For Your Consideration: Lead Actresses – Tina Fey and Sally Field

[In Week Four of Cultural Learnings’ 59th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations Preview, we’re looking at possible contenders for the Lead Actress awards in both drama and comedy. Today, we present our second set of candidates. For complete listings for the Supporting and Lead Actor candidates from the past four weeks, check out our For Your Consideration index]

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Tina Fey (Liz Lemon)

30 Rock

Saturday Night Live was a great stepping stone for Tina Fey, there’s no doubt about it; it provided her the opportunity to make a hit film (Mean Girls) and eventually to develop a successful television project in the form of 30 Rock. However, Saturday Night Live never really gave her much of a chance to stretch her acting abilities, although a small role in Mean Girls showed some potential. So, when it came time for her to take a starring role in her own series, there were of course questions to be had. And yet, there shouldn’t have been: Fey’s brilliant delivery on Weekend Update was no fluke, and she has proven more than able to transfer that comic timing into a half-hour comedy format. Liz is a funny, engaging, likable lead that is able to anchor both the fictional The Girlie Show and 30 Rock in the realm of sane human beings. Baldwin might provide the quips, Morgan might provide the insanity, but Fey is the one who either has to weather the insanity or response to the quips. That role is a difficult one, and while perhaps not a seasoned performer Fey is the perfect person for the job. Liz Lemon is the heart of 30 Rock, and Tina Fey’s portrayal of the at least semi-autobiographical character is worthy of Emmy consideration.

The hallmark of a strong female comedy lead is their ability to balance the show’s different elements. Fey seems right at home sparring with Alec Baldwin, replying to his verbal jabs in funny, honest ways. Similarly, she seems the voice of reason with Jenna and Tracy, each crazy in their own way. Even outside of that workplace environment, Fey is able to handle Liz’s romantic exploits. Whether it is with pager salesman Dennis (Who hilariously appeared on “To Catch a Predator”) or with late season beau Floyd, it never dragged down the show’s comedy. Even when the show’s material got a little bit nuts (The Source Awards, as an example), Fey’s reaction was always exactly how it should have been: Liz would have been freaked out, and so was Fey. By allowing her character to have realistic emotions that didn’t feel like “acting”, the show never felt like it was falling off the rails. As a writer and producer, Tina Fey obviously held a lot of responsibility on the show at a conceptual level; however, without her performance as Liz Lemon, that concept would have gone out the window. And that makes her deserving of an Emmy nomination.

Episode Selection: “The Head and the Hair” (Aired January 18th, 2007)

Now, Tina Fey did not submit this episode: she submitted “Up All Night” which has a charming scene or two featuring her character. What she should have submitted is this episode, which is about one of her unfortunate romantic exploits. After a guy working at MSNBC asks her out on a date, Liz finds herself awkwardly struggling to fit in while being served oxygen by talking about Heroes. The entire episode, like most Fey wrote, is full of Star Wars and other geek references. This is Liz at her most charming: as the guy eventually becomes interested, everything is going completely great for Liz…until she realizes that he is her third cousin or so.

It shows a lot of comic range, some great comic timing, and comes to a funny and satisfying conclusion. While she also wrote the episode she submitted, this one just felt like a stronger episode for her character (And I think it’s a stronger episode overall as well). Nevertheless, regardless, her performances over the course of the season are worthy of consideration. And you’ll have to see one of them here, since YouTube isn’t being helpful.

YouTube“[Not] The Head and the Hair”

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Sally Field (Nora)

Brothers & Sisters

There’s a lot of talk right now about Sally Field and her co-star Calista Flockhart regarding their Emmy chances. Since both are likely to make the Top 10, voters will basically get to see two episodes worth of material from them. While I’m sure this will benefit Flockhart, I want to focus more on Field for the fact that, well, she is absolutely stunning in this series. This series could exist without Flockhart: while not terrible by any means, she doesn’t seem necessary in a way. Field, however, has crafted a matriarch so damaged, so haunted, so powerful that you can’t turn away. Nora is a character capable of being wildly comic (Smoking up in the back of a car) and powerfully dramatic (Just about every single episode). It is hard to imagine the show without her, but she was actually a post-pickup addition to the series. That decision was perhaps the smartest one made this television season, and the result was a tremendous performance from a veteran actress. And Sally Field’s work is more than deserving of Emmy consideration.

Nora had a rough year: her husband died, her son got sent to Iraq, she reunited with her long estranged daughter (Flockhart), she found out her husband had a mistress, and that they had a child, and also had to deal with the rest of her kids being the relative nutcases that they are. And yet, somehow, she ended up being the character most unscathed throughout the series’ first season. Even though she was heartbroken over her son being shipped off, her reaction seemed natural and powerful. The moment where she finally said goodbye to her husband by tossing his wedding ring into the ocean was silent, but the moment echoed within the show’s narrative. Always the character to give the motivational speeches and set her children straight, Nora is headstrong almost to a fault. Field always brought that sense of unease to life: unsure of her past, uncomfortable with her present, trying to hold everything together, Nora was damaged goods. And yet, in the eyes of viewers she was anything but damaged, and that is almost entirely thanks to Field’s subtle and broad dramatic work done throughout the season.

Episode Selection: Mistakes Were Made, Part Two (Aired November 19th, 2006)

Flockhart is submitting the first part of this episode, but Field has a bit more dramatic work in its conclusion. In the present, the show deals with Justin’s overdose after learning he would be shipped back to Iraq, which obviously puts Nora into a bit of a state. However, perhaps more baity, we also flashback to Nora’s initial reaction to Justin enlisting and how she blames Kitty (A republican) for it. Those scenes are particularly weighty: unlike, say, the work of Aaron Sorkin, there is a sense that these are real people having these frustrations and that there is emotional stakes involved. Field, unsurprisingly, is up to the task. While it wore down over the episodes, Field’s most traditionally dramatic work was her rocky relationship with Kitty, and focusing on that is a very smart move for Emmy consideration. Unfortunately, YouTube is being unhelpful, so here’s another great Nora/Kitty scene.

YouTube“Nora”

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Filed under 30 Rock, ABC, Award Shows, Brothers & Sisters, Emmy Awards, NBC, Television

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