Emmys 2012: Sizing Up the Best Comedy Actors’ Race (ANALYSIS)

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You could look at this year’s Emmy race in the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series category as:

A.) A showdown among perennial favorites, hungry newcomers, and the worthy-but-previously ignored;

B.) A critique of modern corporate capitalism and masculine anxiety, as manifest in six satirical caricatures;

C.) An oddsmaker’s toss-up; or

D.) All of the above.

We’re going with last choice. We’d rather just look back at the generally stellar episodes these six funny guys submitted and laugh than crunch the numbers on their odds for victory. The Emmy voters seem equally fond of crowning newcomers as they do rewarding safe, old favorites (even after their shows have jumped the shark). Still, looking at each nominee, we’ll offer a quick take on their prospects as they pan for Emmy gold.

Here’s the scouting report in the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series race.

Alec Baldwin: Baldwin won this prize twice early in 30 Rock’s run, but since then he’s been eclipsed by fellow contender Jim Parsons. The fact that 30 Rock is going off the air after next season could reinforce the show’s growing air of irrelevance… or it could remind voters that they’ll only have two more chances (now and next September) to give Baldwin the gold. The episode submitted on his behalf, “Live from Studio 6H,” was an especially strong showcase of his talents, since he played not just Jack Donaghy but also five other characters — and he did it live, twice, in one night. Emmy chances: Moderate.


Don Cheadle: Cheadle’s been nominated for several Emmys, all as a dramatic actor. His House of Lies turn marks his first recognition for his comic gifts. His submission, the series pilot (“Gods of Dangerous Financial Instruments“), was a fine introduction to his character, in all his extremes of behavior, but the premium cable series itself may be too weird, cynical, and off-putting for middle-of-the-road Emmy voters. Emmy chances: Poor.

Louis C.K.: The comic jack-of-all-trades has been nominated many times, mostly for his writing. He was also nominated in this category last year, and the depth of his performance has only increased since then. His “Duckling” episode of Louie, which was submitted to voters, depicted the comedian’s patriotic visit to Afghanistan with a USO tour and was one of the most oddly moving hours of TV created last year. Paradoxically, C.K.’s many strengths on display (he also wrote, directed, produced, and edited the episode) may be his undoing. After all, he’s also nominated this year for writing and directing; Emmy voters may decide to reward him in one of those categories instead. Besides, he’ll almost certainly be back in this category next year. Emmy chances: Eh.

Jon Cryer: Cryer has been nominated for playing sad sack Alan Harper for seven years running, and he even won once. But that was always in the supporting category, as the lead role nomination for Two and a Half Men was reserved for Charlie Sheen. With Sheen notoriously out of the picture as of last season, Cryer got promoted, but that just means he faces even stiffer competition than before. His episode (“Frodo’s Headshots“), shows Alan all but losing his mind. And while actors love to watch other actors playing mentally ill, Emmy voters from other branches may wonder what all the fuss is about, since the show has clearly lost a lot of its, um, sheen. Emmy chances: Doubtful.

Larry David: Like C.K., David has been nominated many times, mostly for his writing, though this year marks the fifth time he’s been cited for playing Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. David ought to get extra credit for his largely improvised performance, not to mention for the fact that his submission, “Palestinian Chicken,” was a brilliant satire of intractable Middle East politics as well as one of the funniest Curb episodes ever. David loses some points for offensive content that may put off some voters, but otherwise, we’d say of his Emmy chances: Pretty, pretty, pret-tay good.

Jim Parsons: Parsons has won this award twice in a row. The Big Bang Theory star has now achieved a kind of Zen effortlessness in his performance as Sheldon — no mean feat when a character is so uptight that his world spins out of control when his regular barber is unavailable to trim his hair (as on the episode Parsons submitted, “The Werewolf Transformation.“) The voters might be willing to recognize some new blood in this category, but given the show’s continued popularity among viewers and critics alike, the award is his to lose. Emmy chances: Astronomical.