'30 Rock' reign has no guarantee of continuing

TV sitcoms avoid crude route | Wide-open field for Emmy comedies | ‘Daily Show’ tries to extend streak
Road to the Emmys: Drama

Taking a cue from last year’s diverse batch, one can’t accuse the Academy of staid, predictable nominations in the comedy series category. This is not only the year the multicamera was officially locked out; this year, comedy is a mystery category altogether.

There are still the expected bones to be picked over the usual snubs. NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” “Community,” “Chuck” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” have their share of fans, acclaim and buzz, but apparently not enough to get the Academy’s attention. But noms for new, noteworthy fare like Fox’s “Glee” and ABC’s “Modern Family” reveal voters were thinking outside the box.

With arguably no show a clear-cut favorite, the field seems wide open. This isn’t a slate to bet on with any great confidence. The Peacock might still hold the edge here, with “30 Rock” on a three-year winning streak in this category alongside frequent nominee “The Office,” always a contender. They’re joined by a couple of upstart freshmen in “Glee” and “Modern Family” and Showtime’s dark “Nurse Jackie.”

Or could this finally be the year “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” HBO’s long-running Larry David comedy, stops being the Susan Lucci of the category? Even if “Curb” loses out again, one can imagine David spinning it into the subject of a future episode.

“30 Rock”
NBC
Emmy pedigree: Nommed in 2007 (win), 2008 (win), 2009 (win), 2010.
Highlight: Liz (Tina Fey) anti-celebrates Valentine’s Day as “Anna Howard Shaw Day”; Jack (Alec Baldwin) meets his match in Elizabeth Banks’ fast-talking MSNBC shark, Jenna (Jane Krakowski) is disappointed her stalker is no longer interested, and Jon Bon Jovi stops by for “an appropriate use of my time and talent.”
Why it might win: It’s three for three in this category, why not four for four? Assists from choice guest stars such as James Franco and Julianne Moore, along with some of the show’s more memorable gags, could help.
Maybe not: Critics and the show’s loyal fan and blogger base considered the fourth season to be the comedy’s most erratic. Has it peaked already?

“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
HBO
Emmy pedigree: Nommed in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Highlight: Plenty of them, but arguably the climactic “Seinfeld” reunion in the season finale, which might have even made up for the bitter aftertaste left by the original’s farewell. “This is iconic television here!” Jerry exclaimed.
Why it might win: The show’s seventh season offered plenty of highlights, and the season-long “Seinfeld” thread had that show’s fans in a tizzy. Also: See Emmy pedigree. It’s due.
Maybe not: The meta vibe and misanthropic tone may once again turn some voters off.

“Glee”
Fox
Emmy pedigree: First nom.
Highlight: The Madonna tribute featuring Jane Lynch “Vogue”-ing it up (which Madonna purportedly called “brilliant”), plus the episode with Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Rachel (Lea Michele) competing to sing “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked” was especially poignant.
Why it might win: The spirited show picked up a chorus of loyal fans and buzz as the curtain came down on the frosh season.
Maybe not: A nomination might be considered a win for the show’s first season, one that some critics felt was hampered by hit-or-miss storytelling and characters.

“Modern Family”
ABC
Emmy pedigree: First nom.
Highlight: The pilot episode was an instant winner — this mockumentary-com hit the ground running, filling the dysfunctional family comedy void left by the arrested development of “Arrested Development.”
Why it might win: Gushy reviews pegged it the best new sitcom of the fall. Great cast led by a married-with-grandchildren Ed O’Neill. And maybe Emmy will stay bold.
Maybe not: Comparisons to “Arrested Development,” probably unfair, might not help, nor the group hugs at the end of many an episode.

“Nurse Jackie”
Showtime
Emmy pedigree: First nom.
Highlight: The season finale, directed by “Freaks and Geeks” creator Paul Feig, with its moment in which everything seemed to come together: a tense episode that sent the season out the way it came in, with Jackie in a drug-induced stupor.
Why it might win: Fine cast centered around Edie Falco’s mesmerizing performance in the title role helps carry it. Emmy has shown more interest lately in shows with edge.
Maybe not: Not exactly the most hilarious of the noms, and has more of a small cult following than a large, boisterous one.

“The Office”
NBC
Emmy pedigree: Nommed in 2006 (won), 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010.
Highlight: The two-parter centered around Jim and Pam’s eagerly anticipated wedding in Niagara Falls featured plenty of belly-laughs and a satisfying ceremony (and escape).
Why it might win: Still one of the most popular sitcoms on TV, and still with a fair amount of buzz, especially around that wedding story conclusion.
Maybe not: Last season was considered by fans and critics alike to be one of the more inconsistent in the series’ history, beginning murmurs that the Dunder-Mifflin ship may have gone over Niagara Falls.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more