Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Emmy Ballot: Best Supporting Actor/Actress in a Comedy

Max Greenfield in "New Girl"

The Emmy nominations will be announced in less than two weeks, so it feels like the right time to take a look at the Performers Ballot and highlight what I thought were the best performances and shows on television this season.  We’ll start with the candidates for Best Supporting Actor and Actress in a Comedy.

Television comedy has been experiencing something of a lull in the last couple of years, at least compared to television drama.  It seems every season has at least one new drama come in and blow people’s minds (The Americans or Hannibal in 2012-13, Homeland in 2011-12, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones in 2010-11).  But the last few years have really seen only a couple comedies really take the critical world by storm: Girls in 2012 and Louie in 2010 and neither of those has been anything remotely close to a commercial success.  This past season in particularl was difficult for network comedies, with only The Neighbors and The Mindy Project getting renewed and even they barely survived.  Still, there are some fantastic performances here and I didn’t really have any trouble putting together a ballot for these categories.

A couple of caveats before we start.  First, I’m working from the actual Emmy Performer Ballot, so I can’t put leads who submitted as supporting (Amy Schumer) or supporting actors who submitted as leads (Rob Lowe) in their proper category, nor can I nominate somebody who didn’t submit themselves (like any of the Bunheads supporting characters).  Also, I’m only including actors from shows I watch regularly, so if your favorites from The Middle, Nurse Jackie, Veep, or Raising Hope aren’t here, that’s why

Supporting Actor
Nick Offerman in "Parks and Recreation"

This category has been dominated by the men of Modern Family for the last few years.  They’ve taken 11 of the last 18 nominations and would have 12 except that Ed O’Neill was somehow omitted in 2010.   In other words, because I didn’t nominate any of the Modern Family actors, don’t expect my ballot to look anything like that released on the 18th.

Number One with a bullet is Max Greenfield.  New Girl took a huge step forward in its sophomore season, following the likes of Louie, The Office, Parks and Recreation, and others in hitting its stride in year two.  And one of the comedy’s driving forces is Greenfield’s Schmidt.  An insanely broad character at the beginning (even when he wasn’t in a fat suit), Greenfield humanized Schmidt, turning him from a one-note douchebag into a fastidious, fussy, slightly neurotic, but totally lovable guy who can anchor any comedic scene.  He’s also capable of elevating even the simplest of comedy, namely in his pronunciation of “crack cocaine.”  This performance has already earned Greenfield Emmy and Golden Globe nominations (and the Golden Globes offer only one supporting actor award for drama, comedy, and miniseries combined).  With New Girl improving significantly from last year he’ll likely be nominated again and will be more than worthy of winning.

Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson has consistently been one of the funniest characters on television for the last five years.  I still laugh myself to tears watching the cold open of “Fancy Party,” in which Ron pretends to extract one of his teeth with pliers.  This past season was a little light on the comedy for Swanson, but he got an extended romantic arc with Lucy Lawless’s Diane and, if nothing else, he showed us that “people who buy things are suckers.  He hasn’t been nominated yet in four seasons (nor has anybody on Parks and Recreation save Amy Pohler), so I doubt he will be this year.  But we can always hope.

Happy Endings may have been canceled, but not until spending two-and-a-half years as one of the funniest comedies on television.  And while Adam Pally’s Max may get the lion’s share of attention among the men, I’ve found Damon Wayans, Jr. to be the standout of the show.  Maybe I’m overcompensating for the fact that this show has a compelling interracial relationship without needing to call attention to it but Brad is, somewhat surprisingly I think, the one character who can easily share a scene with any other character on the show.  And while the crazy scheduling of Happy Endings this season makes it a little difficult to remember a lot of specific moments, Brad’s Trophy Wife is never not funny.

Bill Hader finally managed to crack the Supporting Actor Emmys last year, the first male Saturday Night Live cast member to do so since Eddie Murphy in 1983.  This year’s performance was even better, with Hader’s Vietnam Vet ventriloquist and Stefon’s send-off particular stand-out moments.  Hader has been one of SNL’s most versatile and funny cast members for the last several years and it would be fantastic to see him recognized again for such a stellar career.

The Office has not been a great show for the last several years.  In fact, at times, it’s been downright bad.  But this final season brought the focus away from the increasingly dreadful Andy and back to the heart of the show, Jim and Pam.  And as one half of that duo, John Krasinski delivered his best performance in probably a half decade.  It helps to get good material, but even though I never believed for a second that Jim and Pam would split up, Krasinski sold the tension and troubles of that relationship beautifully.  And, once Dwight took over as manager again, we got a little classic Jim to close out the series.  Krasinski has never earned an Emmy nomination in eight years, which seems a little bit insane given how popular (and how good) The Office was in its prime.  It would be a fitting sendoff to see him nominated now.

I wish I could nominate Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele together, because Key & Peele doesn’t work without them together.  But I couldn’t put them both in front of the other five so I flipped a coin and landed on Key but, really, either of these two could have gone here.  Key & Peele was the surprise of the 2011-12 season for me and the comedic brilliance continued in season two.  I don’t expect Key to be nominated, but if he is I would highly recommend he submit the Halloween episode, where we get a great Michael Jackson riff, an inner-city, underfunded, American version of Hogwarts (with Key as the Mad-Eye Moody-eyed janitor), and an inspired take on the “magical black man.”  This is a great show that deserves more recognition than it's gotten.

Others meriting consideration:  Ty Burrell, Adam Driver, Donald Glover, Nolan Gould, Simon Helberg, Tracy Morgan, Chris Pratt, Jim Rash, James Van Der Beek

Supporting Actress
Elisha Cuthbert in "Happy Endings"

This was probably the toughest category for me to create a list of nominees if only because there are no real standout performances.  There are a bunch of actresses who I like here and many performances I enjoy, but none that made stop and say “Wow, that was impressive.”  Still, these actresses are all great and, as I said, there were several performances I really did enjoy.

The Big Bang Theory is a juggernaut and has improved noticeably over the last few years as its ratings have skyrocketed.  Most of that improvement in quality can be attributed to the additions of Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch to the cast.  Bringing more women to the show helped expand Penny’s world and humanized Howard and Sheldon.  While she didn’t get a tiara this year (surely one of the reasons she was nominated last year), she still was impressive.  Most notable was her emotional work with Sheldon as she tried to progress her relationship faster than he was able to handle.  It’s hard not to get worked up as Amy opens up to Sheldon in the season’s penultimate episode.

Suburgatory is an incredibly uneven show, but Carly Chaikin consistently delivers a hilariously deadpan performance as Dalia.  Dalia is almost always used to deliver dry humor, but as the season went on, her storyline became more emotional and dramatic, culminating in her joining George in his new house, even without Tessa or Dallas.  And Chaikin consistently delivers the goods.  And if you need more convincing, just go watch Dalia read the Torah or “dry cry.”

Elisha Cuthbert eats ribs and is hilarious doing so.  I almost went with Eliza Coupe in this position, just to bookend my Damon Wayans, Jr. pick and give nominations to both halves of my favorite couple on television.  But Cuthbert is the breakout comedic star of Happy Endings and it’s difficult to believe that she went from being chased by a cougar to this.  She’s consistently the funniest part of her show and, while I probably wouldn’t have nominated her last year and definitely wouldn’t have done so for the show’s freshman season, this year she deserves it.  Oh, and she crumps with Hip-Hop Santa.

The ninth and final season of The Office rose and fell with Jim and Pam’s relationship and, as with her onscreen partner John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer was more than up to the task of closing out her show with grace.  Pam's was a thankless role, one that often led to criticism of the character as “holding Jim back.”  And the less said about Brian the better.  But I always understood where Pam was coming from and Fischer always sold Pam as a funny and sympathetic character.  Fischer was nominated once, after The Office’s third season and it’s uncommon for Emmy voters to bring an actress back after forgetting her for so long.  But if there’s ever a performance designed for that to happen, it’s this one.

Jane Krakowski has three nominations and zero wins for her 30 Rock character, Jenna.  She wasn’t nominated last year, but with two open slots on the ballot (Kathryn Joosten and Kristen Wiig), I expect another nomination (and likely another loss) this year.  30 Rock went out on a hell of a high note and, while Jenna was never my favorite character, her down moments were far more often the fault of writing than of acting.  And she had several great moments this season, not least of which was being taking charge of TGS with Tracy (and unwittingly bringing about its demise).  It was another great year for Krakowski and should be acknowledged as such.

Parks and Recreation often has trouble finding interesting stories for its supporting characters (let’s call it the “Ann Perkins Conundrum”).  And while Aubrey Plaza’s April Ludgate has largely been spinning her wheels for a little while, last year saw her finally get a direction and fantastic plots to deal with.  She opens the season in Washington with Ben, fitting in perfectly as his right-hand woman.  Later on, she turns her love for animals into a position as the Deputy Director of Animal Control and an acceptance to veterinary school.  And April gained all of this depth while maintaining her dry, sarcastic humor that blends so well with Chris Pratt’s goof antics.

Others meriting consideration: Katie Aselton, Julie Bowen, Eliza Coupe, Allie Grant, Kate McKinnon, Busy Phillips, Cecily Strong, Alison Williams

So there you have it: six supporting actors and actresses, each alike in dignity.  If I had to choose two winners, I’d probably choose Offerman and Fischer, but anybody here would make a great first-time Emmy winner.

So what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments or on twitter @TyTalksTV.

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