Jalal’s Take: Those Unpredictable Emmy Guest Races

Emmy Guest Races

The acting branch has so many categories to vote on that it feels like they are beyond lazy when it comes to filling out their guest acting Emmy ballots. Voters tend to rely on actors they love that appear early on in the ballot even if they’ve never watched the show (Alan Alda in The Blacklist or Beau Bridges in anything). The Emmy guest races are also the only acting races that are still dominated by network shows like The Good Wife and Scandal. At the category’s best, they celebrate character actors who could benefit from a career boost and can be the sole nominations for underrepresented shows which is what makes these categories so much fun.

Recently the guest categories have been overrun with returning performances, and this year we might see as many as 15 old characters return, including three of last year’s winners. Past winners like Margo Martindale, Reg E. Cathey, Allison Janney, and Bob Newhart are the most likely to receive even more nominations for their guest roles. Actors like Michael J. Fox, Cicely Tyson, Pablo Schreiber, Melissa McCarthy, and Natasha Lyonne are also major threats.

Cicely Tyson was nominated last year (and snubbed for the second time) and is now eligible for both HTGAWM and House of Cards. Because of a rule change she could theoretically be nominated twice in the guest race, although it’s much more likely the votes will be split and she’ll be snubbed altogether. The same argument can be made for Fred Armisen in the comedy race with his Saturday Night Live and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt submissions.

The acting branch has always kept House of Cards alive at the Emmys, and some of their biggest surprises have always been in the guest categories inlcuding past nominees like Kate Mara, Reg E. Cathey, and Rachel Brosnahan. This year Netflix submitted a lot of their guest actors including Reg E. Cathey, Ellen Burstyn, Cicely Tyson, Mahershala Ali, and Molly Parker. I don’t see how Ellen Burstyn loses the guest actress race, and Reg E. Cathey shockingly won this category last year. Cicely Tyson would be another obvious nominee, but I fear that she’ll suffer from vote splitting between her retiring Congresswoman on House of Cards and her Emmy nominated performance on HTGAWM. Mahershala Ali is a long shot but he appears on the first page of the ballot, he sticks out, and he is one of the only semi-likable characters on the show.

(Photo: USA)

Emmy winner Peter MacNicol was absolutely obscene as Jonah’s uncle on Veep this season, and if the Jonah Ryan in Congress storyline is as popular with voters as it was with critics then MacNicol might be a major contender. Actors like Max Von Sydow is the sole guest nomination for Game of Thrones, and, as unstoppable as the show is, I don’t see how they leave him out. Natasha Lyonne was one of the five women nominated for OITNB’s first season, but after a rule change she was no longer allowed to submit in the guest races. With a smaller arc in season three she’s returned to the guest race, and its possible she could sneak back in unless voters completely reject season three. Depending on the popularity of Mr. Robot and Transparent‘s second season both B.D. Wong and Anjelica Huston could be major contenders this year as well.

The two types of shows that do the best in the guest comedy races are sketch shows (SNL, Portlandia, Inside Amy Schumer) and traditional multi-cam shows (AKA Chuck Lorre). Saturday Night Live submitted a lot of their hosts this year, but voters are the most likely to go with Larry David for his spot-on impersonation of Bernie Sanders, Tina Fey & Amy Poehler in a duo submission, Tracy Morgan for his comeback performance, and Melissa McCarthy who they always seem to nominate. Amy Schumer and Fred Armisen were also submitted, but I worry that Armisen is going to split the votes between his work on SNL and his Robert Durst on UKS. Portlandia submitted Louis CK and Steve Buscemi. Chuck Lorre submitted a lot of Emmy friendly names this year including Ellen Burstyn, Christine Baranski, and previous winner Bob Newhart.

(Photo: NBC)

The Good Wife has always done well in the guest categories, especially when the winners were determined by the juried tapes. In its final season, Emmy voters could give the show one last hurrah, and they have a lot of options. With 16 acting nominations, very few actors are as popular within the television academy as Michael J. Fox, and he’s bound to receive a fifth and final nomination for his work on the show. Carrie Preston won a couple of years ago and could return again as well as former nominee Josh Charles. Scandal, another popular network show in the guest categories, could return but their only major guest submission was Danny Pino.

The guest nominations always tend to appeal to the tastes of older academy members, and I’m beginning to wonder if any of Grace and Frankie’s many submissions might be able to sneak in. Sam Elliott, Ernie Hudson, Swoosie Kurtz, Amy Madigan, Rita Moreno, Estelle Parsons, and Mary Kay Place were all submitted. I wouldn’t be surprised if Elliot or Hudson made it into the category.

Actors like Laurie Metcalf, Rhea Perlman, Christopher Abbott, and Tom Hardy should be kept in mind as outside contenders simply for their popularity and performance even if their shows aren’t obvious Emmy grabs. Anyone who has watched Horace & Pete has gone above and beyond to praise Laurie Metcalf. Only some voters may be watching Getting On, but Rhea Perlman plays a legless woman escaping from the hospital and in a perfect world would be the frontrunner. Christopher Abbott, although relatively unknown, returned to Girls with one of the best standalone episodes of the year. Peaky Blinders has a passionate fan base, and Tom Hardy is at his most popular after a stellar cinematic 2015.

Guest Actor in a DramaGuest Actress in a Drama
1. Reg E. Cathey, House of Cards1. Ellen Burstyn, House of Cards
2. Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife2. Margo Martindale, The Americans
3. Max Von Sydow, Game of Thrones3. Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
4. Beau Bridges, Bloodline4. Natasha Lyonne, Orange Is The New Black
5. Mahershala Ali, House of Cards5. Molly Parker, House of Cards
6. Josh Charles, The Good Wife6. Cicely Tyson, House of Cards
7. B.D. Wong, Mr. Robot7. Carrie Preston, The Good Wife
8. Pablo Schreiber, OITNB8. Cicely Tyson, HTGAWM
9. Denis O'Hare, The Good Wife9. Laurie Metcalf, Horace & Pete
10. Tom Hardy, Peaky Blinders 10. Stockard Channing, The Good Wife
(Photo: HBO)
Guest Actor in a ComedyGuest Actress in a Comedy
1. Larry David, Saturday Night Live 1. Tina Fey & Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live
2. Louis CK, Portlandia2. Christine Baranski, The Big Bang Theory
3. Tracy Morgan, Saturday Night Live3. Melissa McCarthy, SNL
4. Peter MacNicol, Veep4. Anjelica Huston, Transparent
5. Steve Buscemi, Portlandia5. Tina Fey, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
6. Bradley Whitford, Transparent6. Lisa Kudrow, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
7. Bob Newhart, The Big Bang Theory7. Amy Schumer, Saturday Night Live
8. Christopher Abott, Girls8. Ellen Burstyn, Mom
9. Fred Armisen, SNL or UKS9. Anna Camp, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
10. Martin Mull, Veep 10. Claire Danes, Master of None
11. Sam Elliott, Grace and Frankie11. Rhea Perlman, Getting On

It goes without saying that the guest categories are some of the most unpredictable categories during the nominations phase. Networks don’t spend a lot of money and time campaigning these small performances so we might see some absolutely left-field choices. After all this is the race that awarded Parenthood its only nomination (likely because they confused Jason Ritter with his deceased father) and continued to nominated Dot-Marie Jones of all people long after Glee was awards worthy. Which actors am I underestimating? Does anyone have a chance of beating Ellen Burstyn for her scene stealing work on House of Cards?

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