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Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Like so many other Emmy categories this year, this one features just one returning nominee from 2020. It also contains a few familiar faces who have either been nominated previously for the same role or for another, and just one first-timer who is finally an Emmy nominee after spending more than a decade on a very different Emmy-winning comedy. Like last year, the winner is pretty much set, but it’s worth looking at this field of talented women anyway since they do all bring something to the table.

The nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series are: Aidy Bryant as Annie Easton in Shrill, Kaley Cuoco as Cassie Bowden in The Flight Attendant, Allison Janney as Bonnie Plunkett in Mom, Tracee Ellis Ross as Dr. Rainbow Johnson in Black-ish, and Jean Smart as Deborah Vance in Hacks. Let’s take a closer look at the nominees without spoiling much – if you want more details on what happens, click on the titles of the episodes submitted for consideration.

Aidy Bryant, Annie Easton / Shrill / Hulu

Episode: “Ranchers

Bryant’s presence in this category is a very welcome surprise. She’s also nominated for Saturday Night Live, her second time being recognized for acting on that show and third overall after a music and lyrics bid back in 2014. The first two seasons of the Hulu comedy flew under Emmy voters’ radar, but now they’re honoring her for the third and final season. She chose a great episode that gives her a chance at professional success and personal boundary-setting, and it’s just as good as any work she’s done on the show. It would be hard to imagine her winning given that this bid serves as her show’s only nomination.

Kaley Cuoco, Cassie Bowden / The Flight Attendant / HBO Max

Episode: “In Case of Emergency

The longtime star of The Big Bang Theory earns her first two Emmy nominations this year, in this category and as a producer on the very dark comedy. She’s really terrific and honestly doing something that no one else on TV is at the moment, though classifying it as a comedy doesn’t always feel entirely fitting. The pilot episode is the best possible showcase of her work, but unfortunately, she’s running into yet another bad timing issue. At the beginning of the year, she was going up against Catherine O’Hara, and now Jean Smart is in the mix, and so it doesn’t seem likely that she’s going to get a chance to get rewarded for this truly watchable performance at any point.

Allison Janney, Bonnie Plunkett / Mom / CBS

Episode: “My Kinda People and The Big To-Do

Janney is an Emmy powerhouse. This is her fifteenth career nomination, and she has a 50% winning percentage, which is not too shabby. Two of those victories were for this show, back in 2014 and 2015 when she was considered a supporting actress, and she was last nominated in this race in 2018. Now, she returns for the final season of her show, and the series finale is her submission. She is funny, it’s hard to deny, but the show doesn’t exactly feel fresh, especially for non-regular viewers. It would be a mistake to underestimate her given her history, but it would be jolting to hear her name called.

Tracee Ellis Ross, Dr. Rainbow Johnson / Black-ish / ABC

Episode: “Babes in Boyland

This is Ross’ fifth nomination for this role, and she also contends this year for the first time as a producer on the show, which is back in the Outstanding Comedy Series lineup after a two-year absence. Ross has a lot of fun in the show’s seventh season portraying a doctor during the pandemic and a national reckoning with systemic racism. Her episode submission, unfortunately, doesn’t give her all that much to do and pales in comparison to other entries from this year and others. Next season will be the show’s last, and maybe Ross will have better odds when it’s her last shot.

Jean Smart, Deborah Vance / Hacks / HBO Max

Episode: “1.69 Million

As of this year, Smart has received eleven Emmy nominations, representing nine different projects. She’s a double nominee this year, also nominated for Mare of Easttown, and she’s won previously for guesting on Frasier and starring on Samantha Who? Smart is terrific enough in the first few installments of this show to be a frontrunner for the win, but there’s one scene in particular in her submitted episode that seals the deal. Anyone who knows the significance of 1.69 million gets it – and if you don’t, it’s time to start watching.

Like Catherine O’Hara last year, Jean Smart has this in the bag. There’s just nothing going against Smart, and the absence of the ultra-popular Ted Lasso in this category means that its likely Outstanding Comedy Series runner-up gets to score a big, fantastic win here. Anyone else would be an absolute shock.

Prediction: Jean Smart

Preference: Jean Smart

Sleeper: Kaley Cuoco

Predicted ranking:

Jean Smart

Kaley Cuoco

Aidy Bryant

Allison Janney

Tracee Ellis Ross

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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