TV Fanatic Emmy Preview: Lead Actress in a Comedy

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The 2011 Emmy Awards will be hosted by Jane Lynch and air on September 18. Over the weeks leading up to the event, staff writer Dan Forcella will watch every episode submitted by various actors in various categories and present to you his analysis on each contender.

It's the TV Fanatic Emmy Submission Mission, readers, and it started with Lead Actor in a Comedy. Now, we're on to Lead Actress in a Comedy...

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The past two years at the Emmys, a leading lady from a Showtime dramedy has taken home this trophy. Will that trend change in 2011? It's unlikely, as Laura Linney of The Big C has been the favorite since her pilot aired last August. 

The show is one that I tired of after four episodes, but re-watching the pilot, it's easy to conclude that it's the best highlight reel of any of the submitted episodes by any of the nominated actresses. Linney’s character is newly separated from her husband, recently found out she has cancer, has a crazy brother and she is raising a teenage, prank-loving kid.

The amount of emotion that Linney has to bring to the table to pull this all off in the premiere is astounding. On top of all that, she still manages to be funny. In a comedic category, that helps.

While I would be surprised if Linney didn’t walk away with the trophy, there certainly are a bunch of great performances that deserve acclaim out of this group. 

The defending champion, Edie Falco of Nurse Jackie, would not be included, though. I had not seen a single episode of the Showtime series before viewing her submission episode, “Rat Falls," and I was less than impressed by the show and Falco’s performance. I have to assume that the last year’s submission was a better showcase because she just plays one note here. That note? Boringly morose. 

I had heard the show was in a bit of a funk in its third season, but this was brutal to watch, especially for an attempt to defend one's Emmy.

The other four nominees give near equally entertaining performances, with Amy Poehler of Parks and Recreation and Melissa McCarthy of Mike and Molly choosing eerily similar submissions in which their characters are under the influence for almost the entire length of their screen time. 

I give the edge to Poehler, whose character spends a half hour with the flu and then gets all hopped up on meds, climaxing with the painfully funny line “I’m Leslie Monster and this is Night Line.” I would not count out McCarthy, though, coming off of some major critical acclaim for her role in Bridesmaids this summer.  In “First Date,” she gets to play all nervous before heading out on the town with her future boyfriend... while suffering through a cough syrup overdose.

Other than Falco, Tina Fey of 30 Rock is the only past winner in the field, taking home the prize in 2008. She definitely did herself some favors by submitting “Double Edged Sword,” where she plays opposite movie star Matt Damon for a majority of the episode. 

Damon brought out some of the best in her, as Fey could deserve the Emmy alone for uttering: “You’ll have to go through this old bastard first!”

My sleeper to be Linney’s biggest threat is Martha Plimpton of Raising Hope. I bowed out of the show after not enjoying the pilot, but watching Plimpton in her submission episode, “Say Cheese,” may have sucked me back in. 

She sort of plays the Jaime Pressly role in Greg Garcia’s next big project after My Name Is Earl, which is a good thing, seeing as that Pressly won an Emmy for Earl back in 2007.  Since prognosticators were questioning why Plimpton would submit herself into Lead Actress, I have to suspect that her major amount of screen time in “Say Cheese” was more of an exception to the rule, but it’s an exception that should continue. 

She was hilarious here, as her character went from normal, to crazy, to upset, to sad, to angry, to happy to singing in a truck with her screwed up family. It’s still Linney’s to lose, but Plimpton has a shot.

How will it shake it? My predicted order of finish:

  1. Laura Linney – The Big C
  2. Martha Plimpton – Raising Hope
  3. Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation
  4. Tina Fey – 30 Rock
  5. Melissa McCarthy – Mike and Molly
  6. Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie

Dan Forcella is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.

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