If I Had An Emmy Ballot 2014: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
The Television Academy of Arts & Sciences released this year's Emmy ballots last week. Now that the ballots are out, it's time for our annual two-pronged experiment, in which Dan tries to predict the likeliest nominees in each major category, while I pretend that I'm an actually TV Academy member and pick the six nominees that would make me the happiest.
We are, as always, playing by the Emmy rules, which means we can't argue for someone who didn't submit themselves (say, Alan Cumming for "The Good Wife"), can't move someone from lead to supporting or vice versa, and can't declare that "True Detective" is a miniseries and therefore clear more room in the drama categories. I'm also obviously limited by what I watched and what I haven't. I think I saw maybe three episodes of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" this season, for instance, and while I like the show a lot, the sample size wasn't enough.
We have only two categories left, starting with Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Dan's analysis is here, and mine is coming right up.
Let's start with Andy Daly, who starred in and wrote Comedy Central's amazing "Review." The notion of a bland middle-aged guy destroying his life in service of a TV show wouldn't work without Daly committing to the idea almost as fiercely as his TV alter ego Forrest MacNeil, in a performance that was not only screamingly funny, but at times (Batman custody hearing, coffee cart) almost unbearably sad. Five stars!
Louis CK gave himself a few light(er) weeks on "Louie" season 4, as we got extended flashbacks to both Louie as a young adult and as a pot-smoking teen. But when he was on-screen, he held together this darker, more serialized season with his gift for saying so much with his expressions even as Louie went through a stretch where he had enormous difficulty expressing himself through actual language.
Christopher Meloni has spent his career toggling back and forth between intense drama ("Oz," "Special Victims Unit") and strange comedy ("Wet Hot American Summer," "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle"). Still, his pre-established versatility didn't quite prepare me for just how good he was in one of the most traditional roles of all: the cranky sitcom dad on "Surviving Jack." Meloni brought a jolt of energy into every scene, handled the shifts into pathos well without ever letting them feel disconnected from when Jack was throwing kids in the pool or threatening to shave off their eyebrows. An outstanding performance on a show that was starting to match him right when FOX canceled it.
"The Mindy Project" keeps shuffling actors in and out of the lineup, trying out different relationships and directions for Mindy, throwing various ideas at the wall to see what sticks. One of the few things the show has never had to tinker with is the character of Danny Castellano, thanks to writing that understood who he was from minute one, and to a performance by Chris Messina so funny and specific that it's needed no significant course corrections over these two seasons. Put any other character in a scene with Danny, and they immediately snap into focus while they're alongside him — up to and including the decision to have Mindy and Danny finally start dating. Plus, dude can dance a little.
"Parks and Recreation" at times leans too much on Adam Scott's gifts as a straight man, particularly during the periods when the cast has been too big. But this past season, with Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones on the way out and Chris Pratt taking some time off to be an action movie star, Scott got to go crazy more often, and the results were always marvelous, whether Ben overdoing it on pranking his new subordinates or getting very drunk and failing to climb over a fence. He's the sturdy backbone the show can lean on when necessary, but boy oh boy is he funny when asked to be.
Lots of options for the last spot, including Michael J. Fox (though more for the joy of seeing him working full-time again than for anything he was given to do on his eponymous NBC show), William H. Macy (imported over here like the rest of the "Shameless" cast), Jake Johnson (doing his best in a relationship arc the "New Girl" writers didn't know what to do with) or Thomas Middleditch (who brought a very specific and nervous reality to the center of "Silicon Valley" that made the rest of the show work). But I'll take Andy Samberg from "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." Even though Peralta was the show's most problematic character in the early episodes, that was more of a writing issue, and once the creative team got the right balance between "juvenile clown" and "plausible cop," Samberg started killing it, whether doing a spastic dance that only looks cool in slo-mo, making words like "Jesuit" and "horticulture" sound sexy, or reacting with delighted wonder whenever Captain Holt actually played along with one of his many silly role-playing games. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" turned into one of the best comedies on television by the end of its first season, and Samberg was a big reason why.
What does everybody else think? What would be your ideal six in the category?
Previously: Outstanding Drama Series | Outstanding Comedy Series | Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series | Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series | Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series | Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com