Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Emmy Ballot: Oustanding Lead Actress in a Comedy

Can Taylor Schilling break through for "Orange Is the New Black"?

My favorite category at the Emmys might just be Lead Actress in a Comedy.  That’s not because it’s necessarily the deepest or has the most great performances.  Instead, it’s because this is the category with the most diverse performances, year after year.  I mean, if you look at the women I suggested last year, how do you compare the soft, motherly affection of Sutton Foster with the insane, titular bitchiness of Krysten Ritter.  Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope might be the best comedic example of competence porn while Lena Dunham’s and Zooey Deschanel’s characters are the complete opposite.  That isn’t even getting into the more dramatic performances of Laura Dern and Edie Falco.  There are a lot of great and different performances among these actresses, which makes choosing the best six all the more fun.

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 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:
Zooey Deschanel (New Girl)
Lena Dunham (Girls)
Tina Fey (30 Rock)
Sutton Foster (Bunheads)
Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
Krysten Ritter (Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23)

Actual 2013 Nominees:
Laura Dern (Enlightened)
Lena Dunham (Girls)
Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)
Tina Fey (30 Rock)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep) - 2013 Emmy Winner
Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

The Lead Actress in a Comedy submission list is a bit sparse this year and contains a lot of names from shows I don’t watch, so my list is unlikely to look much like the actual nominations, most notably in its absence of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Edie Falco.  There’s also a good deal of attrition this year.  Three actresses from my 2013 list won’t be back because their shows ended.  Likewise, Tina Fey and Laura Dern both saw their shows end last year. 

The battle to fill those two spots actually feels quite open this year.  Zooey Deschanel and Melissa McCarthy are both former nominees looking to return.  Taylor Schilling could ride a critical wave for Orange Is the New Black.  I wouldn’t rule out a nomination for Laurie Metcalf, even.  Getting On might not have been a huge show, but she has seven Emmy nominations and three wins for Roseanne and a variety of guest appearances and you can never sleep on past winners.  And then there’s the classic “movie star coming to television,” Anna Farris.  The competition is wide open this year.

It wouldn’t be a “My Emmy Ballot” post without some pimping for Trophy Wife, so it should be no surprise that Malin Akerman’s name turns up here.  Trophy Wife was originally meant as a star vehicle for Akerman, but as the season progressed, it turned much more into a family sitcom.  But at the center of it all was Akerman, able to vacillate deftly between pure physical comedy and the more emotional, family-based humor.  I’ll miss Trophy Wife, but I would also be stunned if Akerman doesn’t turn up in another prominent role somewhere soon.

I said this last year as well, but I don’t particularly care for Girls as a television show.  It’s well made, sure, but I don’t care at all for most of the characters.  Lena Dunham, however, continues to do fantastic work in the principal role.  She probably didn’t have a single showcase this season like last year’s “One Man Trash,” but overall she managed to continue making Hannah Horvath a completely despicable character which, while infuriating and nearly unwatchable for me, is still a marvel of acting work.

I had a lot of love for New Girl in its second season last year but felt the show took a big step backward this season, and I turned my eye instead to another Fox sitcom in its sophomore season: The Mindy Project and its star Mindy Kaling.  The Mindy Project is still an uneven show, but it improved greatly in its second year, largely because Kaling got a much better grasp on her main character.  Mindy still jumped between several different relationships during the season, but it was much clearer why she was entering into these relationships and what she was getting out of them.  The Mindy Project still isn’t a great show – it’s certainly not going to make my Outstanding Comedy Series list – but Kaling took a big step forward this year.

2013-14 was the season of the great, canceled comedy and while Suburgatory probably never hit the highs that Trophy Wife and Enlisted did, it always managed to make me laugh and Jane Levy was a big reason for that.  Tessa was an insightful, sardonic character unlike any I’ve seen on television before.  But what Levy did so well was to balance the sarcastic New Yorker with the loving, caring woman who is capable of forming close relationships with Chatswin’s other outcasts.

It should be no surprise at this point that Amy Poehler would find her way onto this list.  Parks and Recreation is consistently one of the funniest, most charming shows on television and it just wouldn’t work without her.  Poehler is the emotional heart of the show while also being the source of some of its most hilarious pieces.  She may not get to play the outrageous zaniness that Nick Offerman and others do, but her mania whenever things fall apart is always something to behold.

I’m very curious to see how Orange Is the New Black does its first time at the Emmys.  The show was largely shut out of the Golden Globes, where it was submitted as a drama, with only Taylor Schilling earning a nomination.  Now submitting as a comedy, will Emmy voters find her worthy?  I’d like to think so, though Schilling’s character, Piper, is often unsympathetic and rarely the most interesting aspect of the show.  That’s kind of the point, though.  Piper is meant to be self-absorbed.  But Schilling plays that unlikability perfectly, creating a character who manages to be both despicable and sympathetic.

Others meriting consideration: Courteney Cox

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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