Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Steve Carell (Michael Scott)
I don’t really know what to say about Steve Carell that hasn’t already been said. The fact that he didn’t win this award last year was a travesty, as his loss to Tony Shalhoub should have never happened. I wrote about Rainn Wilson two weeks ago that The Office really wouldn’t work without him, and I stand by that statement…but Dwight wouldn’t really work without Michael, and I don’t think that much of the show’s comedy would be as funny if the uncool, trying to be cool boss wasn’t around. What makes Carell so great in this role is his ability to throw everything into his comic performance, but then be able to bring it all back together to appear as a real human being. Without that quality, Carell would be a loose cannon on a show where all firearms must be precision weapons designed to entertain. However, although often giving the appearance of being entirely unstable, Michael Scott is a human being first and foremost, capable of love and loss and friendship and emotions. And with a deft comic hand and a sense of who his character really is, Steve Carell delivers a consistently Emmy worthy performance.
This season has allowed Carell a lot of movement within Michael’s character. He continued to go through relationship drama, struggled to relate to his co-workers as per usual, and had to deal with a convict and a gay man in his office (He didn’t do so well with either of them). And I have to commend him for managing to go through all of this (especially “Gay Witch Hunt”, which I found more disturbing than funny) while maintaining some level of sanity within Michael’s character. At the end of the season as he finds himself caring for a rapidly falling apart Jan and wondering how he got stuck in this mess, we relate to him and his situation. Carell can go through from hapless to empathetic in about two second flat, and he did so admirably throughout the season. While he doesn’t always get the same types of “gags” as Dwight or Jim, I think that his comedy is all in the setup. And this season saw a wide range of setups, and Carell’s performance within them is worthy of Emmy consideration.
Episode Selection: “Business School” (Aired February 15th, 2007)
I’m skipping forward to this section quicker than I might usually because I want to explain that this is where Carell lost the Emmy last year. His submitted episode, where he burnt his food on his George Foreman grill, was Michael at his most annoying. There was no heart, no caring within his character. This wasn’t Michael as an innocent, it was Michael as an ungracious jerk. So, this season he needed an episode that showcased that.
And he bloody well found it. Business School is a great episode for Carell because he is forced to face reality straight in the face, and his emotional side is showcased in the action’s coda. As he speaks to Ryan’s business class, he realizes that people believe he is irrelevant, that he has no future. He finds himself being attacked, and responds with throwing candy bars and ripping apart textbooks. But he is visibly angry at the end, frustrated with his place in his job. And then, at episode’s end, he visits Pam’s art show and proudly hangs the photo of their office up on the wall. It is poignant, it is funny, and it is great television. This is the episode that could win him an Emmy.
YouTube – “Business School”
And another of the episode’s coda, which wasn’t set to Edward Scissorhands or mashed with it in real life, but it makes it even more dramatic.
Alec Baldwin (Jack Donaghy)
Alex Baldwin gave, in my personal opinion, the best comic performance of the season on 30 Rock. He stole every scene he was in, shared great scenes with pretty well the show’s entire cast, and managed to find a balance between forceful boss and a man in need of attention. While his time spent hosting Saturday Night Live was certainly good training ground for Baldwin in terms of comic chops, what he really brings to the table is his ability to craft a character. So often, leads in comedies can fall into the same old clichés, the same old structures, and in the process don’t define a character. While he may also play a boss with insecurities, Baldwin doesn’t really steal from Steve Carell’s performance style; what he crafts is something all his own, a boss whose insecurities are so well hidden that he’s risen to the executive level. Jack is so good at hiding and limiting those insecurities that few would ever question his leadership, and in much the same way Baldwin commands respect. As a comic presence and as a character-driven actor, Alec Baldwin makes 30 Rock worth watching each and every week. While the show came together around him in the end, Alec Baldwin’s show-justifying role is worthy of Emmy consideration.
When you look at what Jack faced this year it’s kind of a laundry list of fantastic comic setups with every single character on the series. He spent a day as an NBC page with Kenneth cleaning Brian Williams’ office after one of his tirades, and played poker against him, he spent time dealing with racism with Tracy, he tried to help Pete’s love life by pushing him to wear a toupee, and perhaps greatest of all he constantly interacted with Liz. His chemistry with Tina Fey is palpable: their dialogues were sharp, their delivery perfect, their pace ideal. But it was always Fey keeping up with Baldwin, and that’s the way it really should be. And yet, in moments of insecurity, Jack does falter: whether it’s his ex-wife (Isabella Rossellini in a fantastic guest role), his troublesome family (Nathan Lane, Molly Shannon), or even his late season relationship with Phoebe the bird girl. Jack does have a heart, of sorts, but yet his life as a cutthroat executive is always first and foremost. He might eventually pull Kenneth out of performing sex acts to guest star Will Arnett, but he definitely sent him in the first place to help out his own cause. That duality is funny, charming, and pulled off wonderfully by Baldwin. And it’s a performance that is likely to garner him an Emmy nomination.
Episode Selection: “Jack-Tor” (Aired November 16th, 2007)
I am ignoring his actual selection here not because I dislike it, but because of my affection for this particular episode. “Hiatus”, the season finale, features some great interaction with Elaine Stritch playing his mother, and his arc within the episode is certainly a decent one. But it has Jack out of his element: he’s in bed with Phoebe, or stuck in a hospital bed. Jack is at his finest in his own habitat.
And thus I have to choose an early season episode that convinced me that this series was officially going somewhere. Jack-Tor covers everything great about Jack: his corporate background, his tough exterior, his attempts to fit in, his insecurities, his relationship with Liz, his…well, this episode has everything for me. More than Hiatus, this episode defines what Alec Baldwin is able to bring to this character on a weekly basis. Plus, it contains perhaps the greatest sequence in all of comedy this past year, which will follow in YouTube form. The rest of the episode has some other stuff…but this is basically an Emmy reel in itself.
YouTube – “Jack-Tor”
Zach Braff (J.D.)
After the cinematic success found with Garden State, Zach Braff has become an award show mainstay for his role as John Dorian on NBC’s Scrubs…and I don’t really know why. Well, that’s not true: I can see how the combination of his popularity and his consistent performance have given him a higher profile than other superior comic actors. However, I figured out another reason while preparing for this series: there just aren’t that many male comedy leads out there right now. Braff, in comparison to what others there are, is actually a seasoned veteran with some strong comic turns and a sense of character able to switch between silly and serious quite easily. While J.D. no longer has the freshness he had during the first seasons, and the silly stuff can often go too far, Braff was as competent as ever this season…and in a shallow pool, that competence is more than enough to be considered for an Emmy award.
I’m being a bit hard on Braff, I’ll admit, but I do think that he’s delivered some strong performances this season. Like Sutherland, the material sometimes left Braff out to dry, asking him to be an insufferable jerk such as his phone call to a deceased ex-girlfriend’s mother that was just completely distasteful. However, he handled the entire arc with his pregnant girlfriend and her departure with his usual sense of everyman charm, and I never became one of those people who was entirely apathetic towards his character. I think that J.D., like Braff perhaps, has become complacent and immovable within the show’s storylines. With all of the intern/resident anxieties basically gone, J.D. seems too sure of himself, and his awkwardness was part of what made Braff’s performance so strong.
And those moments still exist, such as his interactions with John C. McGinley’s Dr. Cox, and I think that’s why he’s still on this list as opposed to just a lack of candidates. I still like to see Braff do his thing, entertaining in his wacky ways, although perhaps less than I did five years ago. I don’t think Braff was worth the huge salary that ABC is paying him for the show’s seventh season (ABC produces the show), but I think that he is part of what makes the show what it is. Still capable of emotional storylines and off-the-wall antics, Zach Braff was able to sustain his strong set of performances on Scrubs to the degree that he is likely to be considered for an Emmy award this year…but I worry about the act wearing thin in the show’s final season.
Episode Selection: “My Musical” (Aired January 18th, 2007)
This episode is the selection for a lot of the show’s actors, as well as the show itself, but I think it is best for Braff for one main reason: since the entire episode is wacky and takes place in the head of a woman with a brain tumour (Spoiler Alert!), his performance can be as off-the-wall as he wishes it to be. Musical comedy is apparently Braff’s calling, as he knocks each song out of the park. In a season where the emotional material wasn’t as powerful in years previous (The series struggled with it part way through the season), it makes sense to focus on the wacky comedy it does best. Braff gives a bombastic performance in all of his songs, but I think that Guy Love is perhaps the one most likely to capture the attention of Emmy voters this year.
YouTube – “My Musical (Guy Love)”
Tony Shalhoub (Adrian Monk)
For the past two years, Tony Shalhoub has won the Emmy Award for Leading Actor in a Comedy. And every year, arguably, someone else probably deserved it more. I am not sure if the same will happen this year, but I want to make something clear: despite believing that Shalhoub perhaps isn’t better than some of his other candidates, he is an adept comic actor who infuses Monk with 90% of its charm. As a procedural dramedy, ostensibly, Monk is entirely reliant on Shalhoub’s performance of OCD-riddled, paranoid, uncomfortable and brilliant Adrian. While the show can be uneven, Shalhoub’s performance is always incredibly strong; very rarely do you ever become annoyed by his antics, even as the show sometimes loses sight of its proper goals. Considering his long string of nominations, Shalhoub is clearly a man who gives consistently great performances. And, while I might not select him to win, it’s hard not to consider his portrayal of Adrian Monk for Emmy Awards attention.
In the hands of a lesser actor, I believe that Monk would be an insufferable pain in the ass that we couldn’t imagine anyone actually liking. However, Shalhoub gives him an everyman quality: disconnected from society in so many ways, Monk is much like any other social outsider struggling to find his place in the world. And as he solves crimes in his brilliant fashion, it’s hard not to be charmed by his simple ways and genius mind. What Shalhoub does is make the comedy more pointed, the drama more humorous. Even as the show fails to live up to its potential through stupid stunts such as Monk chasing after a fighter jet (And catching it), Shalhoub always gives a performance that makes you keep watching. And that, although maybe not worthy of beating Steve Carell last year, is worthy of Emmy consideration.
Episode Selection: Mr. Monk Gets a New Shrink (Aired August 11th, 2006)
This episode features the best of Adrian’s qualities in one episode. Faced with the thought of his long-time therapist Dr. Kroger (Stanley Kamel) ending, Monk has to face his own personal problems in an accelerated fashion. Desperate for guidance, he goes to his house and attempts to solve the murder in Kroger’s office in order to bring him back to work. It features most of Monk’s best qualities: his feud with fellow patient Harold, his insecurity about his mental health, his reaction to a new therapist with only one arm (Not symmetrical), and his broad comedy. It is a tour de force comic performance, highlighted by his speedy trip through the stages of grief that is basically an Emmy reel in itself.
YouTube – “Mr. Monk Gets a New Shrink”
Josh Radnor (Ted)
How I Met Your Mother
Ted Moseby, architect. It must be a tough job, being straight man to the fantastic Neil Patrick Harris, but Josh Radnor always seems up to the task. He is an incredibly engaging lead, simultaneously believable as a young architect and as a guy who hangs around and swordfights with his best friend. While I don’t believe that he is the cast’s strongest component, like Cobie Smulders I believe he plays an integral role in ensuring the ensemble works. Ted is the glue that holds all of these people together, in a sense, and even without comic showcases I believe that makes him worthy of Emmy consideration.
This season saw Ted in a relationship with Robin, and perhaps some of Radnor’s best work was in making this relationship seem real. Their fights, varied in scale, were handled with just the right amount of humour and drama, and Radnor showed comic versatility in the process. As their relationship came to a turning point in the season finale, I realizes that despite being your standard sitcom relationship saga I didn’t really hate Ted at any point within it. These were two real people trying to make a relationship work, and Ted acted like any other late-twenties male would in those situations. Sometimes, the symbol of a comic lead is their ability to support and ensure that the supporting players and storylines are able to shine. And I believe Radnor shines at this, and it is worthy of Emmy consideration.
Episode Selection: “Lucky Penny” (Aired February 12th, 2007)
In what is perhaps the most Ted-centric episode not taking place in his rather boring workplace setting, Lucky Penny follows Ted’s quest to get to a job interview in Chicago after missing his flight. He travels back through time with Robin trying to figure out whose fault it is that he’s late due to his court appearance for jumping a turnstile gate getting onto the subway. In the process, we get some of Ted’s trademark everyman comedy and a unique episode premise that could get voters’ attention. But since no one has been kind enough to put clips of it on YouTube, here’s a clip of Ted and Robin attempting to co-habitate.
YouTube – [Not] “Lucky Penny”
Andy Richter (Andy Barker)
Andy Barker P.I.
It may have only lasted for six episodes, but Andy Barker P.I. was yet another perfect vehicle for Andy Richter that just didn’t catch on with audiences. While some may take this as final proof of his irrelevance, I like to view it as yet another example of society not quite “getting” Andy Richter. I don’t understand it: here, he plays an everyman, a simple accountant who finds himself wrapped up in criminal investigations that could not be more over his head. Watching him find delight in how he can connect accounting to the case (Being a P.I. isn’t so hard after all) is incredibly engaging, and Richter plays the perfect straight man. Straight men are often not appreciated enough within television comedy, and I think that this needs to change: as the innocent and yet incredibly intelligent Andy Barker, Andy Richter shines in a fashion worthy of Emmy consideration.
What makes Andy Richter so engaging is that he is able to react to everything in such a unique fashion. He is still an accountant, to the very end, and his approach to things is very practical. As a result, when people do impractical things, he is very quick to point it out to them in his usual matter of fact fashion, which usually gets him shot. Watching him solve crimes using his hapless buddies and by investigating people’s tax returns is engaging because it’s so oddball, so different; the entire show is basically a play on old murder mysteries, but through the eyes of this character. Without Andy Richter’s performance, the show wouldn’t work; his perspective is rational, reasonable, and thus doesn’t fit in the least. For being perhaps the most unique comic performance of the season, one that only he could give in the same fashion, Andy Richter deserves to be considered for an Emmy award.
Episode Selection: “Fairway, My Lovely” (Aired March 22nd, 2007)
I watched this episode on an airplane, and I found it to be a most enjoyable way to spend my time as my laptop battery drained. After a client has a heart attack on the golf course (Including a genius “fat man with sandwich running in slow motion” scene), Andy is thrust into a case concerning who could have killed him. It’s great because it has Andy interacting with short-term assistant Nicole, a great bedtime conversation scene with his wife (played by the delightful Clea Lewis), and coming to terms with a difficult case. Richter is in fine form within the episode, properly portraying someone figuring out how to have fun with his new job while still feeling a bit out of place.
However, sadly, none of Andy’s work in that episode is on YouTube. So, here’s some clips from the show’s pilot.
YouTube – “Andy Barker P.I.”
Jason Lee (Earl)
My Name is Earl
I don’t watch My Name is Earl on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. While the show’s first season started strongly, I lost interest when it felt like nothing was really changing with the series. It was a charming show, and one that I enjoyed watching, but it just stopped surprising me at a certain point. What bits of this past season that I’ve seen haven’t been any more surprising, don’t get me wrong, but what I think has become clear is that consistency is the name of the game. And, central to that consistency, Jason Lee’s performance as Earl Hickey remains the central piece of the show’s puzzle. A show entirely about Joy, or Randy, or Darnell, or Catalina…none of it would work. Without Earl, the show would lack its everyman, a man who despite his past has a heart and has a purpose in life. I always believe Jason Lee in this role, and I empathize with him even as those around him might grate on my nerves. While the show might not have been able to keep my attention, I can’t help but believe that Jason Lee’s strong and consistent performance makes him worthy of Emmy consideration.
With most of the show’s buzz transferred to Emmy-winning The Office this past season, My Name is Earl continued its ratings success and I attribute much of this to Lee’s performance. What he brings to Earl is a sensibility that we can relate to: he is attempting to reform himself, but his past and his present both continue to come back to haunt him. He is surrounded by people who seem content on dragging him down, specifically ex-wife Joy, and in cleaning up their messes in the present he begins to create a whole new set of people to add to his list. And what makes Lee so engaging is that his spirit never seems to waver. He sighs, he adds to his list, and he moves on. He is a strong brother to Randy, a strong friend to Joy and Darnell, a father to his son on occasion, and someone who is trying to make the world a better place one problem at a time…he’s just not succeeding very often. As the person central to it all, Jason Lee embodies Earl in a way that makes us want to see the end of his journey turn out alright. And it’s a performance that might just get him an Emmy nomination.Episode Selection: “The Trial” (Aired May 10th, 2007)
In the show’s season finale, Earl made what could be his final sacrifice: with Joy on trial, Earl is on the stand defending her and realizes that his torturous past with her is about to see her convicted on the charges. Feeling responsible for breaking apart a family, Earl makes a stand…literally, as he stands and confesses to the crime himself in order to keep Joy at home with her kids. Taken away in handcuffs, his list in a box with the rest of his possessions, Earl seems at the end of his line…but it was a triumphant stand. It was an incredibly compelling performance from Lee, and proves his mettle as a comic actor with a heart. While Earl isn’t always laugh out loud funny, without him the show’s heart and the show’s comedy could not exist. And that couldn’t have been more clear than within this episode.
YouTube – “The Trial”