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Diving into the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Race at the 2018 Emmys

For the first time in seven years the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category at the Emmys is wide open after Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Veep took a year off. Now past nominees like Allison Janney, Lily Tomlin and Tracee Ellis Ross have a fighting chance at winning the Emmy and awards newcomers like Rachel Brosnahan and Allison Brie are entering the race to a level playing field.

Even without Julia Louis-Dreyfus the lead actress category is insanely crowded with six of last year’s nominees eligible to return. 2018 is also the year of the reboot and two past Emmy nominees, Debra Messing and Roseanne Barr, are hoping to return as well. On top of all that fresh performances from Rachel Brosnahan and Alison Brie as well as countless fan favorites hoping to breakthrough.

Returning Nominees

Last year after upgrading to the lead actress race Allison Janney became the closest actress to upset Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’s record setting streak in large part because of her decision to give up a major campaign and instead choosing to donate to Planned Parenthood.  After her Oscar winning performance in I Tonya and that massive popularity has the potential to propel her to become the first actor to win an Emmy and an Oscar in the same year since Helen Hunt. The only thing in her way is that Mom has never been an Emmy favorite.

Over the past four seasons Grace & Frankie has grown in popularity not only with audiences but also with Emmy voters. For the second year in a row both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have managed to take up two spaces in the five slot SAG category which only proves the immense popularity of the two icons within the industry. Usually all the focus awards wise is on Tomlin however this season has been all about Jane Fonda and her character Grace coming to terms with aging and mortality all while dating her new younger boyfriend played by Peter Gallagher.

Tracee Ellis Ross is possibly the most underappreciated comedic actress working on TV. Starting way back with Girlfriends it has only been a matter of time until Ross took to the  Emmy stage and after she won the Golden Globe last year it was almost beginning to look like her year. Unfortunately black-ish seems to be going through an off year and doesn’t know exactly what to do with Bow Johnson although Ross just directed one of the more interesting episodes of the season. Instead voters should be paying attention to her onscreen daughter Yara Shahidi in the Black-ish spinoff Grown-ish. Unfortunately as good as Shahidi is there is no chance voters will pay attention to a college comedy on Freeform.

Pamela Adlon sneaking into the lead actress race last year was one of the biggest Emmy surprises of 2017 although we all should have seen it coming. She’s been heavily involved in the industry for years as a writer and performer and played a major creative role in Louie which fueled the recent adoration for auteur driven comedy so it only makes sense that voters embraced Better Things. The second season received even wider acclaim with a near perfect 96 Metacritic score but as the lead actress race grows even more crowded it seems less likely that she will be nominated for a second time.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was the first Netflix comedy to catch the attention of Emmy voters  and Ellie Kemper has since earned multiple Emmy and SAG nominations. Not much is known about the upcoming fourth season besides the fact that Netflix is only releasing the irst half of the season and on the second to last day of eligibility risking that voters won’t have enough time to actually watch it. With so many exciting options in the lead actress race this year voters may forget about Kemper in favor of actresses that have been talked about all year or her popularity may carry her to a third consecutive nomination.

(Photo: Netflix)
First Season Standouts  

Rachel Brosnahan’s star-making turn in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has Emmy written all over it. Brosnahan navigates the period comedy with such precision and rhythm that it almost feels like a musical. On top of her pitch perfect performance Midge Maisel is the perfect character to represent the past year in TV as a woman breaking into the male-dominated world of comedy. Emmy voters have singled her out in the past with a guest nomination for House of Cards and she is already on an awards streak for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel after winning both the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards.

Last winter one of the biggest surprises throughout awards season on the TV side was just how strongly SAG voters embraced GLOW including the first major award nomination for Alison Brie. After years of comedic work on shows like Community and Bojack Horseman she has finally been giving the perfect vehicle to show off her talent. On top of that it will be easy for voters in the acting branch to relate to her character Ruth, a struggling actress doing whatever she can to breakout in Hollywood.

The other breakout star from the winter awards season is Frankie Shaw for her breakout show SMILF as a single mom navigating her life in Boston. Shaw received stellar reviews and a Golden Globe nomination for adapting her Sundance hit for television. Alongside Issa Rae and Pamela Adlon she is one of the only major contenders in the category that created, wrote, and directed alongside starring in her own show and because of that she might stand out to voters. As the Emmys begin to celebrate more performers that create their own content Shaw will hopefully standout because she represents a voice that isn’t often recognized on television in a genuine way, single motherhood.

(Photo: NBC)
Competing Reboots 

The return of Will & Grace debuted to great ratings for a broadcast sitcom in 2018 prompting the Emmy conversation to begin very quickly. The first season of the reboot has had its ups and downs but what made it an an early success was the cast’s ability to jump right in as if a decade hasn’t gone by. Messing has had a lot of standout moments including an episode grappling with the death of her onscreen mother formerly played by Debbie Reynolds as well as multiple slapstick scenes including a QVC set and a MAGA cake. Unfortunately for Messing the lead actress lineup might be too crowded and Will & Grace might be losing steam to another reboot breaking out and commanding attention.

No show in 2018 has caused such a cultural stir quite like the Roseanne reboot and no matter how you feel about her  no other actress is heading into Emmy season with as much buzz as Barr. If the reboot continues to dominate the cultural conversation with unstoppable ratings the show might become a major Emmy player but because of her controversial opinions and social media controversies (including an incredibly offensive Hitler photo shoot) there is a huge possibility that the show and its cast is honored but Barr is left out in the cold.

(Photo: NBC)
Should Be Contenders

After years of standout work on television Kristen Bell is finally getting the attention she deserves for her leading performance on NBC’s The Good Place. Fans and critics have been championing the afterlife comedy since its premiere in 2016 while awards groups have largely ignored Bell’s performance and the comedy as a whole. There is hope for a second season comeback at the Emmys after the plot-changing twist as well as the added audience the show received from Netflix syndication. Unfortunately The Good Place was completely ignored throughout guild season which is a huge indicator that Emmy voters simply aren’t paying attention. Still there is a small chance that voters will rally around Bell and propel her to the first major nomination of her career.

Every once in a while fans and critics are persistent enough to convince to push an underdog show to a surprise Emmy nomination and for three seasons in a row fans have been rallying behind Rachel Bloom for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The show’s fan base has multiplied over the years in large part due to its streaming syndication on Netflix and she has been getting a lot of attention for the show’s surprisingly successful musical tour across the country. Bloom potentially could have a breakout year but in such a competitive category she will likely be forgotten again.

In recent years Emmy voters have fully embraced auteur comedies with an ever growing list of performers including Larry David, Louis CK, Aziz Ansari, Donald Glover, and Pamela Adlon. So why are voters criminally ignoring Issa Rae for her breakout show Insecure? Critics have championed the show, ratings quadrupled in the second season, and Rae is quickly becoming one of the most on-demand writers working in Hollywood. As a performer who made a name for herself through her web series she perfectly represents where TV is heading and voters need to celebrate her success.

In recent years some of the biggest Emmy surprises have been popular actors reaping the benefits of a huge summer box office hit. Melissa McCarthy won her first Emmy for Mike & Molly after Bridesmaids became a sensation and Kate McKinnon broke the SNL curse after she received stellar reviews for the Ghostbusters remake. This year Tiffany Haddish certainly fills that it girl slot after Girls Trip became a box office phenomenon and in-demand comedian was everywhere from presenting at the Oscars to talk shows spilling the tea about Beyonce. Her new comedy The Last OG with Tracy Morgan just premiered on TBS to record breaking ratings for the network and even though TBS doesn’t have a strong history with awards this could be the exception for the network.

No list of comedies on television is complete without mentioning Schitt’s Creek and specifically the genius work of Catherine O’Hara. No other actor on TV is able to make me laugh quite like O’Hara does simply by echoing the names of her family members. This season was no exception from holding on to the secret sex of a friend’s baby  to finding out the internet falsely believed Moira Rose was dead. At this point its expected that Emmy voters will once again snub her but it doesn’t make it any less criminal.

Current Predictions

Frontrunners

Rachel Brosnahan
Allison Janney
Tracee Ellis Ross

Strong Contenders

Lily Tomlin
Jane Fonda
Alison Brie
Pamela Adlon

Possibilities

Ellie Kemper
Frankie Shaw
Issa Rae
Roseanne Barr

Readers, who are you most rooting for heading into the 2018 Emmys? With so many possibilities is there a chance of a surprise nominee come July?