Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Elizabeth Perkins (Celia)

Weeds

I don’t know how Elizabeth Perkins does it. Celia is a complete and utter bitch, and yet I am always rooting for her. I seriously think that the way she treats her daughter, her husband, her friends, her community, and just about everything else is so deplorable that it would even overpower the cancer sympathy. And yet, I find her hysterical, and want her to torture everyone and anyone she can get her hands on. She’s a villain in the traditional sense: we do root for Isabelle, her daughter, and her husband Dean in their fight against her tyranny. But in the end, I think I’m rooting for Celia. Perkins embodies Celia’s bitchiness, her insecurities, in such a way that I don’t really know how she has yet to win a major award for her work. Every single time she walks into Nancy’s home unannounced, I wonder how someone so ridiculous could exist…but then seconds later believe it all. As the bitchy and delightful Celia Hodes, Elizabeth Perkins is more than Emmy worthy.

What Perkins does so well is embody this narcissistic bitch in such a pleasant fashion. In the span of just the show’s second season she destroyed her daughter’s life further, had an affair with someone she previously hated, got kicked out of her own house, and was absolutely hilarious in her fight against drugs and her immediate asskicking at the hands of Shane and Silas, respectively. What I love most about her character, however, is that she is pretty well the only person who doesn’t know what Nancy does for a living, and that constant fear that she will find out is basically driving me crazy. She is so oddball, so hilarious, but her existence and naivety is also keeping the show’s dramatic tension at an all time high. I’ll be talking about the show in more detail later, but Perkins is the part that keeps things light…and heavy. All with one fell swoop of ungracious bitch, and that’s how I like it.

Episode Selection: “Pittsburgh” (Aired October 30th, 2006)

I don’t like this selection for one key reason: she’s not really all that funny in the episode, and it doesn’t feature her enough for my liking. Celia’s episodes while running for city council featured her in much greater detail, and there was no single moment in this, the season finale, that stood out for me.

As a result, I will showcase perhaps her best scene of the season from “Mrs. Botwin’s Neighbourhood”. This episode is also not Celia focused, but at the very least it has a moment where her character really stands out.

YouTube“Mrs. Botwin’s Neighbourhood”

Melora Hardin (Jan Levinson)

The Office

I believe that one of the greatest disservices of this television season was the character homicide of Jan Levinson on NBC’s The Office. After three seasons worth of strong, subtle performance from Melora Hardin, she was turned into a boob joke and a serious case of the crazies. While it provided some comedy, sure, what was always entertaining about Jan was how she walked the line between neurotic mess and corporate role model. Her relationship with Michael was her trying something new, trying to find stability where there was none. If she was the comedic form of humpty dumpty, she had a great fall at the end of the season. But, I hope that Emmy voters will be able to remember how to put Melora Hardin’s subtle and entertaining comic performance back together when it is time to submit their ballots.

This season has been one that has seen Jan handle a lot of tough situations, a majority of them involving her relationship with Michael. It was a brief affair in previous seasons, but it turned into something real in the show’s third season. And, the result of this was some of Hardin’s best performances, where she was able to finally embrace her neurotic qualities to a greater degree. She didn’t go over the top, however: her reactions were a natural extension of the Jan we saw in the past, except that we finally saw more of her life.

And, to be fair, even as she descended further into her insanity, Hardin always entertained. Although I felt the material to be beneath the character, I cannot deny that Hardin acted the hell out of it. She rarely came front and centre, but when she did I believe that she became part of this ensemble. At the start of the season she was added as a full time cast member, and I believe that she lived up to this task. Melora Hardin may not be a household name, but her work on The Office this season is worthy of Emmy consideration.

Episode Selection: “Cocktails” (Aired February 22nd, 2007)

It is perhaps unsurprising that it is J.J. Abrams (Creator of Alias, Lost) that was able to get the best performance out of Hardin all season. Invited to a cocktail party held by the CFO of Dunder Mifflin, she and Michael arrive and she is in bad shape. This is Jan at the right level of neuroticism. She is certainly off the wall, attempting to sex up Michael in the bathroom and all, but it seems like an adverse reaction to stress as opposed to her insanity. When she drags on a cigarette after officially confirming her relationship with Michael with HR, you see a woman damaged. And yet, still, it seems like something boiling from beneath as opposed to exploding to the surface, a subtlety that makes this Hardin’s most Emmy worthy performance. (Note: while this episode encompasses much of the three seasons, the beginning and end are from Cocktails).

YouTube“Cocktails”

Jane Krakowski (Jenna)

30 Rock

I have said some unkind things in the past about Jane Krakowski’s Jenna. I believe, at multiple points, I wondered whether she was really necessary for the show’s dynamics after she was absent for a few weeks. And, to be honest, the show was better without her. However, in retrospect, I think that my favourite 30 Rock episodes feature Jenna in some capacity. It’s weird, because while I dislike her character in comparison to Liz, Jack, Tracy…she’s still a part of this cast. She’s almost always the butt of the joke, but I think that you need someone like that to be around. Often the victim of poor writing, when the writing was good Krakowski always lived up to the material. While part of me feels she was extraneous to the show’s best elements, the episodes that featured her brought some of the show’s best comedy. It wasn’t the most individualistic comedy performance of the year, but I think it should at least be considered.

What made Jenna so annoying is that she doesn’t really have a place within the cast. Tina Fey is the real female centre of the show, with her neurotic behaviour and yet still professional in her outlook. Alec Baldwin is the authority figure, a little off the wall but still an executive. And Tracy’s just batshit crazy. Jenna, as a result, has no role. She’s too stupid to be taken seriously like Liz, not absurd enough to be like Tracy, and has no real authority. Just as she was pushed out of the show within a show by Tracy Jordan’s arrival, so too was Krakowski pushed out of the limelight on the show itself. I think my dislike for her character came from this sense of her being lost in the role, meandering along.

And yet, when Krakowski was asked to play the character in a major way, she always stepped up. Her smaller roles were often one-note, but when she had the ability to create an arc Jenna felt real, natural. Sure, she was unsufferable, but that was kind of the point. She was stupid, but that was also part of her character. While I think that the writers could have done a better job finding her a consistent role, when they asked her to shine she did. For every annoying appearance or two, there was an episode-ending performance of Muffin Top (Feat. Ghostface Killah). And for that, and other moments of brilliance, Jane Krakowski should be considered for an Emmy award.

Episode Selection: “Hard Ball” (Aired February 22nd, 2007)

I ranked it as the 3rd best episode of February Sweeps, and Jane Krakowski’s performance is a big part of that. Sure, she was playing her usual character, but in the end I think that without her performance the episode might not have worked. This was naïve Jenna at her finest, and the political turmoil boiled over into something actually entertaining for a change. This was the episode that, in retrospect, should have shown that 30 Rock has room for an out of touch female actress struggling to find her place in a show that she once owned. It wasn’t subtle, it wasn’t deep, but it was funny. And I can’t fault her for that.

YouTube“Hard Ball”

Perrey Reeves (Mrs. Ari)

Entourage

Most television characters without a first name are unlikely to make a dent in our collective memories. Being known as “Mrs. Ari” in Entourage‘s credits certainly hasn’t given Perrey Reeves any sort of fame boost, and for the most part I would say that she’s a marginal player at best. However, and this is a big however, when she is on screen it is fabulous to watch. While Jeremy Piven rants away, giving Ari a sense of insanity and fortitude so very powerful, Reeves always matches him. Her responses are just as sharp-witted, just as biting, just as strong. She goes toe-to-toe with Ari in a way that often seems almost unnatural. We see so little of her life: we rarely see the kids, and we never see “Mrs. Ari” on her own. However, as a supporting player in the life of an overpowering character, she always manages to get a word in edgewise where so many others would not. And, for managing to do so without even a first name, Perrey Reeves deserves Emmy consideration.

It’s so strange to really only ever see a character in the context of a certain part of someone’s life. It makes it so episodes will go by without Mrs. Ari appearing, and often times that can make us forget her character even exists. However, some of the show’s most compelling moments are where we forget all of that Vince/Eric bullshit and let Ari’s character become the forefront. When this occurs, Reeves is always there to populate Ari’s universe with someone who won’t take his shit sitting down. Their exchanges are long-winded, angry, hateful, and yet within them lies some form of connection, even if it’s just their enjoyment in complaining about the other.

I don’t think I was aware of the impact she had until she popped up for the first time in quite awhile late in Season 3. Suddenly, I realized that I had missed her, and that the show had been lacking in Ari family time. As much as Entourage is often billed as a show about Hollywood boys doing Hollywood things, Ari’s life has always given us a different glimpse. Mrs. Ari is a large part of that, and Perrey Reeves always ensures that she is the right amount nag, the proper amount confrontational, and just the perfect amount caring. She might not have a first name, or appear in every episode, but Perrey Reeves deserves Emmy consideration regardless.

Episode Selection: “Gotcha” (Aired April 29th, 2007)

In what has been her most substantial episodes thus far in the third season, Reeves gets some good material to play with when one of Ari’s frat brothers stops by. As he realizes his old friend, once a loser, is now richer than he is with a younger wife, Ari becomes terribly insecure and Mrs. Ari is there to pick up the pieces. She initially takes an “I told you so” point of view (Always a good one), but eventually Ari realizes he likes his own life (And his own wife) best. It’s the closest she had to a showcase episode all season, and it is a clear choice for her submission. Plus, as you will see below, she manages to do an entire season in her underwear without skipping a beat. That takes skill, I imagine.

YouTube“Gotcha”

Cobie Smulders (Robin)

How I Met Your Mother

I watched the first two seasons of How I Met Your Mother in the span of a few weeks, and in the process I warmed up to Cobie Smulders in a big way. I was, for the most part, ambivalent towards her as the seasons progressed, but over time I began to come to terms with her contribution to the series. While Alyson Hannigan is perhaps the bigger star, Smulders often has the more difficult role to play. Her relationship with Ted needed to seem worthwhile, honest, and it always did. She brought to the role a sense of comic timing that was always somewhat offbeat, and she always played the role of the outsider in the right way. And really, I’ll be honest: while I believe that her performance as a whole is deserving of attention, I’m really only listing her for one reason: Robin Sparkles.

Episode Selection: “Slap Bet” (Aired November 20th, 2006)

I’m skipping right to this, because Smulders has a tour de force episode that is sure to bring her some level of attention. You see, Robin is from Canada, and her past has often been a mystery. Robin isn’t a lifelong friend like the others seem to be. She was an outsider, a person picked up along the way. As a result, Ted entered into their relationship not quite sure of what her past entailed, and whether it would have an impact on their relationship.

This episode brought that to a head when Robin reveals that she has an aversion to malls. In other words, she refuses to enter one. Everyone is greatly confused about this, and Barney decides to do some digging. Believing that she did something embarrassing in Canada that caused her reaction, he has a friend who sends him a video that he assumes to be pornography. And, well, that’s not what it is at all. In fact, it is something entirely different. It is a video of Robin Sparkles’ #1 Smash Hit “Let’s Go to the Mall”. That’s right: Robin was a teenage pop star in Canada.

This revelation was perhaps the best the show has ever put together, and it’s one of the reasons that Smulders is the selection I’ve made from the show’s cast. They didn’t just reveal something very embarrassing, they had an entire music video to go along with it. This raised the bar for the show’s comedy: they were willing to go above and beyond pretty well anyone’s expectations and create a wonderfully retro throwback that is reverent, sharp and downright funny. Smulders is a huge part of that, going all out on this video with every bit of comedy within her. The beneficiary of good material? Perhaps. But, I cannot help but want to give Robin Sparkles…er, Cobie Smulders, Emmy attention.

YouTube “Slap Bet”

Vanessa Williams (Wilhemina Slater)

Ugly Betty

There is something to be said for an actress finally finding the right role for them. Vanessa Williams has jumped around, struggling to find her role in the television and film universe. Outside of appearances in films such as Soul Food or Shaft, or her short-lived runs on Boomtown or South Beach (Which existed, believe it or not), she has never found a niche in the acting world. As a result, most people know her best from performing ‘Colours of the Wind’ in Disney’s Pocahontas and her other singing accolades. However, Williams is not happy just being another Pebo Brison; she appears to have been waiting for the right role to finally come along. And, well, come along it has: as the scheming Wilhelmina Slater, Williams has elevated her game with a conniving and devious performance that skirts the line between villain and hero so well that I’m still not sure where I stand. However, either way, Vanessa Williams has finally found the right role, and it is one worthy of Emmy Awards attention.

What makes Wilhelmina stand out amongst the show’s ensemble is that she is always fighting for something. Her constant fight is her attempts to take over Mode Magazine, believing that the job should have been hers as opposed to that of the boss’ son. This fight provides some strong work for Williams, and some quality scheming opportunities, but there are other fights to be had. A mid-season arc showed her strained relationship with her daughter Niko, but more importantly was the conflict that makes Williams’ performance shine: Wilhelmina vs. Herself.

This character struggles, constantly, with her own devious high-cultured side and her own desires. When she was tempted by a beer-guzzling Southerner, and then eventually losing out to his wife and kids, you felt her heartbreak as she returned to her former stuffy self. When at the end of the season she traded away her assistant Marc for a wedding date in her scheme to marry Bradford and take over the magazine, you could tell that her connection with him went deeper than any plot they might hatch (You don’t just toss aside someone who you had bitchslap you down a set of stairs like that). Williams perfectly portrayed this character so willing to go over the top to get her way, despite having never quite found the right direction in which to travel. That blend of comedy and drama is the perfect role for Vanessa Williams, and the character of Wilhelmina Slater has given her an honest to goodness shot of getting Emmy consideration.

Episode Selection: “Secretaries’ Day” (Aired May 3rd, 2007)

Williams has actually submitted a different episode for consideration, but I have a problem with that selection. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” features a great scene with her taunting Claire Meade with alcohol (She’s an alcoholic, get it?), but it is unfortunately light on one thing: comedy. Secretaries’ Day, meanwhile, offers a much more comic take on the proceedings as Wilhelmina attempts to gain Bradford’s sympathy. The episode is still a bit too scheming for my liking (I think that some of her mid-season over-dramatic work might be better if it wasn’t also a little bland), but I think that it is the light-hearted witchery that Emmy voters can relate to. Although snubbed at the Golden Globes (I blame the idiotic practice of having a supporting category for Drama, Comedy and Miniseries/TV movies), Williams has a chance with this episode, and in particular this one scene.

YouTube“Secretaries’ Day”

Becki Newton (Amanda)

Ugly Betty

A lot of what I discussed about Michael Urie’s performance in Ugly Betty goes as well for Becki Newton. She was also introduced as a catty coworker who would attack Betty mercilessly, and was as one-dimensionally funny as a character could get early in the season. However, like Marc, Amanda grew throughout the season into someone more caring, compassionate, fragile. Perhaps realizing that Betty wasn’t herself interesting enough to carry every storyline, B Plots began going the way of Marc and Amanda, and the result was three-dimensional characters that stood on their own accord. While she might not be a big name like Vanessa Williams, Becki Newton was always up to the task of being a vicious critic when necessary while always being able to show Amanda’s more sensitive side. That ability to balance conniving and concerned, caring and villainous, puts Newton into consideration for an Emmy Award.

It actually makes sense for Amanda to be angry with Betty; she is taking what she believes to be rightfully hers, the assistant job with Daniel Meade. An office fling between the two placed her within his inner circle in her own eyes, and when Betty was transplanted in Amanda was understandably bitter…and jealous. As her motives became clear, Amanda became a character who was more sympathetic than she was deplorable. Suddenly, it all made sense: she was jealous of Betty, she was acting out, and it was that jealousy that led to a majority of her reactions. The end of season revelation that Amanda might in fact be linked to the season’s core soap opera mystery was almost unnecessary, I was already convinced she was important to this cast.

However, Newton needs to be recognized as a true work horse: in a midseason episode, she pulled double duty by playing both Amanda and Betty’s new co-worker up a floor. [Youtube = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaM%5D I think that this showed Newton’s true abilities more than any other episode, because it so clearly displayed her ability to delve into her character. Unfortunately, it would be very tough for voters to understand that in a single episode. They will be drawn in by Amanda’s cattiness, her charm, and her vulnerable moments. If they see those, I believe that Becki Newton will most certainly be considered for an Emmy Award.

Episode Selection: “Fake Plastic Snow” (Aired November 30th, 2006)

This episode was the one where I think Amanda’s true inspirations became clear. With the news that Betty’s job will be opening, Amanda kicks it into high gear to prove herself worthy of replacing her. Amanda goes out of her way to run interference at the Christmas Party to protect Daniel, even while getting one of his potential engagement rings stuck on her finger. The episode is the closest thing she got to a showcase for her more sensitive side, but I worry that it’s not quite funny enough. Still, in terms of discovering Amanda’s arc in the overall series, I believe that this is the most representative episode. And, well, it could be the episode that garners the young actress an Emmy nomination. But since I think you should see the whole arc, here’s a nice YouTube Montage of her comedy bit before moving onto the brief clip from the episode.

YouTube“Ugly Betty – Amanda”

YouTube“Fake Plastic Snow”

Jenna Fischer (Pam)

The Office

Oh Pam. In my first attempt to write this paragraph I really just wanted to talk about Pam as if she actually existed and I could in some way shape or form influence her. I think that is what has always been what makes Pam interesting: her ability to be so damn real you want to reach through your screen and strangle her for being such an idiot, especially this season. I think this says a lot about Jenna Fischer’s character, because she always made me care: not always in the best ways, mind you, but I always felt that Pam’s fate was important to me personally. And this season, I watched Pam spiral into a place that wasn’t happy, and saw as everyone around her basically treated her like she was just another character. If she had stayed in that rut all season, I don’t think I could have possibly considered her for an Emmy award…but then the end of the season happened. Those final two episodes were everything they needed to be for Pam: a chance to speak her mind, and a chance to return to her old self. And in the process, Jenna Fischer finished a character arc worthy of Emmy consideration.

What makes Pam so engaging is that she is the perfect example of missed potential. In past seasons, she was the girl in the long-term engagement with an aloof fiancé who wanted to be taking art classes but was stuck in Scranton working a receptionist’s job. What we saw this season was Pam attempting to define herself as something more than this…and failing. She took art classes, but she stayed in Scranton: she ended her engagement, but ended up back in Roy’s arms as soon as his beard turned from creepy to handsome. What we saw was Pam being unhappy because she was compromising, because she was trying to be something different but falling into her old habits all over again. Even as she tried to find success in art, no one came out to her art show except Michael and, for a brief second, Roy. There was something missing in her life, it was clear.

But, and while fans of Jim and Pam might stone me to death, I don’t think that’s Jim (Although it’s a good start). What Pam needed was the ability to start fresh and to actually let go of her feelings. When she was finally able to do so, it was a complete turning point for the character. Suddenly, even though it perhaps hurt those around her (Meh, it was just Karen), it was incredibly important for her character to walk across those coals. In that moment of perhaps madness, Pam was finally able to break out of her rut and find herself…and in the process found her connection to Jim still present, more potent than ever. And through it all I always believed Fischer: her comic timing was always spot on, and I always empathized with her character even while screaming at her for making poor life decisions.

Episode Selection: “The Job” (Aired May 17th, 2007)

You might be surprised why I am not selecting “Beach Games,” the episode featuring Pam’s season-changing moment at the beach where she walked across the coals and said her peace to Jim and the entire office. Well, there’s a reason: Pam isn’t very funny in that episode. That moment is really all setup for “The Job,” where Pam basically becomes a one-woman show in her attempts to egg Dwight on while Jim is off at his job interview. She finally returns to the receptionist who plays along, who goads, who teases, as opposed to the one who avoids it all while worrying whether Karen might be uncomfortable with it. It was the first time in a long time that Fischer was able to break free, and it resulted in a light-hearted Pam that is impossible to resist. Combine this with her episode-ending “What was the question?”, and you have an emotional and funny episode for this character. And that, in the end, is the best kind of episode to showcase Jenna Fischer’s talent. You’ll see it smattered throughout this clip, and it’s quite engaging.

YouTube“The Job”

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