With the expanded number of nominees in this category, one would assume that this year’s winner for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series would be a nailbiter. But that is probably not going to happen. Emmy voters must watch each performer’s episode before submitting their ballots, but we have to trust that they actually watch them. This year could really hint at whether or not voters are doing their due diligence in these categories.
We start with Cecily Strong, a dedicated player on Saturday Night Live since 2012, this is her first nomination, one that many thought was overdue. Strong submitted the Eddie Murphy hosted episode and while she gets to bring out her Tulsi Gabbard in the cold open, her strongest moment is during Weekend Update. Strong’s impersonation of FOX News personality Jeanine Pirro has been her most reliable character the last couple of seasons, and gets a brief moment as Pirro (and as Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party) in Kate McKinnon’s submission as well. The flipside for McKinnon is a cold open debate performance as Senator Elizabeth Warren in Strong’s submission, but an opportunity to perform alongside Senator Warren in her cameo at the top of McKinnon’s submission (the Daniel Craig hosted episode, the final live episode before quarantine). It should be noted that both McKinnon and Strong are missing from quite a few sketches within the two episodes. Since the Emmys eliminated Individual Performance in a Variety/Music Program (bring it back!) and moved everyone from variety into the Comedy races, only McKinnon has been able to win from the SNL cast but that was during the heat of the 2016 presidential election. There’s no rush to award McKinnon again and don’t expect Strong to beat that history.
Betty Gilpin continues her three year streak as the sole acting representative from GLOW. This year, she submitted “A Very GLOW Christmas,” the season three finale. Gilpin gets the chance to show more growth for Debbie as she manages to pull off a potential new business opportunity to get the ladies back to LA after spending a season in Las Vegas. It’s a beautiful performance, especially for fans of the show, to see Debbie find a path that will lead to a secure future for everyone, herself included. Gilpin is clearly well-liked but for a show that appears to be struggling with Emmys, it doesn’t seem like there is a rush to reward her.
After missing last year, when just about everybody was predicting her to land a nomination, D’Arcy Carden got in for her performance as Janet in The Good Place. In “You’ve Changed, Man,” Carden is guiding the Judge (Guest Actress Emmy nominee Maya Rudolph) through the different Janet voids to find the hidden reset button. Carden gets a chance to play the different versions of Janet (Bad Janet, Neutral Janet and even Disco Janet are all here). It’s a very brief performance and episode. However, Carden does come in with fans who probably think she should have been here last year. It is the show’s final season and only chance for voters to reward Carden for this performance. Will that be enough over stronger submissions?
On the heels of an incredibly buzzed about fourth season, Yvonne Orji finally landed a nomination as Molly on Insecure. In “Lowkey Lost,” the season four finale, everyone is looking for Tiffany, whose postpartum depression leads the friends to a nearby hotel. Molly ends the episode ending her relationship with Andrew and meeting with Issa to have the long-awaited discussion on their friendship. Orji is good in her submission, but all of the comedic gold is usurped by Natasha Rothwell’s Kelli (“she told me how I’m gonna die and it’s on-brand”) and even though we get a wrap up her season long arc, Orji might have been better served by “Lowkey Trippin’” where she gets the whole episode to herself. That said, it has been 33 years since the only Black actress won this category (hi Jackée!) and while the past decade has seen nominations for Niecy Nash, Leslie Jones and Zazie Beetz, it is high time we get another Black actress recognized in this category. Could it be Orji?
Having been recognized with two consecutive Emmys, Alex Borstein, in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is the returning champion angling to tie a record. Four women are currently tied for winning three consecutive Emmys for their series, Valerie Harper (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), Rhea Perlman (Cheers), Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) and Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond). Perlman and Roberts have the overall record with one additional win (non-consecutive). Nominated alongside Borstein again for the second time is Marin Hinkle. Between both submissions (“Marvelous Radio” for the former, “A Jewish Girl Walks Into the Apollo…” for the latter), Borstein and Hinkle have the most screentime of all the nominees. Borstein’s Susie towers in both submissions, first dealing with Midge’s voice-over work (including shutting down a radio ad for Phyllis Schlafly, minus Cate Blanchett) and Sophie Lennon’s disastrous Broadway debut in her submission then losing all of Midge’s money and dealing with the repercussions of her Apollo set in the Hinkle’s submission. Between both submissions, Hinkle’s Rose is learning her gift for matchmaking and nearly costing her relationship with Midge when she goes to see her ex-fiancé, twice. Hinkle will probably always be in Borstein’s shadow, but she has a glimmer of a hope. Those consecutive wins for Harper and Perlman? Eventually, Emmy voters looked elsewhere and awarded their castmates (Cloris Leachman and Betty White as well as Bebe Neuwirth).
So if voters are ready to move on from Borstein and not have her join those four ladies of Emmy history, who does that leave to upset? Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek. Wisely submitting “The Presidential Suite,” Murphy’s Alexis spends one final day with Ted, as she reminisces about the start of their relationship and the end of it all at the diner. The performance has laughs and pulls at your heartstrings, and for voters who have started to notice the show, they will see an incredible amount of growth from the character that gave us “A Little Bit Alexis.” Murphy has seen her career continue to thrive as it was announced earlier this year that she will be the lead in AMC’s new series Kevin Can F-k Himself. Are Emmy voters ready to crown a new ingenue? That depends on if her show is positioning itself for a potential sweep of the comedy categories this year with their final season. Alas, the most recent example of an actress winning for their final season happened in the last decade with goodbye Emmys going to Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City in 2004), Megan Mullally (Will & Grace in 2006) and, there she is again, Doris Roberts (in 2005).
Here are my ranked predictions Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:
- Alex Borstein (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) – “Marvelous Radio”
- Annie Murphy (Schitt’s Creek) – “The Presidential Suite”
- Yvonne Orji (Insecure) – “Lowkey Lost”
- Marin Hinkle (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) – “A Jewish Girl Walks Into the Apollo…”
- D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place) – “You Changed, Man”
- Betty Gilpin (GLOW) – “A Very GLOW Christmas”
- Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live) – “Host: Daniel Craig”
- Cecily Strong (Saturday Night Live) – “Host: Eddie Murphy”
Alfonso Magaña is a Mexican-American educator and longtime lover/follower of the award seasons. You can follow his nonsense about awards, Lupe Ontiveros, Kelly Clarkson and Lady Bird on Twitter @4URSpeculation.