Neil Patrick Harris of 'How I Met Your Mother'
There are always nightmare categories when handicapping a potential Emmy ballot, categories where you know that even if the field expanded to 10, there would still be deserving actors left on the outside.
In recent years, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama has been the brutal field, which is why folks like Kyle Chandler have never been nominated, while folks like Hugh Laurie have never won.
The drama category is still a bit of a bear, especially at the top, but no category has anywhere near the depth of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
I just posted that gallery of contenders
and I'm still scratching my head at some of the choices that had to be made.
A little more discussion after the break...
The category was going to be a tough one anyway. While Cherry Jones and Kristin Chenoweth left both of the supporting actress categories without a defending champion, the actor-drama category also had a slew of gaps due to the end of "Boston Legal."
With Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, all six nominees from last year -- Winner Jon Cryer plus Neil Patrick Harris, Rainn Wilson, Kevin Dillon, Jack McBrayer and Tracy Morgan -- remain eligible. Emmy loves entrenched nominees and only the two "30 Rock" haven't already earned multiple nominations in this category.
Right from the top, that means there are no vacancies, so any new nominees have to unseat a former favorite, never an easy task.
To be fair, the entrenchment had nearly as much to do with the state of television comedy as it had to do with the laziness and humorlessness of Emmy voters. *Nearly* as much. And if this had been another year of lackluster comedy development or if the only admirable new comedies were niche entries in an obscure corner of cable, you know the voters would have gladly checked the exact same boxes as they checked last year.
Complication this year, in different forms, came courtesy of "Modern Family," "Glee," "Parks and Recreation" and "Community."
"Modern Family" was the one which truly made the biggest mess of the category when in a fit of egalitarian unity, the stars all decided they would submit as supporting. Supporting who? Each other! So while the "Modern Family" stars were hugging and singing "We Are Family" and whatnot, Emmy voters were all, "Yeah. Cute. Screw you."
If, say, Ed O'Neill had submitted as lead -- he's both the pater familias and the biggest pre-existing star, after all -- voters would have at least had one decision made for them. Instead, O'Neill, Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ty Burrell and Rico Rodriguez are all going head-to-head in a clash of acting styles and personal preferences. How do you choose?
In my case, I predicted Burrell for a nomination and chose to feature Stonestreet and O'Neill as top contenders, which meant shunting Rodriguez and Ferguson to also-ran status.
But "Modern Family" wasn't the only show that could have almost filled a ballot on its own.
"Community" has a clear leading man in Joel McHale, but forcing voters to pick between Chevy Chase, Danny Pudi and Donald Glover is cruel. Well, it isn't totally cruel. Of those three, you'd be hard pressed to find many fans willing to put Chase in top position, but as the Emmy winner and former movie star in the pack, he probably has the best shot at a nomination, since Emmy voters love recognizability. But between Pudi and Glover? How do you pick? I went with Pudi and put Glover in also-ran status, but that's an arbitrary distinction. Neither of them are getting an Emmy nomination anyway.
Also unlikely to break into the field? The stars of NBC's "Parks and Recreation." The momentum favors Nick Offerman, a TCA Award nominee, and Aziz Ansari, recently the host of the MTV Movie Awards. But would I be willing to go out on a limb and say that either of those two is clearly superior to Chris Pratt? Not when Andy & April have become part of the show's emotional core and when Andy and the golf course possum produced on of the season's funniest bits.
It's a pretty glorious age for comedic ensembles when the three aforementioned shows could field 11 viable nominees and that's before we get to the stars of "Party Down," who are even *less* likely to get nominations. Does that take away anything from the alchemy produced by Martin Starr, Ryan Hansen and Ken Marino? Nope. But it does paint a picture of the complicated task for Emmy voters.
Then they also have to consider the cast of "Glee." I put Chris Colfer in my predicted Top Six, even though the character aspects that make him notable relate to his singing and his dramatic acting and have little to do with "comedy," per se. Some GLEEks would also argue in favor of Cory Monteith, Kevin McHale and even Mark Salling. I wouldn't. But some would. And I guess you can't say they're *wrong*.
[And don't get me started on random people from random shows who Emmy voters have never noticed before and aren't about to start to notice now. It's not like I wouldn't love to see Charlie Day or Justin Kirk or even somebody as seemingly obvious as John C. McGinley pick up an Emmy nomination. I just happen to know it's never going to happen.]
All of this anxiousness could have been rendered moot if all six of the returning nominees had shined this past year. We could have quibbled, but it would have been a "What can you do?" sort of thing. Instead, five of the six nominees -- I don't watch "Two and a Half Men," so I really can't say anything about its quality -- had lesser years this season than last.
Depending on my mood and the episodes I just watched, I could easily make a Top 6 list that didn't include any of last year's nominees, including Harris, on whose behalf I've always strongly advocated.
However, my actual predicted Top 6 is much more conventional.
Here's how I ranked the contenders on the most vicious Emmy category of all:
What do you think? And is there any candidate you'd find harder to handicap?