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.
Great performances are vital to draw an audience into a series. But it is good writing that keeps them coming back year after year. Comedy writers have a different challenge than their dramatic contemporaries. How does one keep the laughs coming without letting the joke get old? This year’s field honors episodes from three returning series, including one final season, and two newcomers. One of those newcomers was good enough to nab two slots in the lineup. Let’s take a closer look at the episodes with the best comedy writing this year.
AND THE NOMINEES ARE…
- “Barry” – Episode: “ronny/lily”
- “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 1”
- “PEN15” – Episode: “Anna Ishil-Peters”
- “Russian Doll” – Episode: “Nothing in This World Is Easy”
- “Russian Doll” – Episode: “A Warm Body”
- “The Good Place” – Episode: “Janet(s)”
- “Veep” – Episode: “Veep”
NOMINEE #1 – “BARRY” – Episode: “ronny/lily”
Episode Synopsis: An encounter that Barry never could have predicted has surprising effects. (IMDb)
For a series that hit the ground running in season one, there was a lot riding on season two. Could it possibly live up to the brilliance the first achieved? With 17 nominations this year, it’s clear the TV Academy was ready for more of their favorite reformed hit man. Bill Hader and Alec Berg are nominated for writing a standout episode in a season full of them.
The fifth of eight, “ronny/lily” takes the audience along on a weird night in which things go from bad to worse for Barry. Conscripted to take out Ronny Proxin (Daniel Bernhardt), the hit is almost too easy. At least until Barry turns around and discovers Ronny’s young daughter, Lily (Jessie Giacomazzi), has witnessed the incident. Of course, this means needing to tie up loose ends. That leaves Barry in a moral quandary and he and Monroe spend a lot of the night trying to track down the girl, all while trying to not discuss their fractured partnership.
This episode was a perfect selection for Emmy consideration. While it enriches the experience to have prior knowledge of who the characters are, “ronny/lily” is an ideal gateway introduction for voters that might not have watched the show before. The dark humor is in full force, and the uninitiated can understand the stakes without knowing much about Barry or anyone else. And for fans, this is one that shines a spotlight on the brilliant, often understated, biting comedy that we all love.
NOMINEE #2 – “FLEABAG” – Episode: “Episode 1”
Episode Synopsis: 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. (IMDb)
The three year gap between the first and second seasons of “Fleabag” only seems to have strengthened its fan base. Eleven nominations later, it’s clear that the British series from Phoebe Waller-Bridge is one of the best comedies out there. Between “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which missed out in this category, Amazon is doing great things with their comedies. Will they translate that to wins?
Waller-Bridge penned “Episode 1,” which catches up with the family by way of an awkward dinner that illuminates splintered family dynamics. The audience is drawn in by Waller-Bridge’s performance as the title character, but it is witty dialogue and snappy retorts that make this show really grab your attention. Sure, anyone new to the show has some catching up to do, particularly when it comes to Fleabag’s antagonistic relationship Godmother. There is plenty to enjoy with this nominee, from perfectly placed fourth-wall breaks to Fleabag’s fascination with a particularly charming priest.
“Barry” certainly has the edge,” but with “Mrs. Maisel” missing out, Amazon’s efforts are more focused on “Fleabag.” This could be the one to upset the frontrunner.
NOMINEE #3 – “PEN15” – Episode: “Anna Ishil-Peters”
Episode Synopsis: Anna gets to sleep over at Maya’s house on a school night and can’t wait to become part of the Ishii-Peter family. But things turn as Anna gets a little too comfortable. (IMDb)
Hulu surprised the world with this unusual series about the joys and pains of growing up. “PEN15” stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle as middle school versions of themselves. Together they navigate the treacherous waters of middle school and all that comes with it, from teen smoking to internet safety and so much more.
Their nominated episode, “Anna Ishii-Peters,” is one that could easily have taken on the cheesy, fuzzy feel of 90s TV that always ended with a “what did we learn from this?” message. Maya gets her first period while dealing with the realization that her parents seem to like Anna better than her. Meanwhile, Anna learns her parents are splitting up, and seeks the security and refuge of Maya and her family. The friendship is tested the way 7th grade friendships always are, and everyone comes through learning something about each other and themselves.
“PEN15” has a loyal group of fans, but with only one writing nomination, it seems that will have to be its reward this time around.
NOMINEE #4 – “RUSSIAN DOLL” – Episode: “Nothing In This World Is Easy”
Episode Synopsis: On the night of her 36th birthday party, Nadia meets an untimely end then suddenly finds herself back at the party a moment later. (IMDb)
There are plenty of stories of people forced to relive the same day over and over. The beloved 90s comedy “Groundhog Day,” sci fi/action “Edge of Tomorrow,” and Blumhouse horror “Happy Death Day” all spring to mind in this subgenre that gives the audience a lot of room to ponder how they would spend their time if they had to die night after night.
In “Russian Doll,” Natasha Lyonne is confronted with this weird phenomenon on her birthday. But instead of reliving the entire day, Nadia Vulvokov (Lyonne) returns each night to the same party, in her friend Maxine’s bathroom. That would be jarring enough for anyone, but it sends Nadia down a strange path as she tries to figure out how this is happening and why.
The freshman series riveted audiences when it premiered this past February on Netflix. Enthusiasm propelled the newbie to 13 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Comedy Series and Lead Actress. But the biggest surprise came when “Russian Doll” scored two of the coveted slots for writing. We’ll examine the other in a moment, but when it comes to television, the premiere episode is rarely exceptional. As more and more series go to streaming, the ability to slowly build an audience is disappearing. Shows have to be great right out of the gate or quickly vanish into obscurity. That’s why this debut should not be ignored. It is strong, asks a lot more questions than it answers, and leaves the viewer wanting to go straight into episode two.
NOMINEE #5 – “RUSSIAN DOLL” – Episode: “A Warm Body”
Episode Synopsis: Nadia’s hunt for clues leads her to a Yeshiva school but she needs John’s help. Out searching for Oatmeal, Nadia befriends a homeless man. (IMDb)
The third episode of the new Netflix hit, “Russian Doll,” solidified the series as a bonafide sensation. As Nadia continues trying to figure out what is happening to her, she finds herself getting more confused and frustrated as she keeps finding new questions. It’s a great performance episode from Natasha Lyonne, as well as a lot of fun for her co-stars, including Brendan Sexton III, who plays a homeless man named Horse.
“A Warm Body” is a great choice here because Lyonne and company seem to have settled into the quirkiness of the concept and can have a bit more fun. “Russian Doll” isn’t always an overtly funny series, but for comedy writing, this episode really shines. The only trouble is that writers Leslye Headland and Allison Silverman are competing with themselves in a very strong category. Vote-splitting is a likely issue. These two entries are distinguished enough to have a lot of fans, but when appreciating this depends greatly on how you felt about the first, the edge goes to the premiere.
NOMINEE #6 – “THE GOOD PLACE” – Episode: “Janet(s)”
Episode Synopsis: Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason are now in Janet’s world, an endless void, made necessary when Shawn’s minion demons came a calling out of his makeshift portal. It’s up to her to protect them while Michael tries to get information on just how the points system works for Good Place/Bad Place separation from the former’s accountant who assigns said points. (IMDb)
“The Good Place” is one of the most surprising shows on television. It started as a goofy comedy about a woman (Kristen Bell) who wakes up one day to find herself in The Good Place, even though she knows darn well she belongs in The Bad Place. In the seasons that followed, creator Michael Schur invited the audience on a journey into a series that reinvents itself every year. What seemed at first like a limiting concept became, instead, grand and infinite. Anything can happen for Eleanor and her friends. And anything often does.
This nominated episode, “Janet(s),” is perhaps the most brilliant episode they’ve done. It should have garnered a Supporting Actress nod for D’Arcy Carden, who plays Janet. It’s an amazing showcase for Carden, because when the gang gets trapped in a waiting space, they all take on the appearance of Janet while still acting like themselves. The dialogue is brilliant and the staging is wholly unexpected, leading to a new step forward for our beloved group of displaced.
With five overall nominations and none of them for star Kristen Bell or for Carden, it’s a tough road to a win. The fourth and final season is just weeks away, though, and some may see this as a good time to finally reward Schur and company with its first award.
NOMINEE #7 – “VEEP” – Episode: “Veep”
Episode Synopsis: The nominating fight between Selina and her rivals reaches its climax, as their race comes to a historic finish. (IMDb)
As “Veep” sings its swan song, it goes out with nine nods, including three for acting and one for Comedy Series. The HBO darling has long been adored by fans, and star Julia Louis-Dreyfus stands the possibility of becoming the most decorated TV performer in history if she wins her seventh consecutive prize.
After taking 2018 off, “Veep” returned with a lot of fanfare and met with a less enthusiastic welcome than expected. Over the weeks, fans were committed to seeing it through, but by many accounts, the final hours with Selina Meyer were somewhat messy and didn’t quite live up to the years that came before. But the writers still managed to turn things around, delivering a finale that fans appreciated and that would garner them their final chance at an Emmy for this groundbreaking series.
“Veep” has a very vocal and passionate group of champions, and clearly the Emmys love Louis-Dreyfus, who may very well win her category. But with the current state of prestige television and such strong competition here, it’s hard to say that the “final season” coronation will apply this time around.
CURRENT WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES PREDICTIONS
- Alec Berg, Bill Hader – “Barry” – Episode: “RONNY/LILY”
- Phoebe Waller-Bridge – “Fleabag” – Episode: “EPISODE 1”
- Josh Siegal, Dylan Morgan – “The Good Place” – Episode: “JANET(S)”
- Leslye Headland – “Russian Doll” – Episode: “NOTHING IN THIS WORLD IS EASY”
- David Mandel – “Veep” – Episode: “VEEP”
- Allison Silverman – “Russian Doll” – Episode: “A WARM BODY”
- Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, Stacy Osei-Kuffour – “Pen15” – Episode: “ANNA ISHII-PETERS”
WILL WIN: “Barry” – Episode: “RONNY/LILY”
SHOULD WIN: “The Good Place” – Episode: “JANET(S)”
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: “What We Do in the Shadows” – Episode: “THE TRIAL”; “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – “MIDNIGHT AT THE CONCORD”
What do you think will win Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series this year? Let us know in the comments below.