-ending setback — that Strong elevated him to another level.