Monday, July 13, 2015

If I Had an Emmy Ballot 2015: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

The scenes on this porch made Jane the Virgin one of the best comedies of the year.

Emmy nominations are coming this week and, as I’ve done each of the past two years, I’ll take a look at the past year in performances and give my thoughts on the actors, actresses, and shows I thought were best.

Two notes before we begin.  First, I'm working from the actual Emmy performer ballot, so I won't make any changes like putting Keegan Michael-Key or Jordan Peele in lead actor categories or move Orange Is the New Black into the comedy category, where it was last year.  Second, I'm only going to nominate people and shows that I've seen a good chunk of this past year.  This year, for the comedy categories, that list is rather long, unfortunately, including Veep, Community, New Girl, The Mindy Project, and a few prominent others.

In combing through the list of potential Supporting Actress nominees, I was struck by just how few names I was writing down.  Going back to last year’s list, I quickly realized why: 2014 was a bloodbath for comedies.  Suburgatory, Trophy Wife, and How I Met Your Mother all left and Orange Is the New Black was moved from comedy to drama.  This resulted in five of my six nominees from last season no longer available and two of my six “others considered” gone as well.  It’s a whole new world for me with comedy this year, so the names should be interesting. 

As for the actual Emmy nominees, it’s tough to see a whole lot of change.  Julie Bowen, Mayim Bialik, and Anna Chlumsky are mainstays at this point, with last year’s winner Allison Janney also eligible again.  Kate McKinnon might not be back, but still has a really good case.  All of this means that the only open slot is Kate Mulgrew’s, as she moves over to the drama side along with the rest of Orange Is the New Black.  The real question then is who will join the group.  I could see Merritt Wever or Jane Lynch coming back after a year without nominations but, usually, once you stop receiving Emmy nominations, you don’t start getting them again for the same role.  We could see an actress from a new show get nominated, with Transparent probably the best chance.  Or maybe we’ll be surprised by an upstart like Wendi McLendon-Covey or Carrie Brownstein, both actresses who have been eligible before but have gone unnominated to date.  There are a lot of options this year, even if those options are largely limited to one or two potentially open spots.

Jane the Virgin lived on Jane’s abuela’s front porch.  Sure, it was a telenovela with a drug runner storyline and murders, twists, and betrayals.  There was all of the standard love triangle stuff, too.  But the show was at its best when Gina Rodriguez (Jane), Andrea Navedo (Jane’s mother), and Ivonne Coll (Jane’s grandmother) were alone together on the front porch talking about life and love.  Perhaps I gravitated to Coll largely because she was kept immune from the show’s crazier shenanigans.  Her performance just felt real.  She was a real character with real human emotions in a world filled with larger than life characters.  She didn’t want to go to the doctor because she was afraid it wouldn’t threaten her immigration status.  She was so protective of Jane because she didn’t want to see her repeating her mother’s mistakes.  Coll was able to convey all of these emotions and, on top of it all, she did it almost entirely in Spanish.  It’s hard enough to build a relationship with the audience when you’re both speaking the same language.  It’s only made harder when the viewer has to simultaneously read the words that you’re saying.  That Coll could make that barrier disappear is a tremendous credit to her talent.

As with the comedy supporting actors I discussed earlier, Togetherness is pulling some category shenanigans by submitting both Melanie Lynskey and Amanda Peet as Supporting Actresses.  Realistically, Lynskey should be a lead.  But this is where they are submitted, so this where I have to put them because Togetherness was one of the best comedies of the year and it was so largely because of its main characters.  It was insanely treacherous territory that this show trod with Lynskey’s Michelle and Peet’s Tina.  It would have been so easy to make Michelle the nagging the wife, the cause of all of hers and Brett’s marital problems.  But the show made clear that marriage is a team sport.  And despite all of her issues and all of her struggles, Michelle wanted to find something to make it work.  It was a hard role, having to balance the love and the pain of a marriage in turmoil, but Lynskey was stellar throughout.

Peet had a different role but one no less treacherous.  She could have easily been written off as the flirtatious tease, just stringing Alex along, but Peet’s lightness and the underlying vulnerability she brought to the character kept Tina relatable.  As I said before, this was a difficult show that could have been a disaster with lesser performers in these roles. 

I nominated Kate McKinnon in this space last year and am glad to bring Cecily Strong in this year as well.  McKinnon has, in the last few years, become the strongest and most consistent star in the Saturday Night Live cast.  Her impressions are spot on, her original characters are hilarious, and she brings a fantastic energy to any scene she’s in, no matter how large or small her role.  Strong, on the other hand, was backgrounded a lot last year owing to her stint as Weekend Update anchor.  The pairing with Colin Jost just didn’t work, however, and bringing her back to the regular cast really accentuated her strongest features.  “The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party” is consistently my favorite Weekend Update character and her Girlfriends Talk Show and former porn star sketches are reliably hilarious.  Given a more compatible co-host, she likely could have had a lengthy Weekend Update career, but I’m not a tall disappointed to see her back in the regular rotation.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has such a deep cast that I really could nominate just about anybody, but with only one spot left, I have to pick Chelsea Peretti.  Hers may be the most overtly comedic character in Nine-Nine, though Andy Samberg might have something to say about that, but what impresses me most about Peretti is how easily she moves between different cast groupings.  You can stick her with any other character (or group of characters) and she makes everybody around her better.

Others considered:  Melissa Fumero (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), January Jones (The Last Man on Earth), Andrea Navedo (Jane the Virgin), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Allison Williams (Girls)

Those are my Emmy choices.  I wish my “others considered” list were longer if only because it would have meant that I had seen a lot more comedies.  But the overall depth this year leaves me happy with this list.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.  Next time we’ll look at the drama supporting actresses.

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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