Part 8 of our journey through the Emmy ballot brings us to our final acting category, Outstanding Lead Actor in a 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 people who didn’t submit themselves (like if I wanted to nominate Tony Hale for “Arrested Development” rather than “Veep”), and we have to consider people in the category they submitted themselves for, even if that means supporting actors submitting as leads (Rob Lowe, every year, including this category) or vice versa (Amy Schumer as supporting for a show that’s named after her). I also have to feel like I’ve seen enough of a representative sample to pick someone; Peter Capaldi has been brilliant on “The Thick of It,” which is now Emmy-eligible due to its run on Hulu, but I haven’t seen any of the Hulu episodes, so I can’t consider him.
Dan’s exhaustive analysis is here, and embedded below (click Launch Gallery to see it), and my picks are coming right up.
Because there are so many great comedy ensembles on television right now – often with most or all of the actors submitting in the supporting categories – this winds up as a thin group (only 47 names submitted, as compared to more than 150 for comedy supporting actor), even after you include people like Lowe and Matthew Morrison who should clearly be submitted as supporting. But there are some great performances worth of recognition up top.
First, it’s our last chance to celebrate Alec Baldwin‘s work as Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock.” This is one of the great characters in sitcom history, and one of the great performances. As with Tina Fey, I feel the final season was so good that I have no problem with Baldwin winning one more trophy on his way out the door, for a season that made Jack Donaghy both more real and more ridiculous than ever, occasionally at the same time (like his eulogy to his mother, accompanied by Kermit the Frog).
Because Louis C.K. wears so many different hats – writer, director, cinematographer, etc. – on “Louie,” and because he’s playing a fictionalized version of himself, it can be easy to overlook just what a great performance he’s giving. But watch an episode like “Late Show Part 3” or “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 2” or “New Year’s Eve,” and you see a guy doing some astonishing work in front of the camera. I’m literally getting choked up thinking about some of what he did here, and the level of vulnerability and pain and hope he was able to portray. (And, yes, at this point “Louie” is much more of a half-hour drama with occasional jokes than a comedy with occasional serious moments, but this is the category he’s up for, so I put him here.)
I talked about “New Girl” star Jake Johnson promoting himself to the lead categories while I was discussing his co-star Max Greenfield, and he absolutely belongs here after an extended, messy, funny romantic arc that vaulted the series to a new level. Johnson and the writers have combined to make Nick Miller one of the more original, surprising characters in all of TV comedy: a stubborn, myopic, self-destructive grouch who’s also capable of being a compelling romantic lead without it seeming out of whack.
Adam Scott probably shouldn’t be in this category, though he certainly has a better claim to it than Lowe (who is perfectly funny, but not remotely a lead) does. He spent the early part of this season on “Parks and Rec” off on his own funny mini-show with Aubrey Plaza, then got caught up in engagement and marriage to Leslie, then had a great standout episode in “Partridge,” where he got to be high on drugs while revisiting the scene of his greatest humiliation. Like his TV wife, Scott is extremely versatile: excellent straight man when needed, crazy when called upon, and just does whatever a particular scene or story requires.
Garret Dillahunt is always a pleasure to watch on “Raising Hope,” and this was another fine season to showcase his goofy sweetness, and his gameness to do and say anything in that role. In the extremely unlikely event that he gets nominated, the musical bar mitzvah episode would make a fine submission.
Finally, Jim Parsons is, like Baldwin, a predictable choice. He stars on the most popular sitcom on TV, has been nominated four times and won twice for playing Sheldon Cooper. He’s also really really good at what he does. I have some issues with “Big Bang Theory” overall in terms of how Sheldon can come across as an intolerable bully rather than someone whose mind doesn’t work quite like those around him, but that’s a writing issue, and not within Parsons’ control. He’s terrific.
Also considered: Joel McHale, Matthew Perry, Jeremy Sisto, Elijah Wood,
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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