Emmy Circuit: Will ‘Saturday Night Live’ Win Guest Actress for a Fourth Time?

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

This year’s nominations for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series feel particularly familiar, and for good reason. “Saturday Night Live” has two nominees in the running and has taken home the top prize for the past three years. Both Jane Lynch and Maya Rudolph are receiving their second consecutive nominations in this category for their work on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Good Place,” respectively. And Emma Thompson (nominated here for hosting “Saturday Night Live”) received her sole Emmy win in this same category back in 1998 for “Ellen.” The whole category is stacked with Emmy talent — between the six actresses nominated, they have an astonishing 31 nominations and four wins.

AND THE NOMINEES ARE…

  • Jane Lynch – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy”
  • Sandra Oh – “Saturday Night Live” – Episode: “Host: Sandra Oh”
  • Maya Rudolph – “The Good Place” – Episode: “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife”
  • Kristin Scott Thomas – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 3”
  • Fiona Shaw – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2”
  • Emma Thompson – “Saturday Night Live” – Episode: “Host: Emma Thompson”

Jane Lynch – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy”

Episode Synopsis: Susie lands Midge her first gig on television, but their victory is short-lived when they realize Midge is being punished for her past. Abe is increasingly unhappy in his dream job at Bell Labs while Joel continues to drown in work during late nights at Maisel and Roth. (IMDB)

Jane Lynch returns to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” as Sophie Lennon, an erudite, classically trained actress who has found success in low-brow comedy with her broad Queens stereotype of a character. After Midge exposes her act, Lennon effectively cut her comedy career off at the knees by blacklisting Midge with every booker in New York City. And now that Midge has clawed her way back with a spot on a telethon for arthritis, Sophie Lennon is ready and eager to continue her reign of terror as a saboteur.

What’s fun about this role for Lynch is that while it began as a mashup of two comedy extremes (the uncouth, lowest-common-denominator comedienne and the pretentious, hyper-poised socialite), it has evolved into something more nuanced that simultaneously plays to her comedic strengths but also introduces new layers with each appearance. Sophie Lennon is an antagonist to Midge, and rightly so, considering the damage Midge tried to do to her career. But we can also see her as an ambitious career woman who is just trying to protect her brand. She’s capable of conniving, underhanded behavior, but also a surprising amount of generosity. It’s a perfect role for Lynch, and it brings all of her best qualities as an actress to the forefront.

Sandra Oh – “Saturday Night Live” – Episode: “Host: Sandra Oh”

Episode Synopsis: Sandra Oh is the guest host, and Tame Impala performs. (IMDB)

Part of the fun of a “Saturday Night Live” host is that you never quite know what you’re going to get when it first begins. There are some actors who you’d think would be funny, but when they turn up on set they’re either misused, self-conscious, or too new to the very specific art of live comedy to make much of an impact. Sandra Oh has a background in comedy, so most fans went into this episode fairly confident in her abilities. But one thing was immediately clear from the first sketch of the episode: Sandra Oh is game for anything. She flings herself headfirst into some truly bizarre material and commits to even the silliest of premises.

Her first sketch on the episode involved the body horror of a “The Favourite” knockoff that features her as the 18th-century socialite who can’t stop getting accidentally shot in a duel between her love interests, and things only get weirder from there. Really, she deserves to be nominated on the merits of her performance as Tishy, the Four-Loco drinking, cast-wearing, “good goo goo”-having future girlfriend of a young Mikey Day.

Tishy feels like the product of a fever dream gone terribly wrong, and Sandra Oh’s strange voice and dance moves are perfections. Tishy is the kind of character who warrants repeat appearances, and when a host is able to pull that off, they deserve to be rewarded. With an Emmy? Maybe. With a second hosting opportunity? Absolutely.

Maya Rudolph – “The Good Place” – Episode: “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife”

Episode Synopsis: Eleanor and the gang meet the judge at the crossroads of all dimensions, time and space to plead their case and Janet makes a reconnection. (IMDB)

Time and time again, “The Good Place” has proven itself to be a showpiece for guest actors, and the role of the Judge is no exception.

Maya Rudolph has made several appearances as the ultimate arbiter of moral judgments, but it’s in this episode that she’s given the most to work with. As Michael (Ted Danson) pleads the case of the four humans with an argument that essentially boils down to “life is complicated,” the judge makes the decision to observe humanity firsthand. She journeys down to Earth, her first actual interaction with the people she has been judging for millennia, and it’s messy, to say the least. After experiencing just a quick taste of humanity, the Judge is shaken up. It’s here where Rudolph really shines, as she recounts all of the places she visited on Earth and, worst of all, her encounter with certain unsavory websites after trying to be a conscientious tomato buyer by googling, “big juicy natural tomatoes.”

The character has always been funny, thanks to great writing and Rudolph’s consistently brilliant readings, but this episode gives her the opportunity to build out her Judge with a variety of lived experiences that range from depressingly mundane to actively horrific. Her vision of an omniscient, eternal being trying to justify the lure of a Michigan outlet mall is a comedic moment for the ages.

Kristin Scott Thomas – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 3” 

Episode Synopsis: Fleabag helps with an event at Claire’s work which inevitably ends in disaster, but an introduction to Claire’s colleague proves intriguing. A chance meeting with a stranger opens her eyes. (IMDB)

The strength of Kristin Scott Thomas’s role in “Fleabag”, unlike some other performances that are included in this category, is not so much that it’s hilarious. Objectively, it isn’t, rather, it uses the format of a comedy that occasionally goes to some very dark places to create a real, engaging character. She has such a small amount of screen time but makes such a massive impact not only on the show but on Fleabag’s character arc in general. And after all, isn’t that the goal of a performance in this category?

Thomas plays Belinda Friers, a dry-witted businesswoman who is the recipient of an award meant to highlight women in leadership, despite hating the entire concept of an award. She delivers a monologue about the relationship between women and pain that is not only some of the best writing on television, but is so effortlessly delivered by an actress at the top of her game.

The look on Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s face as she concludes her speech is one of absolute admiration, and it’s hard not to feel the same way when faced with a performance that brings so many different levels to one brief scene. The brevity of her role may work against her; some may argue that there wasn’t enough time for her to solidify her performance in the minds of Emmy voters. But that shouldn’t matter. If we’re going by quality and quality alone, Thomas in “Fleabag” stands very high up on the list.

Fiona Shaw – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2”

Episode Synopsis: Counseling extracts an uncomfortable truth from Fleabag, she finds herself somewhere unexpected. A chat with Claire reveals unwelcome news, Fleabag and Martin face-off, Jake wonders where Claire is. (IMDB)

Fiona Shaw is having quite a year in television. First with “Killing Eve,” and then with this wonderful small performance in “Fleabag.” In a show with a certain skill at using incredibly talented, often classically trained actors in small but significant roles, Fiona Shaw still manages to stand out from the ensemble. After Fleabag receives a gift certificate for a therapy session from her father, she meets with a counselor, played by Fiona Shaw. She is comical in her restrained nature and utter humorlessness, the perfect contrast to Fleabag, who seems physically incapable of stopping herself from using jokes as a defense mechanism. There aren’t a ton of people who can make a middle-aged woman applying lotion and saying, “Excuse me, I have dry forearms,” incredibly funny, but Shaw is one of them.

Realistically, the moment that won Fiona Shaw the Emmy nomination comes fairly late in the scene after Fleabag’s confessed that she wants to sleep with the Hot Priest, and is essentially begging for someone to tell her what she should do. Shaw’s matter-of-fact response, “You already know what you’re going to do. Everybody does,” is so beautifully delivered, so perfect in its truthfulness, that it alone essentially earns her the nomination.

Emma Thompson – “Saturday Night Live” – Episode: “Host: Emma Thompson”

Episode Synopsis: Emma Thompson hosts the Mother’s Day show, Jonas Brothers perform. (IMDB)

Is it possible that Emma Thompson could net her second Emmy in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series by playing herself for a second time? Back in 1998, she won her first Emmy by appearing on “Ellen” as herself — Ellen spots her making out with another woman and tries to convince her to come out publicly.

In a way, it makes perfect sense. In addition to being a terrific actress, Emma Thompson also happens to be an incredibly charming and likable public figure. “Saturday Night Live” uses these qualities to their best effect by allowing Thompson to shine as her witty, irreverent self. In her opening monologue, she effortlessly trades quips with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, holding her own among the two SNL legends despite them very much having home field advantage. But the real highlight of the episode is the “Perfect Mother” sketch, where moments of Heidi Gardner singing her praises as a mother are juxtaposed with an aged-down Emma Thompson screaming like a demon throughout her borderline traumatic experiences of young motherhood.

The episode perhaps isn’t the most consistent one that “Saturday Night Live” has ever aired, but Emma Thompson is note-perfect throughout.

CURRENT OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES PREDICTIONS

  1. Sandra Oh – “Saturday Night Live” – Episode: “Host: Sandra Oh”
  2. Jane Lynch – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy”
  3. Kristin Scott Thomas – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 3”
  4. Maya Rudolph – “The Good Place” – Episode: “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife”
  5. Fiona Shaw – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2”
  6. Emma Thompson – “Saturday Night Live” – Episode: “Host: Emma Thompson”

WILL WIN: Sandra Oh – “Saturday Night Live” – Episode: “Host: Sandra Oh”

SHOULD WIN: Kristin Scott Thomas – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 3”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Sally Phillips – “Veep” – Episode: “Oslo”

What do you think will win Outstanding 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!