Catherine O’Hara has long felt like the frontrunner to win Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her iconic performance as Moira Rose in Schitt’s Creek, but it is not a done deal. Her competition includes Issa Rae for Insecure, Rachel Brosnahan for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Tracee Ellis Ross for black-ish and Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini for Dead to Me. In a wild year like 2020, any one of these beloved actress could snatch the Emmy trophy.
Three of the six nominees would be adding another Emmy to their collection: O’Hara, who won for writing SCTV in 1982, Brosnahan, who won this category in 2018, and Applegate, who won for guesting on Friends in 2003. Cardellini is up to three nominations while both Rae and Ross are at four. So which of these fabulous ladies will take home the Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series? Let’s assess the chances of all six:
Christina Applegate – Dead to Me
Applegate is now on her second nomination for playing Jen Harding in Dead to Me. As Dead to Me got darker in its second season, Applegate found a delicate balance between the acerbic energy of her character and the more dramatic plot developments. In her episode submission, “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” we see Jen regret a hookup, passionately monologue at a city council meeting and make a confession at the end of the episode. It’s a very impactful episode, albeit more dramatic than what typically wins in this category.
After being the only representation for Dead to Me at last year’s Emmys, Applegate now has the benefit of the show breaking into Best Comedy Series. Series nominations always bode well for actors, but the support is decidedly stronger for three other shows in this category: Insecure, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Schitt’s Creek. This might not be Applegate’s year, but I would look out for whenever Dead to Me drops its third and final season for a potential win for the actress.
Rachel Brosnahan – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Brosnahan continues her run at the Emmys with three nominations in a row for playing standup comedian Midge Maisel. This third season saw Midge touring the country with crooner Shy Baldwin. She submitted the finale, “A Jewish Girl Walks Into the Apollo,” to Emmy voters, which finds Midge performing at the Apollo Theater. We see Midge tread into tricky territory as she comes close to outing Shy in front of the audience and is later let go, with Brosnahan once again excelling in the standup segments while registering the shock of her being fired at the end of the episode.
With this third consecutive nomination for Brosnahan and her show earning 19 other bids this year, it is clear that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is here to stay at the Emmys. Until proven otherwise, Brosnahan will likely continue to be a leading contender due to the sheer strength of Maisel within the TV Academy. While a few other actresses have stronger narratives, the loss to Phoebe Waller-Bridge last year may just be a fluke and voters may be more comfortable with Brosnahan than anyone else here.
Linda Cardellini – Dead to Me
Cardellini is finally getting the recognition she deserves after Applegate ate up all the awards attention for Season 1 of Dead to Me. As the frantic Judy Hale, Cardellini’s material was even darker than Applegate’s, grappling with her conflicting emotions following the death of Steve (James Marsden). In her episode submission, “If Only You Knew,” we see Judy throwing a vigil for Steve only to discover that Steve’s fiancée is pregnant with his child. This puts her in distress and gives Cardellini all kinds of juicy emotional material to work with. However, like Applegate, it is far more dramatic than what is usually rewarded here.
It would be easy to simply argue that Applegate’s presence in this category makes it more difficult for Cardellini, but that isn’t entirely true. Jodie Comer was snubbed for Season 1 of Killing Eve only to win the next year over costar Sandra Oh, who had been the sole nominee in this category for the show in its first season. Yet, there is not a clear choice between Applegate and Cardellini so it’s likely the support will split.
Catherine O’Hara – Schitt’s Creek
Emmy voters have one last chance to give Catherine O’Hara an Emmy for her turn as Moira Rose in Schitt’s Creek. She submitted the episode “The Incident” to Emmy voters, which finds Moira discovering newfound power on social media as she promotes her highly anticipated film, The Crows Have Eyes 3: The Crowening. She accidentally live streams son David (Dan Levy) telling her about a bed-wetting incident, which goes viral. Her signature moment comes when O’Hara asks David in her untraceable Moira drawl if he’s had a “nighttime oopsy daisy.” While she is not the clear centerpiece of the episode, O’Hara gets many of the biggest laughs of the episode.
This may only be O’Hara’s second nomination as Moira Rose, but she is overdue nonetheless. She has created a unique character that only she could play, and with Schitt’s Creek landing 15 nominations overall, the support may finally be there to get her that Emmy. It is difficult to see how she loses, though it is possible that voters have not seen the final season of Schitt’s Creek, as it is not yet available on Netflix, and could look elsewhere in the category.
Issa Rae – Insecure
Rae earned her first Emmy nomination in 2018 for playing Issa Dee on Insecure, and after being snubbed last year, she is back with a huge increase in support for the show. In her episode submission, “Lowkey Happy,” Issa reconnects with Lawrence (Jay Ellis) and look back on the successes and failures of their past relationship. She navigates her feelings on Lawrence and ultimately decides she’s willing to give it another shot. It is subtle yet deeply authentic work from Rae.
Despite Rae missing last year, she is in a very strong position to win this category. Insecure exploded after a collective three nominations for the show’s first three seasons to eight for Season 4, including Best Comedy Series. Rae winning this would be very much in line with other multi-hyphenate actors like Donald Glover, Bill Hader, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She could also be the beneficiary of increased awareness on the importance of Black artistry after a tumultuous year for the Black community. If O’Hara has a true competitor, it might not be Brosnahan, like conventional wisdom might suggest, but Rae.
Tracee Ellis Ross – black-ish
After being omitted from this category last year, Ross is back with her fourth nomination for playing Dr. Rainbow Johnson on black-ish. It was a somewhat unexpected return, considering Emmy voters tend not to nominate stars again after dropping them, but it certainly speaks to the support she has within the Academy. In her episode submission, “Kid Life Crisis,” the Johnson family vacations to Mexico and Bow and Dre (Anthony Anderson) spend some alone time together. Eventually she tells Dre that as a working mom, it feels selfish to spend even more time away from the kids than she already does, giving Ross a powerful monologue after an episode full of goofy one-liners.
Ross is at a distinct disadvantage here because she is the only actress whose show is not also nominated for Best Comedy Series. That will make winning an uphill battle, though not entirely possible. Like Rae, there could be an added desire to reward Black artists after the events of 2020, and Ross has been involved in important dialogues on her sitcom about being Black in America that many are now finally having on a deeper level.
My winner prediction ranking for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series:
- Catherine O’Hara – Schitt’s Creek
- Issa Rae – Insecure
- Rachel Brosnahan – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
- Christina Applegate – Dead to Me
- Linda Cardellini – Dead to Me
- Tracee Ellis Ross – black-ish