My Predictions (And Hopes) For This Year’s Emmy Nominations, Week 1, Part 3
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy
I lead with the exact same message I did for the previous category, but for Lead Actress I’m actually angrier with the academy. The fact that you only found room for five actresses for this category last year is bad enough. The fact that somehow none of them were Jane Levy for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (gone too soon), Daisy Haggard for Breeders or either of the leads of Pen15 which you nominated for Best Comedy is frankly demeaning. I urge you sincerely, do better this year.
I suspect that two of the eventual nominees will be Kaley Cuoco for The Flight Attendant and Rachel Brosnahan for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Even though I have yet to see either of their work this season, I suspect I won’t have a problem if they both show up. But for now, I’m going to focus on six extraordinary nominees (Again Emmys please feel free to include more) that involve women of color or hyphenates (in a couple of cases, the two overlap) and one veteran who is the likely frontrunner. It is also possible Tracee Ellis Ross will be nominated for her work on black-ish one last time and I don’t have a problem with that either. I’m just saying if I were to pick the nominees these are who I’d choose.
Pamela Adlon, Better Things
I have been in awe of Adlon’s work in just about every level of Better Things since I watched the second season of this far too overlooked series. Sam Fox is a fiftyish actress who is trying to live the best life she can even though nobody — not the people she works with, not her own children, certainly not her mother — can be bothered to show her the slightest bit of respect for her. As this brilliant series worked towards it end, nothing really extraordinary happened as it did. But honestly, that’s what life is like for so many of us — just struggling as we and everyone around us gets older. It is possible that Better Things will end up on my ten best list at the end of the year (of course the year is it not half over). It is likely that, like Sam herself, Adlon’s brilliant comedy without her getting the recognition or respect from the Emmys she deserves. Part of this is due to guilt by association (her long relationship with Louis C.K. has put a mark on her that won’t go away) and part of it is due to the fact there are so many talented comic geniuses out there. Of the women on this list, she is by far the least likely to be nominated even though by far she is one of the most deserving.
Quinta Brunson, Abbott Elementary
The arrival of Abbott Elementary marked the arrival of one of the most astonishing new comedy series in years as well as one of the greatest talents in years. Comparing Janine to Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec isn’t fair; comparing Brunson to Amy Poehler — and Tina Fey and Phoebe Waller-Bridge — definitely is. Janine isn’t the funniest thing about Abbott Elementary — Brunson is generous to give as many of the good lines to as many of her colleagues as possible — but she’s one of the most heartfelt and kind characters that we’ve seen on TV anywhere in a very long time. The situation at her grade school would drive countless people to distraction and despair, but her constant optimism in front of so much — along with the havoc with her personal life — has made her one of the most endearing characters anywhere. Brunson is quickly rising as a frontrunner in this category and it would not stun me if she managed to take down the queen (who we’ll get to in a moment). I do know she’ll be walking the carpets of awards shows for a very long time to come.
Selena Gomez, Only Murders in the Building
I’ll be honest: until this series I had no use for Selena Gomez. Hell, I figured she’d be deadweight around Steve Martin and Martin Short. But it didn’t take long after meeting Mabel for me to realize two things. Gomez is the beating heart of this series and I may have been underestimating her as a performer for a very long time.
In other hands, Mabel could have been a stock character: a twenty-something character meant to be a generational bridge that the two older characters couldn’t handle. But just as the writers of Hacks managed to make Ava and Deborah’s bond real over the first season, the writers and Gomez did a lot to make Mabel the connecting force of this series. We learn early on the secrets she’s keeping are at the heart of the murders at the Arconian and we also know that she’s in darker territory than either of her older colleagues has lived in their much longer lives. And watching her bond with them and actually become friends was one of the great joys of this past season. (The fact that she had to Google Short to learn who he was initially actually makes me like her more.)
The three of them have become a powerhouse team over the past season, and yet it somehow seems Gomez is slightly less likely then her legendary co-stars to be nominated. I will advocate for her in the strongest possible sense. She may be the youngest of the team, but she’s the equal of them in every respect.
Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll
Lyonne’s nomination is the least likely of the ones I’ve chosen. I may be holding on to it as a possibility if the Emmys can manage to institutional memory of Russian Doll’s nominations back in 2019 and give her one. However, make no mistake: Lyonne is as deserving as some of the fellow hyphenates in this category.
Russian Doll’s second season was, if anything, trippier than Season 1 as Nadia spent it going back and forth through her entire family history, trying to make her life better for her future self, seeing just how messed up her mother and grandmother were, meeting the younger version of Ruth, her spiritual mother, and then trying to raise herself and make it to Ruth’s deathbed, all the while destroying the fabric of time and space. This could just as easily be the plot for the episode of any of the new Star Trek series on paramount, but what made it all hang together and somehow be funny was the brilliant work of Lyonne, walking through the streets of 80s New York and World War II Budapest, sunglasses askew, a cigarette dangling out of her mouth. Every word that came out of Nadia’s mouth, no matter how painful it was, was utterly hysterical. And no matter how weird the season got — and my description doesn’t begin to touch it — Lyonne kept us anchored.
Lyonne’s resurgence as a force after years in the wilderness has been one of the nicer side benefits of Netflix the past decade. And while the streaming service’s future may be as uncertain as Nadia’s, Lyonne is a force of nature doing her best work. She deserves another chance at the winner’s circle.
Issa Rae, Insecure
I never thought that we’d have two African-American hyphenates contending for many of the same awards when this season began. But I was always certain that Issa Rae, a true icon in comedy, was going to be in this category.
Like Issa in Insecure, Rae has never gotten the respect she deserves by the Emmys for her extraordinary work at just about every level of this exceptional comedy series. She keeps losing to comedy legends — Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Catherine O’Hara — or a fellow hyphenate (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Her comedy is of the awkwardness of someone always taking two steps forwards, one step back in either her personal or professional life. In the final season, Rae did nothing spectacular: she just kept struggling with he work, her love life and her friendship with her other soulmate Molly. The series came to a natural ends: nothing remarkable happened, but for someone like Issa that’s a triumph in itself. Rae has become a superstar to Insecure; I’d like to think she could get an Emmy somewhere before she moves on to her next project.
Jean Smart, Hacks
No I don’t think Smart’s work as Deborah Vance is the best work she’s ever done — I still think she was robbed by the Emmys for her work on 24 and Fargo. But it’s hard to argue a more perfect marriage of star and role than Smart’s work as Deborah Vance on Hacks. As a prickly, abrasive comic who in the first season finale violated forty years of routines to go bold and bomb, and is now on a tour to rebuild her rep Smart continues to make you laugh, wince, love and hate Deb usually in the same thirty seconds. I know Smart is a legend as well as someone who rarely got her due until now, so it might not be much of a stretch to say this is the perfect role for her. But honestly, Smart’s work has been essential to so much of Peak TV that it’s just another in a long line of complicated women of a certain age that she has mastered over time. Smart has just completed a sweep of all the major awards shows this past year. Is she likely to do it again against far tougher competition hard to say? But betting against her? Well, it’s just not Smart.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Daisy Haggard, Back to Life/Breeders
It’s rare for an actress to create one remarkable tragic-comic character, much less two, never mind in the same season. Yet that is what Daisy Haggard has managed to accomplish in the 2021–2022 season. Trying to advocate for one over the other seems ludicrously unfair, so I’ll explain why she could get recognized for either.
In Back to Life a Showtime aired series, Haggard plays Miri, a woman recently released from prison having served nineteen years for the accidental murder of her best friend. The short season 2 was spent her continuing to try and find a job, have a real adult relationship, deal with her mother’s infidelity (with a former boyfriend of hers!) and the fact that her imprisonment was caused because of a lie her best friend had told her, all against the backdrop of a community who hated her. In Season 2, she now had to deal with the angry father of the victim, a former police chief, coming back to town mainly to destroy her, the surprise murder of him by her friend, and the ever tightening likelihood that she will blamed for it and return to prison. Haggard did all of this and somehow managed to everything Miri did somehow painfully fun, as she tried to find a way back to a normal life.
I’ve already advocated for Haggard’s work in Breeders last year, but it’s actually been even better in Season 3 of the series. She’s had to deal with so many crises — her company collapsing, her relationship with her daughter starting to fray at the seems, her increasing struggles with menopause, and her own inner rage starting to become a problem with her husband. Again, she does all this in a way that makes her endearing and hysterically funny at the same time (I loved a scene when she learned her remedial cream was going to be out of stock for months and she asked a chemist “Can I get it on the Dark Web?”)
Haggard deserves to be recognized for one of these performances and considering that she helped co-create the former and producers the latter, she has more than earned her qualifications as a hyphenate. But honestly, I think the odds of her getting recognized are far longer than they were last year against somewhat weaker competition. Still both Haggard — and the characters she memorably brought to life — is more than worthy.
Tomorrow I cover Supporting Actor in a Comedy.