EmmyWatch: Diverse Supporting Comic Actors Vie for Emmy Gold

Note: This post is the latest in an on-going series of pieces exploring the major categories at the 2015 Emmy awards. We will cover actors, actresses, and series – Comedy and Drama – through the end of the voting period on August 28. See something you like or a performance you’d like to single out? Share the posts and create some Twitter buzz! We’ll see you at the Emmys.

One of the most diverse Emmy categories, Outstanding Supporting Actor offers performances ranging from traditional sitcom roles to serio-comic performances to the traditional sketch comedy turn. It seems a shame to single someone out from this talented roster. This year, only past winner Ty Burrell shows up from Modern Family when in past years they have nearly shut out all competitiors – another sign that Family‘s star may be declining. What makes this an exciting race is the question of who is the heir apparent assuming Burrell doesn’t repeat this year. Will an African-American actor take home the trophy, further driving home the fact that television more broadly supports and rewards diversity over its cinema cousin? Only Adam Driver seems unlikely to win given his limited work in Girls Season Four. Oh well, he has a little Star Wars project coming up to help him sleep at night, right?


Performer: Andre Braugher as Captain Ray Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Episode: “The Mole” (Season Two, Episode Five)

Highlights: Internal Affairs investigates the department for a potential leak. As he works to identify the mole, Captain Holt struggles with loss of control.

Why he could win: Andre Braugher is an Emmy favorite having won two awards in a total of nine nominations. Traditionally known for drama, Brooklyn Nine-Nine wisely uses him as the straight man, reacting with trademark stoicism to the gallery of eccentricities around him. “The Mole” gives Braugher a wonderful monologue – something rarely seen in a traditional sitcom- when someone asks him “Are you ok?” What follows is a beautiful flow of near-Shakespearean dialogue delivered impeccably by Braugher. That coupled with his unlikely chemistry with star Andy Samberg provide an excellent platform to convince voters he deserves a third Emmy, this time for comedy.

Why he could lose: While it’s a great performance, Braugher isn’t really a comic actor. His presence on the show relies on his stoicism and stern demeanor. I’m not sure voters will award Braugher the Emmy over broadly comic actors. Plus, he has won two already, and he definitely has great work ahead of him.


Performer: Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Episode: “Kimmy Goes to School!” (Season One, Episode Six)

Highlights: It’s the one everybody knows… Pinot Noir!

Why he could win: Well, in two words, black penis. Burgess smartly submitted the most viral of all things Kimmy Schmidt when he and Lillian (Carol Kane) film a music video for the self-penned song “Pinot Noir,” Titus’s ode to black penis. In terms of overall performance, it’s silly, self-indulgent, and completely hilarious. Burgess parades through the episode in multiple costumes, sings his song, and even plays a straight handyman to avoid detection. Burgess is the biggest breakout star of Kimmy Schmidt, and this is the pinnacle of his performance. What also works in his favor is the three other episodes submitted by actors nominated from the series – Jon Hamm, Tina Fey, and Jane Krakowski – that not only feature great performances by those actors but also scene-stealing turns by Burgess. One of the big theories about Felicity Huffman’s Emmy win over Terri Hatcher for Desperate Housewives was her strong presence in the other actresses’ submissions. Burgess could most definitely benefit from the same phenomenon.

Why he could lose: Burgess isn’t exactly a household name. Also, while Kimmy Schmidt did well in the nominations, it failed to garner the expected nomination for lead actress Ellie Kemper. Is that a sign of weakness? Will voters consider his “Pinot Noir” stunt to be only just that? A You Tube viral stunt?


Performer: Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy in Modern Family

Episode: “Crying Out Loud” (Season Six, Episode Twenty-Three)

Highlights: Phil takes the kids on Alex’s Senior Ditch Day but is sidetracked by the potential demolition of an old theater he once helped build.

Why he could win: Emotion, emotion, emotion. “Crying Out Loud” is widely acclaimed as the best episode of Modern Family‘s sixth season thanks mostly to Ty Burrell’s performance. He has some brilliant physical comedy moments with Luke that echo the skills and comedy prowess of the great comedians. Most importantly, though, he has truly deep, emotional moments that resonate within anyone watching, particularly fathers. Many critics pointed to a single, tear-inducing moment as the highlight of the episode: when the kids finally begin to operate together, he tells the camera it’s okay that the theater is going to be torn down because, “I made that.” Funny, heartfelt, and touching – a real triple threat.

Why he could lose: He’s won this award twice, including a surprise win last year just when we all thought Modern Family was out of favor. Even though his talent is indisputable, isn’t it time to spread the wealth? Of course, we’ve been saying this for years now, and the Modern Family train keeps on chugging.


Performer: Adam Driver as Adam Sackler in Girls

Episode: “Close-up” (Season Four, Episode Six)

Highlights: Adam’s relationship with Mimi-Rose reaches critical mass as she reveals to him that she’d aborted his child.

Why he could win: Driver’s performance in the episode is wild and unhinged. He is afforded the opportunity to move from love-sick puppy to enraged and hurt boyfriend when reacting to the news. What differentiates this outburst from other’s he’s had is that he’s allowed to pull it back at the end and show a brand of personal maturity and growth not typically seen on Girls. Plus, many people consider Driver the best thing about the show, and certainly the Emmys seem to agree. His nomination this year in the face of stiff competition is a bit of a wonder as his character was on the outskirts of the action for much of the year.

Why he could lose: Again, he’s lost favor in the season thanks to a separation with Lena Dunham’s Hannah, and almost no one is talking about Girls these days. Plus, I’m very surprised he didn’t submit the season finale “Home Birth” where not only is he given comic freak-out moments over the birth of his sister’s child but also a realistic final break-up moment with Hannah over the baby’s incubator. I thought that episode provided a much more well-rounded array of Driver’s comic talents. As it is, he stands little chance of winning.


Performer: Tony Hale as Gary Walsh in Veep

Episode: “East Wing” (Season Four, Episode Two)

Highlights: Gary plans a state dinner to welcome the Israeli Prime Minister but goes comically over-budget, meriting the nickname “Gary Antoinette.”

Why he could win: No one plays slavish devotion quite like Tony Hale in Veep, and he managed to rise above the stunning supporting cast that included potential candidates Hugh Laurie and Reid Scott. The beginning of the episode shows a more expected, nebbishy performance as he fussily makes preparations for the event. The real meat of the performance comes at the end when Selina angrily confronts him – not just confronts him but more eviscerates him. Hale stands there, focused on her tirade with hurt, terror, and a willingness to anticipate her next need on display in his eyes. The scene devolves into something of a platonic lover’s quarrel where Hale finally gives it back to her. No doubt voters are awarding his character’s sudden growth of testicles. The ultimate bow on the package is their make-up over an extravagant cake. For fans of the series, this is catnip, and Hale managed to find new avenues to explore in a character that borders on becoming rote material.

Why he could lose: He’s won before. While Season Four managed to find some new avenues for Hale to explore, the role is starting to feel a little redundant. Looking back over the season, Hale’s performance isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, and, as great as his episode selection was, his presence doesn’t exactly loom large over Season Four on the whole. I thought his performance in “Tehran,” when Gary and Mike are left behind in the Iranian airport while attempting to smuggle alcohol onto a plane – was slightly better and more broadly comic.


Performer: Keegan-Michael Key as Various in Key and Peele

Episode: “Sex Detective” (Season Four, Episode Seven)

Highlights: Key plays several characters in the episode including an incognito Black Republican, an 80s era action hero, and Obama’s Anger Translator.

Why he could win: Three words: Obama’s Anger Translator. In the episode he submitted, Key expertly channels the stereotype of the “angry Black man” to convey Obama’s inner frustrations while his exterior (Peele) seems cool and collected. Key explodes on camera and dominates the scene on a viral performance that, even if you don’t watch the show, you’ve seen in various outlets, including the White House Correspondants dinner. Aside from that, Key brings laughs in drag and as the shocked cop reacting to Peele’s Sex Detective. In a year where Emmy diversity is on everyone’s mind, he could benefit with a surprise win.

Why he could lose: Performers in comedy sketch shows almost never win, and, if they do, then it’s with an undeniable performance like Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin (even that was a Guest Emmy honor). This show belongs to Peele as much as the omnipresent Key, so Emmy voters might downgrade Key’s performance because he’s so tightly connected to the equally funny Peele.

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