Part 1, Day 3: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy
Two former winners of Best Actress, including last year’s biggest sensation. Two new faces, both stunning talents. And two of the greatest young comic talents of their time. Would I have liked to see Pamela Adlon or Selena Gomez among them? Sure. But this is a great group (and Gomez will be here next year, make no mistake.)
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: 11–2.
For Playing: Midge Maisel, still trying to make it big as a new decade begins. For her: Brosnahan is one of the greatest talents in television history and this is by far the role of a lifetime. Every minute she’s onscreen you can’t tear your eyes from her. She’s always performing, even when she’s not. I really want to see what happens when Midge finally manages to earn the success she’s entitled too, but honestly watching her flail and fail is always part of the fun. It’s been four years she took home the prize. I wouldn’t mind if she took home another. Against her: Brosnahan’s sun has begun to dim immediately after Phoebe Waller-Bridge upset her in Fleabag. Since then, she has never been the strongest nominee in any of the categories she’s been in, even though her luster has never dimmed. Add the fact that there was a gap of nearly three years between Season 3 and 4, and you could very well understand why the Emmys no longer find Brosnahan so marvelous.
Quinta Brunson, Abbott Elementary: 19–5.
For Playing: Janine, the relentlessly optimistic and forever put upon third grade teacher at the title Philadelphia school. For her: Brunson is the biggest new talent to come on the television scene so far this year. I could write volumes on her scripts and producing, but let’s focus on her acting. Which is extraordinary. Not since the days of Leslie Knope as there been this forcefully cheerful a presence on a comedy series — and she has far less reason to be cheerful than Leslie ever did. But the audience never finds her galling, is always on her side, and is in love with all her flaws and foibles and wants her to succeed even though the odds are against her. Brunson, like the character she plays, is a force of nature. If being a sensation is enough to win you an Emmy, Brunson’s success is — and the fact that she took three prizes from the HCA on Saturday and somehow became more modest with each one makes us root for her to win. Against Her: The last lead of a network comedy to win an Emmy in this category was Melissa McCarthy more than a decade ago, and there were some great contenders over the years. Could Brunson’s medium work against here?
Kaley Cuoco, The Flight Attendant: 6–1.
For Playing: Cassie, the now-sober flight attendant-CIA operative who finds that someone is impersonating her…and causing her a new set of problems. For Her: Even for someone who has admired Cuoco’s work for nearly fifteen years, I found her performance in last season’s Flight Attendant a revelation. Revealing stunning ways to humiliate herself, levels of insanity and utter collapse into drunken debauchery, she was extraordinary to watch. Now in Season 2, she finds herself trapped in a whole new set of deaths — and a whole new set of mind palaces — and trying to spend most of it staying sober. Cuoco is one of the greatest forces I’ve ever seen. You’d think that would be enough to get her an Emmy. Against Her: Cuoco, like Cassie, can’t catch a break. Her breakthrough performance came while Catherine O’Hara was doing a victory lap in the post-Emmys awards of 2021. When the Emmy nomination came, she was undercut by another acting legend that the world had rediscovered. Now comes Season 2, and the luster has dimmed around not only Cuoco but her series (her nomination is the only major one The Flight Attendant managed in 2022) and now she’s in a far tougher category does last year. I hope the Emmys do catch up to Cuoco eventually, but realistically I can’t see it happening this year.
Elle Fanning, The Great: 13–2.
For Playing: The young Catherine, trying to maneuver herself into the Russian throne, especially if it means getting rid of her idiotic husband. For Her: Like with the character she plays, it’s taken a lot of work for Fanning to get here. Eligibility rules were working against her when Season 1 debuted way back in 2019. Even though she and the series were earning lost of nominations leading up to the Emmys, it was going to be a long shot to get into this field. But the sure talent of Fanning and the imagery of her work finally got her into the ranks of…well, the great. Against Her: All due respect to Fanning, I’m pretty sure she’s not even the greatest comic lead on her own streaming service these days. (Seriously, Fanning over Gomez. In what world does that make sense?) Of the actresses in this field, Fanning was by far the biggest surprise on the day of nominations, particularly because The Great doesn’t fit easily into either comedy or drama, either by length or really by tone. Somehow I don’t think the Emmys will crown her this September.
Issa Rae, Insecure: 13–2.
For Playing: Issa Dee, the thirtyish African-American LA woman trying to find balance in her life. For Her: Rae has somehow created one of the greatest comedies of the past decade and not won a single Emmy for it. (If you’d asked me this January, I thought she would be the African-American female hyphenate dominating the Emmys.) And as she brought her superb comedy series to a conclusion last year, we saw Issa finally get what she has deserved all this time — success in her career, finally ending up with her longtime love Laurence, and most importantly, assuring that her friendship with her actual soulmate Molly would last forever. Insecure ended perfectly and Rae deserves credit for that and an Emmy would be her due. Against Her: Honestly, there are too many great faces and names in this category. And while many of them do their best work over-performing; Rae has always been far too subtle for histrionics. She deserves to take home a trophy, but just like the character she immortalized for five seasons, this Issa’s never going to get the credit she deserves.
Jean Smart, Hacks: 69–20.
For Playing: Deb Vance, a comedy icon on a comeback tour. For her: If Smart deserved to win last year as much due to sentimentality as to quality, Season 2 of Hacks showed that she is, if anything, an even greater talent. Going on the road, we saw Deb constantly at her highs and lows — on a lesbian cruise, where her audience was against her; running into a woman she once thought was a rival and thought she’d ruined, being upstaged at a state fair by a cow giving birth. Season 2 showed that, just like the character she plays; Smart will do anything for a laugh. And in her relationship with Ava, we saw love and respect flow in the most unlikely of places. I don’t normally advocate for repeats in a category, but it’s hard to argue that Smart has earned another trophy. Against Her: For all the power of Smart’s performance, last year she won in a very weak field. This year, as we have seen, there are much more powerful nominees in this category. The fact that while Hacks itself did well at the HCA’s on Sunday, but she lost to Selena Gomez, may be a sign her momentum is flagging.
PREDICTION: This comes down to a battle between Brunson and Smart. There isn’t really much of a difference between the qualities of their performances. I will give the barest of edges to Brunson because of the phenomena both she and her series have become this year. The Emmys like to recognize sensations as much as they do veterans.
Tomorrow I tackle Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy. I fully expect this to be a much tougher choice than the last bunch (not that any have exactly been picnics.)