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Emmys: Final ‘Girls’ Season Makes a Strong Case in Heated Comedy Categories

HBO’s “Girls” has maintained a modest presence at the Emmys ever since the program’s big coming-out in 2012 and 2013, when it scooped up two nominations in a row for outstanding comedy series. Adam Driver has shown up consistently in the supporting actor category, while guest stars like Gaby Hoffman and Peter Scolari have been recognized as well. But the show has mostly struggled to reach those early heights again.

That could change with the sixth and final season, which has made for the richest portrait of Lena Dunham’s world yet.

You may well have bailed by now, whether the creator’s outsized activist footprint overshadowed the series, or her various characters’ descent into their own navels made it seem like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s time to catch up. Things were already on the upswing with season five, and now, with just one episode left, Dunham and company are sticking the landing.

Of course, whether voters in the TV Academy feel moved enough to return to this particular well, or whether they’ll even have the bandwidth to take the show’s graceful close into account, is left to be seen. The comedy landscape has only gotten more competitive, and it is littered with proven heavy-hitters, fresh prospects looking to get theirs, and recent firebrands that have claimed their own turf.

In front of the camera this season, Dunham — who picked up three Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe for her performance along the way — has carved the lines of Hannah Horvath deeper than ever. She’ll face stiff competition, not least of all from reigning champ and stalwart of the lead actress race, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The “Veep” star has been joined by actresses like Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”) and Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”) in recent years.

Former nominees like Amy Schumer (“Inside Amy Schumer”) are off the table, but countless contenders will be rushing to fill the void — Tomlin’s co-star Jane Fonda, newcomer Issa Rae (“Insecure”), and former winner Sarah Jessica Parker (“Divorce”) among them.

Elsewhere on the show, Critics’ Choice nominee Allison Williams has found novel shades to play, while Jemima Kirke has shifted into a whole new gear. They’ll be part of a lively supporting actress mix that includes regulars like Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”), Gaby Hoffman (“Transparent”) and Allison Janney (“Mom”). Last year’s winner Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”) will probably return to the fray, and you never can guess where voters will fall on previous nominees like Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”), Julie Bowen (“Modern Family”) and Jane Krakowski (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”). Plus, at least one legend appears to be formidable: Rita Moreno in Netflix’s “One Day at a Time.”

The stand-out, however, has been Andrew Rannells as Elijah Krantz. In season five he found further dimension for his character opposite guest star Corey Stoll, but in episodes like “Gummies” and particularly “The Bounce” this season, he has not thrown away his shot. He’s created the kind of character spin-offs are made of. (Hint, hint, HBO.)

Giving Rannells competition in the supporting actor category are Louis Anderson (“Baskets”), Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) and Tony Hale (“Veep”), who all seem primed to return, perhaps alongside Andre Braugher (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) and Ty Burell (“Modern Family”). Matt Walsh made it through for “Veep” last year, but co-star Timothy Simons may well be in the hunt, too, along with Brian Tyree Henry from FX’s hot new series “Atlanta,” and Alec Baldwin, who could make the biggest splash overall for his “Saturday Night Live” stint.

This final season has also provided one of the most talked-about half-hours of the entire “Girls” run. “American Bitch,” a bottle episode focused on gender power struggles, features actor Matthew Rhys as a successful memoirist symptomatic of an insidious culture. The guest actor and actress fields are always a mystery early on, but the “Americans” star certainly makes a case for inclusion, as does Riz Ahmed in earlier episodes as an aloof surf instructor who changes Hannah’s life forever.

Ultimately, all of this may amount to too steep a hill for Dunham’s denouement to climb. But it still deserves one last hard look from Emmy voters as “Girls” rides off into the sunset.

The curtain finally drops on Sunday, April 16.

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