Charles Dance, “Game of Thrones” — Nominated before for a performance in 2005’s “Bleak House,” Dance’s villainous, string-pulling Tywin Lannister will likely be overlooked because of some of the more flashy characters on “Game of Thrones.” But Dance, in a role with limited screen time, has played the Lannister this year that moved everything in place to allow for one of the all-time most entertaining seasons of television. He has managed, with his scene-stealing bullying, to reduce every other character he comes in contact with on the show to simpering puddles, and that has as much do with the Dance’s performance as it does the show’s writing.
Michael Cudlitz, “Southland” — This performance was everything. Cudlitz has gone completely unnoticed for a truly remarkable performance over the course of the entire series of “Southland,” and this season, he managed to be even better. “Tour de force” is not a phrase I use often, but it is absolutely apt to Cudlitz’s performance as a tough, but vulnerable gay cop who would fall prey to the psychologically traumatic stresses of the job. In a brilliantly acted and written show, Cudlitz stood above them all, turning in a Cranston-like performance this season.
Tatiana Maslany , “Orphan Black” — What else could possibly be said about the best performance, male or female, of the year that we haven’t already said? Tatiana Maslany is terrific, a six-woman show that effortlessly switches characters, and even when she’s playing characters playing other characters. All the credit goes to Maslany for the fact that each of the characters she plays on “Orphan Black” is so remarkably distinct from the others.
Mads Mikkelsen, “Hannibal” — I’m not completely ruling out the possibility that Mikkelsen will receive deserved Emmy recognition for his supporting performance as Hannibal Lector because Emmy voters do have a soft spot for both movie actors and serial killers. However, “Hannibal” has failed to make a huge splash with viewers, and while Mikkelsen’s performance has been riveting, mesmerizing, and deliciously evil, Emmy voters seldom pay attention to network dramas anymore, much less low rated ones.
John Noble, “Fringe” — A mainstay on lists like these, John Noble will almost certainly go unnoticed again this year because he’s turning in such a remarkable, enjoyable, and rich performance on a sci-fi show that few Emmy voters — or viewers — pay that much attention to anymore. But he deserves it, if not for this season alone, then for his entire body of work on five seasons of “Fringe,” where even the bad seasons were salvaged by the guiding presence of Noble.
Aiden Young, “Rectify” — Too few people have seen Sundance channel’s amazing, searing, and devastating “Rectify” to truly appreciate the performance that Young turned in this year. Outside of Cudlitz, it was my favorite male performance of the year, a mixture of soulfulness, bewilderment, and a menacing sweetness that made his character the most enigmatic of the year.
Jack Huston, “Boardwalk Empire” — “Boardwalk Empire” and its lead, Steve Buscemi, are no stranger to Emmy nominations, but it’s the subtle brilliance of Jack Huston that has been sorely overlooked. Not only does he have to act around the CGI covering one side of his face, he has to convey so much with few words. With Michael Shannon on the backburner of the series for the last two years, it’s Huston’s supporting performance that has been carrying much of the dramatic weight.
Peter Krause, “Parenthood” — People will throw their hats in the ring for Monica Potter, because she was the star of a deftly handled cancer plotline on “Parenthood” this season, but what made that plotline so effective was Krause, who had to carry the burden of his wife’s cancer, manage work and the household, and keep it together while quietly dealing with the pressure. Thanks to a terrific Krause performance, we saw every once of sadness and fear beneath the veneer.
Gillian Jacobs — It was a wildly uneven, and mostly mediocre fourth season of “Community” without Dan Harmon, but if there was one terrific stand out, it was Gillian Jacobs who rolled with the punches and became the season’s only real stand-out performance. She crushed it all season long, and often felt like the only actor in the series who still belonged to the series we loved over the course of the first three seasons.
Jay R. Ferguson — Is there an Emmy “audience” award for the most crowd-pleasing performance of the year? There should be. That title might have belonged to Nick Offerman in the last two years, but Jay R. Ferguson — who plays Stan Rizzo on “Mad Men” — has become the Internet’s favorite supporting character, and for good reason: His reaction shots — usually while high — have become one of the best things about this season of “Mad Men,” and that’s saying a lot for what has been the most enjoyable season of the show thus far.