Fresh faces grace comedy race

Their series having wrapped up for good, four of last year’s five comedy actress contenders didn’t return to the Acad roster this time, opening up the competish, albeit with several of the nommed thesps’ roles blurring the line between comedy and drama.

The sole returning nominee from last year is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who took home the trophy in 2006 for “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” A favorite with Emmy, Louis-Dreyfus will be a serious contender again, going by her track record with the TV Academy and being the only nominee working on a traditional, multicamera sitcom.

Felicity Huffman lands back in the race after winning two years ago but getting passed over for a nom last year. Huffman also is well liked by TV pros, maintaining her profile at the head of the “Desperate Housewives” pack, but the show appears to have lost some of the cutting-edge appeal that helped her win before.

The new blood this year comes in the form of Tina Fey and America Ferrera. Both made a big splash on breakout new shows, giving them an edge in terms of freshness. Fey, in particular, will get strong support for the way “30 Rock” grew its audience.

Ferrera was an instant sensation with “Ugly Betty,” succeeding in a tough role that requires her to be alternately goofy, naive, smart and subtle.

Mary-Louise Parker has done well with Emmy voters in the past. She’s proved her talents on the smallscreen way before “Weeds,” with stellar turns in “The West Wing” and HBO’s “Angels in America.”

America Ferrera
Show: “Ugly Betty”
Emmy pedigree: First nom
Best scene: Ferrera, in the pilot episode, cannily pleads her credentials for a job at a fashion magazine to an interviewer who has rejected her out of hand based on her appearance. Ferrera shows she can play smart as well as clumsy, all while executing a classic comedy scramble.
Why she may win: Ferrera earned runaway praise when the show first debuted. Her underdog story reflects the character she’s playing, making both the actress and the role selling points.
Maybe not: Ferrera is talented, but her competition has much deeper experience. She also may have a hard time being judged on her acting when the role relies so heavily on the gimmick of her appearance.

Tina Fey
Show: “30 Rock”
Emmy pedigree: One win plus two other noms
Best scene: In “Up All Night,” Fey’s Liz Lemon tries to duck her boss’s wife by hiding behind a door, tossing her handbag around the corner and trying to crawl out. Of course, she’s caught, and says, on her knees, “This would work on ‘Ugly Betty.'”
Why she may win: Alec Baldwin gets a lot of the hype, but Fey is the rock that makes the comedy work, with an appealing, every-woman quality. Fey makes Liz likable and funny but still believable and grounded even amid the insanity that swirls around her.
Maybe not: Though it would be unfair, being the show’s creator and head writer may limit voters’ perception of her as an actress, especially against such powerhouse acting competition.

Felicity Huffman
Show: “Desperate Housewives”
Emmy pedigree: One win
Best scene: In “Bang,” Huffman displays the perfect blend of exasperation and parental manipulation when, while hiding from a gun-wielding woman in a grocery story, she promises her young son a robot with laser eyes if he’ll put Daddy on the phone.
Why she may win: Huffman may be the most popular and well regarded of the popular “Housewives” cast, which should give her a solid standing with voters who tend to stick with favorites. Her character also is the best defined and least cartoony of the soapy “Housewives” crew.
Maybe not: While Huffman still stands out on the show, the “Housewives” ride seems to be losing some steam, which may make it harder for voters to justify another trophy for her.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Show: “The New Adventures of Old Christine”
Emmy pedigree: Two wins plus six other noms
Best scene: In “Playdate With Destiny,” Christine wins a date with her latest crush, played by Blair Underwood, and can’t dig herself out of the hole she makes when she says the word “black” and tries to prove it’s not a racial comment.
Why she may win: Louis-Dreyfus is one of the last great TV comediennes, and the Academy may respond to the qualities that infuse the show and her character with personality.
Maybe not: “Christine” has been short on buzz, putting Louis-Dreyfus at a disadvantage against her higher-profile competitors. Show’s conventional nature also may turn off voters looking to reward more innovative comedy at a time when the genre is struggling.

Mary-Louise Parker
Show: “Weeds”
Emmy pedigree: One win plus one other nom
Best scene: In “Mrs. Botwin’s Neighborhood,” Parker tries to brush off a needy Elizabeth Perkins, who grabs a handful of Parker’s hair and pulls, eliciting hilarious shrill screams until she can break free.
Why she may win: Parker brings real bite and subtlety to her role of a pot-dealing suburban housewife. The adult nature of the show and its pay TV home base gives the role and the show a vibe Emmy voters like and have been missing since the end of “Sex and the City.”
Maybe not: The understated nature of the role is perfect for Parker, but the show and the role tread a fine line between drama and very sly humor that may have a hard time standing out.

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