Iconic women have been dominating TV screens for decades, from the homes on Wisteria Lane to the halls of Sterling Cooper; from the Stars Hollow town meetings in Patty’s dance studio to the showers of Litchfield Penitentiary; from the White House press room to, well, numerous locations all over the DC area. While these seven Emmy-nominated actresses have been recognized for their most recent television portrayals, we'll forever know and love them for their first iconic TV roles.
She might have started off as just a secretary at Sterling Cooper, but a determined Peggy Olson fought against the double standards rampant in the advertising agency world in the 1960s and quickly rose in the ranks to become one of the agency’s greatest writers, creatives and competition on the revolutionary AMC show Mad Men. This role earned Elisabeth numerous nominations, including wins at both the SAG Awards and Emmy Awards.
Elisabeth Moss taps into an equally determined character in her role as Offred (aka “June”) in the hit Hulu show The Handmaid’s Tale. While her survival in Gilead is more of a literal life-or-death situation than Peggy Olson’s on Madison Avenue, that doesn’t scare the badass June as she fights to escape the totalitarian nation and reunite with her kidnapped daughter. In the show's first season alone, Elisabeth has earned two Emmy Awards.
"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches" - June
Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes was just one of the boys with a tendency to be quite assertive despite usually being outnumbered by men. Sound familiar? Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer on the HBO comedy VEEP has also spent a large portion of her day bossing men around (and cursing wildly while doing so!) in the boys’ club that is both the White House and Washington, DC.
Between the two roles, Julia has created two endearing, human and far-from-perfect characters that aren’t just lovable, they’re also major award winners! From Golden Globes to Critics’ Choice, Emmys, SAG and Television Critics Association Awards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ wins for both Seinfeld and VEEP have been nothing short of incredible. In fact, with her sixth back-to-back win for Best Actress in a Comedy for VEEP, she's made history for most Emmy Awards won by a single performer for one role.
“You bet it was. It was a huge pleasure to meet me.” – Selina Meyer
Lorelei Leigh Gilmore, aka Rory Gilmore, was the pride of Stars Hollow on the WB show Gilmore Girls (and also Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life). We knew everything about her entire life, from her accidental conception to her entire thought process leading up to her decision to go to Yale instead of Harvard, and to her own surprise pregnancy at the age of 32. This was Alexis’ first acting role and she fully embodied the loving, verbose and coffee-addicted character in such a way that many were pleasantly shocked to see her very quiet and subtle portrayal of the mysterious and suffering Ofglen (aka Emily), also from The Handmaid’s Tale.
Though Gilmore Girls launched Alexis’ career, gave her a devoted fanbase and earned her a number of nominations and awards, including two Teen Choice Awards, it was the role of Ofglen/Emily that finally gave her an Emmy Award win.
“I can not do this alone. I need my mommy and I don’t care who knows it!” – Rory Gilmore
As the White House Press Secretary and later White House Chief of Staff, The West Wing’s fan-favorite no-bullshit C.J. Cregg was an impressive force to be reckoned with. But also, with the code name “Flamingo,” a quick wit, a snarky sense of humor and a fabulous laugh, it’s easy to see how Allison Janney would have some decent comedy chops as well. And that she does! In playing recovering addict Bonnie Plunkett on the CBS comedy Mom, Allison brings utter joy to this dysfunctional character and her relationship with her grown daughter and extended family.
From her work on The West Wing alone, Allison took home four SAG Awards. Four of her seven Emmy Awards were also due to her work on the NBC drama and two were for her comedic role on the CBS show.
“One in 40 American men wear women’s clothing and we’ve had well over 40 presidents. I’m just saying, one of these guys was dancing around the Oval Office in a prom dress. Now let’s get to the bottom of that.” – C.J. Cregg
In 2007, the WB college drama Felicity made it onto Time magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All Time” (Note: Gilmore Girls, Seinfeld and The West Wing all made the cut as well.), and protagonist Felicity Porter was named #24 in Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years in 2010. Whether you agree with the rankings or not (or ever got over THAT haircut), the coming-of-age show on the naïve, thoughtful, curly-haired college student from Palo Alto who seemed forever stuck in a puppy love triangle was a teen sensation beyond just the four years it was on the air.
In contrast, Elizabeth Jennings, the ruthless under-cover KGB agent from the FX drama The Americans is basically the complete opposite of sweet, sensitive Felicity. The so-called “drama” at the dorms of the University of New York are no match for the tension and high stakes in the Northern Virginia suburbs during the Cold War. While Keri won a Golden Globe during the first season of Felicity, it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that she earned her first Emmy nominations and Critics’ Choice nominations (with a total of four for the latter) for The Americans.
“It's hard to articulate this thing that I'm so afraid of. The future. I mean, why should we be so afraid of the future? It's just time... isn't it?” – Felicity Porter
Has anyone recovered from [spoiler alert] Poussey Washington’s accidental murder at Litchfield? ANYONE?! The jolly bibliophile from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, played by Samira Wiley, quickly earned more and more screen time and became a fan-favorite character. The magical combination of Poussey and her co-inmates at Litchfield earned the cast, including Samira, three back-to-back SAG Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
Though she’s the third actress from The Handmaid’s Tale to make this list, Samira’s portrayal of the conflicted but willful Moira should not be overlooked. In fact, she was so good that she’s up for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Get it, girl.
"My name is Poussey. Accent à droite, bitch." – Poussey Washington
There may be no role more overlooked and under-appreciated than that of a housewife, but playing a desperate one (and a mother of a million children) named Lynette Scavo earned Felicity Huffman an Emmy, three SAG Awards, and three Golden Globe nominations. Desperate Housewives, the ABC drama set on the fictional Wisteria Lane, was one of the most-watched shows in the world and when the series finale aired, it set a new record as the longest hour-long television series starring all female leads.
While Lynette had some consistent struggles with her growing family year-to-year across the show’s eight seasons, Felicity’s roles on ABC’s American Crime drama were inconsistent, as she played completely different characters each of the three years the crime anthology was on the air. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see a fourth season of this critically acclaimed show with Felicity in yet another dramatic role, as ABC has canceled it.
“I know someone, who knows someone, who knows an elf. And if any of you acts up, so help me, I will call Santa and tell him you want socks for Christmas! Are you willing to risk that?” – Lynette Scavo
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