This season was a successful one for freshman comedies, with a whopping seven broadcast half-hour series making it to a second season, led by breakouts 2 Broke Girls and New Girl, and joined by several cable newbies including HBO’s Veep and Girls and Showtime’s House Of Lies. They will likely make the Emmy race more interesting, but it will be hard for newcomers to challenge the reigning best series winner, ABC’s Modern Family. Coming off wins two years in a row and still delivering the goods, ABC’s comedy juggernaut, the highest-rated series on television, remains the one to beat. Its competition includes three critically praised but ratings-challenged NBC series: 30 Rock, which is nearing the end of its run; Parks And Recreation; and Community.
Related: EMMYS: Drama Series Overview
Here’s our assessment of the chances for a baker’s dozen of this year’s comedy series (in alphabetical order) and their stars:
Having just wrapped what’s been called one of its strongest seasons (and that’s saying something), NBC’s critical darling — a three-time Emmy winner for comedy series — is a safe bet for another nod. So are its leads, five-time nominees Tina Fey (who took home the prize in 2008) and Alec Baldwin (who won in 2008 and ’09). The show’s only potential stumbling block, however surmountable it may be, is the possibility that the cast’s on-screen shenanigans might be overshadowed by their off-screen ones (Baldwin’s threats to depart the series as well as Tracy Morgan’s gay-slur-laden stand-up set).
THE BIG BANG THEORY
Now that CBS’ comedy finally was nominated for the best series Emmy last year, it doesn’t take a genius like Sheldon Cooper to figure out it’s likely to be given a second turn at bat. With back-to-back lead actor wins under his belt, Jim Parsons is also a lock. Johnny Galecki, having bagged his first nod last year, is looking good to enter that race, too. The wildcards are the underrated Kaley Cuoco, who’s yet to receive her past-due lead actress nomination; and erstwhile Blossom, Mayim Bialik, who, thanks to the memorable impression she’s made as “the female Sheldon”, could break into the supporting actress derby.
For three seasons now, the industry consensus about NBC’s community college comedy has seemed to be that it’s smart, innovative, funny … and just too far out for its own good. But, after its fans campaigned for its return to the schedule, and creatively it scored over and over (first with a send-up of Ken Burns’ The Civil War and then with a Law & Order spoof), the tide may finally have turned. But the recent ouster of creator Dan Harmon and his publicized feud with co-star Chevy Chase may prove distracting for Academy voters, making it uncertain whether the show and its star, Joel McHale (aka the thinking man’s Ryan Seacrest), would finally be nominated.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
After sitting out the last Emmys due to ineligibility, Larry David’s HBO mainstay came roaring (perhaps grumbling?) back this season with a move to Manhattan and a particularly well-received series of episodes. But, while both the show and its star are Emmy favorites — and at least the latter is a surefire nominee — the odds of either one taking home the gold aren’t all that great: To date, the series has won only a single statuette, and that was for directing, way back in 2003.
HBO’s new comedy about a screw-up’s spiritual awakening is an acquired taste that as yet not many viewers have acquired. (Given its low ratings, it was a shock that it was even renewed for a second season.) But Laura Dern’s Golden Globe victory (and the show’s best comedy series Golden Globe nomination) no doubt will at least pique voters’ curiosity, making her a dark-horse candidate for a lead actress Emmy nod. Co-star/real-life mom Diane Ladd — nominated for Emmys three times in the 1990s for various roles — could also sneak into the supporting actress race.
Lena Dunham’s freshman comedy initially took some heat for lack of diversity and allegations of nepotistic casting, but the focus of discussion has now returned to the fact that, at the end of the day, the show is drop-dead, deadpan funny. And, since the industry’s infatuation with the fresh-faced series (and, for that matter, its creator-star) never wavered, it probably stands an even better chance of returning HBO to the comedy race than the cable network’s last nominee, the aging Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Debate over whether the Fox musical has already peaked inevitably leads to talk that perhaps this year it won’t be given another Emmy nod (its third, should it manage to get the nomination). It still has moments of greatness, of course. But will voters deem them “momentous” enough? Acting-wise, the show’s best bets remain Jane Lynch (the supporting actress winner in 2010 and a contender the subsequent year as well) and two-time supporting actor nominee Chris Colfer.
Since creator-star Louis C.K. earned his surprise nomination for lead actor last year (not to mention one for writing), his “stand-up comedy’s” profile has only been raised. Better still for its prospects, its profile has been raised among the sort of industry types who are also Emmy voters. So expect to see him again in the running — and don’t be shocked if his show squeezes into the ultra-competitive comedy series category as well.
Since Season 3 is regarded as highly as Seasons 1 and 2, ABC’s megahit is certain to be nominated again for comedy series — and all but certain to take home the Emmy for a third time in a row. More suspenseful is the situation in which the show’s actors find themselves. There was talk going into awards season that, although until now the whole cast enters in the supporting categories, Ed O’Neill — denied a nod for the entirety of his decade on Fox’s Married With Children — would enter in lead. In the end, though, he didn’t, meaning that once more, the supporting categories will be a Family affair dominated by Pritchetts and Dunphys.
As one of the season’s few new comedy breakouts, Fox’s freshman is all but automatically moved to the Emmy shortlist for a nod. Ditto its famously “adorkable” leading lady, Golden Globe-nominated pop-culture “It” girl Zooey Deschanel. Less obvious is which of her male co-stars will break into the supporting actor category. The smart money’s probably on Max Greenfield. Not only is his Schmidt the showiest of the men’s roles, the character’s something of a lothario — and, as Neil Patrick Harris learned playing How I Met Your Mother’s resident cad, Emmy loves a bad boy.
Response to the workplace laffer’s first season post-Steve Carell has been tepid at best. As a result, the show is faced with the very real possibility that it will not be nominated for the comedy series Emmy for the first time since its brief and underrated first season in 2005. Meanwhile, in the wake of Andy Bernard’s rise to the top position at the Scranton branch of Sabre, portrayer Ed Helms — perhaps emboldened by his big-screen successes — is taking a risk and bumping himself up from supporting to lead actor. If the gamble doesn’t pay off, the show’s great white hope in the acting categories is probably its somewhat polarizing newest recruit, Catherine Tate, for guest actress.
PARKS AND RECREATION
If any show really poses a threat to Modern Family, it’s this one. NBC’s local-government send-up is coming off not just its best season yet, but one that’s so superlative that some critics have taken to calling it the best comedy on television. So, obviously, a nomination is a given. And a win? A definite maybe. As for Amy Poehler, after the faux homecoming queen stunt she and her fellow lead actress nominees pulled last year, she’s guaranteed to be invited back to the party. Standout supporting players such as Nick Offerman and Aubrey Plaza might even get to join her.
Very different from just about anything on HBO, or on any other channel for that matter, this profane series — set in the unsettled office of the vice president to an unseen U.S. president — has been gaining momentum. Star Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a 12-time Emmy nominee (for Seinfeld and then The New Adventures Of Old Christine) who could be up for lucky 13th nomination, and possibly third win. Matt Walsh, as the sharp-witted press secretary Mike McLintock, Tony Hale, who plays hapless aide Gary, and Anna Chlumsky, who plays chief of staff Amy, all have had memorable moments too among a strong ensemble of supporting actors.
(TVLine.com contributor Andy Patrick contributed to this analysis.)
2 Broke Girls (CBS)
The Big C (Showtime)
Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Family Guy (Fox)
Happy Endings (ABC)
House Of Lies (Showtime)
How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
Life’s Too Short (HBO)
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Raising Hope (Fox)
Two And A Half Men (CBS)
Up All Night (NBC)