Emmy Circuit: Can Anyone Beat Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Comedy Lead Actress?

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

Routinely the Comedy Lead Actress category delivers the best nomination. TV comedies are overflowing with rich, exciting leading roles for women. With so many great choices, the Emmys went with a really interesting lineup full of unexpected choices. Four of the six nominees are first-time nominees for their shows. Two were on exciting freshmen Netflix series while the other two were from respected shows later in the series. Yet, the category also features two winners battling it out. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has never lost for “Veep” over the course of six seasons. Last year (when “Veep” did not air new episodes), Rachel Brosnahan earned a win for the first season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Will the Emmys pick one of the two winners or go for some new blood?

AND THE NOMINEES ARE… 

  • Christina Applegate – “Dead to Me” – Episode: “I’ve Gotta Get Away”
  • Rachel Brosnahan – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “Midnight at the Concord”
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus – “Veep” – Episode: “Veep”
  • Natasha Lyonne – “Russian Doll” – Episode: “Nothing In This World Is Easy”
  • Catherine O’Hara – “Schitt’s Creek” – Episode: “The Crowening”
  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2.1”

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

NOMINEE #1 – Christina Applegate – “Dead to Me” – Episode: “I’ve Gotta Get Away”

Synopsis (IMDB): A grief retreat in Palm Springs gives Jen a chance to move on and cut loose under the watchful eye of Judy, who soon follows her friend’s lead.

“Dead to Me” is an fun, odd addition to the comedy field. The shows frank treatment of death often time hews closer to drama than comedy. Christina Applegate leans into both aspects of the dramedy with her submission. “I’ve Gotta Get Away” find recently widowed Jen (Applegate) taking off to a Palm Springs grief retreat with Judy (Linda Cardellini) in tow. Faced with a weekend of professional grievers, Jen opts to getting drunk and flirting with some of the hot (newly) single people at the retreat. Applegate unearths the sadness beneath her antics. This makes the episode an emotional, as well as funny, submission. Going dramatic has worked well for some (Edie Falco – “Nurse Jackie”) and poorly for others (Laura Dern – “Enlightened”). Whatever the outcome, Christina Applegate put her best foot forward.

As good as Christina Applegate is in the show, she stands the least chance at winning. Applegate’s lead actress nomination represents the only Primetime Emmy nomination for “Dead to Me.” Both Melissa McCarthy (“Mike & Molly”) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”) earned a win without other major nominations for their shows. Still, one was coming off a big summer movie and the other is an Emmy juggernaut. Applegate already has one Emmy (Guest Actress for “Friends”) from four previous nominations. Having already won, she doesn’t have the “overdue” narrative that could help pull out a surprise win.

NOMINEE #2 – Rachel Brosnahan – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “Midnight at the Concord”

Synopsis (IMDB): Summer season at Steiner Mountain Resort continues as Moishe and Shirley join the group, disturbing Abe’s peace. Susie tries to ward off a new friend while keeping a low profile at the resort. Midge jumps at the opportunity to redeem herself at B. Altman.

Season two of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” peaked during the extended episodes in the Catskills Mountains. The Weissman’s vacation to Steiner Mountain Resort gave all actors plenty to do as they lounged by the lake. As the titular “Mrs. Maisel,” Rachel Brosnahan makes a great submission with “Midnight at the Concord.” Her Midge feels right at home at the resort, but wants to exercise her comedy muscles. This leads to a rousing final scene where Midge performs her decidedly not-family-friendly routine for a large crowd that, unexpectedly, includes her Father, Abe (Tony Shalhoub). Brosnahan delivers a performance that works on two levels. She shows Midge’s horror and embarrassment as she locks eyes with Abe. Still, the show must go on. She delivers each bawdy punchline with perfect timing.

Last year, Rachel Brosnahan became the first winner in this category not named “Julia Louis-Dreyfus” since 2011. There’s a lot that makes her a threat to go head-to-head with Louis-Dreyfus. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” gives Brosnahan hour long episodes where she lets jokes fly at an exceedingly rapid rate. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue is tough to master, and Brosnahan always succeeds. Though season two received a few more mixed reviews, the Emmys upped its nomination count to 20. Still, the buzz seems to have moved to the ensemble, rather than star.

NOMINEE #3 – Julia Louis-Dreyfus – “Veep” – Episode: “Veep”

Episode Synopsis (IMDB): The nominating fight between Selina and her rivals reaches its climax, as their race comes to a historic finish.

Series finales are hard work. Luckily, “Veep” stuck the landing. One of the main reasons the show ended on such a satisfyingly tart note was Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ magnificent performance. Over seven years, enough praise has been heaped onto her performance as Vice President turned President turned ex-President Selina Meyer. What she does in the finale feels like something different. She exposes Selina as a true villain a la Walter White. In order to win the nomination, Selina promises to fight against gay marriage. She even sacrifices her most loyal companion, Gary (Tony Hale). Louis-Dreyfus relishes Selina’s new level of evil. She takes the traditional male anti-hero plot and makes it this finely orchestrated comedic piece de resistance.

We’ve wrote ad nauseam about Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Emmy dominance. If she wins this year, she sets history with the most wins for a single acting performer. Currently she is tied with Cloris Leachman for the title, with eleven wins a piece. This narrative is almost impossible to resist. The Emmys have always given Louis-Dreyfus the win for her work as Selina Meyer. This year should be no different. Still, “Veep” went down to nine nominations this year. This was the first time they have decreased in nominations. This spells doom for its Comedy Series chances for its final season. Yet, Louis-Dreyfus should still come in ahead.

NOMINEE #4 – Natasha Lyonne – “Russian Doll” – Episode: “Nothing In This World Is Easy”

Episode Synopsis (IMDB): On the night of her 36th birthday party, Nadia meets an untimely end then suddenly finds herself back at the party a moment later.

Natasha Lyonne has been stealing scenes for two decades. It was about time she got a starring role of her own. “Russian Doll” gives her quite a vehicle to headline a show. What the pilot shows is her charisma and energy translate well into the center stage. She gives us just enough to be endeared to her character before she is transported into this “Groundhog Day” situation. Yet, the show starts off as more of a conceit than a character study. The show delves more into her personal background, which makes the performance more complex and interesting. Yet, the pilot gives us very little to latch onto with this character. She starts out as a vague persona nestled amongst gaudy-chic production design. The pilot never takes her on a journey or starts her out on her arc. I may have been hard on the show initially. Yet, it takes too long before we peel back the surface and understand who Nadia is and why we are following her on this journey.

“Russian Doll” earned the most nominations of any new series (thirteen). This shows an immense amount of love for the show that will likely pay off somewhere. If not in writing, could it be in actress for Natasha Lyonne? Previously Lyonne was nominated for Guest Actress in a Comedy for “Orange is the New Black” (back when it was in comedy). It also helps that Lyonne is also nominated for producing and writing the show. Between her, O’Hara and Waller-Bridge, there are lots of passionate factions within this category. They may end up splitting the vote, paving the way for Louis-Dreyfus. It’s also possible that they draw enough voters away from Brosnahan and Louis-Dreyfus to stage a win. Truly anything is possible this year.

NOMINEE #5 – Catherine O’Hara – “Schitt’s Creek” – Episode: “The Crowening”

Episode Synopsis (IMDB): While Moira is in Bosnia filming the Crows movie that she hopes will revive her acting career, David attempts to take his relationship with Patrick to new heights.

Moira Rose is a true creation. Catherine O’Hara gives her gesticulating former soap star wit and heart in equal, bountiful measures. The season opener for “Schitt’s Creek” finds Moira filming a horror movie in Bosnia. Her commitment to “The Crows Have Eyes III: The Crowening” is admirable and hilarious. O’Hara succeeds in not making Moira the butt of the joke, but rather the joke driver. Before filming, she gives the director a pep talk about approaching even the schlock-y horror film seriously. It’s not all talk, Moira and O’Hara deliver the goods. Her call to action to the crows, decked in feathers, is absolutely galvanizing. This episode blends O’Hara’s perfect line readings with a proper spotlight. The results are extraordinary.

O’Hara has long been a comedy icon. Her work in Christopher Guest films (“Best in Show,” “Waiting for Guffman) is consistently great. Yet, she seems to have flown under the radar from awards, even when she’s making movies about awards (“For Your Consideration”). It’s strange that this marks her first Emmy nomination. Yet, her character seems perfectly tailored for the awards campaign (not just because Moira loves awards season). Still, this category is the most competitive of all the Emmy categories. When “Schitt’s Creek” enters its final season next year (and “Veep” is long gone), O’Hara will be poised to win.

NOMINEE #6 – Phoebe Waller-Bridge – “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.

The first episode of “Fleabag” is perhaps the best half hour of TV this year. This makes it a perfect showcase for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is also nominated for writing this episode. After the tumultuous events of season one, Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) shows up to a family dinner where Godmother (Olivia Colman) and Dad (Bill Patterson) announce their engagement. There are many more elements at play, as Fleabag tries to repair her fractured relationship with her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford). Waller-Bridge and Clifford’s chemistry is astounding, coming to a head during a scene in the bathroom where Claire has a miscarriage. On an even more basic level, Waller-Bridge doesn’t just create a fully realized character. By breaking the fourth wall, she develops a rich, complex relationship with us, the audience.

The Emmys have fallen head over heels for Phoebe Waller-Bridge for “Fleabag” season two. This year alone, she’s nominated in three separate categories for “Fleabag” (Comedy Series as a producer, Lead Actress and Writing). It’s very likely she will be heading home with an Emmy. Most likely, it will be in the writing category. Never place bets against Julia Louis-Dreyfus in this category. Still, if “Fleabag” catches fire at the Emmys, Waller-Bridge could earn multiple awards.

CURRENT LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES PREDICTIONS

  1. Julia Louis-Dreyfus – “Veep” – Episode: “Veep”
  2. Phoebe Waller-Bridge – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2.1”
  3. Rachel Brosnahan – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Episode: “Midnight at the Concord”
  4. Natasha Lyonne – “Russian Doll” – Episode: “Nothing In This World Is Easy”
  5. Catherine O’Hara – “Schitt’s Creek” – Episode: “The Crowening”
  6. Christina Applegate – “Dead to Me” – Episode: “I’ve Gotta Get Away”

WILL WIN: Julia Louis-Dreyfus – “Veep” – Episode: “Veep”

SHOULD WIN: Phoebe Waller-Bridge – “Fleabag” – Episode: “Episode 2.1”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Justina Machado – One Day at a Time

What do you think will win Outstanding Lead Actress for 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!