Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Emmy Ballot: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Cristin Milioti sparkled as "How I Met Your Mother's" eponymous character
As I wrote in my comedy supporting actor piece, this has been a banner year for comedy and nowhere is that more obvious than in the ballot for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy.  As I prepared my nominations shortlist I realized that fully half of the actresses I was considering were from new comedies and that doesn’t even take into account potentially Emmy-worthy performances from Allison Janney and Niecy Nash, who were on shows I didn’t watch.  There isn’t much room on the ballot for new performers, but it would be great to see a handful break through, especially those from the amazingly diverse cast of Orange Is the New Black.

As always, I'm using 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 put shows that probably should be in drama (Orange Is the New Black) or comedy (Key & Peele) into their appropriate categories, nor can I nominate somebody who didn’t submit themselves (like anybody on Enlisted not named Parker Young).  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.

My 2013 Choices:
Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory)
Carly Chaikin (Suburgatory)
Elisha Cuthbert (Happy Endings)
Jenna Fischer (The Office)
Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation)

Actual 2013 Emmy Nominees:
Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory)
Julie Bowen (Modern Family)
Anna Chlumsky (Veep)
Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Sofia Vergara (Modern Family)
Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie) – 2013 Emmy Winner

Merritt Wever was the surprise winner last year and gave a correspondingly great acceptance speech.  This year’s nominees could be just as surprising.  30 Rock is done and it feels like Glee has run its course as a cultural touchstone, which should open a pair of slots.  I also feel like Mayim Bialik wasn’t asked to do as much this year as perhaps in the past, though she might have the strongest single episode in “The Locomotive Manipulation.” 

The biggest question, however, is how the new faces will fare.  Orange Is the New Black has the Netflix cachet (if not the names) that got House of Cards a bucket of nominations last year, features a huge cast of great supporting characters, and just happened to drop its second season right at the start of Emmy voting season. Allison Janney and Margo Martindale are drama stalwarts returning to television and making the move to comedy with a combined seven Emmy nominations and five wins between them.  And there are at least a half dozen more actresses on new shows who are extremely unlikely to get nominated but are still worth consideration.  The Modern Family women probably aren’t going anywhere, but with as many strong, new candidates there are this year, I could see anything happening with those other four spots.

As I said in my supporting actor post, I generally like to limit myself to one actor from each show, but I feel like I’m going to be breaking that rule a lot this year.  In this category, it’s impossible not to recognize at least two women from one of “television’s” (or whatever we’re calling Netflix this week) strongest and most diverse casts.  Thankfully, Uzo Aduba submitted herself as a guest actress so I don’t have to find room for three Orange Is the New Black actresses, but Danielle Brooks and Kate Mulgrew make great nominees on their own.  Brooks had the meatiest of the supporting storylines as Taystee first left, then returned to prison for lack of any real options on the outside.  It was a disheartening, if honest story that appropriately portrays the difficulties many convicts have returning to a “normal” life once released from prison.  Without any kind of support system outside, it’s easy to see how Taystee could get lost and ultimately make the decision that life inside is better than life on the street.  Mulgrew, meanwhile, got to play a villain and seemed to relish the role.  It would have been easy for her to go over the top with the role, but she kept the character grounded in emotion.  Red wasn’t evil.  She was prideful.  And when that pride was injured, she lashed out.  It made for a riveting but realistic performance.

I pounded the drum for Carly Chaikin last year too but got nowhere then because, let’s face it, Suburgatory is not a show that gets a lot of love from either viewers or Emmy voters.  This honestly wasn’t as great of a year for Chaikin’s Dalia, but that’s mostly because of a heavy focus on other supporting characters (Lisa and Malik most notably).  While she may not have gotten as much time on screen, the dry wit and amazing consistency of both the character and the actress meant that her laughs per appearance ratio remained incredibly high.  Suburgatory was canceled this year and Chaikin is one of three actresses on this list whose shows won’t be on next year.  It really is a shame because, while Suburgatory was never the kind of show that could knock at a classic television season, it had a unique sensibility and consistently hilarious, dry supporting woman.

I wanted to recognize one of Trophy Wife’s supporting actresses and was really trying to find a way to get a second in here but, ultimately, one seems right and it is Marcia Gay Harden.  What I loved most about Trophy Wife was how instantly the cast (with the exception of Natalie Morales, though that wasn’t her fault) gelled together and one of the big reasons for that was Harden.  What impressed me most was her ability to play off of any character.  Put her with ex-husband Pete, and she’s the ice queen.  Pair her with Kate and she’s aloof but sympathetic.  With the kids, she’s the stern, loving overseer who’s always three steps ahead.  She even manages a rapport with batty, awkward middle wife Jackie.  Harden is required to play the straight woman most of the time, but she still finds ways to make me laugh.

I generally find Saturday Night Live to be an incredibly inconsistent show, but when it hits, it hits hard, and one of the funniest voices the show has belongs to Kate McKinnon.  I briefly considered Cecily Strong for this spot, but her role as host of Weekend Update means that she’s not as frequently present throughout the rest of the show and McKinnon gets a big boost because she has such a talent for creating instantly realized characters.  A lot of SNL players have an assortment of impressions and recurring characters and McKinnon is no different, whether it’s Olya Povlatsky on Weekend Update, Angela Merkel, or Ellen.  But what makes her excel is her ability to build an entire personality in a three minute sketch, whether it’s her game show mom or her stranger in a bar in “Last Call.”  Telling a complete story with notable characters is SNL’s biggest struggle (note how often they return to the same wells when former cast members or previous hosts return), but McKinnnon does it extremely well.

I did not care for the How I Met Your Mother finale.  I ultimately saw what they were trying to do, but found it to be a complete failure in execution.  Part of what hurt that finale, however, was that the show had done such a good job at building up the mother during the final season that the way she was treated during the finale felt like a betrayal.  I would not have had nearly the negative reaction that I had if I did not care about the mother as much as I did and much of the credit for that goes to Cristin Milioti.  The mother could have been nothing; she could have been infuriating; she could have been boring.  But she wasn’t.  She was lovable, cute, and, above all, perfect for Ted.  And it’s no accident that the best episode of the season was “How Your Mother Met Me,” which focused entirely on Milioti.  Much of what made the final season so disappointing was the feeling that the previous seasons could have been made so much better by bringing Milioti in years earlier.

Others Meriting Consideration: Stephanie Beatriz, Mayim Bialik, Laura Prepon, Cecily Strong, Michaela Watkins, Allison Williams
So those are my Emmy choices.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and an amateur television critic.  You can reach him at tytalkstv AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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