Emmys 2022: Drama acting power rankings

A young woman sits in a car at night.
Zendaya won the Emmy for lead actress drama last year for “Euphoria.” A repeat might be in the cards.
(Eddy Chen / HBO)

Last year at the Emmys, “The Crown” took not only the drama series trophy but also all four drama acting categories, with Olivia Colman and Josh O’Connor winning lead prizes and Gillian Anderson and Tobias Menzies prevailing for their supporting turns.

If you felt that was a bit ... much, good news: “The Crown” won’t be competing this year, as its new season is still months away from debuting — and then going on to dominate next year‘s Emmys.

In the meantime, there’s much to laud that has nothing to do with the monarchy, as you’ll see in our annual Emmys Drama Actor Power Rankings. (And, yes, Yuh-Jung Youn is a queen in all but title.)

15. Jon Huertas, “This Is Us”: First, a note to those who hung with this show through 106 episodes of tears, trauma and bulk Kleenex purchases. I feel your pain, and I just unplugged my Crock-Pot in your honor. Now, as for the Emmys, we know Sterling K. Brown has championed co-star Mandy Moore (“She is killing the game and deserves to be recognized”). And who can argue? But how about some long-overdue recognition for Huertas, who finally earned a stand-alone episode in the show’s waning days and, with it, made everyone realize that they had been taking his character for granted. It’s not too late to make amends. Justice for Miguel and the brilliant actor who brought him to life!


A woman in a period gown and hat pauses while climbing stairs.
Carrie Coon plays a newly rich social climber in HBO’s “The Gilded Age.”
(Alison Rosa / HBO)

14. Carrie Coon, “The Gilded Age”: The drama lead actress field is packed with contenders starring in shows that are long past their expiration dates. (Do not get me started on that “Killing Eve” finale.) Coon provides an alluring alternative, the standout in Julian Fellowes’ glittery new soap opera. Her work as Bertha Russell, the series’ ambitious climber, kept me invested in this ungainly show, if only to see when she might launch another tea tray across the room.

13. Gary Oldman, “Slow Horses”: Wheezy, flatulent, defiantly indifferent, aggressively apathetic (“I want my people in here doing nothing”), Oldman is a comic delight in this spy saga, miles removed from his delicate work in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Oldman’s intelligence agent tells his underlings that “working with [them] has been the lowest point in a disappointing career,” an observation that’s antithetical to his performance in this top-notch Apple TV+ series.

The actor relished the long build of a repeating character. He found it in the spy series “Slow Horses.”

May 24, 2022

12. Kelly Reilly, “Yellowstone”: “Yellowstone” has earned exactly one Emmy nomination for its first three seasons — production design for a narrative contemporary program. (It lost.) That should change this year, and that change should start with Reilly, the show’s avenging angel, master manipulator and settler of scores. She’s the fan favorite on a series that has grown too big to ignore.

A woman in a green tracksuit with the number "067" printed on it
Jung Ho-yeon as Kang Sae-byeok in “Squid Game.”
(Noh Juhan / Netflix)

11. Jung Ho-yeon, “Squid Game”: You’d never imagine that “Squid Game” marked Jung’s acting debut. She says it was difficult to let go of her tenacious character, the gritty Sae-byeok, and if you watched the show, you can probably relate. All these months later, her strength remains firmly fixed in our hearts.

10. Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”: With the first half of the show’s final season having just ended, we’re going to have to wait until July to see how this acclaimed drama sticks the landing. And Odenkirk likely will have to stand by too, as his best shot for (finally) winning the lead actor Emmy will come next year when we learn how the saga of Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman, aka Gene Takavic) ends.

As “Better Call Saul” wraps up, the actor looks at his character’s long journey, but to what he won’t say.

May 17, 2022

9. Kieran Culkin, “Succession”: “Dad. Please.” Two words that arrived at the end of a season in which Culkin’s Roman chased his father’s love, a pursuit that made him reluctant (for a minute, at least) to join his siblings’ plans to betray the old man. If, as Cousin Greg mused, “Souls are boring; boo, souls,” the triumph of “Succession” is revealing how these damaged, entitled characters still have ... eeeeew ... feelings. Except for Logan. He’s a monster.

An older woman in a green top
Yuh-Jung Youn in the Apple TV+ show “Pachinko.”

8. Yuh-Jung Youn, “Pachinko”: Oscar winner. Multilingual marvel. Master thespian and expert mocker of awards-season silliness. She’ll be 75 at this year’s Emmys and could become the first South Korean actor to win an Emmy and an Oscar. We don’t deserve her.

7. Adam Scott, “Severance”: Scott’s dual performance — bemused, vacant office worker during the day, grieving widower at night — in this engrossing sci-fi thriller marks a career high point, making superb use of his Everyman persona while hinting at the damage underneath the façade.

6. Julia Garner, “Ozark”: My dream ending for “Ozark” was for Garner’s Ruth Langmore to murder the Byrdes and sashay into her own spinoff, preferably a comedy that would allow our favorite unfiltered scrapper to chew out her inferiors (pretty much everybody) and say “Pardon my French” on a weekly basis. This did not come to pass. But Ruth did go out on her terms, as did Garner, who, for me, was long the only reason to watch this heavy-handed, repetitive show.

A woman in a zip-up sweatshirt and blue T-shirt
Melanie Lynskey as Shauna in “Yellowjackets.”
(Kailey Schwerman / Showtime)

5. Melanie Lynskey, “Yellowjackets”: I could have just as easily put Christina Ricci or Juliette Lewis here — all the “Yellowjackets” women are exemplary — but I’ll confine my praise (for the moment) to Lynskey’s work as the unassuming, unhappy housewife harboring secrets and seething anger. It’s a star turn from an actor who has been working for nearly 30 years. When does Season 2 start again?

4. Rhea Seehorn, “Better Call Saul”: Let’s not dwell on the past. Seehorn should have an Emmy by now. She should have, at the very least, an Emmy nomination by now. But that’s immaterial, because the work in front of us at this point in time, the final episodes of “Better Call Saul,” is better than ever — complex, thoughtful, anxiety-inducing. Seehorn even made her episodic directorial debut this season with a superb hour that finally paired her in a scene with the great Jonathan Banks. It ... is ... time.

Our panel of veteran TV journalists predicts the winners in 14 categories of the 2022 Emmys. Now you can make your picks in all the categories.

Sept. 6, 2022

3. Jeremy Strong / Brian Cox, “Succession”: Cox calls Strong’s Method acting a “particularly American disease” that his co-star does “brilliantly,” but “it’s also exhausting.” Strong, meanwhile, doesn’t consider himself a Method actor, labeling what he does “identity diffusion.” (We don’t have the space to get into what that means.) Their contrasting approaches (and temperaments) produce sparks, so there’s no “right” answer here. Only sustained brilliance.

A line of men wearing green tracksuits with numbers on them.
Lee Jung-jae (number 456) is a man in a deadly competition in the Netflix drama “Squid Game.”
(Youngkyu Park / Netflix)

2. Lee Jung-jae, “Squid Game”: Along with his co-star Jung, Lee won a top prize earlier this year at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. You can understand the impulse to reward these actors — not only for their engaging, empathetic work but also for the fact that it looks like they went through a lot to deliver it. Or maybe I’m just projecting. I wouldn’t answer the door this past Halloween to anyone wearing a tracksuit.

1. Zendaya, “Euphoria”: No one’s going to be surprised this year when she wins.