There are no “hot” new comedies to consider this season the way Modern Family and Glee were a year ago, but the Emmy voters have no shortage of tough decisions to make this time around. Would it be fair for Steve Carell to never have won an Emmy for The Office? Can one really justify giving an award to Betty White, who isn’t asked to do much these days other than show up, be adorable, and say something naughty once in a while? And is there any possible way to single out just one actor from amongst the ultimate ensemble, Modern Family?
Here’s my look at how I expect the night to unfold Sunday in the various comedy categories.
Nominees: 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Glee, Modern Family, The Office, Parks and Recreation
Outlook: Parks and Recreation is still a niche series – while it’s not unheard of for one of those to win (Arrested Development, and even 30 Rock would have qualified), the comedy field is stronger now than it was for most of the last decade. No one really seems to think Glee had that good a season, and 30 Rock is perceived, possibly unfairly, as past its prime. That leaves The Office, which had a decent “Michael says goodbye” arc; The Big Bang Theory, which the voters think highly enough of now to give an acting nomination to Johnny Galecki; and defending champion Modern Family, which should be considered a solid favorite to win again. Any show popular enough to get six nominations for its cast is going to be tough to stop.
Nominees: Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Louis C.K. (Louie), Steve Carell (The Office), Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory), Matt LeBlanc (Episodes), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Outlook: Good for the voters for even recognizing Louis C.K., but this nomination is for the little-watched first season of Louie rather than the more buzzed-about season just ended. It’s hard to imagine anyone voting for Galecki over Parsons, who won last year. LeBlanc was often unfairly accused of just playing himself in Friends; it would be a major surprise for him to win now that he really is playing himself, in a series that got a very mixed reception. Baldwin and Parsons will always be contenders, and Parsons would probably be a very slight favorite to repeat … were it not for this being Steve Carell’s last nomination for playing Michael Scott. He’s never won, and might not “deserve” it this season, but Michael was not only a great role, he was an original creation that could almost make people forget the British origins of The Office. A win Sunday would be a very popular lifetime achievement Emmy.
Best Lead Actress
Nominees: Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Laura Linney (The Big C), Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly), Martha Plimpton (Raising Hope), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
Outlook: If anyone could ever honestly say “it’s an honor just to be nominated,” it’s Plimpton; she’s been a delight playing the world’s youngest grandmother, but her show is too marginal for her to win. McCarthy will likely be done in by overall lack of respect for her series. Falco is the reigning winner in this category, and Fey is similarly much beloved by Emmy even though she’s been losing out lately to the stars of Showtime not-really-comedies. The favorites are probably Poehler and Linney. Parks and Recreation is pretty much an ensemble, but Poehler is the face of the show and the main reason it’s hung around so long with life-support ratings. Linney is the slight favorite; she’s the best thing about her oftentimes annoying series, and the voters have shown a propensity to honor the leading ladies of Showtime at least once.
Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Chris Colfer (Glee), Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Ed O’Neill (Modern Family), Eric Stonestreet (sigh … Modern Family)
Outlook: The obvious question here is whether there’s any possible way for vote-splitting to not destroy the chances of the four Modern Family nominees. Ferguson probably has the least chance, since Stonestreet has inertia on his side as the defending winner, and O’Neill has the benefit of being the veteran who has never won (especially as people have come to appreciate how underrated he was on Married … with Children). As for Burrell, well, I love Phil and he’d win this category every year if I cast the only vote. Cryer has won before, and might stand a chance of benefitting from the Modern Family glut if enough voters decide to give him an Emmy as a form of combat pay for this past season. But even though he’s not really giving a comic performance on Glee, Colfer is the favorite here; he won the Golden Globe this winter, and he is practically the star of his show at this point.
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Jane Krakowski (30 Rock), Jane Lynch (Glee), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), Betty White (Hot in Cleveland), Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
Outlook: I’ve always liked Krakowski’s performance on 30 Rock, but man, that’s a hard cast to stand out in. Wiig’s success in Bridesmaids probably (if illogically) helps her chances at winning an Emmy, even though she was actually less prominent this past SNL season than usual. Bowen and Vergara appear likely to cancel each other out again this year. It’s probably coming down to Lynch (last year's winner) and White. Lynch, who will host the Emmys, was a much more limited presence on Glee this past season; she might not deserve collateral damage for backlash against the show, but it could happen anyway. It comes down to not wanting to bet against Betty White, who first won this award in 1975. Sure, her show is a trifle and she’s not doing much more in it than “playing Betty White,” but at least this once, it’s going to be a temptation the voters can’t pass up.