Tube Talk: Emmy Love

By Paula Hendrickson
Television Columnist

This year’s Emmy nominations were announced last week. Expanded categories and rule changes didn’t quell the outcry of snubbed shows, actors and even networks. (Most notable: new rules mean Netflix’s Orange is the New Black is now lumped into Drama categories while previous seasons were submitted under the Comedy banner.)

Given the sheer number of smartly-written, well-acted and beautifully-produced series broadcast this year, the Academy could have expanded each category to 10 nominees and there would still have been dozens of snubs.

A welcome surprise among the acting categories was seeing Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany nominated along side Taraji P. Henson (Fox’s Empire), Claire Danes (HBO’s Homeland), Robin Wright (Netflix’s House of Cards), Viola Davis (ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder) and Elisabeth Moss (AMC’s Mad Men).

While many think Davis is a shoe-in to win for her meaty role as amoral defense attorney and law professor Annalise Keating, this is still a tough category. Henson’s multi-layered performance made Cookie the break-out character of the season and is a huge part of Empire’s tremendous success. Moss had perhaps her strongest season ever, and Wright and Danes are masters at imbuing humanity into characters that could be flat-out unlikable in lesser hands.

But Maslany does something none of her fellow nominees do. She plays multiple characters: former London street kid Sarah, soccer mom Alison, science geek Cosima, Ukranian killing machine Helena and cold corporate clone Rachel, as well as supporting clones, like Beth, the dead detective Sarah once impersonated and this season’s new addition, the wide-eyed manicurist Krystal (who thinks twins are creepy). The characters are so distinct you can tell when one clone is posing as another.

Each clone has her own voice. Sarah and Rachel are both British, but their accents are worlds apart. Rachel is posh and polished, while Sarah’s language is coarser and her voice a bit gravelly. Alison always sounds chipper, even when threatening someone. Cosima’s voice is somewhere between Sarah’s guttural sound and Alison’s peppy, clipped speech pattern. Krystal is even perkier than Alison. Helena is a wonder of her own thanks to her thick Ukraninan accent. She says a lot with few words. Her favorite word? Sestra.

Even in scenes without words, Maslany uses distinct mannerisms and body language to indicate which clone you’re watching – even when they’re disguised as one of the others. While each clone has a distinctive look, it’s Maslany’s performance that makes it all work.

I’m not sure which specific episode Maslany is nominated for, but she manages to pull off the seemingly impossible in every episode of Orphan Black.

While I’d be pleasantly surprised if she won, I won’t be shocked if she doesn’t since it’s her first nomination, and the competition is staggering.

It would be fun to see Maslany or Henson take home the trophy, but Davis’s stripped down vulnerability in How to Get Away With Murder was shocking in contrast to the strength and power her character projects to the outside world. The scene where her character wipes off her makeup, peels off her false eyelashes and removes her wig left an indelible mark on everyone who watched it.

Whoever winds up winning the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series is more than deserving. They all are.

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