By any measure, television’s renaissance has been good for women. But the long list of compelling female characters gets shorter when drama series are taken out of the mix.
Across broadcast, cable and digital, traditional half-hour comedies don’t pack the same pop-culture punch as the antics of Olivia Pope, Carrie Mathison, Alicia Florrick or Daenerys Targaryen. It’s harder to generate consistent laughs than it is consistent gasps, based on the ratio of dramas to comedies across the dial these days.
The only thing harder, it seems, than fielding a fresh comedy hit is for an actress to become a breakout star in a new comedy. This is where a little Emmy attention could offer a big boost to a promising show and budding talent. But Emmy voters are inclined to favor incumbents, which leaves little room for fresh faces.
Since 2010, at least three of the nominees in the lead comedy actress category have been repeats from the previous year. Since 2012, a year that featured a whopping seven contenders in the category, the ratio has been four or more repeat nominees. That’s not to say the usual suspects in recent years aren’t deserving, but let’s face it: Sameness breeds dullness. “New Girl’s” Zooey Deschanel (nommed in 2012), “Enlightened’s” Laura Dern (in 2013) and “Orange Is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling (last year) are the recent exceptions. (Schilling won’t be back in the comedy heat this year thanks to the Academy’s ruling that “OITNB” will compete as a drama.)
If ever there was a year to hope for a shakeup in the status quo, this is it. Despite the struggles of the traditional half-hour form, there are more than a few funny ladies from new series worthy of serious consideration for lead or supporting mentions.
Gina Rodriguez of the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” is in the pole position because of her Golden Globe win earlier this year. Tracee Ellis Ross of ABC’s “Black-ish” and Constance Wu of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” also jump to mind. That’s not only because Academy voters need to be mindful of diversity but also because both are pivotal players on their shows and both are really funny.
In the Tina Fey Doing-It-All category are Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer for Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” which they topline as writers, directors and stars. Buzz continues to build for Amy Schumer, who does nearly as much for her self-titled Comedy Central sketch series “Inside Amy Schumer.” Mindy Kaling has been multitasking for three seasons on “The Mindy Project,” but has yet to break through.
Meanwhile, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been on a winning jag the past three years for HBO’s “Veep.” Amy Poehler is five for five with nominations for “Parks and Recreation,” but she has yet to bring home any Emmy hardware.
Streaks are all too common in the Emmy derby. Helen Hunt bagged four in a row from 1996-99 for “Mad About You.” Mary Tyler Moore won three almost in a row for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” from 1973-76 (Valerie Harper got in her way for “Rhoda” in 1975). Candice Bergen famously won five times out of seven noms for “Murphy Brown” between 1989 and 1995.
Louis-Dreyfus is nothing less than catnip to Emmy voters. She’s the only actress to have earned lead or supporting comedy trophies for three different roles (“Seinfeld,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Veep”).
After another laugh-out-loud season of skewering the superficiality of national politics on “Veep,” no one would demand a recount if Louis-Dreyfus wins again. If she does, she ties Hunt’s record for most consecutive victories. But Selina Meyer herself could be persuaded that it might be better for the republic if she were allowed to shine while delivering a gracious concession speech on Sept. 20.