To follow up my last Emmy post, and because it’s a rich category and easy to write about, why not stick with comedy? We’re moving from supporting actors to supporting actresses this time, and I have a lot to say…
Three actresses have stood out for me all season. Two of them stood out for characters and performances that received some tinkering in the offseason and went to a new level, while the third is an established veteran character that may have quietly had her best season yet. Let’s start with her.
Whether it’s playing fat post-Mystic Pizza: The Musical, portraying the effects of a chemical peel gone horribly wrong, or delivering lines like “Ice-cold diarrhea from drinking too much Jamba Juice!” with a straight face, Jane Krakowski has never shied away from going grotesque or embarrassing with her portrayal of Jenna Maroney if it brings the laughs, and even after six seasons she still finds ways to make the humor fresh. The always-game and more than capable actress showed new sides of Jenna this year, though, as she fell in love and learned what that really meant (in, of course, a relationship with a Jenna Maroney impersonator), and she showed some remorse for her callousness and some level of human growth when meeting her “egg babies” (and at first ostracizing, then coming to accept, the only one who wasn’t thin, blonde, and bitchy). Combine that with some truly funny material in what was, in my opinion, the best season the show’s had since pre-strike season 2, and you have a very worthy nominee (and my early leader for the award). I say “early leader” because, even though the season is over, I could still change my mind for one of these two:
Originally conceived as more of a conscience and scold for Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger, Britta Perry, and Gillian Jacobs‘ performance of her on Community, really started to shine once the writers realized that being a drag was, well, kind of a drag, and made her more into a well-meaning fuckup, the person who brings down the party not by calling the cops, but by trying so hard to prove she can be fun that she gets them called anyway. Jacobs is both expressive and a gifted physical performer, and as the show’s grown up, the writers have become more comfortable writing Britta to her strengths, and it paid off in spades this year. Just check out her “Me so hungy” pizza dance (or its remix, “Me So Christmas”) to see what I mean. Britta, you’re not the worst. You’re the best.
The one drawback of “premise pilots” in comedy is that they often involve being a little too edded to the premise to really mine what makes the show funny. 30 Rock suffered from this; even though I still think the first season is the best, the show having to set up Liz meeting Jack and Tracy and integrating them into the TGS world meant the show didn’t really hit its stride until around episode 5 or 6. A more recent example would be Happy Endings. The premise of “How do you divide all the mutual friends between a couple after one leaves the other at the altar?” made for a shaky start; it turned out the answer was “You don’t.” Adding to the problem was that, despite well-fleshed-out supporting characters and great performances from them, the (former) couple ostensibly the center were ill-defined people. That changed in season two, however, and the most dramatic improvement in any single comedic character or performance of the season was in Elisha Cuthbert as Alex. The show landed on a personality for Alex (daffy but good-hearted and occasionally capable of great insight; also, loves to eat) that plays well to Cuthbert’s expressiveness and willingness to get silly. She’s gorgeous, too, and the show managed to maximize the comedy in that, whether by entering her (sore-throated and mistaken for a man) as Marilyn Monroe in a Halloween drag contest (in which she finished second), or having the cops mistake her for a hooker on Valentine’s day. The genius of her performance lies in the little things, though– watch her eat ribs, or (after we’ve learned she originally thought it was eleven) the face she makes after saying “A baker’s dozen… which is thirteen,” as if to say “That’s right, I know that, aren’t you impressed?” Anyone who can communicate so much in so little and also be so funny fully deserves a nomination.
Now after these three, I had a much harder time deciding. But one woman I did not hesitate to nominate, and one who should be nominated every year until the show goes off the air, is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson as Sweet Dee. As the only female in the group, she not only takes heaps of abuse from the guys but also gets pressed into physical comedy possibly more than anyone else, and she’s totally incredible. She’s the show’s secret weapon; it doesn’t hurt that she’s the only one who can keep a straight face well enough to frequently do scenes with Charlie when he monologues and improvises. Keeping a straight face while talking to a bird lawyer? That’s an acting feat in and of itself.
I’m not exactly sure who will get the next two spots, but I have four candidates, and I’ll list them in the order I’m currently thinking.
I haven’t seen her in anything in a long time– my god, My Girl was eighteen years ago– but after seeing how good she was this season in Veep, I have to wonder: where has Anna Chlumsky been hiding since then? As vice-president Selina Meyer’s most trusted political aide and operative, she frequently has to manage the media and cut through the bullshit of the other staffers (and Jonah, especially Jonah), and she does so with aplomb.
It can be hard to nominate someone in a role where the character they’re portraying is basically themselves, but once you start having some growth in the character, you really learn what kind of performer you have on your hands. So it was this year with Aubrey Plaza, whose portrayal of April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation has always been funny, but as April herself is almost always detached and apathetic, it’s tough to make her performance stand out. We had a few moments that hinted there were more depths to April, but this year, more than ever, we saw her growing up, learning what it meant to care both for another person and for your work and the way you spend your time. We got to see many more sides of April– motivated, exasperated, frustrated, panicked– and it proved that, far from being a one-note performance or a one-note character, Plaza and April both had depths waiting to be mined, and they justifiably grab her a nomination here.
The energetic, infectious spirit that helps elevate Cougar Town into a show that can be both fun and heartwarming (and without which it might be a show about selfish middle-aged alcoholics) comes primarily from two characters: Brian Van Holt’s Bobby Cobb (mentioned in the supporting actors post) and Busy Philipps‘ Laurie Keller. This is another performance where so many of the little things make it funny– the dances, the expressions, the gestures, the raise-the-roof “What what!”– and she just brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the character that it would be impossible to imagine anyone else playing her, or the show without her. In a show that’s mostly about people htiting middle age and figuring out what that means for the next stage of their lives, it’s her youthfulness that keeps eveything fresh.
It’s almost impossible to believe I’m only getting to her eighth, because she’s so good in the role, but Eliza Coupe absolutely nails Jane Kerkovich-Williams on Happy Endings. All of the characters are so well-written and well-acted, but Coupe particularly pops as the type-A Jane– fast-talking, hyper-organized, occasionally needlessly manipulative– and her chemistry with Damon Wayans Jr. is absolutely off the charts. Take a look at “Spring Smackdown” for an example of the latter, and “The Kerkovich Way” for the former.
Also considered: Casey Wilson, “Happy Endings”; Fiona Gubelmann, “Wilfred”; Retta, “Parks and Recreation”; Alison Brie and Yvette Nicole Brown, “Community”; Hannah Simone, “New Girl”
(I wrote this post while on a bus out of town, so I didn’t have access to any of the source material for the shows, which is why these writeups may sound a little generic. I’ll look for better examples and clips to edit in later.)