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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.

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The Office – “Murder”

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“Murder”

November 12th, 2009

The best thing about The Office is that its silliest episodes can sometimes be its most effective. An episode like “Cafe Disco” last season was the perfect way to break through the tension of the Michael Scott Paper Company period, devolving into a dance party that helped to bring everyone back together albeit through a less than serious structure. While the show can go off the rails if things become too silly, there is something very honest about situations where the silliness is the result of a human response to a crisis, or to a period of tension. Michael Scott is not the only person in the world who doesn’t like tense situations, although he may be the only one who decides to turn his office into a dance party or, as we see in “Murder,” the scene of a vicious murder.

What makes the episode work is that it continues a couple of ongoing character trends (Jim slowly turning into Michael, Andy’s interest in Erin) in an episode that otherwise devolves into the office’s crazier characters overacting their way through a murder mystery in a box while the rest of the characters contemplate some major financial restructuring. It’s a good introduction to what seems like the next major arc for the series, and I think it’s an effective piece of television comedy in the process.

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Emmy2009Title

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the Nominees are…

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

The absence of Jeremy Piven really makes this category a particularly difficult one to really “predict” in a traditional fashion. It means that rather than the Academy looking for a change (which I feel would have happened if Piven had been nominated), they don’t even have a choice in the matter, which means their minds could go to any number of candidates as opposed to one logical non-Piven contender.

The logical choice would be Neil Patrick Harris, who I feel will win (and who would have won this award by a hair even if Piven had been nominated). He’s been big in the news with his stint hosting the Tony Awards, and he is also hosting this year’s Emmy ceremony. It’s an example of an actor who people in Hollywood generally like, giving a performance that has been consistently great since his first nomination for the show’s second season. He’s due for a win, and with Piven out of the way this award is most likely to go to NPH.

However, because of the openness of the category, there may be a sense that someone like Rainn Wilson (who like Harris has been nominated multiple times during the Piven era) could be as worthy a candidate. Dwight hasn’t stopped being a funny character between now and Wilson’s first nomination, and that consistency could be his ticket to an Emmy. The supporting categories are always the toughest to predict, and it’s difficult to be able to know how good the memories of voters are, and to what degree they see NPH’s stardom as his ticket over Wilson’s lesser profile.

And that doesn’t even take into account the elephant in the room, mainly the sheer power of 30 Rock in terms of the other awards. Its staggering number of nominations and its sweep of last year’s awards (with Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and the show all winning) shows that the show holds a lot of support among voters, which brings both McBrayer and Morgan into the fray. I think vote-splitting is likely to hurt them, but there’s always that chance.

As for Dillon and Cryer, I think they’re out of the game: Cryer’s show didn’t even grab a series nod so he won’t have the support to beat buzz-worthy contenders, and Dillon’s time to contend for an Emmy is long gone (although I’ve felt his worth in Season Six of Entourage has been an improvement over Season Five).

Predicted Winner: Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)

He’s the one contender who has a lot of buzz around him, and submitted a strong performance that highlights the emotional complexity of a character who’s at his best when he appears vulnerable but remains hilarious.

Dark Horse: Rainn Wilson (The Office)

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2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis: Power to the People?

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Power to the People?

2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis

The people have the power, and the people have pretty darn good taste.

That’s the story out of this year’s Emmy award nominations (click here for Cultural Learnings’ list, and here for the Academy’s) where a few key surprises and a couple of major snubs indicate that the popular vote was not in any capacity an absolutely travesty for the Academy, as some quite logically predicted. I spoke earlier this week about just what the definition of popular would end up indicating, and the answer appears to be a healthy combination of an appreciation of great television and an eye for trendy selections. The result is an Emmys where nearly every category has a silver lining, and where a few snubs are not enough to give the impression that there’s going to be some very deserving winners in this field.

Mad Men and 30 Rock Dominate

There is no surprise here, don’t get me wrong: no one expected the iron grip of these two shows to stop after dominating last year’s proceedings. However, the scale of that domination is quite ludicrous. 30 Rock has 10 acting nominations, 4 writing nominations, 3 directing nominations, plus its nod for Best Comedy Series and all of its other technical nods. The result is an absolutely staggering number of nominations, and I’m happy about it: I like seeing Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer and Jane Krakowski all get nominations for their work along with Fey and Baldwin, and although the four writing nominations kept other shows out of the running they are four pretty fantastic episodes.

Mad Men, meanwhile, didn’t add quite as many nods, although it did pick up a Lead Actress nomination for Elisabeth Moss, which makes me extremely happy. As I said in my preview, I really expected January Jones in the category, but I prefer Moss’ less showy role at the end of the day. Still, combine with Hamm (also nominated for his guest stint on 30 Rock) and Slattery returning (I’d have preferred Kartheiser, but I’ll take it), and its own four writing nominations (plus a directing nod), and the show is without a doubt dominating on the drama side of things.

Out with the “Popular,” In with the Popular

In the biggest shocker of all considering the popular vote, the Comedy Series category had one shocking exclusion and one suprising (but oft predicted) inclusion. The exclusion is the most popular comedy on television, in terms of viewers – Two and a Half Men failed to secure a comedy nod, something it has done in years previous. This makes me question the definition of popular, especially with the inclusion – Family Guy, the first animated comedy series since The Flintstones to make it into the category. While The Simpsons always chose to compete in the Animation category because it also reflects the work of the animators, Family Guy chose to cut out the animated part and compete with the big boys, and it paid off. However, unlike last year where they could submit their Star Wars special in order to get credit for the animators, this year they’re left off entirely, so MacFarlane’s ego is being boosted at the expense of the show’s direction.

The Sophomores Triumph

No one was quite sure what would happen with Breaking Bad, a second year show that won Emmys last year but without much support around it. Well, we have our answer: although snubbed out of both directing and writing, the series picked up a nomination for Drama Series, and Aaron Paul snuck into the highly competitive Supporting Actor (Drama) category for his work on the show, in addition to Bryan Cranston’s nomination for Lead Actor. Damages also impressed, delivering nominations for William Hurt (undeserved, but whatever), Rose Byrne, Glenn Close, Ted Danson (Guest), as well as Series and Directing nods.

The Freshmen Fail

True Blood had a real shot at some awards love, but it was empathically shut out of the proceedings: it’ll probably contend with United States of Tara for best Title Sequence, but with no Drama Series or Lead Actress love, it’s clear the Emmys didn’t find its vampire story appealing. That’s unfortunate for the show, but it’s a trend: no Freshman series broke into the series categories, and only Simon Baker (The Mentalist) and Toni Colette (United States of Tara) made their way into the major categories.

HBO “Domination”

In a popular vote, nobody quite knew where HBO would end up, but the answer is in far better shape than people anticipated – although Mad Men and Breaking Bad have AMC as the new “it” network, HBO is still holding some cache. Not only did Big Love score a huge surprise nomination as the 7th contender in the Drama Series race, but Flight of the Conchords is honestly the biggest story of the awards. With a Comedy Series nomination, a shocking Lead Actor nomination for Jemaine Clement, plus both writing and directing nominations, the show blew onto the radar like it wasn’t struggling with growing pains in its second season. While everyone saw the show’s Carol Brown getting an Original Song nod, the love wasn’t anticipated. The network also performed well with In Treatment, which missed the Drama Series race but picked up three acting nods (Byrne, Davis, Wiest).

The Year of How I Met Your Mother

I let out an extremely girlish “Yay,” nearly dropping my computer, when How I Met Your Mother was listed as one of the nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series (and I even predicted it!). I know it has no chance in the category, but its nomination is a vindication of the highest order that voters went with the popular vote, and that it jumped from not even being in the Top 10 to being in the Top 7. I call it the Year of HIMYM, though, because Neil Patrick Harris has an open door to pick up an Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Comedy – long live Barney Stinson.

After the jump: Surprises! Snubs! Etc.!

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2009 Emmy Award Predictions: Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Emmy2009Title

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Predictions

Right now, Emmy’s comedy landscape is at its strongest in the supporting categories, where a number of contenders are in position to break out. The problem, however, in the Supporting Actor category is that this has been the case for a number of years, and yet Jeremy Piven has been dominating the category anyways. The big question this year is whether this will change, and chances are it will be many of the usual suspects trying to start a new trend.

Piven’s getting back into the category, and chances are he will be joined by at least three of last year’s nominees: one can expect Rainn Wilson and Jon Cryer to return, alongside my personal favourite in the category Neil Patrick Harris. Realistically, Harris should have won this award two years ago, or even last year, but the fact remains that he continues to steal entire episodes on what is a fundamentally great show, crafting in Barney a character that has managed to overcome Doogie Howser as his signature role, at least for this generation. NPH is hosting the evening’s festivities, and I’ve got my fingers crossed.

The rest of the category is more than a bit up in the air, primarily because it is unclear just who has been off on the periphery in the category in past years. Kevin Dillon made it into this category the last two years, but his role on Entourage has largely been forgotten as of late so I don’t think he’s quite on the radar to the degree of someone like John Krasinski, whose work on The Office has been particularly impressive as of late (the final scene of the finale being a fine example of that).

The other real contenders here are also from an NBC sitcom, one that fascinatingly has never been nominated for any supporting statues. 30 Rock dominated every Comedy category but the supporting ones last year, as Fey and Baldwin were the only nominees. However, with the show’s status as an Emmy darling all but cemented, we might finally see one or even two of them break through. We know that Jack McBrayer has been close before (he broke into the Top 10 last year, for example), but part of me feels like Tracy Morgan is just as likely – he remains the show’s MVP when it comes to its absurdist tendencies, and you can’t overestimate the importance of his broad comedy to the show.

Predictions for Supporting Actor in a Comedy

  • Jon Cryer (“Two and a Half Men”)
  • John Krasinski (“The Office”)
  • Tracy Morgan (“30 Rock”)
  • Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”)
  • Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”)
  • Rainn Wilson (“The Office”)

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards Predictions

Last year, during this important period of the pre-Emmy festivities, I had a bit more time to really delve into some key issues. This year, things are busier, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to make some prognostications about the end results. I’m going to be discussing more themes and the like tomorrow in my Emmy Preview, but for now let’s get to what we really care about: predicting who is actually going to walk home with Emmy Awards.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Boston Legal (ABC)
  • Damages (FX)
  • Dexter (Showtime)
  • House (FOX)
  • Lost (ABC)
  • Mad Men (AMC)

There is some wiggle room here, as each some has something (Pedigree, viewership, buzz, etc.) that makes it stand out, but there is nothing on this list quite as emphatically received and, more importantly, different from your standard fare than Mad Men. I’ll discuss more of this tomorrow, but its combination of a small network, a small fanbase, fresh-faced actors and its attention to detail will be unstoppable.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • James Spader (Boston Legal)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)

This is a category where only one thing is important: that James Spader finally loses. Either Hamm, C. Hall or Laurie are in a position to usurp last year’s winner, and I’ve got my money on Michael C. Hall. After getting snubbed here last year, and with his show in the big race, voters might choose to recognize his brave and fantastic performance even when the show itself loses them with its dark atmosphere. But, this is maybe the night’s most up in the air race.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)

This race, however, is not up in the air at all. Its highly serialized nature and red herring use might keep it from being the best drama series on television, but there is no way that Emmy Voters can ignore Close’s pedigree with such a richly portrayed character (even if I’d argue that character isn’t nearly as important as voters might think it is to the show’s success).

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards Nominations Predictions

When I started my Emmys coverage for this year’s ceremony a while ago, I (as always) had a lot of plans: previews of every category (Got through a lot), reviews of every submitted episode (Almost got through those), and all sorts of other grand schemes that never come to fruition. This is the nature of being a television critic of sorts: you have a lot to say, but balancing it and the rest of your life (See: Watching Television, clearly) can be a bit of a challenge. Let it be known I took most of that free time doing my duty and finally watching shows like The Wire, Six Feet Under and Flight of the Conchords.

However, there’s no way I could possibly procrastinate on writing up my various predictions. Predictions are one of those things that I think about more than I write about (I tried writing more this year, and after a while it petered off). Great sites like AwardsHeaven or Coco at the Movies or TV with Abe keep detailed lists for weeks or months ahead of time updating when the Top 10s come out, but I tend to ruminate a bit more introspectively. We’ll see how that goes this time around, when our access to the Top 10 lists for various categories makes this task easier, yes, but also far more competitive. But, I’m not in it to win it, so to speak; I’m just an Emmy fanatic who enjoys the thrill of participation.

So, without further adieu, my predictions for the nominations for the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Boston Legal (ABC)
  • Damages (FX)
  • House (FOX)
  • Lost (ABC)
  • Mad Men (AMC)

This is a very hard category to call, and admittedly I’m following my own interests here: there’s every chance of Grey’s Anatomy replacing Lost on this list based on its popularity alone, but something tells me that Lost’s episode submission (The fantastic “The Constant”) will elevate them through. Mad Men and Damages represent the new crop of summer cable hits, while Boston Legal and House should ride baity submission and Hugh Laurie, respectively, to nods.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • James Spader (Boston Legal)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)

The first four are pretty much locks: while his show is too bloody to make it into major categories, Hall’s Emmy pedigree and the fantastic nature of his performance should get him the nomination he deserved last year. Meanwhile, “should have won before” Laurie and newcomer and Golden Globe winner Hamm will try to dethrone undefeated Emmy king Spader, and that last slot is up for grabs. I’ve gone with Bryan Cranston’s brave performance in the AMC series, one I need to finish watching at some point (Only got through the opening two episodes). Gabriel Byrne is the other option, but I believe that if Cranston made the Top 10 people were watching, and he would have performed well on the panels.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica)

Those following the Emmy race will sigh at that last name – while the first four are more or less locks based on name recognition and showy performances, the fifth candidate in this category is somewhat more open. However, with previous nominees like Mariska Hargitay and Minnie Driver waiting in the wings, the chances of an actress from a science fiction series breaking through are slim. However, frak that kind of logical thinking: I want to have hope, for once, that they’ll see through the Science Fiction and discover a tremendous performance that is worthy of consideration.

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