Welcome to part seven of our journey through the Emmy ballot on HitFix. Once again, Fienberg and I are approaching each category from two directions, with Dan as the pragmatist and me as the optimist. So as we move onto the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy category, Dan has his usual exhaustive photo gallery of potential nominees, starting with the most likely candidates before eventually moving onto a bit of wish fulfillment, while after the jump, I continue to pretend that I'm a voting member of the TV Academy and have to pick six nominees for this category. (And, again, actors determine what category to submit themselves in, or whether to submit at all. You can download the full performers list here.)
We've dealt with some overloaded categories during this exercise (drama supporting actor, to name one). This is not that. Only 24 actress submitted in the category, and after looking over and over those names, I could ultimately only find 4 I felt comfortable picking. There are others where I enjoy the show, and even the performance itself, but don't necessarily think it's award-worthy (Courteney Cox on "Cougar Town," Kaley Cuoco on "Big Bang Theory"), some where I admire the performer but watched very little of a show that either irritated me (Edie Falco on "Nurse Jackie," Laura Linney on "The Big C") or for whatever other ephemeral reason (Melissa McCarthy on "Mike & Molly," Patricia Heaton on "the Middle"). So I'm left with only 4 people, one of whom arguably belongs in the supporting actress category. Sigh... there are definitely strong roles for women in TV comedy, but the genre remains fairly male-dominated, and the majority of the women who will actually get nominated come from Showtime series that only vaguely qualify as comedies. And speaking of which...
Was this an especially funny final season of "United States of Tara"? Nope. The show basically abandoned all pretense of comedy, aside from some gags on the margins usually involving Patton Oswalt. But the Academy has deemed it eligible in this category, and that means that Toni Collette absolutely deserves a nomination. I get annoyed sometimes by the awards show logic whereby voters equate more acting with better acting - see Alec Baldwin winning an Emmy a couple of years ago for a not-so-hot "30 Rock" episode that happened to feature him playing two characters (and, likely, see him beating Steve Carell this year by submitting the episode where he played multiple Jacks). But Collette's performance on "Tara" was more than a gimmick. Yes, she kept adding to the alter egos - this year adding a bullying, perverted teenage boy to her repertoire - but she also made Tara herself a tragic, complicated, sympathetic figure. It's a great performance, one the Academy has already recognized with two nominations and a win, and Collette seems a lock to at least be in the field again.
While this isn't a fantastic overall field, the fact that it features Amy Poehler as the unquestioned star and central character of TV's best comedy does compensate a bit. As "Parks and Recreation" heroine Leslie Knope, Poehler is able to play so many notes - crazy one week (see "The Flu," probably her best submission episode), straight woman another (protecting Ron from himself in "Ron & Tammy II"), sometimes both in one outing ("Eagleton," where she was nuts with Parker Posey and awesome with Ron) - and make them all feel like part of one coherent, convincingly superhuman character. It's a fantastic comic performance, but also one with so much heart that it helps set the tone for this great series as a whole.
It seemed for a while that Poehler's old "SNL" pal Tina Fey was going to win this category every single year that "30 Rock" was on the air. Then came Collette and Edie Falco (and this year Linney) and now it's easy to see the category dominated by actresses with movie pedigrees doing largely dramatic work. But Fey had herself a very strong year on "30 Rock," particularly in that long stretch of the season where Liz was in a mostly functional long-distance relationship with Matt Damon's character. (And, off the top of my head, their break-up episode would be a fine Emmy submission.)
Finally, we have Martha Plimpton, who arguably doesn't belong in this category. (Or, at least, she doesn't if Garret Dillahunt is in the supporting actor category. While she's the most prominently-featured actress on "Raising Hope," some shows just have one lead.) That said, this is a more wide-open category, and her performance is both very funny and the one that helps "Raising Hope" successfully master the complicated "laughing with vs. laughing at" ratio. Plimpton helps provide enough heart that the show never seems contemptuous of the Chance family, when I think a broader performance in that role could have easily tipped the scales the wrong way.
Tough omissions: None. See above. I had 4 names I felt totally comfortable with on my fake ballot, and I went with those.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org