This is one category for Emmy lead actors that seems to draw a lot of repeat contenders, and that is true again this year for the likes of Don Cheadle, Louis C.K., Matt LeBlanc and William H. Macy, who all are back to try for a first win. That task just got a bit easier because shockingly missing from the list is The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, who won for the fourth time last year and used to be a perennial nominee here. Surprisingly, he didn’t even make the list of contenders this time and that is in a category that was extended—due to a close vote that triggered a deadlock—from six nominees to seven. Ouch, Jim. Oh well, he will have to be content with those winged ladies he already has. Rounding out the noms is a group of newcomers including Anthony Anderson, Will Forte and Jeffrey Tambor. Here is what the landscape looks like.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Anthony Anderson Black-ish (ABC)
The only first-time nominee in this bunch, Anderson and his riotous dad character in this breakthough comedy might benefit from being a completely new player here. The show’s immediate popularity won’t hurt either, but Anderson has jumped into a sea of sharks who clearly have been at this Emmy game a lot longer. As I’ve said, the comedy categories do seem to favor repeat winners or nominees, so breaking through to the top of this exclusive club will be difficult for Anderson in his first try.
Don Cheadle House of Lies (Showtime)
Eight-time Emmy nominee Cheadle is on his fourth trip around the block here as Marty Kaan in this well-liked show, but with the new rules broadening the voter pool I’m just not positive huge numbers of those casting ballots are as familiar with this role. But it certainly hasn’t stopped Cheadle from landing one nom after another, so maybe they do watch. If so, this actor might be rewarded not just for this role but also for going so effortlessly from strong dramatic portrayals to laugh-out-loud comedy.
Will Forte The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
Forte has flirted in the past with Emmy as a guest actor on 30 Rock and as a writer for David Letterman, but gaining a foothold in this highly competitive category on his first try, with a new sitcom, was a bit of a surprise despite a strong campaign on his behalf by Fox. Forte is well known from his days on Saturday Night Live, but this off-the-wall character and concept took his talents even further than we’ve seen. However, the nomination is probably the victory here.
Louis C.K. Louie (FX)
With 34 previous nominations over a remarkable 12—count ’em 12—different categories over the years, no one can accuse Louis C.K. of not being versatile. He’s won four Emmys, all for writing, but is still seeking his first for acting. Just based on that track record it might be an uphill climb to break through here if it hasn’t already happened. On the plus side, he doesn’t have Jim Parsons to deal with, so maybe it’s his turn.
William H. Macy Shameless (Showtime)
A two-time Emmy winner and 11-time nominee, Macy has been recognized mainly for his dramatic work at the Emmys. But when Shameless was classified as a drama series for its first three seasons Macy never got a nom. When it switched to comedy last year he suddenly was in the hunt, as he is again this year. Macy’s character lands a lot of the laughs on this show and perhaps that is how he stood out when it made the switch. His chances of victory though seem long for this one.
Matt LeBlanc Episodes (Showtime)
A veteran bridesmaid here, LeBlanc has seven previous nominations since 2002, including three for Friends and now four for his hilarious impersonation of himself in Episodes. The fact that voters keep bringing LeBlanc back to this party means he has been on the cusp and overdue for a victory, which I think would be well-deserved for one of the most consistently funny portrayals in TV comedy these days. But will voters undervalue it when push comes to shove and just think it is easy playing yourself?
Jeffrey Tambor Transparent (Amazon)
Tambor, a previous six-time Emmy nominee as a supporting actor in the comedies Arrested Development and The Larry Sanders Show, finally has made it to the lead category with his much-discussed gender transitioning role as Mort/Maura Pfefferman in this breakthrough series. Already the winner of a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award, Tambor may be new to the category but the time—and the role—are just right for this 70-year-old star who is going to ride the zeitgeist straight to an Emmy this year.
The Winner: Jeffrey Tambor
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
A mix of old and new in this race makes the outcome hard to call. Two-time winner Ty Burrell is the only Modern Family star to make the cut this time, but he is unlikely to repeat again. There usually are at least one or two nominees from that series, which has dominated this category almost completely in the previous five seasons it has been competing in the Emmys. Eric Stonestreet won twice and so has Burrell. It is a shame that Ed O’Neill hasn’t gotten a shot at a speech, or perennial nominee (but not this time) Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Had voters given either actor a nod it might finally have been their year. Adam Driver from Girls is here but the show has lost its steam, hurting his cause. A past winner, Tony Hale is back for Veep and his character had a great year, so it’s possible he could return to the winner’s circle a second time. Newbie Tituss Burgess from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt made it to the nominees list on his first try, so chalk that up as the victory for him. My personal favorite is Keegan–Michael Key for his varied roles in the very funny Key & Peele, a show Comedy Central is losing this year. Not sure that sketch comedy will prevail here though. That leaves the ever-reliable Andre Braugher from Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A previous two-time winner in the drama acting races and nine-time nominee overall, Braugher is an Emmy favorite, up for a second year in a row for this sitcom. This is a tough one.
The Winner: Andre Braugher