updated 09/03/2015 AT 7:49 PM ET
•originally published 08/20/2014 AT 5:30 PM ET
Alright, alright, alright! Matthew McConaughey earned his first Emmy nomination this year along with Taylor Schilling, Lizzy Caplan and many more. But 2014’s crop of honorees is also full of veterans.
Many of the performers nominated are already known for bringing one if not multiple classic small-screen characters to life. Julia Louis-Dreyfus alone has graciously given us Elaine Benes, Selina Meyer and Christine Campbell. This left us wondering, what would happen if each 2014 Emmy nominee could only have one memorable character live on in TV history?
We struggled through some true TV “Sophie’s Choices” to pick the characters we believe pop culture needs to survive. Read our choices below and share your own picks in the comments.
1. Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Louis-Dreyfus initially boogied into our hearts playing the lone female in Seinfeld’s critically acclaimed quartet of eccentric New Yorkers. After bringing back “the sponge,” the comedian went on to be the only one to break the Seinfeld curse, first with The New Adventures of Old Christine and then with Veep. As Selina Meyer, Louis-Dreyfus gives politically incorrect a whole new and hilarious meaning, already earning two Emmys for the role.
The Verdict: Get out! Our pick is Elaine. What can we say? We’re a sucker for those little kicks.
2. Woody Harrelson
The Contenders: True Detective’s Martin Hart and Cheers’s Woody Boyd
Where would we be without Harrelson’s True Detective character? Probably still trying to wade through Rust Cohle’s existential monologues and cigarette butts. In just eight episodes, the 53-year-old showed the full range of his acting talents, talents that first blossomed in Cheers. Playing Woody Boyd in the sitcom, a character with a little less smarts and a touch more hair, Harrelson gave us adorable doofus antics that served as a refreshing replacement for the show’s sagely Coach.
The Verdict: While Harrleson’s turn in True Detective was impressive, even the actor himself is throwing his vote to McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, leaving us to pick the not-too-bright Woody Boyd as the Harrelson role with the most staying power.
3. Claire Danes
The Contenders: Homeland’s Carrie Mathison and My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase
One is experienced in the trials of teen angst and Jordan Catalano’s love games, the other is a pro with counterterrorism and ugly cry faces … so they are basically the same person. Regardless, these two characters make up the big highlights of Danes’s time on TV. Even though My So-Called Life marked the near beginning of Danes’s acting career, the role earned her a Emmy nomination and hinted at great things to come.
The Verdict: It’s a draw. Call it cheating if you want, but there is no way to chose between these iconic characters. There’s a little Angela Chase in all of us, including Carrie Mathison.
4. Bryan Cranston
The Contenders: Breaking Bad’s Walter White and Malcolm in the Middle’s Hal
In an alternate universe there is a TV show about a zany dad who decides to make meth and use his four bickering sons as drug dealers, all while never putting on pants. Here on Earth we have Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle: Two shows that show fathers going to ridiculous extremes to keep their families happy, with mixed results. What is truly remarkable is that both of these slightly crazed small-screen dads are played by the same man.
The Verdict: Cranston’s comedic side is always a treat, but he truly found his calling as Walt. Besides, we’re afraid of what Heisenberg would do if we didn’t choose Breaking Bad.
5. Julianna Margulies
The Contenders: The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick and ER’s Nurse Carol Hathaway
ER wasn’t just a hot bed of medical drama, it was also the ideal Petri dish for emerging stars like George Clooney and Don Cheadle. Margulies showed her expertise in emergency care (and acting) as the show’s Carol Hathaway, staying on for six years. Now, Margulies has left the operating room for the courtroom, playing “a good wife” and a great TV mom, lawyer and romantic interest.
The Verdict: Alicia Florrick is guilty of being too good to quit.
6. Mandy Patinkin
The Contenders: Homeland’s Saul Berenson and Chicago Hope’s Jeffrey Geiger
Patinkin is a man of many hats, including the one he finished for Stephen Sondheim, but he has found a home on television several times. In 1995, the 61-year-old earned his first Emmy nomination and win for his role as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on Chicago Hope. As we learned from Margulies, medical dramas are a sign of good things to come. Patinkin went on to act alongside Claire Danes in Homeland, and this year brings his second nomination for the role of Saul Berenson.
The Verdict: While Patinkin won for Chicago Hope, it’s Saul who has given us the moments we can never forget.
7. Edie Falco
The Contenders: Nurse Jackie’s Jackie Peyton and The Sopranos’s Carmela Soprano
If you are looking to cast a fierce female who doesn’t take attitude from anybody, Edie Falco is your lady. The 51-year-old actress brought a captivating blend of stubborn strength and mob-wife weakness to The Sopranos’s matriarch, and she has continued to show the same power and poise in Nurse Jackie. Her work in the two roles has earned Falco four Emmy wins overall, with another nomination this year.
The Verdict: Carmela, because a woman who can cohabitate with Tony Soprano for that long deserves an award.
8. Matt LeBlanc
The Contenders: Episodes’s Matt LeBlanc and Friends’s Joey
It takes a special finesse to play a fictionalized version of yourself, and somehow LeBlanc has found that sweet spot with his Episodes role. But LeBlanc wouldn’t be able to play LeBlanc without the help he got from Joey and his five best friends. It’s like watching a caterpillar become a beautiful, self-promoting butterfly.
The Verdict: While we are excited to see what LeBlanc can do, Joey said he would always be there for us, so we are going to be there for him too.
9. Allison Janney
The Contenders: Mom’s Bonnie and The West Wing’s C.J. Cregg
Where did Janney’s Bonnie character get her award-worthy motherly demeanor? From baby-sitting the president, of course. West Wing’s press secretary C.J. Cregg had the wit, resilience and calm needed to keep the White House afloat, even when the whole world appeared to be against it. Transitioning from looking after the head of state to looking after a wacky family should be like retirement for Janney’s classic Sorkin-created role.
The Verdict: Mom and Bonnie are still getting their legs, but the towering C.J. Cregg is unbreakable.
10. Ricky Gervais
The Contenders: Derek’s Derek and The Office’s David Brent
Somehow Gervais has the capacity to portray one of TV’s worst bosses and most innocent employees. The Office shows that your job could always be made worse by people like Brent, while the world of Derek reveals that nursing homes are more interesting than one might think.
The Verdict: David Brent gets the win for his dancing alone. Plus, without this horrible boss we would never have the American Office characters that we hold so dear. Jim and Pam forever!