Our journey through the Emmy ballot concludes with our second series category: Outstanding Comedy Series. As always, Fienberg will attempt to rank the contenders from most likely to least likely to be nominated, throwing in a bunch of preferential wild cards along the way. And, as always, I will pretend that I am an actual Academy member who has a ballot and therefore has to narrow his choices down to six people.
Same rules apply: we are working off of the actual Emmy ballot, so we can’t nominate shows that weren’t submitted (like “Bunheads,” or most of the primetime animated comedies), nor can we reassign a show to what seems a more appropriate category (say, nudging “Enlightened” from comedy to drama). I’m also steering clear of shows (even ones I historically like) where I didn’t see enough of the eligible season to feel confident in picking it (I’m overdue for summer marathons of several FX sitcoms, for instance, and the rest of this season of “Veep,” and I haven’t seen any of the Hulu episodes of “The Thick of It”).
Dan’s exhaustive analysis is here, and embedded below (click Launch Gallery to see it), and my picks are coming right up.
This was not a great season for new comedies on television. “The Mindy Project” and “The Neighbors” are the only two freshmen left standing, and while both had their moments (and could grow into something more next year), neither was good enough to merit serious consideration in the same way rookie dramas like “Rectify” or “Hannibal” did in the previous category.
Because there were no major new contenders, and because a lot of my recent favorites had strong years, this was perhaps the easiest category for me to pick my top 6. Usually, I take a long time sweating over my options, and shuttling nominees on and off the list, but I chose these shows almost immediately and never questioned them, despite frequent trips back through the ballot to make sure I hadn’t missed something obvious.
Start with “30 Rock,” which concluded an all-time comedy run with an all-time farewell season, including a finale that was equal parts touching (Jack detailing the origins of the word “love”) and hilarious (“BLIMPIE’S!”). There are other comedies on television that deserve far more awards recognition than they’ve received, but if the Academy wants to give Tina Fey and company one more win here, I can’t exactly object.
“Louie” season 3 had a few more bumpy patches than the astonishing second season, but it also had the Miami episode, “Daddy’s Girlfriend,” the incredible “Late Show” three-parter, and the moving season finale. Whatever Louis C.K. wants to do, he does, whether he’s simply taking us on a tour of Little Havana, tracking a wild night in the life of a charismatic but mentally ill woman, inventing a parallel universe where he competes with Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock to succeed David Letterman, or introducing us to the worst little boy in the whole world. We won’t get any new “Louie” until next summer, so let’s celebrate the most recent batch while we still can.
“Enlightened” mostly left me cold in its first season, but I was knocked out by its second and final one. It probably doesn’t belong in this category, but this is where it’s been submitted, and season 2 is a strong contender for my 2013 top 10 list. Mike White again knocked me out again with the episodes told from a POV other than Amy’s (especially the one built around his lonely character), but he also added the right amount of narrative momentum to Amy’s campaign against Abaddon to make the story engaging even when Amy was acting like a human wrecking ball. Tonally, aesthetically and emotionally, “Enlightened” felt like nothing else on television. It was great, and that should be recognized.
Another show that took a leap in year two: “New Girl,” which as a freshman was uneven but sometimes hilarious and as a sophomore was more assured and more frequently funny, even before we got to the Jess/Nick romance arc that kicked the show up to another level. It’s as explosively funny a show as there is on TV right now, but one that’s able to wrap the insanity inside an affecting emotional package, whether in scenes played entirely straight or in mixtures like the “gave me cookie, got you cookie” scene.
I don’t know that “Parks and Recreation” got as much comic mileage out of putting Leslie onto the city council as I might have hoped, but that may be simply because I never found Councilman Jamm as funny as I was meant to. But even factoring that in, “Parks and Rec” in its advanced age was able to churn out episodes like “Two Parties,” “Animal Control,” “Bailout,” “Article Two” and “Leslie and Ben” that put most of TV comedy to shame. It is warm, it is sweet, it is happy, it is frequently fall out of your chair funny, and it’s as reliable a viewing experience as you’ll find. I don’t expect much Emmy love for the show outside of Amy Poehler’s annual nomination, but this is one of those series that years from now, TV historians will look back on and be baffled by how little the Academy seemed aware of it.
“Girls” is a more overt comedy than “Enlightened,” and its second season featured some memorable comic set pieces and episodes, like Hannah and Elijah’s night on cocaine, or the Donald Glover character telling Hannah what he thought of her essay, or anything involving the sex life of Booth Jonathan. But this season was memorable for going to some darker places, whether Hannah’s epiphany at the end of the Patrick Wilson episode, Hannah’s OCD flare-up or Adam sabotaging a potentially healthy relationship, in ugly fashion, after spending only a few minutes in Hannah’s presence. “Girls” will forever be a divisive show, generating equal parts love and disgust from the people who watch it. From where I sit, it’s a terrific show that should be nominated again here.
Also considered: “Archer,” “Arrested Development,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Cougar Town,” “Go On,” “Happy Endings,” “Nurse Jackie,” “The Office,” “Raising Hope,” “Wilfred”
What does everybody else think? Who would your top 6 be in this category?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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