With precious few exceptions, the nominees in the Emmy comedy categories for lead acting prove that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There’s been remarkable stability in the male lead category the past three years, with four of the six nominees — Don Cheadle, Louis C.K., Matt LeBlanc and Jim Parsons — returning each year (and Parsons taking the prize three times in the past four years). It pays to be a member of the club, however, as the other two nominees — William H. Macy and Ricky Gervais — are well known to voters as former Emmy winners. In the lead actress category, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has dominated the past two years for her turn in HBO’s Veep. Her competition includes the women who won the category the previous two years (Melissa McCarthy and Edie Falco).
In a display of just how pervasive shows from cable networks and other entertainment-delivery systems are, the one-time stronghold of the Big Four broadcast networks now has them with only three of the 12 comedy lead-acting nominees. Netflix, in only its second go-round at the Emmys, has managed to land a nominee in both the lead actor and actress races (Gervais in Derek, Taylor Schilling in Orange Is the New Black). Netflix and other interlopers hope to shake up a race that has repeatedly fallen back on the familiar with repeated nominations for strictly comedy shows. Recognition for the streaming service’s more dramedy-type fare, as well as Showtime’s Shameless moving into the comedy category after three seasons of competing as a drama, show that some things are indeed changing (Showtime in fact has three of the six Lead Actor comedy noms as well as more lead acting Emmy nods this year than any other network).
LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
LOUIS C.K,, Louie, FX
After nine nominations last year, and seven the year before, Louis C.K. is setting all sorts of personal Emmy records. Previously, he has won a total of four statuettes for his writing work on this and other shows, but never one for acting. This year, his extraordinary work, which veered from wildly funny to dead serious, makes him a real contender for the crown.
DON CHEADLE, House Of Lies, Showtime
Cheadle, with his third consecutive nomination in this category, is an Emmy regular who hasn’t been able to net a win in six previous nominations. As management consultant Marty Kaan in this quirky Showtime series, he has consistently turned in some of the best work of his career, but Emmy has been elusive and might continue to be that way.
RICKY GERVAIS, Derek, Netflix
Perhaps as a testament to the growing power of Netflix, Gervais’ nomination came out of nowhere, especially since Derek has received largely mixed reviews. But Gervais—with 21 prior nominations and two wins—clearly is an Emmy favorite no matter the show. However, Derek might be too low on TV Academy members’ radars to register enough votes for Gervais.
MATT LEBLANC, Episodes, Showtime
Playing an egotistical version of himself, LeBlanc has consistently turned in wry and funny work as, well, Matt LeBlanc. With his third nomination, LeBlanc would be my sentimental choice. After all, it’s not easy playing yourself.
WILLIAM H. MACY, Shameless, Showtime
Macy might have missed out on recognition due to his show’s prior submissions as a drama. Thankfully, producer John Wells, who always saw Shameless as a comedy, this year made the switch and submitted it as such, and Macy’s amusing take as an alcoholic patriarch made the cut in this race. He’s an unknown factor here but could surprise.
JIM PARSONS, The Big Bang Theory, CBS
Parsons, a three-time winner here, is likely to once again provide one of the few bright spots for the traditional networks. His Sheldon Cooper is a consistent delight, popular with voters as well as a key reason why his show is TV’s top-rated comedy. It doesn’t hurt that Parsons has a second nom this year for his dramatic work in TV movie The Normal Heart.
The Winner: Jim Parsons
LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, Veep, HBO
Not only does this show keep getting sharper, so too does its star. The rare performer to win Emmys for three different comedy series, Louis-Dreyfus has dominated this category since Veep debuted three years ago. There is no reason for this streak to stopp now.
LENA DUNHAM, Girls, HBO
Dunham’s series failed to make the best comedy series cut for the first time since its 2012 debut. As a consolation prize, Dunham once again was nominated for her performance in the edgy but uneven and sometimes controversial HBO series. Chances are she will lose again to stablemate Louis-Dreyfus.
EDIE FALCO, Nurse Jackie, Showtime
With five consecutive nominations and a win in 2010 for her role in Showtime’s medical dramedy, Falco became that rare actress to win both comedy and drama lead actress awards (she took home the prize in 1999, 2001 and 2003 for The Sopranos). Unfortunately, the often-serious tone in this show does not make it easy to triumph in a category going after laughs.
MELISSA MCCARTHY, Mike & Molly, CBS
McCarthy won this Emmy in the show’s first season, but whereas her movie career heated up, the show’s trajectory did not. She is still the brightest spot in a spotty series that doesn’t elicit much water-cooler buzz. It’s likely McCarthy will have to settle for just the one Emmy.
AMY POEHLER, Parks And Recreation, NBC
With 12 nominations under her belt—for everything from her work in Saturday Night Live to hosting the Golden Globes, as well as her lead role in Parks—Poehler is the sentimental choice to finally win one of these. The problem is that Parks is starting to fade, and Poehler’s mojo is also dwindling after losing four times in a row here, hurting her chances of pulling off an upset.
TAYLOR SCHILLING, Orange Is The New Black, Netflix
There’s no question that Orange is the flavor of the current Emmy season and its star is the hot new arrival in this category. That could translate into a big win for Schilling, but the show, like Nurse Jackie, is not easily defined on the laugh meter and could be a drawback.
The Winner: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
FRED ARMISEN, Portlandia (IFC)
The man who moonlights as Emmy host Seth Meyers’ late-night show bandleader also is the creative force behind this dryly hilarious, but little-seen, show. Armisen could be a dark horse if voters actually pop in those DVD screeners to watch his brilliant, understated work.
ANDRE BRAUGHER, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
If anyone can upset the favorite (Hale), it is Braugher, who is the savior of this Golden Globe-winning freshman series that didn’t make a big Emmy splash in its first run.
TY BURRELL, Modern Family (ABC)
Of Burrell’s past four nominations in this category, all for this show, he has won once. Unfortunately, that is probably all she wrote on that one.
ADAM DRIVER, Girls (HBO)
It’s unlikely that this two-time Emmy nominee can pull out a win, but Driver is easily the most intriguing and watchable character on Girls.
TONY HALE, Veep (HBO)
Hale took the Emmy last year and looks likely to repeat for a brilliant comic creation that is the kind of laugh-out-loud character who wins consistently here.
JESSE TYLER FERGUSON, Modern Family (ABC)
Until last year, the show’s Ty Burrell and Eric Stone-street almost always won in this category, leaving Ferguson the bridesmaid contender. Will his luck finally change? Probably not.
The Winner: Tony Hale
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
MAYIM BIALIK, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
With her hilarious performance as a lovable geek, Bialik has become a regular in this category with her third nod. Unfortunately, her recognition likely will never go beyond the annual nomination.
JULIE BOWEN, Modern Family (ABC)
Bowen, a two-time winner for her role as Claire Dunphy, is a terrific anchor on this Emmy-favorite series, but after finally having lost last year to Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Wever, it looks as if Bowen’s streak is up and it’s time to move on.
ANNA CHLUMSKY, Veep (HBO)
Who knew the child star of My Girl would grow up to be a vice presidential chief of staff and excel at it? Chlumsky is a revelation in this lauded HBO comedy but stands in the shadows of her higher-profile costars Louis-Dreyfus and Hale—at least as far as Emmy is concerned.
ALLISON JANNEY, Mom (CBS)
Janney’s nom for her role in this buzz-less freshman series, as well as her other nom for her guest role on Showtime’s Masters Of Sex, proves that she usually can do no wrong at awards shows. Janney could pull off both wins—and deserves to.
KATE MCKINNON, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
With a list of sharp impressions from Ellen DeGeneres to Jodie Foster, McKinnon also holds the distinction of being SNL’s first out-and-proud lesbian cast member. She’s also the only regular on the veteran series to represent as an Emmy nominee this year. All of these mantles probably are not enough to cement a win.
KATE MULGREW, Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Already the winner of the Critics’ Choice Award, Mulgrew has shown real comedic chops in a show that not-so-easily veers from comedy to drama. For her part, Mulgrew is a contender, but her time might not come this soon.
The Winner: Allison Janney