Emmy Circuit: How Many Guest Actress Spots Will ‘Saturday Night Live’ Take?

Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series, where we analyze and predict all your favorite TV series and their chances with the Television Academy (at least at this time of publishing).  The series examines the shows and performances about their awards potential, most notably the Emmy Awards. Emmy nomination voting opens June 10 and closes on June 24.  The official Emmy nominations will be announced on Tuesday, July 16 while the ceremony airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. All Emmy pieces run with the following schedule: Mondays (Dramas), Tuesdays (Network Spotlight), Wednesdays (Comedies), Thursdays (Network Spotlight), Fridays (Limited Series, Variety Series, Below-the Lines).

OPENING STATEMENTS

The Guest Acting categories at the Emmys always yield fun surprises. Typically, we see one to two “Saturday Night Live” host performances receive nominations. Last year, Tiffany Haddish became the third consecutive and fifth overall winner in this category from SNL. While NBC’s sketch show will likely continue to have a place in the Guest Actress in a Comedy category, there are still other contenders who would make likely challengers.

There are usually two paths to a Guest Actress in a Comedy nomination. One can either jump on the bandwagon of a popular show. “30 Rock” was able to get every guest star from Elizabeth Banks to Margaret Cho (who appeared only for a brief few minutes) thanks to its overwhelming popularity. Smaller shows can also earn a nomination, particularly if they have a big star. For example, Carrie Fisher still remains as the only acting nominee from “Catastrophe.” There are so many possibilities and ways this category can shake out. Let’s look at who was submitted and what their chances are.

PREVIOUS NOMINEES

Usually there isn’t much overlap between years in Guest Acting categories, since many characters only appear on a season or two. Yet, some characters and performances routinely return to the Guest Actress in a Comedy category. From last year’s race, four of the six nominees could return to the category. Of those four, Wanda Sykes is the most veteran of the category. Her role as Daphne, the boss at Dre’s (Anthony Anderson) advertising agency, in “black-ish” was nominated the past two consecutive years. This year could be her third; however, she also competes against herself in “The Other Two,” where she plays Shuli Kucerac, Chase Dreams’ (Case Walker) manager.

Of the other three returning nominees, Jane Lynch stands the best shot at returning. Her role as two-faced, bawdy comedienne Sophie Lennon stole the show in her one episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Her return in season two was received with similar acclaim. The Emmys also love Lynch, who has won four Emmys from eleven nominations, all within the past nine years.

Maya Rudolph (“The Good Place”) and Molly Shannon (“Will & Grace”) also return from last year. While reviews were more mixed for “The Good Place” this year, the NBC sitcom hopes to grow its nomination count. If voters continue to take notice of the show, Rudolph should find her way back into the category. Unfortnately, her work this season was less noteworthy than what she was nominated for in season two. Meanwhile, Molly Shannon always gives every performance 100%. Her performance as Val remains just as kooky as ever. Yet, “Will & Grace” falls out of the conversation more and more each passing day. With other exciting work that she’s done this past year, voters might not think to nominate her here for “Will & Grace.”

Speaking of “Will & Grace,” during its original run it used to dominate the guest acting categories. One guest star who would regularly receive nominations was Blythe Danner as Will Truman’s (Eric McCormack) WASP-y mother. If voters wanted to mix it up with an old favorite, she might sneak in.

Finally, one must not underestimate “The Big Bang Theory” in all categories. Christine Baranski has earned four nominations for her work as Dr. Beverly Hofstadter, Leonard’s (Johnny Galecki) brilliant, yet with-holding mother. Baranski submits “The Maternal Conclusion” this year, which gives her character a softer side as she finally shows her son more kindness than he’s used to. Voters may feel compelled to vote for the show for its final season and Baranski could benefit from that.

VARIETY SHOW GUESTS

Since being allowed in the Guest Acting category in 2009, “Saturday Night Live” has done exceptionally well. In Guest Actress alone, the show has earned seventeen nominations and five wins. Only one year (2015) has featured no nominees from “Saturday Night Live.” Most frequently, “Saturday Night Live” takes up two slots in the category. This year, five female hosts have submitted themselves for consideration – Awkwafina, Rachel Brosnahan, Halsey, Sandra Oh and Emma Thompson. Oh’s episode was the most memorable and the Emmys love her. She’s best positioned for a nomination. Emma Thompson is always fantastic, but the recent box office performance of “Late Night” could hurt her narrative. Awkwafina, on the other hand, is having a great year and could benefit. Residual “Maisel” love could help Brosnahan. Only Halsey seems unlikely to show up.

Other shows have caught on to the Guest Acting field’s love for variety comedy. “Drunk History,” “Documentary Now!” and “At Home with Amy Sedaris” all entered multiple guest performances. “Documentary Now!” features the most submissions (Cate Blanchett, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Natasha Lyonne, Paula Pell and Necar Zadegan). They’re also running an aggressive campaign for Blanchett’s transcendent work skewering “The Artist is Present” documentary. Being a high profile star helps one’s chances, even if it’s for a show the Emmys don’t regularly watch. Meanwhile, “Drunk History” only entered Samira Wiley and Evan Rachel Wood for the award. Both are nominees from last year and are playing comical interpretations of real life figures. They could be dark horses. Finally, Rose Byrne, Ann Dowd and Juliette Lewis all contend for “At Home with Amy Sedaris.” The show’s small following might not be enough to mobilize votes for these women. 

Lastly, talk shows have now started entering performers who have performed in a sketch capacity on the show. Laura Benanti is eligible for an episode of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” where she portrays Melania Trump. Additionally, Dulcé Sloan has also been submitted for “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” where she acts as a correspondent. It’s unclear how the Emmys will respond to these submissions. Who knows, maybe they can be the latest ticket to Emmy glory like “Saturday Night Live” hosting was a decade ago.

SUPERSTAR CAMEOS

 

Often times, big name stars will be able to use name recognition to get into the Guest Acting races. Carrie Fisher, Angela Bassett, Joan Cusack and Gwyneth Paltrow are some recent movie stars who were able to receive nominations (and even wins) over the past decade. While Wanda Sykes has been nominated for “black-ish” for the past two years, the show also has an Oscar winner and Oscar nominee in contention this year. Octavia Spencer is on the ballot for narrating the “Black History Month” episode. Additionally, Quvenzhane Wallis contends for her role as Dre’s niece who comes to stay with the family. 

Another show that has frequently earned guest acting nominations has been “The Big Bang Theory,” which is in its last season. Recent Oscar winner Regina King guest stars this season as Janine Davis, a Human Resources administrator. While Baranski has been the main nominee before, King could ride this awards traction to a Guest Actress nomination.

If voters are watching “Fleabag,” they will see that Kristen Scott-Thomas gives one of the best performances on TV in her one episode (“Episode 3”). The Oscar nominated actress’ name stands out on the ballot, which could help her get in. Luckily, she has the goods to justify the nomination. Fiona Shaw also made the ballot for her work in “Fleabag,” though Scott-Thomas will be a bigger push. Similarly, Kyra Sedgwick has long been a favorite guest star in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” as Madeline Wuntch, Capt. Holt’s (Andre Braugher) nemesis. Yet, she has never received a nomination for the role yet. This makes her chances at a nomination rather low. 

Other big names on the ballot this year include Mindy Kaling (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Gloria Estefan (“One Day at a Time”).

DRAMA QUEENS

 

It’s tricky for dramatic performances to reap nominations in a comedy category. Yet, some recent surprise nominees have come from small, yet powerful, dramatic roles in comedies. Some examples include Melora Hardin (“Transparent”) or Angela Bassett (“Master of None”). Just looking at these examples, a pattern emerges. The name recognition of a nominee matters less. However, it does matter whether or not the Emmys are a fan of your show (both “Transparent” and “Master of None” were comedy series nominees). 

Among last year’s comedy series nominees, “GLOW” features a strong, dramatic turn by Annabella Sciorra as a mother trying to bring her daughter home. Sciorra previously was nominated in the Guest Actress in a Drama field for her work on “The Sopranos.” Fans of the show could rally around her if “GLOW” ups its nomination count.

The performance of certain new shows could dictate whether or not a dramatic performance gets in. The dramatic climax of Netflix’s “Russian Doll” comes from Chloe Sevigny’s late in the show performance. If “Russian Doll” gets into writing, directing or series, likely Sevigny will also be among the show’s nominees. 

Another one-episode performance that has gained a lot of attention was Hong Chau on “Forever” on Amazon Prime. Though the show received mixed reviews, most spotlighted a bottle episode starring Chau as the show’s finest half-hour. Voters who watch “Forever” will likely vote for Chau. The main problem will be getting voters to watch the show, since it has a lower Emmy profile than other shows.

Other dramatic performances from former Emmy nominees include Michaela Watkins (“Catastrophe”), Rebecca Metz and Marsha Thomason (both from “Better Things”).

FRESHMAN FIRE

A variety of new shows have an impressive roster of guest actresses. One of the strongest crops of submissions comes from “What We Do In The Shadows” on FX. Vanessa Bayer gets one of the funniest episodes as a vampire who sucks sympathy from others. Meanwhile, Beanie Feldstein gets multiple episodes to shine as a LARPing virgin turned vampire. Either of them would make great nominees. Add in Tilda Swinton and Kristen Schaal as part of a vampire coucil and one has a full set of potential nominees. Unfortunately, this embarrassment of riches could cause vote splitting.

Netflix’s “The Kominski Method” also features a duo of famous performers up for Guest Acting. Both Ann-Margret and Patti LaBelle have submitted episodes eight and five, respectively. In particular, Ann-Margret won Guest Actress on the Drama side once before for “Law & Order: SVU” in 2010. If the show does well across the board, like it is expected to, one or both of them may earn a nomination.

While Chloe Sevigny stands the best shot at a nomination from “Russian Doll,” Tami Saghar also is on the ballot for the show as a disapproving Rabbi’s assistant. If voters are choosing “Russian Doll” across the board, she could ride the show’s coattails.

Lastly, Valerie Mahaffey does standout work on Netflix’s “Dead to Me” as Christina Applegate’s conniving, grieving mother-in-law. In many ways, she plays a more muted, comedic version of Meryl Streep’s character on “Big Little Lies.” Recent chatter has given “Dead to Me” an Emmys boost. If it gets into Actress or Series, Mahaffey could also surprise in this field.

EMMY FAVORITE SHOWS

We’ve mentioned before how voters tend to vote for anyone, regardless of starpower, if they are fans of the show. “Veep” is perhaps the strongest contender across all Emmy categories. The HBO show also celebrates its final season this year. One of the best guest characters over the show’s seven seasons has been Sally Phillips condescending Finnish Prime Minister, Minna Häkkinen. This could be the year she finally earns a well-deserved nomination.

Once upon a time, “Will & Grace” would dominate the guest acting fields, earning multiple wins and nominations per year for their guest performers. We’ve already spoken about returning nominees Molly Shannon and Blythe Danner. Other memorable guest stars this year include Minnie Driver, Andrea Martin and Mary McDonnell. If voters are still watching the show, they could be in the mix for a nomination.

Lastly, “The Good Place” has another contender besides Maya Rudolph this year. One of the strongest subplots throughout last season was the relationship between Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and an Australian grad student, played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste. If the show increases its nomination tally this year, Howell-Baptiste could be the recipient of a nomination even more so than Rudolph.

CURRENT OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS (COMEDY) PREDICTIONS

  1. Sandra Oh – “Saturday Night Live” – “Host: Sandra Oh” (NBC)
  2. Jane Lynch – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – “Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy” (Amazon)
  3. Cate Blanchett – “Documentary Now!” – “Waiting For The Artist” (IFC)
  4. Sally Phillips – “Veep” – “Oslo” (HBO)
  5. Chloe Sevigny – “Russian Doll” – “The Way Out” (Netflix)
  6. Christine Baranski – “The Big Bang Theory” – “The Maternal Conclusion” (CBS)

What do you think will contend for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series this year? Let us know in the comments below.

CHECK OUT ALL THE OFFICIAL PREDICTIONS ON THE CIRCUIT HUB AND MAKE YOUR OWN!