In the Emmy Awards’ smallest acting category, there’s not much in the way of wiggle room. The small numbers should mean more of a chance of grabbing a nomination for newcomers, like Pushing Daisies’ Anna Friel or Miss/Guided’s Judy Greer, but it’s also one of the most tightly contested of the major categories. This is because there’s a lot of forces at play here: you’ve got the power of the four Housewives, the heritage of Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond and Married…with Children, and the credibility of awards-show favourites like Mary-Louise Parker or Tina Fey.
Combine all of this with last year’s winner America Ferrera, and you have a category where making the Top 10 isn’t enough; you need to have something special that’s going to make you overcome the logjam that could lead to the category’s five nominees. On the one hand, this shuts out a lot of good candidates who probably deserve a shot, as they won’t rank highly enough in the popular vote to have a chance.
However, the one good spinoff is that for the candidates who do have that name recognition, it’s going to be a race that is decided by who has the best tape. The seven or so candidates who have a chance of cracking that Top 5 will have to put forward their best material of the season, and the result is a race that’s going to be very close even if there’s so many “real” contenders.
[Note: Special thanks goes out to Tom O’Neill at The Envelope for compiling the final submissions for the category.]
First and foremost, the frontrunner in the race is definitely Tina Fey. A year ago, her surprise nomination signaled that the industry appreciation for her show was perhaps bleeding into industry appreciation for her work therein. This was for good reason, as Fey has matured tremendously in her time on the series. Since that point, it’s stopped being a surprise: she won both the Screen Actor’s Guild and the Golden Globe Awards earlier this year, and she’s one of the sure-fire nominees heading into the awards.
She was perhaps one of the one actresses who could get through based on any submission, but she’s chosen well. Since I last posted about 30 Rock’s emmy submissions, she’s changed to “Sandwich Day.” While I loved some of her individual scenes in “Episode 210,” this is a much stronger narrative for her character as she deals with Floyd’s return to New York through a great deal of comic hijinx. It also displays Fey’s ability to eat on camera, a well-honed talent, and she has every chance of riding this submission to a win.
YouTube – Liz Lemon Can Have it All!
America Ferrera, last year’s winner, will struggle in the sense that her show has taken a definite nosedive in popular support. Both its ratings and its accolades have taken a hit, so Ferrera and Vanessa L. Williams will likely be its only shot at Emmy glory. I think the downfall of the show won’t absolutely keep her out of the category, but she’s going to have to hope that they don’t forget about her in the process. Her submission is a good one, a classic comedy-choice of the episode where they’re forced to act completely out of character. In “Odor in the Court,” Betty is poisoned by some perfume and becomes “not herself,” it was actually pretty hokey, but it’s a showy tape for an actress whose physical comedy won her the Emmy last year.
YouTube – Betty Goes Crazy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus won two years ago, breaking the Seinfeld curse as far as many were concerned. As further proof of this, and the continued love her show has received in these circles, it was renewed for a full season in May. That is largely in part to Louis-Dreyfus, who continues to enjoy comic highs on the series. Her submission, “One and a Half Men,” smartly reminds viewers of the Seinfeld connection with guest star Jason Alexander, and certainly seems like the kind of neurotic portrayal voters enjoy.
YouTube – Christine and the Gynecologist
For Mary-Louise Parker, she’s got a lot less pedigree but plenty of momentum. Weeds continues to register when it comes to acting performances, and Showtime always puts a lot of attention behind the show. It also can’t hurt that the fourth season is premiering during the voting period. Nancy Botwin went through a lot in the show’s third season, so it’s a bit strange that Parker would select “Bill Sussman” as her episode of choice. While it does feature her being part of a drive-by shooting, which is certainly an attention-grabber, she was far funnier in the season premiere as she dealt with five guns in her face after her pot went missing. She’s competitive either way, but I definitely think the below clip would be better for her.
YouTube – Nancy Deals with a Crisis
And then you have the four women of Desperate Housewives. We can discount Longoria, who is always the stepchild of the foursome, and Hatcher’s material and her performances have been closer to embarassing than awards worthy. That leaves Cross and Huffman, the two most consistent performers, as the show’s chances at breaking back into the Emmy Winners circle. Huffman has the Cancer storyline to tug at the hearts of voters, always a plus, but it was also rather painful to watch (Her submitted episode, “Now I Know, Don’t be Scared,” is a rather tortuous allegory). This leaves Cross, who really deserves more recognition for her elevation of poor material on a weekly basis, whose submission (Season Premiere “Now You Know”) has her dealing with a fake pregnancy. The real question is whether, if they both make the Top 10, one of their tapes might help service the other’s chances, but only time will tell.
YouTube – Bree’s Season Premiere Scenes (Part 2 is here)
But there’s no race without a bright newcomer, and this year isn’t someone with a bit of a history. Christina Applegate won an Emmy for guesting on Friends, and she’s gotten SAG and Globe nominations for her work on Samantha Who?, a comedy success for ABC this season. It’s also a show that most certainly is dominated by its lead, a winning and charming Applegate. That she didn’t submit the pilot, with its showy scenes and almost 100% screentime, is a bit strange; her selection, “The Restraining Order,” is funny and features some cute plays on the show’s central duality, but it isn’t quite as much designed as a comic showcase for Applegate herself. She should grab a nomination, but a win with that tape might be tough.
YouTube – Sam Deserves Attention More Than Bologna
Other contenders for the Top 10 include Anna Friel, who I talked about in my Pushing Daisies analysis, and Judy Greer’s whose short-lived ABC sitcom Miss/Guided was a bit of a critical success due to her performance. Greer is the definition of a dark horse, and while she might have gotten in under the system from two years ago that values only tapes, she isn’t making the cut this time around. More likely to break through is Patricia Heaton, whose “Back to You” was unceremoniously canceled but could nonetheless see her use her Raymond-pedigree to grab a spot in the Top 10. Miley Cyrus has also submitted in the category, but since Emmy Voters aren’t tween girls that might be a tough sell.
Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Prediction
(* Denotes Current Nominee Prediction)
*Christina Applegate (Samantha Who)
*Tina Fey (30 Rock)
*America Ferrera (Ugly Betty)
Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
*Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures…)
Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies)
Patricia Heaton (Back to You)
*Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives)
Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives)
Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives)