With the announcement of the Emmy Nominations fast approaching (they’ll be announced Thursday morning) I have precious little time to wrap up my series on who I’d nominate for this year’s comedy categories. With that in mind, I’m going to cover two of the major categories today: Best Actor and Best Actress. And, for me, they are both categories that leave major question marks.
In the case of both I think much of the best acting is being done in supporting roles but especially when it comes to ‘Best Actor’ – there is a surplus of supporting actors, ranging from Jason Segel to Ty Burrell who I didn’t even give a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ nomination to that I would likely end up nominating here, due to the weakness of the fields, all things considered.
When it comes to ‘Best Actress’ there are many more strong performers but I have the odd conundrum of having a large amount of performers who I know have given notably good performances on shows that I don’t watch. This is an issue in every category to a point – I watch many many show but I don’t watch every one and I didn’t see every episode of even the shows I like – but it seems unusually pronounced in the case of this category, where I might have been able to throw together six viable candidates but only if I ignored the work I wasn’t familiar with. Thus I’ve called in an outside voice I respect the opinions of to give me some help, so that little birdie will provide two nominees, as well. The sixth is still to be decided as I write this.
But before we get to that, let’s start off with the fairly disappointing field for Best Actor, shall we? This is a field weak enough that last year Johnny Galecki – who is perfectly fine but not particularly notable as Leonard on The Big Bang Theory – snuck a nomination. It’s field weak enough that people who should be also-rans got a solid look from me – no offense to Josh Radnor of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ but he’s likely the show’s weakest member of the ensemble (which shouldn’t be an offensive statement given that, if nothing else ‘HIMYM’ has one of the great casts on television – Alyson Hannigan, the aforementioned Jason Segel, the nominated by me Colbie Smulders and the always terrific Neil Patrick Harris are very tough competition).
And people I happened to enjoy but weren’t terribly familiar with their work got a thought given to them too. I gave up on ‘Bored to Death’ after a few episodes but I can easily believe that Jason Swartzman is giving good performances there. In the end I gave one nomination to a performance from which I hadn’t seen any of the current season of but it seemed fairly reasonable to believe that said performer hadn’t fallen off from the great performance he was giving back when I did watch the show (which was easily the best thing about the show of which I haven’t otherwise been a notable fan)
Let’s kick this off with the ones that I think just about everyone are getting nominations whether they think they deserve them or not (and in my mind they do or they wouldn’t be here), starting with the reigning two time winner…
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
As the breakout character of one of the two most popular comedies on television (with Modern Family) Jim Parsons’ Sheldon has reached a level of iconic notabiliy that few modern television characters have or could. But the thing is, whether given good material (as he is somewhat frequently) or bad (which happens more often than it should) – Parsons is always engaged in commiting to this character.
This would be the fourth nomination for Parsons and it’s hard to see him not racking them up every year for the forseeable future. I think there is some level of animosity in the more ‘sophisticated’ television watching world that Big Bang Theory ought to be so heavily nominated, given it has seen better years and in the eyes of some isn’t among the very strongest shows on television even at it’s best. I’d argue that at it’s best it’s an extremely likeable and funny show (and at it’s worst it can be faintly amusing but misguided) and honestly, for the most part at the moment it’s held back by not having much for the male cast to do that is very new or interesting and limitations on what more can be done organically with some of it’s male stars.
That said – Jim Parsons as Sheldon is a performance that rises above anything else in the show, by sheer commitment to a character that could be so easy to get wrong and he so often nails. That’s worth an easy nomination, especially in a category that is a little weak.
Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock
The other nominee who has been a shoe-in for years and again – I think he’s fabulous and deserves it. It could be said that this year might have been an off-year for Baldwin’s Jack Dongughy but even in an off-year the strength of the perfomances is so high that it rises above the pack.
Now, Alec had a lot to work with this year and I think he was a solid lead actor on the show but some of his stories were a little off – be it his quest to start a recliner business or his wife gone missing in North Korea or his flirtation with her mother. None of those stories really resonated with me and his role as mentor to Tina Fey’s Liz has grown, if not stale then perhaps a bit stagnant.
That said, in spite of that Baldwin is one of the funniest performers on television – his stories and his role might have not been the best but he sold every one of them like an absolute star. Even if the Liz and Jack dynamic is maybe a bit stale, watching them negoiate her new contract or watching him play Batman (as ‘The Tuxedo’) to her Joker (um, Liz as a homeless looking weirdo) was magic and even when not given the proper material, he was still dynamite.
Louis CK – Louie
The first nominee of which no reservations or questions might be had of, maybe the only one in this category. The absolute and total lead actor of a show that succeeds at being funny, smart, sad and true, Louis CK is giving some of the best performances on television today. That they are performances of which he is directing and starring as well makes him one of the top names in all of television today, if not when it comes to popularity then at least when it comes to quality.
In season two of Louie we saw him argue with Dane Cook, have awkward sex with one his daughter’s classmate’s mother, persue a friend and get rejected in one of the most emotionally wrenching scenes of the year and go to Afghanistan on a USO tour with an univited duckling guest, among other absolute highlights. In every case CK’s perfomance has to be absolutely on point for these scenes and these episodes to work and it always was.
This should be Louis CK’s year. I believe he likely will get a nomination, as he did last year and anything short of him winning will be the wrong decision to me.
Larry David – Curb Your Enthusiasm
Another example of an actor who does much of the work to make his show work, behind the scenes and in front of the camera. ‘Curb’ has had better years but like Parsons and Baldwin it’s hard to question the commitment ot the character that David has. That the character is a (hopefully, for all involved hightened version of) himself? That doesn’t come into play – we’re not judging who acted the most here – we’re judging who acted the best.
Few people can wring the same level of awkward energy out of a situation than Larry David. Just when you think he is out of trouble he brings himself right back in. Some of that is writing, but given the fact that Curb is and has been largely improvised, one has to imagine much of that comes from the performance by David.
This is one of the shows wherein I, perhaps, did not see every episode however it’s hard to believe that David didn’t nail everything that was expected of him yet again, even once I had tuned out. He’s that good here, even if I think the show is showing it’s age, quite possibly. Like Parsons and Baldwin – I have a hard time imagining a year where he is unworthy of nomination, even with all the shows in question going somewhat down hill.
Adam Scott – Parks and Recreation
When Adam Scott’s Ben entered in Season Two of Parks he was the second banana to Rob Lowe. It was clear he might be a love interest to Leslie but it didn’t seem like he was going to be anything more than another voice in the ensemble. But slowly over the seasons he’s worked his way into a role that I could happily consider a lead role, as his romance with Leslie has put him in front of the action. And he’s done a heck of a job with the role.
Scott, who was previously very good on the cult hit ‘Party Down’ brings a charm and likeability to his character that takes him from a solid romantic foil for our star to being a focal point of a show that has some of the best perfomances on television. The Leslie/Ben romance, as it played out over Season Four had some of the best arcs of any plot on any comedy on television – it was funny, sweet and dramatic.
For his part Adam Scott manages to have a dry comic voice that stands out from the crowded pack at Parks and Rec and his interactions with not just Leslie but the entire gang (especially Aziz Ansari’s Tom) were golden. Even in a more crowded field, I’d consider him strongly but in this one he’s an easy pick.
Danny McBride – Eastbound and Down
There are few shows that rest more heavily on the performance of their lead than ‘Eastbound and Down’ and while I think the show is only pretty good it’s hard to put down the wildman lead performance of Danny McBride.
In a weak field it’s hard to see who does a better job than Danny at commiting so fully to a character and managing to build a pretty good show around the broad, craziness he provides.
As I said – there is one nominee of which I did not watch this season and that would be him. But his performances thus far have been so consistent that I can’t imagine he suddenly put out poor work in this, the series final season.
And now, we move on to Best Actress! I take this category pretty seriously but looking at the list I knew I didn’t know enough to do my best in picking – I could have just loaded it with people from shows I’ve seen that I liked but it seemed unfair to what I was pretty sure were likely good performances on shows that I have just never happened to watch.
My solution to this problem (as well as the problem of narrowing down the final choice) was to call in someone whose opinion I trusted and who had seen a few more of the nominees than I had, which ended up being a little birdie who wishes not to be named, before we get to our mystery lady, here’s our less mysterious nominees, starting with my easiest picks:
Lena Dunham – Girls
Much like Louis CK on Louie, there is no Girls without Lena Dunham and as much as she does fine work behind the scenes in making this a good show, her lead performance as Hannah is some of the best acting on television. She was able to make Hannah both likeable and somewhat repugnant, often in the same breath, in a way that female leads of television shows are infrequently able or allowed to do.
From the pilot, which concludes with her stealing a twenty from a housekeeper, to the finale, which ends with her managing to push away a man she’d spent the whole season trying to get close to, Hannah was one of the most fascinating and fully realized characters on television. Lena gets credit for writing the character but if she couldn’t pull off the role it wouldn’t work.
Her relationships with every character on the show were complex and interesting – her friendship with Marnie and her relationship with Adam, in particular (as well as the dynamic with her parents, for that matter). She was able to show different sides to the character and stay consistent and sharp. Not to mention – she’s very funny, a great comic actress, who like David or CK is great at taking whatever is awkward about a situation and hightenning it. She’s hard to beat in this category, personally.
Amy Poehler – Parks & Recreation
If anyone could beat Lena here, it’d be be Amy Poehler, who in Parks & Recreations’s fourth season, after three years of great work, may have peaked in a story where she runs for City Council. Always a great comic performer and a likeable actress it seems like Amy took it up a notch with her dramatic work this year and it payed off with moment after moment this season managing to come off in amazing fashion.
At the heart of her character, Leslie Knope, is faith in her town, governement and her friends and all were on display this season. She began the season by having to distance herself from and break up with her boyfriend Ben and both played the scenes together in this story with aplomb and a sweetness that registered as earned. In addition Leslie is the focal point of all things Parks & Rec and she steered things in all sort of interesting directions.
Leslie has interesting, engaging relationships with nearly every character on the show – her romance with Ben might have been the obvious highlight but her friendship with Ann, her professional and personal relatonship with Ron and her rivalry and yet warmth toward Paul Rudd’s guest Bobby Newport were all explored and were all worthwhile parts to one of the best shows on television.
Zooey Deschannel – New Girl
Coming to television was not an obvious move for Zooey Deschannel – it’s hard to believe after several years of playing leads and major supporting characters in a series of largely successful films that this was anything other than a major risk. But she came and it came under fire, especially in the wake of the advertising for the series and it’s highly mocked tagline ‘Adorkable’. And to begin with it didn’t seem like the criticism was far off- the first few episodes of the series were notably bad at getting the tone of the character right.
A funny thing happened, though, by the time about a half dozen episodes had passed – suddenly this character started working and working incredibly well. It’s a testament to the acting and writing of the show that a character who had notable flaws to begin with, in terms of likeability and a small grating annoyance managed to build, and quickly, into one of the most charming and likeable characters on TV.
The difference came, not only in performance but I think in warmth – once the ensemble embraced Zooey’s Jess as their friend it was easier to see her as a likeable character. And from then on out she was off to the races, with Zooey’s sizable charms on display for the rest of the season.
The ultimate turning point may have been my mentioned in an earlier addition ‘Jess and Julia’ where Zooey manages to address and fire back at the easy targets put on her back. From there her relationship with every major member of the ensemble, not to mention romantic arcs with Justin Long and especially Durmot Mularoney were great and charming. Of the three shoe-ins I chose, she is the one it’s hardest to justify but on some level it’s just hard to deny her – by the end of the year she was among the best leads on any comedy this year and somehow adorkable as ever.
From here, I turn it over to a conversation with a lady I happen to like even more than Ms. Deschanel’s character, who is going to let you in on a few of her favorite performers of the year that I was unaware of.
So, take it away, mystery lady:
Laura Linney – The Big C
Laura Linney’s performance in Showtime’s “The Big C” is the stuff Emmy dreams are made of. She plays a married high school teacher dealing with everything from cancer to infidelity to raising a teenage son – all with acerbic wit, dark humor and high drama. This season in particular, Linney was able to show her chops as her character came to terms with her health issues, her family and her own struggle in the pursuit of happiness. I’d say she’s a well deserved shoo-in; few comedic leads are given the opportunity to play with such high stakes material. While I’m at it, I’d also throw my Supporting Actor support to Oliver Platt who tears it up as Linney’s goofball husband who has been recovering from a near-death experience.
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
Oh man, do I love Edie Falco! She plays a tough-assed broad like nobody’s business. And as the titular character on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” she has breaks balls and sharpens her teeth on the bones of the lesser-thans in just about every scene. It is awesome. However, she is also able to give a nuanced and complex performance as she works her way through her own substance abuse, a crumbling marriage and personal trials in and out of her emergency room workplace. And, since I set the precedent with Oliver Platt, I’d also strongly urge a Supporting Actress nod for Merritt Wever who blows my mind with her naive, enthusiastic and annoyingly earnest performance as Jackie’s at-work protege and recent roommate, the adorably daffy Zoey.
Why thank you!
And my final choices comes down to a complex choice between two people I think are legitimate comic geniuses, even if one a better comic actress than the other – Julia Louis Dreyfuss for Veep vs. Tina Fey for 30 Rock.
They both have strengths and weaknesses – Julia is on a show I’m not sure I quite connect with the way I ought to and as the lead actress that seems like partially her fault and yet she’s a compelling and funny character and does her damnedest to keep things working. Tina? She’s on a slowly sinking show and has never been the greatest pure actress, but then again she’s gotten better with practice and this season she had a variety of challenges, as an actress that she rose to and did well with.
Ultimately my choice is…
Tina Fey – 30 Rock
A multiple time nominee and a lady who cuts a charming and funny figure, Tina Fey none-the-less has never impressed me much with her acting… until this season, where she showed a certain level of heart that raised her game to a level that I think she deserves a nomination.
Much of this has to do with a romance plot with James Marsden’s Criss that grew her character up and made her more relatable. The idea of Liz Lemon weighing her options of marriage and children and romance is one that could have took the show down a wrong path. Instead it felt like the one thing that indisputably worked this season. I thought the Valentine’s Day episode built around them was maybe their best and most uncharacteristic episode of the season and Tina nailed it.
At the end of the day Tina Fey, like Louis CK and Lena Dunham, is a creator probably first and foremost but unlike them it doesn’t seem to me that performing comes quite as naturally. That said, over many seasons she has found Liz Lemon and this year was the year that she found a new way to bring her across. The show is not better for many things these days but it’s better for that.
And with that – those are my nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress! I will, quite shortly, wrap things up with Best Comedy Series, just in time for the Thursday nominations! See you then!