Emmy Circuit: Can ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Win Consecutive Comedy Directing Prizes

Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series. We are now in the Emmy post-nomination phase, where we watch all the nominated Emmy episodes and predict their chances of winning. The Creative Arts Emmy winners will be revealed Saturday, Sept. 14, while the Primetime Emmy Awards airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. Tune in week after week as we tackle all things Drama, Comedy, Limited Series and Variety.

OPENING STATEMENTS

There are no shortage of Emmy worthy episodes in this category. Last year’s winner, Amy Sherman-Palladino, contends again for directing the season finale of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (“All Alone”). However, the real highlight of the season was the show’s trip to the Catskills in “We’re Going to the Catskills,” directed by Dan Palladino.

“Maisel” faces more than just internal competition. HBO’s “Barry” increased its nomination tally this year and contends for two episodes in this category alone. The show made headlines with the Bill Hader directed episode “ronny/lily,” which was a masterful action set-piece.

“Barry” was also one of two shows to earn writing and directing nominations, the other being “Fleabag” from Amazon Prime. The show jumped from zero to eleven nominations this year, proving voters have caught up to the show. Lastly, “The Big Bang Theory” competes in this category with its series finale. The ratings juggernaut may not have many other nominations this year, but sentiment could be on its side.

AND THE NOMINEES ARE… 

  • Alec Berg – “Barry” – Episode: “The Audition”
  • Bill Hader – “Barry” – Episode: “ronny/lily”
  • Mark Cendrowski – “The Big Bang Theory” – Episode: “The Stockholm Syndrome”
  • Harry Bradbeer – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2.1”
  • Daniel Palladino – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “We’re Going to the Catskills!”
  • Amy Sherman-Palladino – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “All Alone”

Now to delve into each of the nominated episodes. Spoiler Alert: These analyses may contain spoilers of the nominated episodes.

NOMINEE #1 – Alec Berg – “Barry” – Episode: “The Audition”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): Barry prepares for his first audition under Gene’s guidance; Sally takes a stand in a meeting with a major TV producer; Noho Hank bares all.

One of the final episodes of the second season, this entry from “Barry” takes favorite characters to new, shocking places. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) gets an exciting opportunity to audition for the lead in a new TV show. At the same time, Barry (Bill Hader) gets an audition for a movie with Jay Roach out of nowhere. Once Sally realizes her project disagrees with her morals, she turns it down and puts her future at Gersh in jeopardy. The episode finds some great comedic timing as a shattered Sally runs lines with Barry after expressing her resentment for his success. It’s not all fun and games for Barry though, as Fuches (Stephen Root) contacts Gene (Henry Winkler) and frames him for the murder of Janice (Paula Newsome).

A major standout of season two of “Barry” has been Anthony Carrigan’s NoHo Hank, who gets a particularly entertaining sequence. Hank comes to terms with his mortality as he gets carted away in a prison van. As the rest of the inmates stage a coup, with plenty of ensuing gunfire, Hank gets too caught up in his monologue and misses the fight. It’s a great blend of plot and character, staged appropriately by director Alan Berg.

We need to start thinking of “Barry” as a major Emmy contender. The show increased its nomination total to seventeen this year. Last year, the show took home awards for actors Bill Hader and Henry Winkler. It’s very possible that “Barry” could also win Comedy Directing. Though, the other “Barry” nominee (“ronny/lily”) stands a better shot at winning. It possesses more buzz and a star director (Hader). Still, Berg has a very big Emmy IOU. Between “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Silicon Valley” and “Barry,” Berg has twenty-one nominations to his name without a win. Could this year see his first?

NOMINEE #2 – Bill Hader – “Barry” – Episode: “ronny/lily”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): An encounter that Barry never could have predicted has surprising effects.

The “ronny/lily” episode of “Barry” marks one of the most harrowing half hours on television this year. Barry (Bill Hader) must make one last hit on a man named Ronny (Daniel Bernhardt), who has been sleeping with Loach’s wife. He plans to merely whisk Ronny away, rather than kill him. However, Ronny chooses fight over flight. A naturalistic, yet funny, Taekwondo fight ensues, with Ronny fracturing his windpipe. Before Barry has a chance to clean up the mess, Ronny’s daughter Lily (Jessie Giacomazzi) walks in on her Dad’s body. This leads to a standoff between the pre-teen and trained assassin. Hader perfectly calibrates Barry’s apprehension and nascent paternal instincts as the episode moves on.

The installment continues to get more exciting and more strange as the standoff between Barry and Lily continues. His getaway driver, Fuches (Stephen Root), at one point super glues his hands to the steering wheel as Lily attacks them. The car sequence casts Lily as a zombie-like villain that lurks behind the two men, ready to pounce. A subsequent fight sequence in a Wallgreens store also blends absurdist humor with a truly suspenseful fight. Barry finds Ronny very much alive in the aforementioned drug store, which prompts Ronny to attack. As the altercation ensues, a blend of ’90s pop and elevator music scores the brawl. “Barry” excels at finding the off-kilter laughs behind these tense action and character moments.

One of the biggest stories this awards season has been the multi-hyphenate Bill Hader. Last year, he was awarded for his performance as the titular character in “Barry.” This year, he could easily add a directing Emmy to his mantel. The prospect mirrors Donald Glover, who won directing and acting awards for the first season of “Atlanta” in 2017. “ronny/lily” certainly demonstrates a directing skill that makes Hader a worthy winner. Not only does he make the action sequences unique and character focused, but he does terrific work directing new actors that don’t appear in other episodes. This kind of skill and fascinating narrative usually ends in awards.

NOMINEE #3 – Mark Cendrowski – “The Big Bang Theory” – Episode: “The Stockholm Syndrome”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): Bernadette and Wolowitz leave their kids for the first time; Penny and Leonard try to keep a secret; Sheldon and Amy stick together; and Koothrappali makes a new friend, as the gang travels together into an uncharted future.

We shouldn’t be shocked that “The Big Bang Theory” earned a Comedy Directing nomination for its series finale. Just last year, the CBS mega-hit pulled off a shocking nomination in this category for Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy’s (Mayim Bialik) wedding. With the rise of single camera comedies on network TV and the ambitious programming on cable, premium and streaming, multi-camera sitcoms feel like a thing of the past. Those who are part of the Television Academy want to honor an art form that doesn’t get as much attention. In particular, “The Big Bang Theory” has set rating records and the Television Academy could see this is an appropriate way to reward the series.

The episode takes the gang all the way to Sweden, as Sheldon and Amy have both won Nobel Prizes. Meanwhile, Penny (Kaley Cuoco) finds out she’s pregnant with Leonard’s (Johnny Galecki) child. She wants to wait until after the ceremony to not upstage Sheldon and Amy. Yet, in typical fashion, Sheldon’s hypochondria unearths the secret. His friends finally confront him about his poor attitude, which prompts a heartfelt speech from Sheldon on the Nobel Prize stage.

The show manages to bow out gracefully with all the characters eating take out in the apartment that was the setting for most of the show. The episode feels special and ambitious by multi-camera standards. Still, the series feels dated despite only airing two months ago. Up against shows like “Barry,” “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “The Big Bang Theory” simply doesn’t compare. Yet, the show obviously has a lot of fans that were sad to see it leave. If enough rally around the show, or “Barry” and “Maisel” split votes, there is the possibility for an upset.

NOMINEE #4 – Harry Bradbeer – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2.1”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): Fleabag has to attend an uncomfortable family dinner to celebrate the engagement of Godmother and Dad. Fleabag is intrigued by Godmother’s new Priest, but the evening ends with old tensions bubbling to the surface.

In many ways, “Fleabag” season two is miraculous. The first episode of the season seems like a risk at first glance. After a two year hiatus, the gang returns for an episode that takes place solely at a dinner table. Godmother (Olivia Colman) and Dad (Bill Paterson) are hosting their engagement party and have invited their two daughters – Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Claire (Sian Clifford), Claire’s boorish husband Martin (Brett Gelman) and the Hot Priest (Andrew Scott) that will lead the ceremony. What ensues is a hilariously tense dinner that takes unexpected turns down dark alleys.

This one-location episode could have been visually inert very easily. Rather than look like a filmed stage play, director Harry Bradbeer brings to life the many physical intricacies that were written in Waller-Bridge’s script. Fleabag’s addresses to the camera always feel organic and never disrupt the rhythm that this fractured family has formed. The camera couples up the six actors in ways that are visually interesting and set up the relationship that follows between Fleabag and Hot Priest. It also shifts with the tonal changes of the episode. When Claire miscarries in the bathroom, Bradbeer focuses on Fleabag’s reaction, as Claire wants to move on. Back at the table, Fleabag claims the miscarriage as her own. From here, Bradbeer frames the two sisters, at war with each other with the lecherous Martin in between them.

While this episode stands out among the pack, it faces stiff competition in Comedy Directing. Between the fight scenes in “Barry” and the period nature of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Fleabag” feels smaller and more intimate. These types of submissions usually do better in the Comedy Writing category, which features Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a nominee. If voters truly love “Fleabag” and vote down the ballot for it, then it could win here. However, this feels like a case where “Fleabag” takes writing and either “Barry” or “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” battle for Comedy Directing.

NOMINEE #5 – Daniel Palladino – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “We’re Going to the Catskills!”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): The Weissmans arrive in the Catskills for their annual summer trip and attempt to settle into familiar patterns. Whispers of Midge and Joel’s separation cause Rose to poke around her daughter’s love life. Susie must adjust her summer plans in an effort to keep her and Midge’s career momentum going.

The Weissman family’s trip to the Catskills marks the high point of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s” second season. The episode begins with closeups of intricate models of suitcases. From there, the show zooms out, showing it’s a part of Abe’s (Tony Shalhoub) packing process. As he meticulously strategizes on how to transport their New York life to the Catskills for the summer, Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and Rose (Marin Hinkle) sift through their clothes, choosing to bring each piece of apparel. The lead-up only enhances what makes this episode one of the best encapsulations of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Once at the Catskills, director Daniel Palladino does an incredible job of visually setting up this world that seems millions of miles away from the comedy clubs and penthouses of New York city. A still shot of the Weissman’s home for the summer captures all the chaos as they try and unpack their luggage, with much assistance. Conversely, the camera swerves in every direction during a dance competition where Midge politics on who to dance with and how to win the competition. The direction focuses on the intricacies of this highly ritualized summer getaway, finding both comedy and nostalgia.

Of the two “Maisel” episodes, this stands the best chance of winning. The show always finds opportunity since it features such period centered production design and detailing. Pair the prestige elements with the scope of the project and the fast pace of the action and you have an Emmy contender. This episode also feels very different than the pilot, which won last year. Not only does it have a different setting, but this episode feels less rooted in the comedy world. In fact, the main source of drama comes from Midge and Joel’s (Michael Zegen) divorce and how they must navigate this familiar world in a new way.

NOMINEE #6 – Amy Sherman-Palladino – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “All Alone”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): Midge and Rose begin planning for Midge’s future as Benjamin attempts to impress Abe. Joel stresses over his next move, while Abe is presented with some big decisions of his own. Meanwhile, Susie tries to smooth things over for Midge.

“All Alone” holds a lot of strong elements as a season finale. One of the stand out moments comes early in the episode when the show flashes back to Joel’s proposal to Midge. Both Brosnahan and Zegen do great work in showing their characters as bright-eyed youngsters in love. Director Amy Sherman-Palladino also manages to track certain characteristics that would later be warning signs. While broadly romantic, there’s a level of goading and pleading that Joel uses on Midge in coercing a yes from her.

Back to the main timeline, the show shifts back into gear and catches up with the main cast of characters. Susie (Alex Borstein) gets an offer from bawdy rival comedian Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch). Benjamin (Zachary Levi) tries to impress Abe (Tony Shalhoub) before asking for Midge’s hand in marriage. Following his blessing, Abe learns his job is phasing him out and asking him to take a sabbatical. All in all, the narrative installment moves along and builds to a climax around Midge’s love triangle with Benjamin and Joel.

Amy Sherman-Palladino knows how to keep her show moving, even when it starts to sift through overly-plotted territory. The second season finale satisfies, but it never reaches the highs of the other entries from the show. The episode feels rushed to get to some resolution and is lighter on the character moments that made season two so winning. The opening flashback to Joel’s proposal stands out as the highlight. Voters may want to reward Sherman-Palladino, the showrunner, for a second year in a row in this category. However, if “Maisel” wins, the prize deserves to go to “We’re Going to the Catskills.”

CURRENT COMEDY DIRECTING PREDICTIONS

  1. Bill Hader – “Barry” – Episode: “ronny/lily”
  2. Daniel Palladino – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “We’re Going to the Catskills!”
  3. Harry Bradbeer – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2.1”
  4. Amy Sherman-Palladino – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “All Alone”
  5. Alec Berg – “Barry” – Episode: “The Audition”
  6. Mark Cendrowski – “The Big Bang Theory” – Episode: “The Stockholm Syndrome”

WILL WIN: Bill Hader – “Barry” – Episode: “ronny/lily”

SHOULD WIN: Harry Bradbeer – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2.1”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Chris Kelly – “The Other Two” – Episode: “Chase Drops His First Album”

Who do you think will win Outstanding Directing 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!