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've only seen a handful of "Broad City" episodes so far, for instance, otherwise I'd be seriously thinking about Ilana Glazer here.
We've come to the end of the road here with Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Dan's analysis is here, and mine is coming right up.
As noted in some of the other comedy categories, we're in weird territory here where some of the people I'm picking are wonderful but either never or only occasionally asked to be funny, starting with Emmy Rossum from "Shameless." This is one of the best performances by any actress on television. It also has no real business in this category, but this is where it has been placed, and so I will pick her for her usual fearless approach in portraying Fiona's rapid descent thanks to a series of bad choices. Not a laugh riot, but great acting.
Moving into more comedy/drama hybrid territory, we have Taylor Schilling on "Orange Is the New Black." Piper had to function as the main character and the audience's point of entry into the prison world, and Schilling had to be able to straddle the show's lighter and darker sides and make them all feel part of the same thing. And she did that with aplomb. Piper's not the show's most likable, or complex character, but when she's annoying, it's because she is meant to be, and Schilling was equally comfortable at playing goofiness and despair.
Now let's get to some more traditional comic performances, starting with two-time winner and presumptive favorite Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It's remarkable what she's able to do on "Veep," in the way that she takes Selina write up to the line of being an utter cartoon character, yet always manages to pull up just short so that her incompetence is funny without seeming implausible. And in the moments where Selina gets to be a bit more human and vulnerable — like the incredible scene with her and Gary laughing in the bathroom, which I imagine will guarantee her victory this year — she's amazing. Best role of her career, and while there are some other people I wish could get a trophy of their own at some point (like our next candidate), you can't knock the voters for picking her again and again.
A few entries ago, I noted that I've made peace with the idea that Jon Hamm will likely never win an Emmy for playing Don Draper. For some reason, I'm having a harder time of that with Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope. Maybe it's that there hasn't been a comedy actress equivalent of Walter White during the run of "Parks and Recreation" (though Louis-Dreyfus is getting close to that), but even with my default assumption that Emmy voters' tastes and mine do not always intersect, this is a baffling one for me. Poehler had another excellent year, even if there were a few stretches where Leslie grew too pushy and selfish, and I will keep pushing for her just as much as I do for Nick Offerman.
Then there's Briga Heelan, so warm and sweet and funny that Bill Lawrence is currently using her to help carry two different shows: TBS' "Ground Floor" (the show for which she's eligible here) and NBC's "Undateable" (where she's appearing as a guest star because Lawrence liked her more than the other actresses he tried in the role). She has this strange and goofy energy that makes her into a genuine comic presence on each show, rather than just The Hot Girl for whom the male hero lusts. I would imagine TBS original comedies exist far bellow the radar of most Emmy voters, so this is a pipe-dream, but she's terrific.
As noted in the Poehler entry, sometimes you can have a good performer given less than good material, and Zooey Deschanel had to deal with a lot of that this season on "New Girl," where Jess spent most of the year in a relationship that the writers had no idea what to do with, and that they seemed to come to resent having started in the first place. Yet even with all the awkwardness, Deschanel was still funny, still strong whether she was asked to be the sane one dealing with the strangeness of her male roommates or to be the craziest of them all (Non-Crazy Winston Edition), and when it came time for the writers to hit the eject button on Jess and Nick, she sold all the emotions necessary to make it work. There are a lot of excellent performances on this show; I just hope that next season they get some better and more consistent things to play.
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