Road to the Emmys: The Actress - Comedy

Emmy voters got serious about spreading the funny-lady love this year, as no fewer than half of the nominees are competing in this race for the first time.

Laura Linney might be known more as a movie star, but she has three Emmys statuettes at home and could get a fourth here for her turn as staid suburbanite Cathy Jamison who, faced with death, decides to live it up in Showtime’s dark comedy “The Big C.”

The two other actresses making their debut appearances were also recognized for the freshman seasons of their respective series: Martha Plimpton, who’s managed to bring both snark and heart to her portrayal of young working-class grandma Virginia Chance on “Raising Hope,” and Melissa McCarthy, whose turn as a bubbly schoolteacher embarking on a new romance helped make “Mike & Molly” a Monday night hit for CBS.

Still, the newbies will face formidable competition from the veterans in this category. Despite last year’s acceptance-speech protestation that she’s not funny, defending champ Edie Falco netted another nom for artfully depicting the highs (and lows) of addiction as Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” while Tina Fey, who won in 2008, only burnished her rep as an TV Acad darling with her fifth consecutive acting nod for “30 Rock.”

Fey’s fellow former “Saturday Night Live” co-star Amy Poehler, who earned a second successive nom for her dryly funny work as ambitious city official Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation,” has yet to pick up a trophy. Considering her buzzy show’s momentum — “Parks and Rec” is also competing for the first time in the comedy series race — this could prove to be her moment.

Tina Fey
“30 Rock” (NBC)
Best scene: Trapped for hours on a grounded plane, Liz finally confronts the pilot, who’s also her boyfriend Carol (Matt Damon), and, in the process, faces a humorously harsh truth: She’s dating the male version of herself — and it’s unbearable.
Why she might win: The Emmys like Fey. They really, really like her. The actress-writer-producer has earned 19 noms and seven trophies (though only one in this category) for her work on “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live.”
Maybe not: “30 Rock” isn’t the hot new kid on the block anymore, and newer entrants have more buzz.

Edie Falco
“Nurse Jackie” (Showtime)
Best scene: After a rat that snacked on her illicit pills suddenly drops dead in a co-worker’s lunch, Jackie flushes the offending rodent down a hospital toilet, pausing only to offer this annoyed eulogy: “You messed with my stash.”
Why she might win: With last year’s “Jackie” triumph, the former “Sopranos” thesp became the first actress to win lead actress Emmys for both comedy and drama. Her spot in the history books only reinforces what the industry already knows: The iconic Falco can do it all.
Maybe not: No winner in this category has pulled off a repeat victory in more than a decade.

Laura Linney
“The Big C” (Showtime)
Best scene: While keeping her melanoma diagnosis to herself, Cathy comes down hard on her rebellious teen, whom she’s determined to mold into a respectable man while she still can. “From now on,” she shouts, “I’m going to raise you so hard, your head’s going to spin!”
Why she might win: Linney pulled off a seemingly impossible feat with her pitch-perfect, Golden Globe-winning perf: She let viewers know it was OK to not only feel for, but also laugh at, a woman battling cancer. Plus, the Oscar-nominated thesp is apparently irresistible to the TV Acad: Previously honored for a “Frasier” guest spot and twice in the lead actress in a miniseries or movie category, she’s never lost an Emmy race.
Maybe not: There’s a first time for everything.

Melissa McCarthy
“Mike & Molly” (CBS)
Best scene: Fighting off a cold before her first date with Mike (Billy Gardell), Molly guzzles codeine-laced cough syrup, then takes a diet pill to counteract it, which turns the usually shy, sensible teacher into an aggressive extrovert.
Why she might win: A veteran supporting player, McCarthy finally got a leading-lady opportunity and ran with it. The fact that she also dominated “Bridesmaids,” one of the year’s biggest comedic films, certainly doesn’t hurt.
Maybe not: Voters might consider the actress’ first Emmy nom reward enough for her breakout year, especially when the show itself has garnered mixed reviews.

Martha Plimpton
“Raising Hope” (Fox)
Best scene: In an alternately funny and poignant flashback, a poodle skirt- and pigtail-sporting Virginia sits in the back of her husband’s pick-up truck and reveals the insecurities that drive her obsession with taking the perfect family portrait.
Why she might win: Her tart-tongued, 39-year-old grandma is just the type of showy role Emmy often favors. And the respected film and stage actress has waited a long time for this shot: Her only other Emmy nom was for a 2002 guest spot on “Law & Order: SVU.”
Maybe not: Acad members inclined to honor Fox’s freshman series might opt to mark the ballot instead for guest-actress nominee Cloris Leachman — the Emmys’ most decorated actress.

Amy Poehler
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
Best scene: After fleeing the hospital for an important business presentation, a flu-addled Leslie becomes completely disoriented, as evidenced by her belief that a cab meter is displaying Egyptian hieroglyphics: “Do you know the exchange rate?”
Why she might win: “Parks and Rec” is coming off a critically acclaimed season, and Poehler’s Leslie — who embarked on a sweet romance with a co-worker this season — has become a character you can’t help but root for.
Maybe not: In recent years, voters have shown a tendency to reward actresses in more darkly comic roles (see Falco and 2009 champ Toni Collette of “United States of Tara”).

ROAD TO THE EMMYS: THE ACTRESS
Bigscreen actresses adjust to TV fame
Drama | Comedy | Movie & Miniseries

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