How much does size matter? In the case of the guest acting Emmy award, sometimes more is better and this year could definitely prove that.
In each of the guest acting categories for comedy, we have nominees from 30, 60 and 90-minute shows, offering an extremely wide range of screen times for its nominees. Which begs the question: how can a four minute performance in a sketch show (like Angela Bassett in A Black Lady Sketch Show and Brad Pitt in Saturday Night Live) possibly compete against full episode arcs of an hour-long show (like Bette Midler in The Politician and Luke Kirby in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) or a hosting gig of a 90-minute show like Adam Driver, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Eddie Murphy with Saturday Night Live?
Let’s take a look at the nominees for Guest Actress and Actor in a Comedy Series and see who has the best chance of grabbing the gold.
Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
An incredible category if there ever was one, not just because of how great the nominees are but that no less than three of them have nominations elsewhere and, in one case, one of them has two right here alone.
Angela Bassett (A Black Lady Sketch Show) – “The Baddest Bitch”
Bette Midler (The Politician) – “Vienna”
Maya Rudolph (The Good Place) – “You’ve Changed, Man”
Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live) – “Host: Eddie Murphy”
Wanda Sykes (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) – “A Jewish Girls Walks into the Apollo”
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Saturday Night Live) – “Host: Phoebe-Waller-Bridge”
Angela Bassett (A Black Lady Sketch Show) is in just a single skit on the freshman show that routinely uses threaded storylines that last an entire season. It might not be a lot of quantity, but the quality Bassett serves is fiercely funny and she’s on her 7th Emmy nomination, including another this year for Outstanding Narrator for the 2nd year in a row. If she wins she’ll be the first from an HBO show to take this category.
Bette Midler (The Politician) was a surprise nomination here as most had predicted her co-star and partner in crime Judith Light to get in. Midler’s outrageous and over the top performance may grab the voters by the funny bone but does anyone care about The Politician?
The case of Maya Rudolph is a fascinating one. Dual nominations, playing very different characters. One whose show ended its run this season (The Good Place) and the other (Saturday Night Live) saw bringing back one of her most loved, her Kamala Harris impression. She got in here last year for The Good Place but with yesterday’s announcement that Harris will be Joe Biden’s VP running mate, will that motivate voters to check their ballots for Rudolph here when voting starts in just a week and a half? If Biden/Harris win in November, the voters may just assume they’ll be seeing a lot more her over the next four years and more times to reward her then. That could push voters to check her name for The Good Place instead.
Wanda Sykes (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) appears only in a single four-minute spot deep into 75-minute finale. But she’s playing a legendary comedian (Moms Mabley) and we already know the television academy was quick to surprise and embrace that last year with Luke Kirby’s win in guest actor.
How much afterglow will last year’s Emmy queen Phoebe Waller-Bridge be bathed in this year? Enough to win? The cancelation of her HBO show Run after just one season (which happened right in the middle of nomination voting) and the show’s total shutout say maybe the Television Academy was one and done with PWB. A lackluster Saturday Night Live episode doesn’t help her either.
- My prediction: Maya Rudolph for The Good Place
- Could win: Wanda Sykes for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
Adam Driver, hot off his second Oscar nomination just two weeks prior (Best Actor for Marriage Story), returned to Saturday Night Live to once again parody Kylo Ren in an Undercover Boss sketch (his best yet), engage in some R&B slow jam with Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd on “Slow” and playing “the hot dad” at his daughter’s sleepover.
Luke Kirby surprised last year, winning this category and besting Saturday Night Live returning son and favorite Adam Sandler, playing legendary comedian Lenny Bruce on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Kirby is once again faced with the same battle, the long-anticipated return of one of SNL’s most celebrated alumni, Eddie Murphy. Can Kirby repeat? Well, the odds aren’t in his favor. While many have won this category more than once, the last time someone repeated was Mel Brooks, who went three years in a row from 1997-1999.
Speaking of Eddie Murphy, an incredible 35 years went by from the last time Murphy had hosted Saturday Night Live after leaving the show as a regular player. While the comeback nature seemed to be in Sandler’s favor last year, it feels even more so with Murphy. Plus, his episode is the one the show submitted in the Outstanding Sketch Show category. Filled with his classic characters like Mr. Robinson and Gumby and a gut-bustingly funny baking show sketch, Murphy is in a really good spot to win his first Emmy on his fourth try for SNL and fifth overall.
Brad Pitt, who had just won his first acting Oscar a month and a half prior, logged in just a few minutes playing Dr. Anthony Fauci on Saturday Night Live in the show’s second “At Home” episode after production shut down the live shows at Rockefeller Center. Much like when Robert De Niro managed to squeeze for a single sketch over a 90-minute episode, Pitt stands out among this group (like Angela Bassett in guest actress) as the nominee with the least amount of screentime. Still, he’s damn funny and it made a big impact, even on Fauci himself.
Dev Patel was a huge surprise nominee here, besting favorites like John Mulaney (for SNL). He’s very good in his episode of Modern Love as a man who breaks up with his girlfriend after she cheats on him but disappears for most of the second half as the story moves to the journalist (Catherine Keener) who’s writing a piece on him and his new dating app. Patel comes back to close the deal at the end but he could have benefited from a bit more screentime.
Fred Willard, a comic legend in Hollywood, passed away just a few weeks before the nomination voting began. With two submissions, for Space Force and Modern Family, it seemed likely he would earn his fifth and final nomination and it was not difficult to know that it would come from Modern Family, where he last earned one 10 years ago. While there have been posthumous Emmy acting winners before, is has yet to happen in this category. Willard has some great moments in the episode and, well, dies suddenly in it, getting to be eulogized by his television son (Ty Burrell) in a fortuitous art imitating life before it happens moment.
Adam Driver (Saturday Night Live) – “Host: Adam Driver”
Luke Kirby (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) – “It’s Comedy or Cabbage”
Eddie Murphy (Saturday Night Live) – “Host: Eddie Murphy”
Dev Patel (Modern Love) – “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist”
Brad Pitt (Saturday Night Live) – “At Home #2”
Fred Willard (Modern Family) – “Legacy”
- My prediction: Eddie Murphy for Saturday Night Live
- Could win: Fred Willard for Modern Family