Emmy Episode Analysis: Will Guest Actress Favor ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Saturday Night Live’?

2017 Emmys Comedy Guest Actress

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, Emmy season.

To prepare for TV’s biggest night (not looking at you, SuperBowl), we are going to dive into each of the major categories. Each acting, writing or directing nominee must submit one episode to be judged on. For series nominations, the series submits six episodes to be judged on. Each Friday, we will tackle a new set of categories to examine and predict the winners after watching (or re-watching) each submitted episode.

Our second week spotlights with the Guest Actress categories in both Comedy and Drama. These performers had to submit episodes for the ballot phase.

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series

Alexis Bledel as Ofglen in “The Handmaid’s Tale” for episode “Late”

Drama Actress Alexis BledelIMDB Synopsis: Offred visits Janine’s baby with Serena Joy and remembers the early days of the revolution, before Gilead. Ofglen faces a difficult challenge.

Rory Gilmore turns rebel. This was one of the big headlines of the first half of 2017 in the TV world. Bledel doesn’t disappoint as Ofglen, a lesbian handmaid and rebel who is punished for her transgressions. Her performance in “Late” is a completely silent performance throughout, which is both wrenching and provoking. We see her on trial, watching her lover hung to death and recovering from genital mutilation. It’s a haunting performance. However, it is silent and there is not a lot of screen time. She’s an early frontrunner, and the show is popular, but there are many who may not go for this performance.

Laverne Cox as Sophia Bursett in “Orange is the New Black” for episode “Doctor Psycho”

Drama Actress Laverne CoxIMDB Synopsis: Nothing stays hidden for long when emotions run high, but Red, Healy and Caputo try to keep the peace. Piper has a business competitor.

Previously a Guest Actress in a Comedy Series nominee, Cox feels much more at home in the drama category. This episode in particular gives her a great chance to showcase her dramatic chops. She’s only in three short scenes, but all find Sophia locked up in solitary confinement and rebelling against the prison. Voters may have cooled on “Orange is the New Black,” despite season four being a series high. On top of that, Cox’s screentime barely rises over five minutes. However, it’s a powerful and relevant performance that may generate votes.

Ann Dowd as Patti Leven in “The Leftovers” for episode “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother”

Drama Actress Ann DowdIMDB Synopsis: On a mission of mercy, Kevin assumes an alternate identity.

Over the course of three years, Dowd has portrayed the villainous leader Patti Leven in a multitude of ways. In her lone episode in season three, Patti is Secretary of Defense in Kevin’s dream scenario. She’s loud, expressive and commands the room as she tries to use nuclear bombs to end the world. It takes a while for her to show up. However, when she does, it is quite the showy treat. Dowd can take comfort in the fact that she is well loved this year. She also reaped a nomination for Supporting Actress for her role as the horrific Aunt Lydia in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” That could make her the spoiler here, as she gets some juicy scenes in Alexis Bledel’s episode as well. The only thing standing in her way is the lack of love for “The Leftovers” (this is the lone nomination the show has received).

Shannon Purser as Barb in “Stranger Things” for episode “Chapter Three: Holly Jolly”

Drama Actress Shannon PurserIMDB Synopsis: An increasingly concerned Nancy looks for Barb and finds out what Jonathan’s been up to. Joyce is convinced Will is trying to talk to her.

Barb became a cultural sensation upon the premiere of “Stranger Things.” There’s a lot to like about the good-hearted, frumpy 80s friend who gets taken to the upside down. However, Purser’s episode submission gives her nothing to do. Her only scene is the first scene, where Barb struggles to escape but is pulled back by a monster. This is intercut with her best friend having sex. If Barb wins, its on the popularity of the show and the joke of the character alone.

Cicely Tyson as Ophelia Harkness in “How to Get Away with Murder” for episode “Go Cry Somewhere Else”

Drama Actress Cicely TysonIMDB Synopsis: The prosecution attempts to bring up a new charge against Annalise; Nate reveals new information that could jeopardize his own innocence.

There are few legends as powerful as Cicely Tyson. A screen veteran, her gumption and pizzaz jumps off the screen to this day whenever she is seen. She was nominated in the past for a truly dynamite episode complete with every dramatic flourish. However, she lost. This time, she’s back with an episode that deals with her character’s dementia. Unfortunately, this is a small side plot in a more soapy show. Tyson performs admirably, but isn’t given enough to do to contend for a win on performance alone.

Alison Wright as Martha in “The Americans” in “The Soviet Division”

Drama Actress Alison WrightIMDB Synopsis: Phillip and Elizabeth race against the clock as a life hangs in the balance, while Stan faces an uncertain future.

Wright has had quite a good couple years between “The Americans” and appearing in “Feud: Bette and Joan.” Having been sent to Russia, Martha adopts a Russian accent and adjusts to her new life. It’s great to catch up with a character that has more than earned a nomination in the past. However, her scene in the park is not enough to warrant citation in this year. If the writers want to bring Martha back, I welcome what is to come. However, one scene isn’t enough of a fix for Emmys, unless your name is Margo Martindale.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Alexis Bledel – “The Handmaid’s Tale”

  2. Ann Dowd – “The Leftovers”

  3. Laverne Cox – “Orange is the New Black”

  4. Cicely Tyson – “How to Get Away with Murder”

  5. Alison Wright – “The Americans”

  6. Shannon Purser – “Stranger Things”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Ann Dowd – “The Leftovers”

  2. Alexis Bledel – “The Handmaid’s Tale”

  3. Laverne Cox – “Orange is the New Black”

  4. Cicely Tyson – “How to Get Away with Murder”

  5. Alison Wright – “The Americans”

  6. Shannon Purser – “Stranger Things”

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Becky Ann Baker as Loreen Horvath in “Girls” for episode “Gummies”

Comedy Actress Becky Ann BakerIMDB Synopsis: Adam and Jessa begin shooting scenes for their film; Hannah’s mother has a hard time accepting the next phase of her life; Marnie does a less-than-stellar job of being there for a grieving Ray.

Becky Ann Baker has stolen enough scenes in “Girls” to build a whole season. That makes her nomination so welcome. Her episode does a good job of blending drama (Loreen learns of Hannah’s pregnancy, she also laments about her failed marriage) with comedy (she gets lost while high on pot gummies). While most of the episode revolves around Hannah and Elijah looking for her, Baker is not in most of the episode. It’s distressing that Baker did not pick the series finale, which features her in a more prominent light. However, going broad comedy could help her here. In addition, with her on-screen ex-husband Peter Scolari winning last year, the path is possible for Baker to pull out a win for the last season of “Girls.”

Angela Bassett as Catherine in “Master of None” for episode “Thanksgiving”

Comedy Actress Angela BassettIMDB Synopsis: Over a series of Thanksgivings from the ’90s to the present, Denise settles into her sexuality and faces the challenge of coming out to her family.

“Thanksgiving” stands as perhaps the best episode of TV this year – comedy or drama. One must credit, in part, Angela Bassett being brought on for this episode only as Denise’s mother. Over the course of nearly 20 years, Bassett paints a rich, fully realized portrait of a working class single mother. Her arc related to dealing with her daughter’s sexuality is poignant and brilliantly rendered. On talent alone, she will reap many votes. However, with flashier, more outwardly comedic roles, Bassett may fall short of a win.

Carrie Fisher as Mia in “Catastrophe” for episode “Episode Six”

Comedy Actress Carrie FisherIMDB Synopsis: Rob and Sharon are in Ireland to say goodbye to Sharon’s dad and Mia comes to pay her version of respects. Also, Rob still hasn’t managed to talk about his collapse.

Carrie Fisher’s untimely death still stings. However, this nomination for “Catastrophe” is not just merely honoring her for her life. It’s a genuinely funny, small performance that reminds us how talented she was. Her character, Mia, travels to the funeral of her daughter-in-law’s father. While there, she acts inappropriately in her attempts to comfort the widow. Fisher nails some choice lines and has a great parting joke when both women become friends. Fisher’s death will help her get further in the race. However, it’s a nice performance that does deserve to be in the category.

Melissa McCarthy as Herself in “Saturday Night Live” for episode “Host: Melissa McCarthy”

Comedy Actress Melissa McCarthyIMDB Synopsis: N/A

McCarthy’s Sean Spicer was one of the highlights of SNL’s election year. It would seem natural that this would propel McCarthy to a win on her fifth SNL hosted episode. The episode starts off great, as she celebrates Mother’s Day and takes one audience member around backstage. However, other than one extended Spicer skit with a hilarious ending, McCarthy is either average or absent for most of the other skits. She may win just based on the season long work on Spicer she did. However, the episode itself is not as strong as many would think based on the season.

Wanda Sykes as Daphne Lido in “Black-ish” for episode “Lemons”

Comedy Actress Wanda SykesIMDB Synopsis: Tensions are particularly high at Dre’s work as the nation continues to reel from the results of the presidential election.

“Lemons” remains as one of the smartest and most level headed takes following the 2016 election. It’s a poignant reminder of people frustrated by the differences that divide us and how hard it is to overcome them. That said, Sykes has never been more than a one-liner generator on “Black-ish.” She’ll come in for one scene, toss out a couple jokes, and be done. Here she has more fire in her as she questions a co-worker who voted for Trump. However, it’s hardly a showcase episode for her.

Kristen Wiig as Herself in “Saturday Night Live” for episode “Host: Kristen Wiig”

Comedy Actress Kristen WiigIMDB Synopsis: N/A

Few people are as naturally funny as Kristen Wiig. Her guest hosting of “Saturday Night Live” has perhaps the most laughs per minute of any SNL tape I’ve watched this year. Not only is Wiig able to tackle new roles, such as a hopeful QVC host, but she gets to reprise some favorite roles, such as Surprise Lady. What hurts Wiig is that her episode is less topical than her competitor’s tape. “Saturday Night Live” amassed the most nominations this year in part because of its material against Donald Trump. With fellow nominee Melissa McCarthy drawing headlines for her portrayal of Sean Spicer, she has a far better chance than Wiig at winning, no matter how good Wiig is.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Becky Ann Baker – “Girls”

  2. Angela Bassett – “Master of None”

  3. Carrie Fisher – “Catastrophe”

  4. Kristen Wiig – “Saturday Night Live”

  5. Melissa McCarthy – “Saturday Night Live”

  6. Wanda Sykes – “Black-ish”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Melissa McCarthy – “Saturday Night Live”

  2. Carrie Fisher – “Catastrophe”

  3. Becky Ann Baker – “Girls”

  4. Angela Bassett – “Master of None”

  5. Wanda Sykes – “Black-ish”

  6. Kristen Wiig – “Saturday Night Live”

Previous Emmy Episode Analysis Entries:

Who do you think will win the Guest Actress categories at the Emmys? Share with us in the comments.

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Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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Following Donald Trump controversy with transgdenders , i can see Laverne Cox winning the award from her peers….Carie Fisher also to win for sentimental reasons


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