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Emmy Essays: Predicting the Best Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series Winners

Best Actor in a Comedy Series

Donald Glover, Atlanta
Bill Hader, Barry
Nicholas Hoult, The Great
Steve Martin, Only Murders in the Building
Martin Short, Only Murders in the Building
Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso

Before I get into the nitty gritty of this category, can I just take a moment to celebrate the nomination of Nicholas Hoult for his hilarious performance as Czar Peter in The Great? I mean, talk about a tough job, making a psychotic, sadistic lunatic come off as even remotely sympathetic, much less uproariously funny, is quite an achievement. Obviously, the writing of the show has to come into play here, but as good as the words on the page are, we all know that it’s the performance that brings it to life. In Hoult’s case, it’s a veritable tour de force that I never, in a million years, thought would be recognized by the Television Academy. The fact that it was, regardless of how remote his chances for victory may be, is worth a cheer. Huzzah!

Now, on to the rest. Donald Glover has won this award before, five years ago for Atlanta’s first season. I was kind of surprised at his nomination this time around, simply because the episodes of this final season were decidedly not Earn-centric. On the contrary, they seemed to focus instead on Brian Tyree Henry’s Paper Boi and Zazie Beetz’s Van. And yet, here he is. I tend to think nominations like this one have more to do with name recognition and muscle memory than with actual achievement, because as terrific a talent as Glover is — and there is no disputing his particular brand of genius — what he did in this season of his show felt more impressive for what he did behind the camera, rather than in front of it.

I wanted to like the first season of Only Murders in the Building more than I did, thought it’s hard to argue with the performances of Martin Short and Steve Martin. I thought the second season, which just ended, was far superior, and also that it’s a dead certainty they’ll be back next year, especially since they both had so many more emotional beats this season. With the Academy being assured that it will have a chance to honor them again next year, they feel like also-rans. On top of that, I think their mutual nominations will cancel each other out.

Which leaves us with the only two men who matter, Barry’s Bill Hader and Ted Lasso’s Jason Sudeikis. Both are undefeated in this category. Hader is two-for-two, and since his show did not qualify for last year’s awards, Sudeikis won it. So that’s the last three years in this category, and one of them is sure to take it again this year. The question is, which one? Something’s got to give.

Hader is flat-out brilliant as the lunkheaded hitman, but then, Sudeikis’ unending sunniness is a perfect counterpoint to the darkness of Hader’s show. Ultimately, while both men are terrific, I think the upbeat tone of Ted Lasso will have a wider appeal than the bleakness with which
Hader has so much fun. The slight backlash against the Apple TV+ series is a non-issue here, as I believe Lasso will take three out of the four Comedy categories. What can I say? People like feel-good comedy, even if my vote would be for Hader. Barely.

WHO WILL WIN: Jason Sudeikis

Best Actress in a Comedy Series

Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Quinta Brunson, Abbott Elementary
Elle Fanning, The Great
Kaley Cuoco, The Flight Attendant
Issa Rae, Insecure
Jean Smart, Hacks

I’m going to get into trouble for this, but I just do not get Issa Rae. I don’t find her funny, I don’t find her engaging, there is just nothing terribly appealing about her to me. I recognize that she has legions of fans and that various studios and streaming services are falling over themselves to work with her, but for me, it’s a big zero. Yes, I have watched Insecure, just like I watched Girls. To be honest, I’m not a fan of Lena Dunham, either, so it’s possible I hate-watched them, but then, as a middle-aged white man, I’m not exactly the target audience for either artist, or their respective shows.

That said, it was not a surprise to me that Rae was nominated for the final season of the show she created, because it was the final season. It’s sort of the same thing with Donald Glover and Atlanta. There’s a desire to recognize an artist for a body or work, and this is how it plays out. I
don’t think anyone believes she’s going to win, but by nominating her, the Academy gives her a pop on the shoulder and says, “Nice job.”

Speaking of nobody believing she’s going to win, let’s dispense with The Marvelous Mrs.Maisel's Rachel Brosnahan, The Flight Attendant’s Kaley Cuoco, and The Great’s Elle Fanning. I think Maisel peaked two seasons ago, and Brosnahan’s work has become downright irritating, but she’ll keep getting nominated here for the same reasons why Tony Shalhoub and Alex Borstein do: name recognition, acknowledgment of past work, and the general laziness of the voters. “Oh, Mrs. Maisel. Sure. That’s good, right?” Yuck.

Cuoco’s work on TFA continues to be the best of her career, and while the second season’s story wasn’t as good as the first, her portrayal of an addict in crisis was top notch. In other, weaker years, she might have a better shot, but then the same could be said of Fanning, who is just a delight to watch as the future Catherine the Great. The chemistry she has with Nicholas Hoult is almost worth watching the show all on its own.

But, just like with the Best Actor in a Comedy category, this is a two-person race. Normally, I would insist that last year’s winner, Jean Smart, would repeat without any issue at all for her continued brilliance on Hacks. Smart was just so good in that first season, and she kept it going
in Season Two. Normally, there would be no hesitation.

And yet, this is not a normal Emmy season, because one of the best underdogs ever has planted herself in the middle of this race, and has a serious chance to upset Smart. Abbott Elementary’s creator/star Quinta Brunson’s Janine is an island of sanity in the midst of a hurricane of craziness at the titular school. She’s a revelation, an enormous talent who not only gets to play with the big kids, she actually holds her own.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s enough to overcome Smart, but she’ll clearly be around for a while. Talent like this doesn’t just disappear.

WHO WILL WIN: Jean Smart

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