Achieving success in the Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series takes one of three things: having a recognizable name, being on a popular show, or being on a show that has won Emmys in the past.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself why I would take the time to isolate these three categories since they should (by and large) encapsulate 90% of nominees. The reason is that this is a category where there are some great contenders that won’t be recognized in favour of those who are part of the Emmy elite, or part of shows that give them more exposure. I’m not saying that these are not worthy contenders, but rather that there’s a few others who did fantastic work this season who won’t be recognized for it.
Instead, this is a race designed for last year’s contenders: from the surprise winner to the resurgent veteran, all sides are staging a battle that could prove one of the toughest predictions of the night – if only predicting the Top 10 was just as challenging.
I’m not sure that anyone still cares about My Name is Earl, which has gone from critical darling to also-ran in only a few short years, but there are certainly Emmy voters who still care about Jamie Pressley. She has always been the standout performer from the show’s cast, and that was especially apparent when she came out of a tough category to win last year’s trophy. This year, she will face considerably more challenge, and her chances to repeat seem especially thin. I’ve admittedly stopped watching the show, but her selected episode seems to be mired in the season’s sitcom within a sitcom gag; luckily, it’s also an hour-long episode, which should benefit her in the screening process.
NBC’s comedy lineup has one other major contender, likely to get her second nomination in as many years. Jenna Fischer wasn’t even on the Emmy radar for the show’s second season, but after the show won an Emmy and became a demographic hit voters woke up to her understated and charming performance. She had a pitch perfect episode last year, but just couldn’t pull it out; this year, with that loss still in voters’ minds, she could be in the same position Pressley was in last year and waltz off with a victory. Her submission, season premiere “Fun Run,” is also an hour long episode and features her charming interaction with Jim and a fair amount of screentime.
YouTube: Jim/Pam Scenes in “Fun Run”
But two other NBC comedy performers deserve spots in the Top 10 (Or even in the final 5) but will struggle by comparison. Jane Krakowski will likely make the Top 10 for her work on 30 Rock based on the show’s buzz, but she should really be there based on her talents. While she doesn’t have an hour long episode, she has let the role develop in a very natural fashion that was firing on all cylinders during the early season “Jenna Gets Fat” storyline. It was simple, but it was damn funny, and I’d love to see her grab a nomination. Sadly, that isn’t likely to happen considering that her tape (“The Collection”) could be better, but I wish it was different.
YouTube: A Selection of Jenna Quotes (Half from 2nd Season)
The same goes for the Office’s two other contenders, two actresses who have done fantastic work on the series but will never break through to the Top 10. Angela Kinsey, who portrays uptight Angela Martin on the series, is fantastic in every scene she’s in. This year, she had a great falling out with Dwight, including one of the most hilarious scenes of the year when she discovers that her incredibly ill cat has been murdered by her own boyfriend. She’s a great comic foil, and it’s too bad her lack of “main” storylines will keep her from getting awards attention.
Similarly, Melora Hardin continues to do amazing work despite the character assassination that the show forced on her character. While I was frustrated with the damaged and downright insane Jan that the show introduced at the end of last season, Hardin brought just the right touch to the performance as someone who was not so much crazy as delusional. Her performance in “Dinner Party” makes the episode, whether it’s her hilarious dancing or her jealousy of Pam. She is the comic actress in that episode, not Jenna Fischer, and I think that Hardin deserves just as much kudos come award season.
YouTube: Jan’s Surprise Return in Season 4 Finale [SPOILERS]
But these types of actresses will get passed over for the likes of veterans (And Emmy favourites) Conchata Ferrell and Holland Taylor, who act in television’s highest rated comedy Two and a Half Men. That’s enough to secure them a spot in the Top 10 right there, and while my distain for the show is unlikely to subside I do have to admit that these are two funny characters. Taylor, in particular, delivers terrible jokes in as good a fashion as one could ask for, proving quite apt at being (as far as I can gather) the judgmental mother of the series.
YouTube: “Look Mommy, I’m Pretty!”
Ferrell, by comparison, isn’t as well know but surprised with nominations over the past few years. She’s got the role of being the source of quippy dialogue, something that usually stands out on a series that so many people are watching. While the below clip makes my brain hurt in that it’s not even close to my choice of humour, she’s been doing something that makes voters take notice.
YouTube: I’m Sorry It’s About Testicles
But this year, all of the buzz belongs to Vanessa Williams, who has been riding a lot of success with a surprise SAG nomination (Where supporting and lead actresses are combined, making it tougher to break through) and continued strong performances as villainous Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty. She’s submitted strongly, with an episode featuring her feud with everyone’s favourite old lady Betty White, and with a lot of screentime she’ll play well in front of the panels. She’s also a feel good story, as someone who fell out of the spotlight for a while and has returned with a vengeance. The show is falling out of favour, but chances are her character won’t suffer the same fate.
YouTube: Wilhelmina vs. Betty
And all of this prestige and popularity will make it a tough category to break into: previous award show favourites Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds) and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies), obligatory Desperate Housewives newcomer Dana Delaney, and Jean Smart (Samantha Who?), who was recently nominated for her dramatic role on 24. How the Top 10 boils down will entirely depend on to what degree voters return to a show like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Desperate Housewives, or embrace a show like Pushing Daisies or Samantha Who. That makes the final few spots in the Top 10, if not the large majority, tough to call.
Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Prediction
(* Denotes Preliminary Nominee Prediction)
*Jenna Fischer (The Office)
Conchata Ferrell (Two and a Half Men)
*Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men)
*Jamie Pressley (My Name is Earl)
Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)
Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds)
*Dana Delaney (Desperate Housewives)
*Vanessa L. Williams (Ugly Betty)
Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)