Handicapping the 2009 Emmys
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Earlier today, as part of my catchup with The Big Bang Theory’s second season (which I’ll talk about in greater detail once I’m done), I came to the episode that Jim Parsons, nominated for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series at this year’s Emmys, has submitted for consideration. Then, sorting through some shows kicking around, I stumbled upon Alec Baldwin’s submission from 30 Rock in the same category, “Generalissimo.” Considering this crazy random happenstance, I figured it was only fitting that I sit down and rewatch “Broke,” Steve Carell’s submission for his work on The Office, in order to complete the trifecta.
Yes, there are six nominees in this category, but realistically the only three that have a chance are the ones listed above. The only two acting races where I would say there are three or less potential candidates are both comedy lead categories, as a combination of tape quality and prevailing opinion will shut out the other three nominees (Charlie Sheen, Tony Shahloub, Jemaine Clement). Once you get to these three, however, things become quite complicated: each has a fairly compelling narrative for victory, and perhaps more importantly they have three very different submission tapes that cover some diverse territory.
At the end of the day, all three actors deliver funny performances, but I think it’s going to come down to which tape best combines the award show narrative and a performance worthy of the Academy’s attention.
Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock
Episode Submitted: “Generalissimo”
In my original review of “Generalissimo,” I was quite positive about the episode, but for the life of me I had trouble remembering it when I heard that Baldwin (and the show) had submitted it for Emmy consideration. For Baldwin, the episode submission made sense, as it has the added bonus of being two performances in one: not only does Baldwin play Jack Donaghy, NBC Executive, but he also plays Hector Moreda, a telenovela star who looks identical to Donaghy and plays an evil Generalissimo whose reputation soils Elisa’s (Salma Hayek, near the beginning of her appearance as Jack’s love interest) grandmother opinion of Jack himself.
It’s the epitome of the gimmick performance, and the novelty factor will not be lost on voters: Hector is flamboyantly gay and his altercation with Jack is both a strong use of green screen and a fun sequence in its own right, while the Generalissimo within the telenovela does some rather hilarious things, including blowing up a child with a stick of dynamite and, once reformed in order to appease Elisa’s grandmother, romancing an elderly woman with horrible elderly cliches. It’s not entirely clear what the presence of Hayek will do for voters, as she was snubbed out of a guest acting nominations by Jennifer Aniston, but you never know what will get people’s attention.
The one intangible that Baldwin will certainly benefit from is that his storyline is intricately linked with the rest of the episode: the entire episode is sent to voters, which means that they will get to see Tina Fey attempt to romance Jon Hamm’s Dr. Drew Baird with both a) hilarious results and b) direct references to the Generalissimo storyline. Even when you’re getting pulled into how hilarious Fey is in this episode, or how enjoyable Hamm is playing the straight man, you’re constantly being reminded that Fey’s schemes are all taken directly from the actions of the Generalissimo. The episode brings everything together in the end, a fact that will help voters feel like they’ve seen an overall quality episode of television, and one where Baldwin played not one but two important roles.
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
Episode Submitted: “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis”
Equal parts “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Trekkies,” this is the kind of performance that Parsons pulls off more often than not on the show, which gives him an advantage in my own objective opinion if not for voters, who are only seeing the single episode. In it, Sheldon admonishes Penny for daring to give him a Christmas gift, which requires him to in turn purchase her a gift of comparable value, an impossible task since he has no idea what she has given him. Combine with his view of Christmas trees as a pagan ritual, and his struggles to decide what kind of message a bath item will send to Penny, and you have some classic Sheldon-isms, which is the type of submission Parsons needs to contend.
Really, though, this one is all about the final sequence where the gifts are finally exchanged. Having purchased numerous sizes of baskets in order to give her the one which most closely fits once he opens her present, Sheldon tears open her present and discovers…well, see for yourself.
It’s an absolutely fantastic sequence, whether it’s Sheldon’s inability to remain subtle about his scheme, the escalating excitement over the Leonard Nimoy napkin, the realization of its DNA potential, his discovery that all of his gift baskets combined aren’t enough, or his decision to hug Penny (or really hug someone period). It’s the first sequence from the show that really stands out as something satisfying, and I think it’s going to leave voters thinking of Parsons when they finish the episode – how could you not, really?
Now, as you can tell, one problem Parsons has is that the other side of the episode is…less interesting. Not that it’s bad per se, but rather that it struggles to compare. For fellow BSG fans like myself, seeing Michael Trucco made us happy, but it’s a pretty basic sitcom storyline, and it lacks both the starpower and the connectivity of 30 Rock’s storyline, not to mention some of the humour. The show couldn’t net a comedy series nomination for a reason, and that could easily hold Parsons back.
Steve Carell – The Office
Episode Submitted: “Broke”
Having been nominated for the past three years, Steve Carell returns to the dance with “Broke,” an episode where the Michael Scott Paper Company goes from success to failure, and where Michael is given the opportunity to turn that failure into success by leveraging his impact on Dunder Mifflin’s bottom line in a buyout agreement. The episode combines many qualities of Michael Scott that I’ve always admired: you have his playful, childlike qualities in the early morning paper run (where he refuses to allow Ryan into the van, and where he yells “Boner Patrol” to a barely awake Jim as he picks up Pam), his struggles with humour (with both a terrible football allegory and a mangling of “the tables have turned”), and eventually his ability to in a moment of great need show that he’s an intelligent man who knows his strengths and can sell them when required.
When Michael does turn the tables on David Wallace, securing his old job back along with jobs for Pam and Ryan, it is all due to Michael’s ability to read the situation. Going into that meeting, the audience and Michael himself think he’s going to slip up, revealing that they are broke and will soon be going out of business. When Michael turns down the first offer, and refuses the $60,000 that follows, you think that it’s Michael being an imbecile, but he’s actually being more logical than one would expect. This is Michael at his most responsible, and he successfully makes his play in a triumpant fashion that viewers, and voters, will have to root for.
Where the tape might struggle, however, is in the lack of a major scene: both Parsons and Baldwin have very showy performances, and Carell is doing some very subtle work here. Also, Carell isn’t in a lot of the episode: there’s as much time spent with Jim and Dwight strategizing with David and Charles on the subject of how to handle the Michael Scott Paper Company question, and while it’s very funny (Dwight and his bees, Jim forcing Dwight to lose Charles’ attention when he has dealbreaking information) it keeps Carell off screen, and works best with knowledge of what happened in the previous episodes. This is the end of an arc, at the end of the day, and that makes Carell’s performance stronger in ways that voters won’t necessarily be able to quantify.
Handicapping the Race
For a variety of reasons, I think my money is on Steve Carell here.
It’s not that his performance is quantifiably superior to either Baldwin or Parsons, but it’s a very different kind of performance, and one that fits with Carell’s reputation in this category. He’s due for a win, having been extremely close two years in a row, and this is the kind of performance that perfectly captures what makes Michael Scott such an entertaining and endearing character. I think the Academy wants to reward Carell for his work on the show, and I think this is a good episode to do it.
I think Parsons has plenty of time left to win his Emmy, and the show around him just isn’t good enough to keep voters as engaged as with Baldwin and Carell’s tapes. Baldwin, meanwhile, won last year and remains a threat in terms of his reputation, but I don’t think he has anywhere near as strong a tape as last year (“Rosemary’s Baby”) and more importantly I think voters will appreciate Carell’s quasi-dramatic turn over the rather gimmicky performance Baldwin offers in the episode.
Myles’ Selection: Steve Carell (“The Office”)
Dark Horse: Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”)
The “Safe” Choice: Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock”)
- Fun fact: Steve Carell would have one less person to thank should he win, since he actually directed “Broke” himself.
- I don’t mention it above, but how many Academy members are Trekkies? Big Bang Theory relies a lot on geek-driven humour, and while I think the final sequence is funny no matter how you slice it, it probably has some added value for those of us who understand Sheldon’s excitement all too well.