Time for part 6 of our look at the Emmy nominations process for 2012. As always, Fienberg and I are going to approach things in two ways. 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 people who didn’t submit themselves, nor can we reassign anyone to a more suitable or easier category.
We’re continuing to move through the lead performer categories, this time with Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Dan’s predictions are here, and my preferences are coming right up…
I’ve done this thought exercise three previous times, and in two of those three years, I could only come up with four names I ultimately felt comfortable listing on my fake ballot for this category. There are a lot of talented actresses working in comedies (or in “comedies” that are submitted here because each episode is only 30 minutes), but often on shows I didn’t watch or that had enough problems I didn’t find them award-worthy, or whatever.
Not this year, though. This was the year of Women in Comedy – or, considering what so many of these new shows were titled, Girls in Comedy – which added a bunch of dynamic new performances to the field at the same time some other past favorites were revitalized. I went from not enough choices to so many that I had to leave off a number of performances that in prior years would have either been no-brainers (Zooey Deschanel) or at least intriguing (if “2 Broke Girls” had debuted last year, I’d have picked Beth Behrs, who rises above an awful lot of horrible writing).
So I didn’t have room on my ballot of the New Girl or the blonde Broke Girl, but I couldn’t leave off the lead Girl herself, Lena Dunham. As I said about Louis C.K. in the lead comedy actor discussion, Dunham wears so many hats on this show, and is playing a character that so many people assume is close to herself (but is much further from her in reality than “Louie” is from C.K.), that it’s easy to take her acting for granted. But as much as I admired the writing and direction of “Girls,” what drew me into the show at first – and, if I’m being honest, kept my interest for the first couple of episodes – was just how charming Dunham was, even playing a character who was a selfish, oblivious twit. Dunham’s not playing herself, and even if she was, I can think of many older, more experienced actors who wouldn’t be able to play themselves with the lack of vanity, comic timing and ability to find humanity and vulnerability even inside a character who so often did and said such stupid things.
I left Edie Falco off my last couple of fake Emmy ballots, not so much because her performance had gotten worse, but because the lather-rinse-repeat writing for Jackie and her problems had become by far my least favorite part of “Nurse Jackie,” and as with Jane Lynch on “Glee,” it became hard to single out the work of a performer in a role that was like an anchor around her show’s neck. This year, though, Jackie had to face the consequences of her actions, and the character once again became the best part of “Nurse Jackie,” and it became easier to appreciate how strong and versatile Falco is in the role.
As with Dunham, Tina Fey does so many jobs on “30 Rock” that there’s always a danger in underrating the work she does in camera. But in what was one of the show’s best overall seasons, Fey was consistently funny, consistently set up her co-stars when need be, and in her scenes with Alec Baldwin and James Marsden, effectively gave the otherwise cartoonish show its occasional genuine heart beats. Plus, she was Lemonem!
“Suburgatory” is a show about a single father and his teenage daughter who struggle to adjust after moving from New York to the ‘burbs, and as such seemed designed to be evenly-distributed between Jeremy Sisto as George and Jane Levy as Tessa. Screentime-wise, that may be how things worked out, but in terms of laughs, heart and just plain cheerfulness, “Suburgatory” tilted very heavily towards the kid end of things, and Levy’s multi-faceted performance was a huge reason why. She was human and she was empathetic, but she was also dryly funny and, at times, about as crazy as the rest of the people in Chatswin. Hell, this dance alone is Emmy-worthy:
I ultimately liked but didn’t love the first season of “Veep,” but boy was Julia Louis-Dreyfus great at the center of it as Selina Meyer. Intelligence isn’t always an easy thing to convey in a performance, and it’s even harder when you’re playing a smart character who consistently finds herself doing stupid things – sometimes realizing how stupid it is even as she’s doing them, sometimes not – but Louis-Dreyfus pulled it off with aplomb.
And in more “‘SNL’ alum plays smart but clumsy politician” news, Amy Poehler found ways to top her already superlative “Parks and Recreation” work in that comedy’s fourth season. As Leslie Knope ran for City Council, Poehler got to do slapstick, got to go even crazier than usual, got to do a great romance arc about Leslie and Ben’s break-up and reconciliation, got to deliver a speech in the debate episode (which she wrote and directed) that would ordinarily seem like perfect Emmy bait if she hadn’t also appeared in the scene I’ve embedded below. All due respect to Melissa McCarthy, but Poehler should’ve won last year, and she sure deserves to win this year.
Others considered: Christina Applegate from “Up All Night,” Beth Behrs from “2 Broke Girls,” Courteney Cox from “Cougar Town,” Zooey Deschanel from “New Girl,” Patricia Heaton from “The Middle,” Amanda Peet from “Bent,” Martha Plimpton from “Raising Hope,” Ashley Rickards from “Awkward” and Dreama Walker from “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23.”
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org