Okay, we’re almost at the finish line with this year’s Emmy project. Completed Emmy ballots were due last Thursday, but that’s not going to keep Dan and I from hitting the top two categories with our usual split: I’ll pretend that I have an Emmy ballot and make my picks for the six actors or shows I would put on my ballot, while Dan will rank the potential nominees from most likely to least. And, as always, we are working off of the actual Emmy ballot, so we can’t consider shows that didn’t submit themselves, nor can we reassign one to a more suitable or easier category.
Today we’re doing Outstanding Comedy Series. Dan’s predictions are here, and my picks are coming right up…
Remember when you read all those stories about how Comedy Was Dead? And then read them again a few years later? And a few years after that?
If ever there was a season to kill that particular trend story once and for all, it may be the one that just ended. On a commercial level, top hits like “Modern Family,” “Two and a Half Men” (without Charlie Sheen) and “Big Bang Theory” all held up well in the ratings, and in some cases rose to new heights. And creatively? Forget about it. This was a year that gave me six potential nominees that were not only terrific but very different from one another, including a pair of relentless, hilarious joke delivery machines; two unpredictable, auteur-driven New York dramedies; a comedy whose heart was as strong as its funny bone; and one that found strange, amusing, brilliant new ways to experiment. And though these were my clear top six, I could very easily make a deserving, equally diverse field out of six of my also-rans. In alphabetical order:
Was this the best overall “30 Rock” season ever? At the very least, I’m starting to think that it was the most consistent one(*), which is kind of incredible for a comedy finishing its sixth season. This season found another comically fruitful (and surprisingly healthy) relationship for Liz, had Jack deal more with being a father while Avery was in captivity, (temporarily) turned Kenneth back into a vital and amusing character, made Jenna work better than she had in years, successfully tried out various high concepts (Liz as the Joker and Jack as Batman, for instance) and most of all was just very, very funny throughout. Hell, they even made a live episode I enjoyed.
(*) Here’s my thinking: In season 1, the show took a while to find itself. Season 2 is generally held up as the show’s best, but I always felt the writers strike derailed the creative momentum and most of the post-strike episodes weren’t as strong. Seasons 3 and 4 were very uneven, mixing great episodes with ones that didn’t really work. So it may be that either season 5 or this one had the highest batting average, and I think this one had slightly higher highs, including a much better live episode. You are of course free to disagree, but you’ll risk me spitting my Bazooka gum at you to argue my point.
“Community” creator Dan Harmon went into this past season knowing he didn’t have a contract past that, and may have even suspected Sony wouldn’t want to renew his deal. So it’s easy to look at what he did in his third and final year as showrunner as a very creative writer deciding that if he was going to go out, it would be on his terms, with a season that stretched the show and its elastic characters as far as possible. This was a darker, stranger season than the two prior, and another one where you had no idea what kind of show you would be tuning into that week. Not every experiment worked, but enough of them – the alternate timelines of “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the Campbell/Coppola weirdness of “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux,” the note-perfect “Law & Order” satire of “Basic Lupine Urology,” and more – to make the failures worth it.
I have no idea how Emmy voters will respond to “Girls,” which was simultaneously one of the most highly-praised and vehemently-criticized shows I can remember, as well as a show told from a point of view that may feel mighty foreign to many Emmy voters (the Academy’s membership tends to skew older). But from my perspective as a real TV viewer and fake Emmy voter, “Girls” was one of the most exciting, unexpected, funny, moving shows I watched all year. It was a show with a distinct voice, that was unafraid to show its main characters in the least flattering light, early and often, and one packed with individual moments (Marnie and Hannah dancing to Robyn, Hannah smiling in the cab, Hannah and Marnie’s fight, Charlie asking Marnie to think of him as a person, etc.) that I imagine will be at the forefront of my memory whenever I think back on this year in TV. Not everyone loved this show; I did.
Boy, did“Happy Endings” go in a hurry from a show I had little patience for to one that often made me laugh harder and more frequently than at any other show airing on TV in a given week. It’s not innovative. It’s not deep. It just understands the strengths and weaknesses of its six actors (and got particularly good at that with Elisha Cuthbert this season), understands the kinds of jokes they can deliver and the rate at which they can deliver them without losing the audience, and it just keeps hitting and hitting, with punchline after punchline after punchline. A simple pleasure, but one that I imagine is anything but simple to craft week in and week out.
“Louie” just began a new season on FX, but for Emmy purposes, we’re talking about the previous one. It was a comedy season for the ages that established the following: 1)You never knew what you were going to see when you tuned in each week, 2)In many of those weeks, the show could only be described as a comedy by virtue of its running time, and 3)The comedy/drama ratio didn’t much matter, because writer/director/star Louis C.K. had such a tremendous command of his instrument, of the stories he wanted to tell and the way he wanted to tell them, that the obvious personal stamp was all he needed to make an episode riveting. Over the course of that season, he made out with Joan Rivers, healed a real-life feud with Dane Cook, tried to talk an old friend out of suicide, futilely confessed his love to his best friend and even prevented a gunfight in Afghanistan, and all of it felt like part of a whole because it was all so clearly the story C.K. wanted to tell that week.
This time last year, it was “Parks and Recreation” coming off an all-time comedy season. This more recent season wasn’t quite as uniformly perfect, as the show had to deal with more episodes, and with a much bigger story in Leslie’s campaign for City Council. But the high points were still incredibly high, whether on the emotional end (Ben and Leslie’s romance, April and Andy’s road trip, the staff offering to run Leslie’s campaign, Leslie’s reaction to getting to vote for herself) or the comedy side (the Model UN feud, Andy acting out “Roadhouse,” the water fountain health issue). Where shows like “Community” and “Louie” can do many different things from week to week, “Parks” often feels like it can do everything in the same episode if it’s of a mind to.
Others considered: “Bent,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Chuck,” “Cougar Town,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “The League,” “The Middle,” “New Girl,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Raising Hope,” “Suburgatory,” “Veep,” “Wilfred.”
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org