Jalal Haddad takes a look at the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy race in a series of posts leading up to the Emmy nomination announcement on July 14th. Over the next few days, Jalal will be concluding his own expert analysis in individual races and covering the top ten contenders in each category.
The most refreshing element of the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series race is that half of last year’s nominees aren’t returning and an exciting amount of new faces have the potential to enter the race. On top of all of the new faces, Emmy voters also have past nominees like Lena Dunham to bring back after creating what might have been the best season of Girls yet. With all that the biggest question remains being just when will someone be able to beat the insurmountable Julia Louis-Dreyfus?
1. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Selina Meyer)
In September when Julia wins her fifth consecutive Emmy for Veep, she will beat Helen Hunt for the most consecutive wins and be one step closer to being the first actor to win an Emmy for every season of their show since Bill Cosby in I Spy. The beginning of the fifth season didn’t produce an Emmy winning episode for her, but as the season progressed she continuously topped herself with almost perfect episodes (“Mother,” “Congressional Ball,” and “Inauguration”). Now that the juried tapes don’t have as much power (if any at all) she still has nothing to worry about as the most beloved comedic actor on television or the reigning Emmy champ. Unless we discover that another comedy contender is much stronger than we expected on nomination morning, no other nominee will have a chance of upsetting.
2. Ellie Kemper (Kimmy Schmidt)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Ellie Kemper was unfairly left out of the comedy actress race last year even though Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was a huge hit amongst the acting branch. After her Emmy snub, she went on to be the only nomination for the show at the SAG awards, meaning she is almost guaranteed a makeup nomination this year for the second season. Ellie Kemper has been growing in popularity ever since she broke out on The Office and Bridesmaids. If UKS continues to grow in popularity over the next two years, she’ll be the next winner after Veep is off the air.
3. Lily Tomlin (Frankie)
Grace & Frankie
Surprisingly Lily Tomlin has never won a performance Emmy (besides a voice over performance) even though she has been nominated 22 times with six wins for writing and producing. As a comedy icon and the performer representative on the governor’s board, her popularity will carry her to continuous nominations even if Grace & Frankie wasn’t the awards contender it had the potential to be.
4. Amy Schumer (Amy)
Inside Amy Schumer
After a year of Amy Schumer dominating popular culture, it seems that Schumer fatigue has set in, especially online. None of the sketches had a viral impact this season, and there was a slight dip in the ratings. Emmy voters have favored sketch performers recently and lucky for Schumer once voters nominate someone they usually continue to embrace them for a couple years (especially when she is one of three returning performers).
5. Lena Dunham (Hannah Horvath)
Say what you will about Lena Dunham, but there are very few people in the TV industry who are as involved in their creative projects the way she has nurtured Girls throughout the years. As the star, producer, writer, and director of the show, she has helped it grow with the times and took it out of a slump into its best season as well as one of the best seasons of TV. She was left out of the best actress race last year when it became overly crowded, but she could easily be recognized again now that the show has regained its footing.
6. Tracee Ellis Ross (Rainbow Johnson)
From Girlfriends to black-ish, Tracee Ellis Ross’s ray of sunshine presence has made her a beloved figure in Hollywood. She’s expanded her social media exposure and hosted events like Black Girls Rock and the BET awards. As she becomes more and more popular, she could easily earn her first career nomination after over fifteen years on television (like a couple of the surprise nominees last year). She has a lot of other ABC matriarchs to compete against (Wu, Plimpton, Heaton, McLendon-Covey), but she has an edge with black-ish having a much higher profile than ABC’s other family sitcoms.
7. Rachel Bloom (Rebecca Brunch)
Rachel Bloom had an amazing run with awards season last winter when she won both the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards as an unknown actress on a little seen show on The CW. She should be entering the Emmy race as the frontrunner to upheave JLD, but (and I hate that I’m not predicting her) after last year’s glaring Gina Rodriguez snub, the voters have proven that they have no interest in embracing anything from The CW. She might be able to win an Emmy in the Outstanding Original Music & Lyrics category where she could even dominate.
8. Constance Wu (Jessica Huang)
Fresh Off The Boat
Both critic awards have championed Wu’s breakout performance with consistent nominations over more obvious names in the hopes of Emmy voters getting the hint they are missing out on what might be the funniest performance on network television. She was given even more material to work with in the second season (my favorite being her scenes in the lesbian bar), but with voters increasingly turning a blind eye to broadcast TV it will be harder for her to stick out, especially when the show she is on can be inconsistent.
9. Maria Bamford (Maria Bamford)
Shows with comedians playing fictionalized versions of themselves are popular right now. Even though she is doing the same thing as Aziz Ansari or Louis CK, the structure of Lady Dynamite makes the show feel fresh. The honesty of her portrayal of mental illness will probably earn the respect of a lot of voters, but the show came out so late in the television year that a lot of voters probably didn’t have the time to catch up with the show.
10. Jane Fonda (Grace)
Grace & Frankie
Grace & Frankie is a show I thought would have a stronger fan base at the Emmys last year, especially for the four costars who have a lengthy history with the Emmys. Jane Fonda was in favor of Lily Tomlin (the more obvious comedic performance) and that trend will likely continue. Fonda’s one saving grace is her status as a Hollywood legend and if voters don’t take the time to seek out other performances they could gravitate towards name-checking an icon.
11. Ilana Glazer/Abbi Jacobson (Ilana Wexler/Abbi Abrams)
Identifing yourself as an Ilana or Abbi is the new cultural go-to in the same way it used to be Samantha or Carrie, or Dorothy or Blanche. A couple of years ago a millennial skewing show like Broad City would never have a chance at an Emmy, but as Comedy Central becomes more successful at pushing their other performers into the acting races it becomes more likely that Emmy voters finally start embracing Glazer and Jacobson in their third season. Glazer has received a lot more critics support, but both women have a huge amount of fans, which will probably result in the two splitting the vote and ending up without nominations. After a surprise WGA nomination for Best Comedy Series the two could at least end up with their first recognition in the writing categories.
Worth Mentioning: Melissa McCarthy, Gina Rodriguez, Martha Plimpton