Rather than partake in femme-skewing ensembles — think “Desperate Housewives” — this year’s female comedy lead contenders all are signature players in the success of their respective shows.
The tones and styles of the nominees’ series couldn’t be more wide-ranging. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ “The New Adventures of Old Christine” is the only traditional studio-audience sitcom among the nominees, while Mary-Louise Parker’s “Weeds” is probably the darkest comedy ever to get its star nominated, though the laughs in Showtime’s drug-dealing half-hour come as hard as the storylines’ sad consequences.
Louis-Dreyfus’ win two years ago proves that she has certainly transitioned well from “Seinfeld” and the TV Acad has accepted her as playing someone besides Elaine Benes.
Last year’s winner, America Ferrera of “Ugly Betty,” stands alone this time as the only hourlong-show nominee. Tina Fey is symbolic of primetime comedy’s new normal: the single-camera ensemble that likes its humor dry. And in “Samantha Who?” Christina Applegate harks back to “I Love Lucy” with her loose-limbed physical comedy, showcased through today’s single-camera lens.
All this year’s nominees have won Emmys in the past and are returning from the 2007 Emmy race, except first-year “Samantha” lead Applegate, who supplanted “Desperate Housewives” co-star Felicity Huffman. That’s another indication of the trend away from lighthearted hour shows and back toward laugh-out-loud sitcom perfs.
Show: “Samantha Who?”
Emmy pedigree: One win plus one nom
Best scene: Sam tries bonding with her dad on a hunting trip and then gets arrested when the old boyfriend spots her holding a rifle.
Why she might win: Applegate’s reforming amnesiac hits the trifecta — verbal comedy, physical comedy, emotional poignancy — in picking up the pieces of her old (selfish) life with a new (nicer) attitude. She’s a clear leading lady, and she isn’t just silly, she’s soulful.
Maybe not: “Samantha Who?” lacks the cachet of other nommed laffers, thus far airing only a strike-shortened half-season.
Show: “Ugly Betty”
Emmy pedigree: One win
Best scene: A poisoned perfume magnifies Betty’s emotions and behavior, climaxing in a telenovela-style courtroom revelation.
Why she might win: With no “Desperate Housewives” competition this time, reigning Emmy champ Ferrera is the only hourlong-show contender, and her extended time on the screen may play a factor.
Maybe not: “Ugly Betty’s” second-season plot turns earned a so-so reception. Also, it’s difficult to repeat in this category. Patricia Heaton was the last to pull it off (2000-01).
Show: “30 Rock”
Emmy pedigree: Two wins plus four other noms
Best scene: Liz Lemon cuts loose, imagining herself as Marcia Brady, acting hot around her ex-boyfriend and wielding an award statue as a weapon against co-workers who’ve eaten her food.
Why she might win: She received an Emmy last year for producing the show but not for her portrayal. Fey’s performance as the frazzled sketchfest showrunner is the series’ linchpin, riding herd weekly on a chorus of crazies.
Maybe not: Fey’s the least flashy person in a rambunctious circus. Subtlety tends to be more appreciated on the page than on the screen.
Show: “The New Adventures of Old Christine”
Emmy pedigree: Two wins plus seven other noms
Best scene: Christine gets hormonally frantic at the looming prospect of menopause and tells off the snooty young private school moms she’s been battling the entire series.
Why she might win: With this being her 10th nomination, there’s little doubt of the TV Acad’s fondness for the actress, who’s made a nice living playing characters who make an ass out of themselves.
Maybe not: Show buzz swung this season toward Wanda Sykes’ supporting sass.
Emmy pedigree: One win plus two other noms
Best scene: Dragged deeper into the drug trade and forced to let her son sell, too, Nancy has a slow psychotic breakdown while cleaning up her Prius after a drive-by shooting.
Why she might win: She’s funky and ferocious as the desperate housewife/drug dealer, straddling suburbia and the underworld with dry determination that deepens by the season.
Maybe not: It’s a show about drug dealing, with gangs and violence. One Emmy voter’s black comedy is another voter’s odious offense.