Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting

June 2nd, 2010

In comedy this year, a lot depends on what shows make it big: we know that Glee and Modern Family are going to make a statement (as noted in my piece handicapping the Comedy Series race), but is it going to be a statement of “this is a great show” or a statement of “this is the greatest show since sliced bread?” The difference will largely be felt in the acting categories: both Modern Family and Glee have multiple Emmy contenders, but it’s unclear whether some of the less heralded performers will be able to rise along with the big “stars,” or whether the halo of series success won’t help them compete against some established names already entrenched in these categories.

Ultimately, I’m willing to say that there’s going to be some pretty big turnaround this year in some of these categories, but others feature quite a large number of former nominees who likely aren’t going anywhere, so it should be interesting to see how things shake out on July 8th. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the four major Comedy Acting Emmys and see where the chips lie.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Last year’s Nominees:

  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) [Winner]
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
  • Tony Shahloub (Monk)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)

I’m not quite willing to count out Charlie Sheen, but I think a nomination is a long shot considering his recent troubles with the law – sure, he wasn’t immune to troubles before, but he seemed to have revitalized his career, so falling back off the wagon is likely going to cost him a nomination. We can officially count out Clement, though, whose shocking nomination last year won’t be repeated thanks to the show going off the air.

This Year’s Shoo-in Nominees:

  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
  • Tony Shahloub (Monk)

Meanwhile, I think three of the other four are safe here: Baldwin is here to stay, Carell remains too big a star to be denied, and while I’d like to think that Shahloub doesn’t have a chance at competing for another Emmy, he’s in. It was Monk’s final season, and while it’s not quite up there with Lost’s final season in terms of its impact on voters I do think that it will be enough to keep him in the category, as there is less new competition here than in other categories thanks to the decision from Modern Family to submit entirely in supporting. Meanwhile, I expect Curb to land big, so Larry David is an important part of that package and should easily return to the category he has been nominated in three times before.

The Contenders:

  • Matthew Morrison (Glee)
  • Joel McHale (Community)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
  • Thomas Jane (Hung)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)

I think Jim Parsons has a great shot at remaining in the category, but I think last season the voters elevated Parsons above his show, which meant they were pushing both his performance and the series; this year, the show may be representing itself, so the push for Parsons may be diminished, so he remains just a contender for now. Meanwhile, I remain unsure of what the show will do with Matthew Morrison: his song and dance work is impressive, but his actual acting has never been a highlight for the show, and he plays a pretty minor role in the episodes Glee sent to voters (“Pilot,” “Wheels,” and “Power of Madonna”).

Meanwhile, I don’t know what they’re going to do with someone like Joel McHale – I think he’s really funny on Community, and he does have something of an industry presence, but I don’t know if he can really break into this category with the amount of big names present. The same goes for Thomas Jane: a surprise nomination from the Golden Globes raised some questions about whether voters might latch onto the topicality of Hung’s economic decay-centered premise, and Jane is good enough on the show that I wouldn’t be entirely shocked this time around. Meanwhile, Sheen stays on the list because even hitting your wife isn’t enough to knock Emmy voters out of a rut sometimes.

Most Painful Omission from Contenders: Adam Scott (Party Down)

In its second season, Adam Scott’s ability to remain a compelling straight man within a zany environment has been even more apparent, which makes me that much more sad that no one is watching. With a proper Emmy campaign, I think Party Down could have made a move last year, but it’s officially dead in the water, which simply makes me sad.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Last year’s Nominees:

  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara) [Winner]
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures of Old Christine)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program)

There’s actually, believe it not, no guaranteed turnaround this year: through a summer airing or two, Samantha Who? is eligible for an Emmy, so Applegate’s early position on the ballot could theoretically get her nominated again. While Silverman’s show has been cancelled, it aired during the season, so there’s a chance she could be back as well.

This Year’s Shoo-in Nominees:

  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)

The shoo-ins this year are the big three: having already competed at the Golden Globes (where Colette emerged victorious) and at the SAG Awards (where Fey took the trophy), they’re set for another showdown at the Emmys, although those one will be more interesting. I’d give the advantage to Falco, based on her pedigree and her intention of submitting Nurse Jackie’s pilot (since two seasons of the show are eligible this year), which always works well with voters. Colette, meanwhile, will be into the second season of Tara, where her character is more complex and perhaps less immediately accessible to viewers, but that didn’t hurt Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad, so we’ll see how things shake out.

The Contenders:

  • Courteney Cox (Cougar Town)
  • Lea Michele (Glee)
  • Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Patricia Heaton (The Middle)
  • America Ferrara (Ugly Betty)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine)

I’d expect the other three slots to come down to this collection which includes past nominees for other hit shows (Heaton), past stars of other hits shows (Cox, who as Todd pointed out has never been nominated for an Emmy which makes her a bigger threat) past winners (Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrera), and past bridesmaids (Mary-Louise Parker). Lea Michele is the real wild card here: she is the sort of young breakout star that voters could gravitate towards, and I think she’s impressive enough vocally to be considered the show’s breakthrough young star even if my own feelings lean elsewhere (which we’ll get to in a second). Meanwhile, I think Amy Poehler is Parks and Recreation’s best shot at a nomination, as she was nominated for Saturday Night Live last year and this is one place where I feel the Academy has to recognize the show’s improvement. Out of the other contenders, I think Cox and Heaton have better shots than the previous nominees: the Emmys might not be the Golden Globes, but they still love comeback stories, and both actresses are playing close enough to their previous character to rekindle past affections.

Most Painful Omission from Contenders: Portia de Rossi (Better Off Ted)

Stepping up to lead this year unfortunately won’t help Portia de Rossi, who remained the most fantastic part of ABC’s little-seen comedy series in its “lucky to even exist” second season – this is a strong category without her, but it still feels incomplete considering her absence.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Last year’s Nominees:

  • Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men) [Winner]
  • Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
  • Kevin Dillon (Entourage)
  • Jack McBrayer (30 Rock)
  • Tracy Morgan (30 Rock)
  • Rainn Wilson (The Office)

Last year’s nominations weren’t that different from previous years, notable only for the absence of Jeremy Piven (who won the previous three years) and the presence of two supporting players from 30 Rock (as last year was the first year where the show dominated across the board as opposed to simply in the lead categories). All remain theoretical contenders this year, although there’s going to be some major shakeups in this category for quite a few reasons.

This Year’s Shoo-in Nominees:

  • Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
  • Ed O’Neill (Modern Family)

Yes, the list is only two actors long. I think NPH is the only person guaranteed to return, as his stint as Emmys host has given him enough profile to remain a contender in this category for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, while there are four actors with a chance to break through from Modern Family, I think Ed O’Neill is the one I’d consider a shoo-in: he never received any Emmy love for Married…with Children, and this seems like a good time to acknowledge a veteran actor doing some fine work as the patriarch of the central family.

The Contenders:

  • Ted Danson (Bored to Death)
  • Zach Galifianakis (Bored to Death)
  • Chevy Chase (Community)
  • Jeremy Piven (Entourage)
  • Chris Colfer (Glee)
  • Ty Burell (Modern Family)
  • Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)
  • Rico Rodriguez (Modern Family)
  • Rainn Wilson (The Office)
  • John Krasinski (The Office)
  • Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation)
  • Jack McBrayer (30 Rock)
  • Tracy Morgan (30 Rock)
  • Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)

Oy vey, where to even begin here? Let’s start with the men of Modern Family: while logic says that Ty Burrell (who has the showiest role in the pilot) gets into the category, as he had the most buzz coming out of the premiere, Eric Stonestreet and Rico Rodriguez stole nearly every scene they were in, and would personally be my choices for the nominations (presuming that the show is limited to two slots). Meanwhile, I don’t know what to do with Chris Colfer: he is fantastic in episodes like “Wheels” and has a nice balance of comic and dramatic material, so his position as the heart of the show could be respected by voters, but he’s entirely marginalized in the Pilot, which makes me wonder if voters are really going to take to the character. Elsewhere in new shows, star power will be the deciding factor: Danson and Galifianakis are long shots but famous ones, and while I’d rather be highlighting Danny Pudi from Community I think Chase is the show’s best shot at an acting nomination.

The potentially returning nominees need to fight back the threat of the “new” (I excluded Dillon because I think that train has finally sailed – Drama’s been getting no material for years now), while someone like Nick Offerman needs to hope that someone has been paying attention to Parks and Recreation. If they have, I think everyone can agree that Ron F’ing Swanson is a revelation, and I’m holding out hope that people watch the episode featuring Emmy darling Megan Mullally as his ex-wife Tammy and throw some votes his way. Meanwhile, this could be the year that John Krasinski finally grabs a nomination: with both the Wedding and the Baby episode to choose froms, it’s now or never.

Most Painful Omissions from Contenders: Brian Van Holt (Cougar Town) and Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation)

Cougar Town developed into an obnoxiously fun ensemble over the course of its first season, and no transformation was more apparent than Brian Van Holt’s work keeping Bobby Cobb entirely stupid while making him infinitely more endearing than I would have imagined at the start of the series. On a similar vein (which isn’t intentional), Chris Pratt has maintained Andy’s hapless nature while developing him into a believable love interest, a downright hysterical shoeshine man, and just a really great presence within Parks’ ensemble. Unfortunately, both don’t have a chance in hell at a nomination.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Last year’s Nominees:

  • Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies) [Winner]
  • Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
  • Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds)
  • Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live)
  • Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
  • Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty)

There’s a lot of room for turnover in this category: Chenoweth’s show was (sadly) canceled, Poehler left the cast of Saturday Night Live, and Williams’ Ugly Betty fell off in a big way as it reaches it cancellation. I’m not willing to count out Williams or Perkins, but the closest the show has to surefire bet to return is Krakowski, and even then it’s unclear how well 30 Rock can withstand the presence of new comedy success stories in these categories.

This Year’s Shoo-in Nominees:

  • Jane Lynch (Glee)

Perhaps I’m just really non-committal at this stage (I’ll predict eventually, honest), but I really won’t put money down on anyone but Jane Lynch within this category. Lynch has a lot of buzz coming into this year’s awards, and seems like the one sure-bet acting nominee from the series. She deserves it too, as even though the show has had some issues balancing the character she has been consistently great at playing both the hard and soft sides of the character, and will be recognized for it.

The Contenders:

  • Drea de Matteo (Desperate Housewives)
  • Sofia Vergara (Modern Family)
  • Julie Bowen (Modern Family)
  • Eve Best (Nurse Jackie)
  • Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie)
  • Jenna Fischer (The Office)
  • Amber Riley (Glee)
  • Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
  • Rosemarie DeWitt (United States of Tara)
  • Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds)
  • Kristin Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
  • Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty)
  • Jane Adams (Hung)

Despite being a fairly wide open category, there’s less depth here than in Supporting Actor: de Matteo is only here based on based Emmy pedigree, for example, and there’s fewer Modern Family contenders in the game. Still, I’d say that Bowen and Vergara are both threats, although if you made me choose between them I don’t know who I’d predict to grab a single nomination for the series. Meanwhile, I think Amber Riley has the kind of big voice that voters could latch onto should Glee go over huge, although she’s damaged by no big Mercedes episodes being included in the screeners sent to Emmy voters. The jury is also out on how voters respond to Nurse Jackie: Eve Best and Merritt Wever are both very good on the show, the latter in particular, but is the show going to go over with voters beyond Falco?

Meanwhile, while the returning nominees fight to remain relevant, Rosemarie DeWitt seems like she could contend here. United States of Tara improved in its second season, and her character become more integrated into the narrative; yes, it’s unlikely she could be nominated when she wasn’t recognized last year amidst some Oscar buzz for Rachel Getting Married, but I think Tara is capable of breaking through and she could be part of that surge. And in a last minute addition, after switching to Supporting from Lead, Jane Adams (nominated for a Golden Globe) could contend for Hung, in which she is very funny and which could connect with voters.

Most Painful Omissions from Contenders: Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and Alison Brie (Community)

Saying more with a glance than most actresses say in an entire monologue, Plaza has slowly become the sarcastic, apathetic heart of Parks and Recreation alongside Chris Pratt, and her subtle work will sadly go unnoticed by the Academy. Brie, meanwhile, has beautifully transitioned from her dramatic work on Mad Men to the zany Community, grounding Annie by embracing her perkiness while maintaining those glimpses of self-doubt which define the character; unfortunately, I don’t see Community breaking out, so she’s likely to be ignored as well.

Next Up: the drama categories, where things are both a bit more predictable and yet a bit more competitive within that predictability.


Filed under Emmy Awards

15 responses to “Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting

  1. Beth

    I think the entire casts of “Parks and Recreation” and “Modern Family” are superb. Amy Poehler is just outstanding – she completely inhabits her character and is hilarious. I love Aziz Ansari, too.

    Eric Stonestreet, Ty Burell, Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara should all be nominated. Throw in some Neil Patrick Harris, Jane Lynch and Vanessa Williams (who is the best thing on “Ugly Betty”) and I don’t care who gets the rest of the supporting noms.

    Such a great year for comedy!

  2. par3182

    Don’t actors get to submit episodes of their choosing separate from the episodes submitted for Series consideration? I thought Supporting Actors got to choose scenes from two episodes while Lead Actors submitted an entire single episode.

    • Eventually, yes – however, since the nomination process is done entirely by popular ballot, voters need to have a reason to put down their name before they can see a specific episode, and the screener episodes are often how that becomes decided.

  3. elisabeth

    Interesting post. The Emmys have always seemed random to me — I like seeing the analysis from people who follow them.

    Can I ask why you went for Amber Riley as the most likely possible nominee among the Glee students? She has the flashiest voice, but Mercedes’ plot points have always been fairly low-key — she’s on the show as a singer much more than as an actress, and the Emmys are an acting competition. I don’t expect anyone from Glee save Lynch to get an acting nod — but Dianna Agron had much more emotional range in her material, so if a nomination happened, I’d expect her to get it over Riley. .I’m curious about your thought process on that. (And it’s possible that I’m blinded by the fact I love Quinn and can take or leave Mercedes.)

    • elisabeth

      (Among the female Glee students, I should have said. Totally agree that if a boy gets nominated it’ll be Colfer, who’s the most deserving anyhow.)

    • If I was picking someone personally, I’d pick Agron, but it remains unclear what voters will like about Glee: is it the emotional storylines of teenage struggles, or is it the musical side of the equation? Riley is more impressive in the latter area, and it remains unclear whether that is going to make a substantial difference or not.

      • elisabeth

        I see. I still think it would suck if somebody got an acting award for being a really good singer — they might as well give Crystal Bowersox the supporting actress Emmy — but I understand your logic there. It’ll be interesting to see how it all works out!

  4. Why is Nurse Jackie STILL considered a comedy? It’s obviously a dramady, but it tends to lean more towards the drama.

    If it was in the Drama category, I really think Falco would be a favorite to win as lead actress.


    • I think Falco has a better chance in Comedy than Drama – the half-hour format would kill her in drama (less material to work with), and if anything her balance of comedy and drama will make her performance stand out (although Colette has the same advantage).

  5. Kat

    The most painful omissions to me will be Zachary Levi, who continues to get absolutely no recognition for his work on Chuck.

  6. Abe

    Fantastic analysis as always, Myles! I haven’t yet had a chance to prepare my picks for the nominees this summer, but they’ll likely be very close to yours! A few quick notes:

    – While “Curb” will likely do extremely well, I wouldn’t count on Larry David scoring a nod for acting. It’s very possible, but by no means secure.
    – Tony Shalhoub also isn’t definite. “Six Feet Under” was abandoned in its final year, as was Jennifer Garner. I realize that he had more success than both, but that may make him even more overrated in some voters’ minds.
    – I can’t imagine both Christina Applegate and Sarah Silverman earning nominations for shows that have been off the year for such a long time. Applegate’s last nod was after the demise of her show, and that was a stretch.
    – I don’t think that shows like “Nurse Jackie” or “The United States of Tara” really have supporting contenders. Praised as they may be, those categories are usually reserved for true comic work. I think the one exception in recent years is probably Alfre Woodard, and I don’t think that means Drea DeMatteo has a shot this year.
    – I’m so glad that you love Nick Offerman and Aubrey Plaza. I totally agree.

    I’ve slacked over the past year in terms of keeping up with my RSS feeds, but I will definitely be following your blog closely from here on out, and look forward to reading all of your thoughts.


    • Abe! Great to see you around, looking forward to the dialogue which will result.

      Two things:

      1) I think Curb is going over big with the Seinfeld connection this year, and I doubt they’ll avoid David in the process. I think people wondered if Curb could keep going after the sixth season, but the Seinfeld reunion convinced a lot of people, and I’m guessing a lot of voters were watching.

      2) I think we need to separate Monk from shows like Six Feet Under or Alias: while those shows went through a lot of transformations, leaving actors and actresses in roles very different from the ones they were first recognized for, Monk has been the same show from the very beginning, and Shalhoub has been playing the same character the entire time. I think voters will be sad to say goodbye to Monk as a familiar character, and I think that’ll be a pretty big draw with voters (especially since his final episodes were so purposefully nostalgic).

      Fair point on Jackie/Tara, but I’m holding out hope for DeWitt and Wever’s sakes.

      • Abe

        Okay, you’re probably right – after writing my predictions, I can come to no other conclusion besides Baldwin, Carell, David, Morrison, Parsons, and Shalhoub. Let’s hope for a fun surprise? Like James Roday! If only.

  7. Agree with most of your list, except with Riley. I don’t think any supporting actress of Glee, other than Lynch, will get a nod. The only ones on the cast who have a chance are the few that had a little development: Michele, Colfer and Morrison. Although the series is a hit, their cast isn’t exactly what calls the biggest attention. Especially when you compare them with other casts in the comedy category.
    Wishing to see lots of Modern Family (probable) and Parks and Rec (dream).

    If they nominate Plaza and Offerman I’ll already be satisfied!!

  8. Zac

    Edie Falco is truly an outstanding actress. But every time I tune in it’s for Merritt Wever. She cracks me up in nearly every episode. I would love it if she was nominated.

    As much as I love Falco, I want Toni Colette to win again. She is truly truly a wonder to watch. “Tara” is an all around stronger show, I would love to see it be nominated for series.

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