Continuing my series on who I’d nominate for the Primetime Emmy Awards, based on the official ballot (started here with my picks for Best Supporting Actor and Actress), I’m going to move to focusing on ‘Best Actor in a Comedy Series’ and ‘Best Actress in a Comedy Series’ next but I thought I might take a bit of a detour first.
First, though, I’d like to look at some of the smaller categories which, in my mind, probably ought to not be small categories – starting with Best Direction in a Comedy Series.
(Included where possible are links to either clips or more likely full episodes from Hulu! And where not possible more questionable links from YouTube!)
The problem with this and it’s sister category ‘Best Writing’ is that people have to submit their own episode for this honor and the nominations are judged on the strengths of those single episodes. In looking at the list there are a myriad of episodes I quite enjoyed of many series that were left out in the cold – notably the ‘Girls’ episode ‘Welcome to Bushwick AKA the Crackcident’ (Directed by Jody Lee Lipes and written by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner) and the How I Met Your Mother episode ‘Symphony of Illumination’ (Directed, as nearly always for HIMYM by Pamela Fryman and written by Joe Kelly (who it turns out, has no relation to the reasonably prominent comic book writer and ‘Ben 10’ co-creator)
That leaves me with merely the eligible nominees (available here, as with all the nominees, if you’d like to take a look) and additionally when it comes to Directing, it’s a tough category because one has to weight how much of the direction of an episode is just the vision of the showrunner and how much is an independent view of the series by the director (and furthermore if that independent view is consistent with the internal logic of the series itself)
With that in mind, my nominees for Best Direction in a Comedy Series:
Louis C.K. for the ‘Louie’ episode ‘Ducking’
Louis C.K. is a man who wears many hats in the making of his show ‘Louie’. He directs, he acts, he writes, he edits. And the show, itself has a very strong narrative voice and a very clear look and vision. But that vision, generally, is one of New York City, run down comedy clubs and apartments. For this, the second season finale, Louis took all of those elements and transported them to a USO base in Afghanistan and focused on Louis, secretly, trying to keep alive his daughter’s duckling, packed in his suitcase for luck. It’s a radical departure even for a show that isn’t afraid to make major changes from show to show. It feels somewhat like a grand adventure for a series that thrives on telling small, contained short stories.
Jesse Peretz for the ‘Girls’ episode ‘It’s Hard Being Easy’
‘Girls’ is often an awkward show, by design, but the tone in this episode where Hannah, confronting her boss for sexually harassing her decides to make a move on him is so wonderfully awkward and stilted that I would give a lot of credit to the direction of the scene in question.
Lena Dunham for the ‘Girls’ episode ‘She Did’
That being said, the main voice of all things ‘Girls’ is Lena Dunham and she manages, in this episode to nail what was a very very good scene and one that feels near impossible to pull off. All stories I’ve heard about the making of this episode suggest that the end scene, a fight between Hannah and Marnie, which had been building all season in the background, was filmed in many single takes, taking the two friends all around the set of their apartment, hurling invectives and occasionally toothbrushes at one another. Between being one of the principals of the scene and directing it Lena had a heavy task and it paid off with one of the most rewarding scenes of the season and one that felt like nothing else on televison.
Lynn Sheldon for the New Girl episode ‘Injured’
I would point to ‘Injured’ as turning point for ‘New Girl’ where it truly hit it’s stride. And it’s to it’s credit and to Lynn’s credit that this episode both feels fully entrenched in the universe of the show and yet feels entirely different than any other episode this season, both tonally and in the way the show stretches itself to address a premise that isn’t inherently in the wheelhouse of the pallet of the show. When Nick fears he may have a cancerous growth, his friends rally around him and attempt to both comfort him and get him past his desires to leave it be. The beautiful closing shot, set to Beach House’s song ‘Take Care’, as well as a beautiful scene on a beach late at night establishes whole different tones and looks than anything else the show has done this season and suggest a show more flexible than previously imagined. I put a lot of the credit for that in the direction.
Michael Schur for the Parks and Recreation episode ‘Win, Lose or Draw’
For it’s entire fifth season ‘Parks and Recreation’ was building to this election day episode, where we’d learn if Leslie Knope has won the seat on the City Council that she’d been aiming for since the close of the last season. Parks is unafraid to get sentimental but rarely does it raise it’s stakes as high as they were for this episode. And to properly pull off this episode was to nail the emotional moments that occur as our characters learn the results and for all that went into the acting and writing of this episode, I think it set a different and fascinating tone and feel that I would chalk up to showrunner Michael Schur’s direction.
Michael Engler for the 30 Rock episode ‘Hey Baby, What’s Wrong?’
30 Rock, as much as it succumbs to the occasional gimmick episode (the Queen of Jordan episodes or the Live episodes) is a show that week in and week out generally has very set tone and I think this episode, a special hour long Valentine’s Day episode, managed to subvert that tone in a way that I thought was very effective. There is a cynical element to this episode that feels earned and sharp and the visual tone seems muted by the standards of the series. There were people who didn’t much like this episode but I thought it stood out as a show which is likely a few years past it’s prime doing something different and daring and pulling it off and to do that and to subvert the feel of the show like that is a credit to the director.
And then we come to a slightly easier to argue category – Best Writing for a Comedy Series
David Caspe, Matthew Libman & Daniel Libman for the Happy Endings episode ‘Cocktails and Dreams’
In the best episode, arguably, of Happy Ending’s excellent second season, we’re treated to a main story revolving around Dave’s food truck gaining a level of popularity and the B-list friends that he makes as a result (including guest Colin Hanks) but the real magic is in a series of sex dreams that the cast has about Dave, as well as Penny and Alex have troubles with ‘cleansing’, including a beautiful scene set around Penny trying to hide from Alex. As perfect an episode as the series has managed, very possibly.
Carter Bays & Craig Thomas for the How I Met Your Mother episode ‘The Ducky Tie’
Bringing back a beloved but not much seen guest star is a tricky proposition, as is doing a done in one episode to write that character out of the show’s universe (at least seemingly) but series creators Bays and Thomas did a bang up job bringing back Season One love interest Victoria and teasing a possibility of a romance between her and Ted (in spite of her soon to be engagement) – it brought back all the romantic tension between the two well paired characters and paid off in a heart-wrenching climax that managed to make sense and be painful all the same.
At the same time it also ran a completely off tone and fun B-plot that gives the episode it’s name, wherein Barney is coerced into continuing to wear an embarrassing tie by the rest of the gang which managed to keep the show grounded in it’s usual tone and provide needed comic relief to a story that could have gotten a bit heavy for the tone of the show. Easily among the better episodes of the season, arguably among the better episodes of the series, especially of the last few years.
Louis C.K. for the Louie episode ‘Pregnant’
There are few episodes in the second season of ‘Louie’ that weren’t written at a level worthy of this category and this was surely not one of them and as the single episode that Louis chose to submit it’s a reasonable choice. When Louie’s sister arrives at his door, pregnant and seems to go into labor Louie has to figure out how to get her the help she needs. It’s a strangely effective mediation on the kindness of strangers among other things and it plays, as so many Louie episodes do, as a complete, harsh and effective story.
Elizabeth Meriwether & Luvh Rakhe for the New Girl episode ‘Jess & Julia’
Another episode that turned a corner for the series, ‘Jess & Julia’ co-staring guest actress Lizzy Caplan (the titular Julia), managed to make a strong argument for Zooey Deschanell’s lead character Jess as an actual human being worthy of something other than being mocked and laughed at. I thought the early episodes of the show often had Jess coming off as a bit too quirky and unlikeable (not to mention a little too roundly disliked by her castmates) and this episode contrasted her to a character who was very willing to point out her deficiencies and allowed Jess to hit back on a lot of those points, in a way that made the character stronger and more charming.
In addition, this was one of the funnier and more charming episodes of the series to this point – both the lead plot with Jess, Julia and Nick is well played and the B-plot with Winston trying to woo back a past lover is funny and well done as well.
Joe Port & Joe Wiseman (story credit) and J. J. Philbin (writing and story credit) for the New Girl episode ‘Injured’
As mentioned before, I thought this was the ultimate turning point for the series from a good to a great show. And it manages a whole new tone for the series without giving up the humor that is needed for the show to work. Having already explored this episode earlier in the post, I’ll just add that the overall theme of ‘letting go of what scares you’ is handled with aplomb and this is easily among the best comedy half hours of the season.
With competition for Lena Dunham’s Girls ‘Pilot’ (which, in retrospect, while a fine pilot, was not the strongest episode of the season), Parks & Recreation’s ‘Trial of Leslie Knope’ and the strongest Veep episode of it’s freshman season ‘Catherine’, the final spot goes to:
Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan for the 30 Rock episode The Tuxedo Begins
A broad ‘The Dark Knight’ parody with Jack as the titular hero and Liz as a slowly evolving Joker-esque character mixed with an odd bit of commentary on Occupy Wall Street blended with a subplot about Jenna and Paul’s subverse fetishistic joy in acting like ‘normal people’, I thought this was probably the funniest, sharpest and weirdest episode of 30 Rock this season (and one of the weirdest of it’s entire run) . It felt not exactly like a return to form, because this isn’t really something the series has done regularly, but like a fun shot outside of their comfort zones that managed to work rather well. And I also think that these premises maybe ought to not work, yet do, is another argument for the overall success of this episode, which seems like it easily could have been a disaster.
Next time – I’m going to address Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Guest Actor and Best Guest Actress, possibly with a little assistance (I’d like to think I’ve seen everything worth seeing but I have pretty large gaps in my knowledge of several of the ‘Best Actress’ nominees, it turns out)