Monday, July 7, 2014

My Emmy Ballot: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy

Andy Daly brought a fresh new voice to TV and ate a lot of pancakes in "Review"

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy is a category that tends to vary little from year to year and which seems to keep awarding the same people.  Note, for example, that Alec Baldwin was nominated for all seven seasons of 30 Rock.  Jim Parsons has been nominated five years in a row.  Matt LeBlanc, Louis CK, and Don Cheadle have all been nominated for every season in which they’ve been eligible.  Even the biggest outliers of the last few years, Jon Cryer and Johnny Galecki, make sense when you consider that Cryer already had six nominations and a win for playing the same part in a supporting role and that Galecki was on a well-received series and had already earned a Golden Globe nomination that year.  This category doesn’t see much change, so with two actors exiting this year due to their shows ending, it will be interesting to see who steps in to take their places.

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:
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Louis CK (Louie)
Jake Johnson (New Girl)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation)
Joel McHale (Community)

Actual 2013 Nominees:
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Jason Bateman (Arrested Development)
Don Cheadle (House of Lies)
Louis CK (Louie)
Matt LeBlanc (Episodes)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) – 2013 Emmy Winner

As I’ve said before, my nominations aren’t meant to be predictive, just my opinion of those actors who I feel are most deserving of awards recognition.  That said, my comedy lead nominations tend to be closest to the actual Emmy nominees for two main reasons: First, many more comedy actors and actresses submit themselves as supporting when they could easily be considered leads.  Consider, most obviously, Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele.  They could easily submit as co-leads (the show is called Key & Peele after all).  But they submit as supporting instead.  Likewise, is Nick Offerman’s role on Parks and Recreation so much smaller than Adam Scott’s that he becomes a supporting actor while Scott is a lead? 

Second, the pool of “Emmy-worthy” comedies tends to be much smaller than the pool of “Emmy-worthy” dramas.  I can pretty much tell you right now that the six Outstanding Comedy Series nominees are going to come from a pool of Modern Family, Girls, Louis, Parks and Recreation, Orange Is the New Black, Veep, The Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Mom.  It’s extremely likely that six of those nine shows are going to be nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series and the odds of anybody else breaking through are slim.

When you combine a small pool of potential shows with a pool of actors that has been artificially reduced by category shenanigans, the potential for my choices to match up with the actual nominees increases significantly.  And, really, two of the three I missed out on last year came from a show I don’t watch (Episodes) and a show I gave up on (House of Lies).  I don’t know that my choices will match as well this year since, as I said before, the comedy pool has opened up significantly in 2014, but these are still the areas where it’s most likely to happen. 

As for where potential new nominees can find their way onto the ballot, Lead Actor in a Comedy sees two attrition spots this year with both Baldwin and Bateman ineligible.  It feels like Don Cheadle’s “movie star going to television” shine should have worn off by now, but maybe that’s just my growing distaste for House of Lies, which I finally bailed on this year after waiting several months to finish season two.  Louie and Episodes both took extended hiatuses (18 and 16 months respectively), but because of the timing of their seasons, Louis CK and Matt LeBlanc will be eligible once again and it’d be surprising if they weren’t both return nominees.  Looking to fill those empty spots will be former winners Jon Cryer and Michael J Fox, former nominee Johnny Galecki, Golden Globe winner Andy Samberg, and Bradley Whitford who, despite airing on Trophy Wife, a show that received little attention outside of certain critical circles, is still the owner of three Emmy nominations and a win for his performance on The West Wing. 

No show on television is more the result of a singular viewpoint than Louie and no actor could pull off the titular role, but Louis CK.  Some people might criticize CK for merely playing a heightened version of himself, but it should be clear by now that the Louie we see in the show is not the Louis who’s making millions selling stand-up specials.  This year saw CK experimenting even more than usual, with a six-part story in which Louie falls in love with, and tries to date, a woman who doesn’t speak English, and an extended-length two-part episode that barely even stars CK, but which is a flashback to his “troubled” youth.  Louie isn’t always a funny show, but every time I watch, I can’t help feeling like this is the exact series its creator wants me to see and I love it all the more for that.

The biggest comedic surprise for me this year was Review from Comedy Central.  I will talk much more about why this series is great in my Outstanding Comedy Series post (SPOILER ALERT!), but for our purposes here it should suffice to say that Review would not have been remotely as good as it turned out to be had it not been for Andy Daly.  Daly has the unenviable task of trying to straddle the line between being a complete cartoon as he takes on one request after another of people basically daring him to delve into the worst and most insane experiences of life and being a sympathetic human being for whom we’re supposed to root as he tries to piece his life back together when his antics for the show destroy it.  It’s a very difficult role and is critical to the success of the show, and Daly pulls it off.

Jim Parsons has five Emmy nominations and three wins for the role of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory and as the show progresses into its middle and later years, it’s becoming clearer that his isn’t just a one-note performance.  The Big Bang Theory is a series that has greatly benefited by opening up the universe and nowhere is that more obvious than in the relationship between Sheldon and Amy.  It’s a slow progression, as is befitting the character and sitcoms in general, but watching Sheldon open up to new experiences has given Parsons the chance to show a range he didn’t need for the first few seasons.  I don’t know what the future holds for him, or if he’ll be typecast in this role for a while,* but if he wins a fourth Emmy this year, I won’t be complaining.  Sheldon Cooper is a pantheon comedy character and Parsons has elevated it far beyond where it began seven years ago.

* His appearance on Saturday Night Live certainly didn’t give me much confidence, but that could have been as much due to the writing as to his performance.  And SNL is a unique beast that has consumed its fair share of actors.

When Andy Samberg was nominated for a Golden Globe for Brooklyn Nine-Nine I was surprised.  When he won I was stunned.  It’s not that I didn’t like Nine-Nine, it’s just that the show was all of eleven episodes old at that point and hadn’t really found a consistent voice, something very common of freshman network sitcoms.  Morever, Samberg’s character, Jake, often strayed too far into caricature.   By the time it wrapped its first season, however, the show had found a groove and Samberg was consistently one of the funniest men on television.  After a full first season, I have no qualms about nominating him here.

I truly believe that Adam Scott has one of the toughest jobs on television.  He is very often required to be the straight man to the antics of Leslie, Ron, Tom, or Andy.  But he also has to be able to play zany, like whenever Cones of Dunshire comes out.  It’s a difficult balancing act and one that will only get more difficult now that he has triplets in tow (though the show’s wise decision to jump forward three years spares us the craziest parts of that storyline).  Scott’s biggest strength is his versatility; ask him for anything and he’ll do it well.

I’m going back to the Trophy Wife well not just because it was my favorite comedy this year and not just because Bradley Whitford gave a great leading performance, but also because, of anybody on the cast, he has the best shot at actually earning a nomination.  As I mentioned above, Whitford earned three nominations and one win during his tenure on The West Wing and, as with Allison Janney, that might be enough to earn a nomination.  And he deserves it.  Like Adam Scott, Whitford had to balance the straight man, funny man line and, as with the rest of the cast, he was able to play off of everybody in the cast with equal verve.

Others meriting consideration: Ricky Gervais, Chris Messina

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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