It's Emmy nominating time once again, which means it's time for Fienberg and I to resume our annual tradition of predicting the people and shows we either wish will be nominated (me) or think will be (Dan). I pretend that I have an Emmy ballot and pick the six performers/shows per category that I'd be happiest to see nominated, while Dan runs down the contenders in each category, starting with the locks, then moving to the contenders and then the ridiculous longshots.
And in both cases, we'll be operating off of the actual Emmy ballot, so if a performer didn't submit themselves (say, Yvonne Strahovski from "Chuck"), we won't consider them. And if a performer or show was submitted in a category that doesn't seem quite right (say, Rob Lowe continuing his tradition of always submitting himself as a lead actor), we're bound by that and can't reassign them to a more appropriate category, or to one where the competition is lighter.
We're going to take it category by category, starting out with the field for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. (Here are Dan's predictions for that batch.)
I've been doing this exercise for a few years, and I've come to the conclusion that as easy as it is to knock the real Emmy voters for assembling predictable ballots that ignore obviously great work, this is harder than it looks, and there's no way to have hard and fast rules for it.
In working on this year's lists, for instance, I chatted with Todd Van Der Werff from The A.V. Club, who's of the mind that you should only pick one person per show per category. I can see his point, and have in some years tried to do that in certain categories, but even in those years I didn't stick to it with every category. Taking that approach this year, for instance, would mean that I couldn't nominate both Giancarlo Esposito and Aaron Paul, and that ain't happening. Period.
As I studied this category, I found myself gravitating to two of my three favorite comedies (the other being "Louie," which has no supporting actors or actresses) and realized I could easily fill 5 of the six slots with guys from "Parks and Recreation" and "Community." Then I thought about Todd's belief in sharing the wealth, and also in the notion that many of these guys have consistently been on my fake allot each year, and that the point is to reward the best work, period, and not necessarily the work on my favorite shows. (When we get to some other categories, you'll see I picked actors on shows I largely dislike.) If I filled my ballot out this way, would I be any better than the real Emmy voters I complained about for nominating all four "Modern Family" men last year at the expense of Nick Offerman?
But after going back and forth and trying to come up with some kind of Platonic ideal of an Emmy ballot, I decided that these were the six performances I enjoyed most in this category, and if that put me on the same level as the real Emmy voters, so be it.
So let's start with "Parks and Recreation," where Nick Offerman has yet to get an actual Emmy nomination, but will likely keep getting my hypothetical vote from now until whenever the show goes off the air. Leslie's campaign for city council meant this was a less Ron-heavy season than some of the previous ones, but we got another Ron and Tammy story — complete with Offerman playing another side of our macho macho man — got to see Ron provide sound counsel (and good whiskey) to Leslie and Ben, watched him fall in love with puzzles (see below), etc. In some ways, Offerman and the writers have done such a good job in previous seasons of establishing exactly who Ron is that it takes very little to wring a laugh out of him at this point; if you know Ron, the idea that he likes solving riddles is inherently funny. But if he has it slightly easier than the other men in the category, it's due in large part to the work he did in building this character in the first place.
In previous years, I've said there's no point to me picking a second person from "Parks," because as good as, say, Adam Scott (who's not in this category this year, as he submitted for lead actor) is, Offerman was so clearly my favorite that I might as well pick people from other shows. But Chris Pratt has been gaining on Offerman pretty steadily, and Andy's boundless, idiotic enthusiasm has become a source of just as much laughter — and, at times, warm fuzzies — as Ron's more restrained approach to life. Whether Andy was working through his bucket list, being a diva in the recording studio, solving Burt Macklin's greatest case yet or acting out the plots of "Roadhouse" and "Rambo" (see below), Pratt was money in the bank all season.
With my three "Community" guys, it felt like the gap was even narrower. I couldn't choose between Donald Glover and Danny Pudi either of the two previous years I did this, and to this year I had to add the show's newest cast regular, Oscar Winner Jim Rash. You know by now the versatility that Glover brings, in the ways that Troy can be either the most immature and ridiculous member of the study group or the most level-headed, sincere one in the bunch. Pudi got to do a lot of interesting dramatic work in a season that spent a lot of time psycho-analyzing Abed, but also had a number of great comic moments. And Oscar Winner Jim Rash 100 percent justified his promotion this year, whether in big Dean Pelton showcases (like the "Apocalypse Now" homage linked to below) or small but hilarious bits (like Pelton having a seizure at seeing Jeff wearing aviator sunglasses).
With one spot open, I contemplated a lot of other actors (see below), several of whom will actually get nominated, all of whom made me happy to watch in one way or another this season. But ultimately, I went with Adam Pally from "Happy Endings," since Max is not only one of the funniest characters on one of TV's funniest shows, but played with such confidence by Pally that he often manages to bulldoze his way over parts of the show or character that simply shouldn't work.
Others considered: Ty Burrell from "Modern Family," Ted Danson from "Bored to Death," Charlie Day from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," Adam Driver from "Girls," Jason Gann from "Wilfred," Max Greenfield from "New Girl," Tony Hale from "Veep," Neil Patrick Harris from "How I Met Your Mother," Josh Hopkins from "Cougar Town," Jake Johnson from "New Girl," Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele from "Key & Peele," Rob McElhenney from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," Brian Van Holt from "Cougar Town" and Damon Wayans Jr. from "Happy Endings."
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com