Sunday, September 6, 2015

2015 Emmy Nominations: Comedy, Acting

This year, for the acting categories, I'm adding the title of the episode that the nominees selected to represent their work on the ballot. As much as I can, I'll try to provide some context for those episodes, but a lot of these I haven't seen. As we'll see later on, the comedy acting nominees are quite a bit more inspired and surprising than the drama acting categories. So let's dive in, shall we?

BEST LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback ("Valerie is Taken Seriously")
Lily Tomlin, Grace & Frankie ("The Vows")
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer ("Cool With It")
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie ("I Say a Little Prayer")
Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation ("One Last Ride")
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep ("Election Night")

Schumer

Overview: There's a really interesting mix of the old and the new here. Falco, Poehler, and three-time reigning champ Louis-Dreyfus are on their sixth, sixth, and fourth consecutive nominations in this category (Louis-Dreyfus was also nominated four times for The New Adventures of Old Christine, meaning she's been nominated in this category eight times in the past ten years, winning on four of those occasions). Kudrow was nominated for the first iteration of The Comeback back in 2006, so she's sort of old and new here. Schumer's benefitting from a recent rule change allowing actors in sketch shows to be considered leads (previously, all sketch show performances were considered "supporting"), as well as a tidal wave of critical and popular support. And Tomlin currently holds the record for most acting Emmy nominations without a win. Surely she'll be hoping to end that distinction this year.

Biggest surprise: Probably Tomlin being nominated but not Jane Fonda. Both were terrific in Grace & Frankie, and it was assumed ahead of the nominations that either they would both reap a nod or they would cancel each other out. Even then, more people seemed to respond to Fonda's work than Tomlin's.

Most notable exclusion: Fonda not withstanding, there are two very egregious absences here. The first is Gina Rodriguez, who earned raves and a Golden Globe for her performance in Jane the Virgin. Of course, the Academy completely ignored the show, but most prognosticators seemed certain that at least Rodriguez would be recognized (especially after her heartfelt, inspiring speech at the Globes). The other is Ellie Kempler: how do you bestow seven nominations on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt without recognizing Kimmy herself?

Who's likely to win? The obvious answer is Louis-Dreyfus. Yes, she's been dominant in this category for pretty much this entire decade, and eventually someone will usurp her spot at the podium. But given that Veep has never been more popular with the Academy, don't expect this year to be the year we see that change.

But watch out for... The two Amys, Poehler and Schumer. Parks & Recreation wrapped up its final season, and if they want a high-profile category to recognize it in, this may well be the one. It would also be a way for them to recognize her seven seasons of terrific work. Schumer, on the other hand, has white-hot momentum right now, thanks to the popularity of her show and the success of her film Trainwreck. She's certainly been the most high-profile nominee during the voting period, and that could help her pull off an upset.

BEST LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Anthony Anderson, black-ish ("Sex, Lies, and Vasectomies")
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes ("Episode 405")
Don Cheadle, House of Lies ("It's a Box Inside a Box Inside a Box, Dipshit")
Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth ("Alive in Tucson (Pilot)")
Louis C.K., Louie ("Bobby's House")
William H. Macy, Shameless ("A Night to Remem- Wait, What?")
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent ("The Letting Go")

Tambor

Overview: At seven nominees, there was a tie somewhere in the balloting for this category (though as we'll see below, it's not even the largest category this year). Continuing the Academy's fascination with Episodes, LeBlanc is nominated for a fourth time for literally playing himself (albeit an exaggerated version). In fact, Showtime's comedies did really well here this year, with LeBlanc, Cheadle, and Macy all representing shows from the network. Shameless - an hour-long program - managed to successfully petition the Academy to be considered a comedy, and it seems to have worked out for them here. And despite the critical love for black-ish, Anderson is the show's only nomination this year.

Biggest surprise: Take a moment to look over the nominees again. Do you see it? That's right, reigning champ Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) was not nominated. And he was eligible! In fact, this will be the first time since 2006 that the category doesn't have the two men who have dominated it this decade, Parsons and Alec Baldwin (30 Rock). Between the two of them, they combined for six wins over that seven-year period.

(The one time neither won was the year Jon Cryer won for Two & a Half Men, either because the voters got really high when they were doing their ballots or they were giving him a consolation prize for having to put up with Ashton Kutcher after years of having to put up with Charlie Sheen. With his luck, I'm guessing his next sitcom will co-star Mel Gibson, Donald Trump, and that county clerk in Kentucky who won't give out same-sex marriage licenses, and Cryer will win eight consecutive Emmys in this category).

Most notable exclusion: Well, Parsons, obviously. But if we're looking at who else was eligible, it's worth noting that even though Silicon Valley has performed well in terms of nominations over its first two seasons, that love has not been extended to the cast, including protagonist Thomas Middleditch.

Who's likely to win? For once, the category feels a little more like an open race. But only a little bit. Tambor is the odds-on favorite to win, given his well-received performance as a transgender woman finally living her life in the open. He'll likely be tough to beat.

But watch out for... Forte. Yes, there's a fairly strong contingent for C.K., especially since it now seems like we might be without his show for a while. But his character is passive - things happen to him rather than because of him, and that's not the kind of character that voters in this category typically respond to. Forte, on the other hand, is playing both an active character and a kind of abrasive character, and that could be just the right mix for him to sneak out a win here. Plus, it's high time Forte found a post-Saturday Night Live project worthy of his talents.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory ("The Prom Equivalency")
Nicey Nash, Getting On ("7th Annual Christmas Card Competition")
Julie Bowen, Modern Family ("Valentine's Day 4: Twisted Sister")
Allison Janney, Mom ("Dropped Soap and A Big Guy on a Throne")
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live ("Host: Taraji P. Henson")
Gaby Hoffmann, Transparent ("Rollin'")
Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ("Kimmy Gets a Job!")
Anna Chlumsky, Veep ("Convention")

Chlumsky

Overview: Eight, count 'em, eight nominees in this category. That's insane. That's either a series of ties or a bunch of these actors tied for the same spot. And they included Nicey Nash from the very-little-watched but critically-adored Getting On! This is probably the most mind-boggling major category in this year's set, but it's also one of the most exciting, since there's no real clear-cut favorite in the mix. Reigning champ Janney will have quite a challenge defending her title.

Biggest surprise: Definitely Nash's inclusion. As noted, Getting On pulled atrocious viewership numbers, even by HBO's standards. Yet the network granted the hospital show a second season, only to be told that the next six-episode season would be its last. Based on the buzz, Nash's performance was well-received, but it wasn't the one that most critics and viewers were ecstatic about: that would be Mel Rodriguez. I don't think a single soul, including Nash herself, was expecting this.

Most notable exclusion: Somehow, even in that quagmire of nominees, Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) was left off again, further suggesting that the Academy may not care as much about that show anymore (it will probably still win Best Comedy Series just because I typed that).

Who's likely to win? The race so far seems to be shaping up to be Janney vs. Chlumsky, and both actors selected strong episodes for their submissions. Given that Janney is a longtime Emmy favorite and Veep looks poised for a strong showing this year, it will be close, but give the edge to Janney.

But watch out for... Krakowski. She's a bit more of a long-shot than some of her fellow nominees, but she also has a slew of previous nominations for 30 Rock. Sometimes the Academy likes to right perceived wrongs from earlier shows, and they might want to rectify the fact that Krakowski never won for her sterling performance as Jenna on 30 Rock. Again, it's not particularly likely, but if it does happen, you heard it here first!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine ("The Mole")
Adam Driver, Girls ("Close-Up")
Keegan-Michael Key, Key & Peele ("Sex Detective")
Ty Burrell, Modern Family ("Crying Out Loud")
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ("Kimmy Goes to School!")
Tony Hale, Veep ("East Wing")

Key

Overview: Another sign of Modern Family hysteria coming to a close: for the first time in the show's run, only one actor from the show has been nominated here (defending champ Burrell). Other than that, there are some returning players here in Braugher (apparently the only element of the excellent Brooklyn Nine-Nine that the Academy likes), Driver, and Hale. The newcomers are exciting, though: Key and Burgess have both been essential, hilarious parts of their respective shows, and it's great to see Key & Peele being recognized in a major category.

Biggest surprise: There was a fair bit of concern before the nominations were announced that Burgess wouldn't make the final cut. But here he is, deservedly being recognized for his terrific work in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Most notable exclusion: The highest-profile snub is probably Laurence Fishburne, who received raves for his work on black-ish. But there's also the Modern Family crew (Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ed O'Neill), Key's other half in Key & Peele (Jordan Peele), and the men of Grace & Frankie (Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen). And after seven years on the air, no nominations for Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation), Mr. Ron Swanson himself? Shameful.

Who's likely to win? Hale won this category two years ago, and he seems like the frontrunner to add a second win to his resume. However, he didn't quite have the kind of comedic setpieces this time around that he has in years past, so there's a chance someone could slip by him.

But watch out for... And that someone could very well be Burgess. He's got a role that they love - chaotic sidekick - and his performance truly is hilarious. In fact, he may even be closer to the frontrunner position than Hale at this point.

BEST GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Christine Baranski, The Big Bang Theory ("The Maternal Combustion")
Gaby Hoffmann, Girls ("Home Birth")
Pamela Adlon, Louie ("Bobby's House")
Elizabeth Banks, Modern Family ("Fight or Flight")
Joan Cusack, Shameless ("Milk of the Gods")
Tina Fey, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ("Kimmy Goes to Court!")

Adlon

Overview: The greatest irony of this year's nominations lies in this category. In the past, Cusack has been one of the most flagrant beneficiaries of category fraud, repeatedly being nominated in this category despite appearing in almost every episode of Shameless. So this year, after the latest season wrapped, the Emmys announced a six-episode cap on being considered a "guest" role, and...Cusack was still nominated, since her screen time was greatly reduced. Other than that, Baranski is another recurring nominee here, Hoffmann and Adlon (and surprisingly Banks) earned their first nominations for their recurring performances, and Fey was unquestionably going to be nominated regardless, because she's Tina Fey, dammit.

Biggest surprise: Both Hoffmann and Adlon have been doing great, low-key work as recurring characters on their respective shows, usually only showing up for an episode or two but making a lasting impression. It's good that the Academy finally took notice of them (especially considering Hoffmann was also nominated in Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, albeit for Transparent).

Most notable exclusion: Typically, nominations in the Guest Acting categories are driven by name recognition more than anything else, especially when those names are showbiz legends (see the next category for more). So even though the Academy obviously wanted nothing to do with Jane the Virgin, it's still surprising that Rita Moreno's guest spot was ignored here.

Who's likely to win? Fey is your best bet. Instantly recognizable and genuinely funny, she seems like she's got this one locked up.

But watch out for... Baranski could pull it off, given that she's frequently nominated for this role and tends to be the focal point of her episodes. But if they're really over The Big Bang Theory, it might not happen for her.

BEST GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Mel Brooks, The Comedians ("Celebrity Guest")
Paul Giamatti, Inside Amy Schumer ("12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer")
Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live ("Host: Bill Hader")
Louis C.K., Saturday Night Live ("Host: Louis C.K.")
Bradley Whitford, Transparent ("Best New Girl")
Jon Hamm, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ("Kimmy Makes Waffles!")

Hamm

Overview: What's particularly great about this category is that you have three guys - Brooks, Hader, and C.K. - who are wildly successful comedians and are best known for exactly that. The other three - Giamatti, Whitford, and Hamm - are perhaps better known as dramatic actors, but have proven that they have the jobs to really deliver comedic performances. It's an interesting contrast.

Biggest surprise: I don't think too many people were expecting Brooks to be the one carrying the torch for FX's Billy Crystal and Josh Gad-starring showbiz satire, and yet he made the cut anyway. There are worse things that could happen for the show (and they did: it was recently cancelled after a single season).

Most notable exclusion: The same episode of Inside Amy Schumer that Giamatti submitted, "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer," had a terrific ensemble including Jeff Goldblum, John Hawkes, Dennis Quaid, Vincent Kartheiser, Nick DiPaolo, and Kumail Nanjiani. Hawkes and DiPaolo also submitted to this category, so I'm surprised neither of them showed up either.

Who's likely to win? Having embodied one of the most iconic, celebrated, and fascinating characters in television drama on Mad Men, Jon Hamm is probably going to win the first Emmy of his career for playing a deranged cult leader on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. This isn't a slight on Hamm or the show, just an example of why no one should ever take awards shows seriously.

But watch out for... Whitford. As the woman who helps Jeffrey Tambor's Maura realize her transition, it's a wonderfully nuanced role. That doesn't always win in the comedy categories, but he could pull off an upset here.

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