Road to the Emmys 2012: Comedy

“30 Rock” (NBC)
Strengths: The Tina Fey-Alec Baldwin dynamic is still tops. Continues to sport a sense of bemused self-awareness — the writers cleverly wove real-life Tracy Morgan controversy into Tracy Jordan controversy. Strong guest turns buoy a fine ensemble.
Weaknesses: Increased tendency to strain credulity for gags that fall flat; many supporting characters rarely grow.
Best days ahead or behind?: It was a return to form creatively, but NBC announced next season would be its last.
– Craig Phillips

“The Big Bang Theory” (CBS)
Strengths: Milks big laughs out of the lives and loves of mostly believable science geeks, for whom everyday events and common social interaction seem all too illogical.
Weaknesses: The decision to reunite Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) so soon after they split up might suggest a paucity of imaginative story arcs.
Best days ahead or behind?: The season-long story of Howard Wolowitz’s impending marriage proved the series works well even when the focus is off Leonard and Sheldon. That bodes well for the coming seasons.
– Barry Garron

“The Big C” (Showtime)
Strengths: Maintains levity in the midst of heavy season addressing drug addiction and terminal melanoma. Laura Linney and Oliver Platt have a good rapport.
Weaknesses: B-plots, notably featuring guest turns from Boyd Holbrook and Parker Posey, feel like unmotivated digressions from the story at heart.
Best days ahead or behind?: With Linney’s heroine barely showing cancer symptoms, there should be a few more treatment and side-effects jokes before jumping ship.
– Michael Sullivan

“Community” (NBC)
Strengths: As show’s meta-fiction pushed the envelope, ensemble dynamic became more moving, engaging and sophisticated.
Weaknesses: Subplots featuring Ken Jeong as head of security and John Goodman as an evil vice dean culminated in quality year-end episodes, but secondary arcs often felt misplaced and underdeveloped.
Best days ahead or behind?: Laffer seems unlikely to top the quality of its genre-bending second and third seasons, particularly with showrunner Dan Harmon’s exit.
– Todd Kushigemachi

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO)
Strengths: Nothing is sacred to writer-star Larry David, whose impatience with social conventions and frequent faux pas never get old. Excellent comic cast, big-name guest stars.
Weaknesses: After eight seasons of a similar story structure in each episode, some comic twists are predictable.
Best days ahead or behind?: Change of scene from L.A. to New York injected new energy and potential for fresh situations.
– Kate Hahn

“Glee” (Fox)
Strengths: The class of 2012’s graduation provided much-needed narrative focus and emotional resonance. Supporting cast, including Harry Shum Jr., deservedly featured in spotlight.
Weaknesses: Despite improvements, series continues to lack episode-to-episode continuity in its tone, arcs and characters.
Best days ahead or behind?: Hits remain chart-ready, but misses feel bigger and more frequent. Integrating post-gradu ation threads could inject new life into series, but show is unlikely to return to glory of first season.
– Todd Kushigemachi

“Louie” (FX)
Strengths: A rare ability to avoid taking the easy way out, and to depict with empathy people who could be caricatures (see: Ellen, the chastity pitchwoman who squares off with Louie’s master debater). Mixing the profound and the profane, it’s also often riotously, squirmishly funny.
Weaknesses: Arguably too dark and misanthropic for easily offended viewers, plus a few aimless moments where two separate storylines didn’t jibe (i.e., “Halloween/Ellie”).
Best days ahead or behind?: Season two managed the unenviable task of improving on a stellar first year. While it’s hard to imagine Louis CK pushing things even higher, it’s even harder to bet against it.
– Craig Phillips

“Modern Family” (ABC)
Strengths: Smart writing and the actors’ deft delivery combine to make every episode worth watching and worthy of space on the DVR for a repeat viewing.
Weaknesses: Series is no groundbreaker — Disneyland? Seems every family comedy visits Mickey — but auds regularly get what they tune in for, which is lots of laffs.
Best days ahead or behind?: You never know when it’s going to get old, but with season three the most-watched yet, the show’s got every opportunity to freely explore new stories .
– Jerry Rice

“Nurse Jackie” (Showtime)
Strengths: Edie Falco’s portrayal of a woman on the brink of implosion never ceases to entertain.
Weaknesses: The “Who knows?/who doesn’t know?” game regarding Falco’s nurse’s prescription pill problem has overstayed its welcome.
Best days ahead or behind?: Series has mined its premise so much that a season-ending “cliffhanger” barely raised an eyebrow.
– Michael Sullivan

“The Office” (NBC)
Strengths: In its first full season without Steve Carell, the Peacock’s longest-running sitcom still managed to surprise — which might surprise those who gave up on the show.
Weaknesses: Without a doubt, the show suffered from not having Carell’s Michael Scott as its centerpiece. But even with Carell, one suspects the strain to find winning story ideas would still show.
Best days ahead or behind?: It’s still riding a streak of six straight Emmy nominations for comedy series (winning in 2006), but “The Office” has seen its peak days pass.
– Jon Weisman

“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
Strengths: A strong troupe continues to shine and grow, led by the romance between Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) on the campaign trail, en route to a satisfying election finale. Ron Swanson and Tom Ha
verford remain comic gold.
Weaknesses: The Ann and Tom relationship felt a little forced; there’s never enough Ron.
Best days ahead or behind?: Season four was aces, and with the same staff in place, there’s no indication of letdowns ahead. Poehler keeps getting better and better, too.
– Craig Phillips

“Portlandia” (IFC)
Strengths: The fertile comic minds of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are beautifully in tune when it comes to skewering the well-intentioned philosophy and behavior of the politically correct.
Weaknesses: The list of regular characters in Portlandia needs to be refreshed and expanded. But let’s be sure that existing characters still return from time to time.
Best days ahead or behind?: More and more, Portlandia is becoming the not-so-guilty pleasure of a growing number of viewers. Ratings should climb as more people discover where to find top satire on the latest cultural trends and excesses.
– Barry Garron

“Raising Hope” (Fox)
Strengths: Delightful cast remains adept at verbal and visual comedy, and the show’s “anything goes” style mixing bawdy and sweet is a plus.
Weaknesses: Stunt casting (especially an irritating Nancy Grace) just didn’t take; tendency to digress for jokes over story.
Best days ahead or behind?: The show got on a good run in its sophomore season, but worrisomely lost some mojo at the end. Still, it’s all too smartly daffy not to maintain hope for “Hope.”
– Craig Phillips

“Two and a Half Men” (CBS)
Strengths: Replacement co-star unlikely to go ballistic. Jon Cryer’s sad-sack mooching off the new roomie offers expanded opportunities to execute current TV’s deftest physical comedy and wryest self-deprecation.
Weaknesses: Bland billionaire role doesn’t tap into Ashton Kutcher’s lovable “That ’70s Show” doltishness, leaving him somewhat at sea in terms of making a forceful impression.
Best days ahead or behind?: Character conflicts just aren’t crackling as they were when the series boasted a polished Sheen.
– Bob Verini

Road to the Emmys 2012: Comedy
A grander gander

at gender | Emmy spotlight neglects cable comedies | New kids in town enter sitcom race | 2011-12 TV comedy moments to remember | Sitcom standbys in kudo contention |Defending champ ‘Modern’ impresses past TV toppers
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