60th Primetime Emmy Awards Preview – Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

If there’s something to say about the Supporting Actor category for comedy series, it’s that it has far too many candidates, largely due to the nature of television comedy. There are just a lot of male comic performers who steal their respective shows, emerging from the spotlight of the “stars” if you will. When there are three of television’s biggest comedies with two contenders each, you know that the competition is going to be extremely difficult.

And yet, when it comes to narrowing the category down to winners, it’s been a bit too predictable in recent years: since 2002, only three people have won the award (Brad Garrett with 3, David Hyde Pierce with his fourth, and Jeremy Piven with two in the last two years). The result is that it’s not the kind of category that really opens itself up to new talent, even when like last year it had it staring in its face with nominations for Rainn Wilson, Kevin Dillon and Neil Patrick Harris.

But the hope is that history won’t repeat itself: with 30 Rock emerging with a few new candidates, a breakthrough comic role for a drama specialist, and a few fringe contenders, Piven’s reign might just be over as Emmy voters decide to go with something fresh and new. Or, if I know Emmy voters, Piven will walk with his third trophy, not undeservedly but unfortunately.

[Sorry for advance for a lack of YouTube links: Entourage clips are limited and NBC is uppity about clips thanks to Hulu, which I’d use if I could access it from Canada. My apologies!]

Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold is a fantastic character, don’t get me wrong; while his Award domination annoyed me before I actually watched the show (I was one of those people), watching Entourage it is clear that here is someone operating at the top of his game. But this might be the year he struggles: Ari’s storylines were worse this season (A growing trend on Entourage, let’s be honest here), and his submitted episode (“The Day F*ckers”) has Ari removed from his usual element. It’s his desperate attempt to get his son into a private school, as he realizes that he has a certain reputation. Yes, his character breaks down, but it’s an odd piece of emotion not up to the standards we usually expect (Especially since his submission last year really did deserve to win).

Kevin Dillon emerged as a surprise nominee last year, and it was a nice change of pace: Johnny Drama is a great character, often the show’s redeeming element, so it was good to see him contend. However, like Ari, Drama wasn’t given anything to do this season. His submission, “The Dream Team,” has him desperately searching for a particular marijuana themed hat and then, in an attempt to look younger for his co-stars, getting stoned to the point that he bugs out. It’s just a more desperate Drama performance than he had last year, with certainly less heart. He’ll make the Top 10 on his momentum, but he doesn’t have a perfect episode to return with.

The same could be said for the stars of The Office, as both John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson were in close contention last year and need to find strong episodes to either stay (For Wilson) or break into (Krasinski) the tough category. In Krasinski’s case, he was done in by a poor tape submission last year, as he had little to no screentime in “Business School.” This year, he’s again submitted an episode where he isn’t the center of attention, and while he definitely plays a good straight man in an awkward situation it’s not a showy performance by any means.

Wilson, meanwhile, has a few more options, as Dwight had a particularly tumultuous year. While his submission has yet to be confirmed, his best option seems to be “Money.” The hour long episode has plenty of screentime, and has Dwight fighting to recover from his breakup with Angela by entertaining Jim and Pam at his beat farm and crying in a stairwell before finally regaining his mojo. It’s a great performance, and should return him to the nominations list.

While Ed Helms is another potential contender from the series, chances are that two contenders from another NBC series have a better shot. 30 Rock’s Emmy contention should be increased this year, and it was a smart time for Tracy Morgan to lower himself to the supporting category after competing as a lead last year. Tracy is one of the show’s most reliable characters, and this season he really shined in roles that really are considered supporting. His submission, “Secrets and Lies,” could be better (It’s really more Jenna’s episode) but his Sharking rants are priceless regardless.

The show’s other contender is fan favourite Jack McBrayer, whose naive Kenneth the Page remains a highlight. He’s not a big name, but like Kevin Dillon on Entourage he’s emerging from the shadow of his larger than life co-stars. His submission, where he gets addicted to caffeine and rampages thusly, is a strong one, although the chances of him breaking through to a nomination are fairly slim.

However, it’s impossible to count out the one contender who probably deserved to unseat Piven last year. Neil Patrick Harris’ role on How I Met Your Mother is the ultimate scene-stealer, and how he managed to lose with his amazing Price is Right episode I’ll never know. He doesn’t have quite as showy a tape this week, but he’s in almost the entirety of “The Bracket” and he is consitently funny throughout. Plus, Emmy voters will enjoy the end of episode Doogie Howser throwback, even if the episode doesn’t have the heart of last year’s.

YouTube: Barney Stinson, M.D.

Elsewhere, I previewed Chi McBride’s chances for Pushing Daisies earlier this month, but it needs to be said again: after mostly dramatic roles, his head-on dive into comedy was a huge success, as he steals a lot of scenes on a show as a knitting, pop-up book making private eye. His submission, “Bitches,” doesn’t quite do his character justice, but the shortened season kept him from getting an episode with more dramatic weight and he’s great in all episodes (Especially the clip below, which makes me laugh every single time).

YouTube: “No”

Jon Cryer is likely to make it from Two and a Half Men, and Weeds’ Justin Kirk could crack the Top 10 despite his show not quite being the Award Show darling it once was. Michael Urie, whose role as Marc on Ugly Betty is strong in his work with Vanessa Williams, will likely crack the Top 10 although the lack of love for the show will hurt him considerably. While he isn’t likely to get anywhere even close, Jim Gaffigan from TBS’ My Boys would be my sentimental pick for his great and subtle work in the show’s first season.

Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Prediction

(* Denotes Preliminary Nominee Selection)

*Rainn Wilson (The Office)

*John Krasinski (The Office)

*Jeremy Piven (Entourage)

Kevin Dillon (Entourage)

Jack McBrayer (30 Rock)

Tracy Morgan (30 Rock)

*Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)

*Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)

Chi McBride (Pushing Daisies)

Michael Urie (Ugly Betty)

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