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Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Catherine O’Hara - Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV) - “The Incident” (Season 6, Episode 2)

Isn’t it weird not seeing Julia Louis-Dreyfus nominated this year? 

The Veep actress went on an unprecedented run winning lead actress in a comedy series for six consecutive seasons before losing last year to Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag. With both Veep and Fleabag no longer on the air, there is room for a new winner in this category. Will 2018 winner Rachel Brosnahan return for a second Emmy or will one of the other five ladies walk away with the golden statue?

Let’s take a look at the nominees and their submissions:

Christina Applegate – Dead to Me (Netflix) – “It’s Not You, It’s Me” (Season 3, Episode 9)

Submission Grade: 9/10

Likelihood to Win: 7/10

Many have wondered if Dead to Me qualifies more as a drama than a comedy. A previous Emmy winner on the comedy side (for Friends), Christina Applegate doubles down on drama in her submission. After sleeping with Ben (James Marsden), Jen (Applegate) is haunted by the image of Steve’s (also Marsden) dead body after killing him. “You’re f**king De Niro in every movie he’s ever been in,” she yells at herself in the mirror, finding the hurt and sadness behind the punchline. To be a force of good in the community, Jen storms to a city council meeting to advocate a stop sign be placed on a busy roadway, but her emotions are heightened when a councilman happens to be the same man who tried to assault shortly after her husband’s death. Jen delivers an impassioned and heartbreaking speech where she wishes “she had broken his nose” and how a stop sign would’ve saved her husband. While Applegate takes center stage in that scene, her best work comes opposite fellow nominee Linda Cardellini. Jen confesses to Judy (Cardellini) that she knowingly killed Steve and is turning herself in. “Everybody f**king hates me,” Jen pleads to Judy. Her anger is reflected inwards and outwards, causing her to fight while it causes Judy to flee. Both Applegate and Cardellini more than earn their nominations for this final scene alone.

Rachel Brosnahan – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Prime Video) – “A Jewish Girl Walks Into The Apollo” (Season 3, Episode 8)

Submission Grade: 5/10

Likelihood to Win: 7/10

Never count out a former winner. In the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan took home the Emmy the same year Veep had no new episodes. Her submission was the pilot episode, which was a fabulous introduction to the character that culminates in a rousing drunken stand up set. Season three doesn’t feature quite a similar showcase for Midge (Brosnahan), though she does get to perform. The main throughline for the episode is her relationship with her ex-husband, Joel (Michael Zegan). An argument about their son’s kindergarten school is contrasted by a flashback to her announcing her pregnancy years prior. The flame has died down between them but hasn’t been completely snuffed out. While Midge is often the center of attention, Brosnahan shares her scenes with ease as she spars with both her ex-boyfriend Benjamin (Zachary Levi) and mother (Marin Hinkle) in this episode. Unfortunately, in both cases, it’s her scene partners who walk away with the moment. Midge’s big comedy scene comes during a performance at the Apollo where she’s opening for Shy Baldwin (LeRoy McClaine). While her set is a hit, Midge makes the mistake of unknowingly outing Shy as gay. Rather than come off as funny, she comes off as entitled and obtuse. Voters may love the show, but this submission isn’t likely going to convince anyone to give her a second Emmy. 

Linda Cardellini – Dead to Me (Netflix) – “If Only You Knew” (Season 2, Episode 7)

Submission Grade: 7/10

Likelihood to Win: 4/10

While fellow Dead to Me co-star Christina Applegate was nominated last year, this marks Linda Cardellini’s first nomination, and it’s well-deserved, with Cardellini revealing how Judy’s chipper nature often masks regret and self-loathing. This is on greater display in Applegate’s submission (“It’s Not You, It’s Me”), but Cardellini still gets a good amount of comedy and drama to work with in her submission. She begins the episode in bed with her new lover Michelle (Natalie Morales) confessing her love. When she happily wanders into the kitchen, Judy realizes Michelle still lives with her ex-lover Perez (Diana-Maria Riva), a cop who suspects Judy of being involved with her husbands (James Marsden) murder. Judy’s guilt only becomes more prominent when Jen offers to plan Steve’s vigil for his twin brother Ben (also Marsden). There are lots of cute moments around WWJD (What Would Judy Do) that play into her sunny disposition, however, her facade cracks when she confronts Perez at the vigil. Judy encourages Perez to keep looking into her because she’s “a good f**king person,” all while tears are streaming down her face. While Applegate seems to be Emmy’s preferred actor of the two, Cardellini demonstrates she more than deserved her nomination.

Catherine O’Hara – Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV) – “The Incident” (Season 6, Episode 2)

Submission Grade: 5/10

Likelihood to Win: 9/10

After earning her first nomination for the show last year, many have predicted Catherine O’Hara will win for the final season of Schitt’s Creek. The actress definitely has momentum on her side, which will likely propel her to a win, but did this certainty cause her to submit an OK episode? “The Incident” seems like a hilarious concept with Moira Rose (O’Hara) tasked with taking over the Interflix social media accounts. While doing so, she accidentally broadcasts that her son David (Dan Levy) wet the bed that day. Though she gets some funny one-liners (“It reminds me of the Nickelodeon pilot I did in which Ashley Tisdale and I played suffragettes. You remember, You Go, Girl”), O’Hara has very little to do throughout the episode. We don’t even get a conclusion to her storyline; the episode ends without even a confrontation between her and David. O’Hara spins gold out of the way she pronounces “Jazzergaaals,” “fraaaands” and “dragooned,” but this hardly showcases why Moira Rose is such a popular character.

Issa Rae – Insecure (HBO) – “Lowkey Happy” (Season 4, Episode 8)

Submission Grade: 8/10

Likelihood to Win: 8/10

After missing last year, Issa Rae is back in the comedy actress field. In fact, with the show seeing a huge boost in nominations (including comedy series) over last year, Rae’s chances of winning are better than ever. She also has the benefit of being in every scene of her submitted episode. The opening moments of the episode lean into her comedic talents as she takes a huge pratfall while entering a crowded bar. After, she delivers a wonderfully restrained performance as she and ex-boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) reconnect over a multi-location date. She begins by impressing him with her ordering skills at a restaurant they meant to try when they were a couple. But rather than fall head over heels again, Issa reminds Lawrence why they didn’t work in the first place. “I used to drive around on my way home from work to avoid coming home to you,” she says. Rae communicates how much Issa wants Lawrence, but that she is scared to return to the place they were toward the end of the relationship. It’s unclear how much this episode will resonate with voters who aren’t familiar with Issa and Lawrence’s relationship in earlier seasons. Still, as an acting showcase, it highlights how Issa Rae can delicately lead us through an emotionally tricky evening.

Tracee Ellis Ross – black-ish (ABC) – “Kid Life Crisis” (Season 6, Episode 13)

Submission Grade: 5/10

Likelihood to Win: 3/10

Dr. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson (Ross) is one of the funniest and most fully realized female leads on a family sitcom. Over the past six seasons, Tracee Ellis Ross has shown audiences many sides to the doctor matriarch, all with gusto and a winning smile. While she is consistently strong on the show, she consistently submits sub-par episodes when nominated. Her episode, “Kid Life Crisis,” finds the Johnson family on vacation, and Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Bow use this as a chance to ditch the kids and be a couple. “Look at me, look at me, you are the parent now,” she says to her son Junior (Marcus Scribner) as she demands he watch the younger kids. Ross nails line readings like that and is a consistently watchable leading actress. Unfortunately, the episode gives Junior more to do as he adjusts to being a caretaker. Bow gets to deliver a nice speech about how she gets “me time” when she’s at the office. As a showcase though, the episode falls short of laughs and impact.

Personal Lineup

  1. Christina Applegate – Dead to Me
  2. Issa Rae – Insecure
  3. Linda Cardellini – Dead to Me
  4. Catherine O’Hara – Schitt’s Creek
  5. Rachel Brosnahan – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  6. Tracee Ellis Ross – black-ish
  7.  

Predictions

  1. Catherine O’Hara – Schitt’s Creek
  2. Issa Rae – Insecure
  3. Christina Applegate – Dead to Me
  4. Rachel Brosnahan – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  5. Linda Cardellini – Dead to Me
  6. Tracee Ellis Ross – black-ish

Who do you think will win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments

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  1. Will be shocked if it isn’t Catherine O’Hara, but wow that is not a great submission for her. Pick literally any of the other Crows related episodes and it’s all over.

  2. I think she has it in the bag no matter what episode was submitted. It has been six seasons of great performances.

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Written by Chris James

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