On the Scene 9/6: 2019 Emmy Awards – Best Comedy Series

By: Ken Downey Jr. & Joanne Thornborough

As the weeks begin to wane, we become closer and closer to the 2019 Emmy Awards. Barring Time Off’s Fall Arts Preview edition last week, Joanne Thornborough and I will continue to look at this year’s nominations and give our thoughts on who should be taking home the most coveted prize in television. This week, we’ll focus on comedy.

Outstanding Comedy Series
Nominees: “Barry,” HBO; “Fleabag,” Amazon Prime; “The Good Place,” NBC; “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Amazon Prime; “Russian Doll,” Netflix; “Schitt’s Creek,” Pop; “Veep,” HBO.

KDJ: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Amazon Prime.
Amy Sherman-Palladino’s hit comedy, which won eight Emmy Awards for its first season, will come out swinging once more. The comedy series revolving around ‘50s housewife Midge Maisel turned stand-up comedienne, continues to push boundaries as Maisel’s career begins to take off. From taking on goons sent from talent management to kill, a summer in the Catskills, and a spot on national television – the second season sets up a third that fans just can’t wait to premiere.

JT: “Fleabag,” Amazon Prime.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge gifted us with the unexpected: a second series of her razor-sharp comedy. The show had a stellar year and featured the brilliant inclusion of Andrew Scott’s priest, whose presence allowed Waller-Bridge’s titular character to step out of her emotional purgatory. Showing the ties that bind us can equally strangle and strengthen us, Waller-Bridge’s dark sense of humor belies a soft spot for what makes us human.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”; Don Cheadle, “Black Monday”; Ted Danson, “The Good Place”; Michael Douglas, “The Kominsky Method”; Bill Hader, “Barry”; Eugene Levy, “Shitt’s Creek.”

KDJ: Bill Hader, “Barry.”
Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Hader stars as Barry, former Marine turned hitman, who wants out of the assassin lifestyle to pursue a career in acting. After leaving it all behind at the end of the first season, Hader finds himself pulled back into the “business,” while trying to juggle a relationship and pursue an acting career. Hader doesn’t miss a beat in this hilarious second season.

JT: Ted Danson, “The Good Place.”
Michael’s evolution continued last season and Danson ensured it didn’t come off as contrived. Whether standing up to his (literal) demonic boss or fighting to help his human friends find their way back to each other, the demon (figuratively) shed his old skin while embracing his new self. Organic from start to finish, Danson’s performance continues to be a highlight of this clever afterlife comedy.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Christina Applegate, “Dead to Me”; Rachel Brosnahan,” The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”; Natasha Lyonne, “Russian Doll”; Catherine O’Hara, “Shitt’s Creek”; Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag.”

KDJ: Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Move over Julia Louis-Dreyfus, your long reign is officially over! After six years of Emmy victories in a row, Dreyfus was usurped by Rachel Brosnahan last fall when “Veep”’s final season was still in production. But don’t think Brosnahan didn’t deserve her win just because “Veep” was off the air. Playing a 1950s housewife, who gives up her stereotypical life as a woman to pursue a career in stand-up comedy, Brosnahan gives another performance of pure joy that brings tears of laughter and emotion to anyone’s eyes. She is stunningly fantastic, and her reign is only just beginning.

JT: Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
The effervescent Brosnahan gives a buoyant, layered turn as emerging comic Midge Maisel. In season two, we get to know Midge better as do the people in her life. She navigates her two worlds rather well, but even she’s unable to keep them from colliding. There’s joy in seeing the character and the actor step up. Not one to back down from a challenge, both Midge and Brosnahan prove you should never bet against them.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Alex Borstein, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”; Sian Clifford, “Fleabag”; Olivia Colman, “Fleabag”; Betty Gilpin, “GLOW”; Sarah Goldberg, “Barry”; Marin Hinkle, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live.”

KDJ: Alex Borstein, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Playing the complete opposite of Brosnahan’s character, Borstein defies the view of a woman’s role in ‘50s America. With her hair tied back under an ascot cap, donning a leather jacket, Borstein plays an in-your-face, rough-necked manager of Brosnahan, who makes sure she’s taken care of. A role that was literally written for her, Borstein does not disappoint.

JT: Sian Clifford, “Fleabag.”
As the yin to co-star Waller-Bridge’s yang, Clifford brings pathos, nuance and sympathy as Fleabag’s sister, Claire. A surprising revelation at the top of series two catapults Claire back into her sibling’s life after nearly a year apart (stemming from the events of the series one finale), while putting her on a course that may just change her life for the better. Clifford brings balance even while chaos swirls around and within Claire.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Alan Arkin, “The Kominsky Method”; Anthony Carrigan, “Barry”; Tony Hale, “Veep”; Stephen Root, “Barry”; Tony Shalhoub, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; Henry Winkler, “Barry.”

KDJ: Tony Shalhoub, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Robbed of the Emmy last year, by none other than Henry Winkler, Shalhoub came back and put on a performance that could even earn him a handshake from Adrian Monk. Playing the father of Brosnahan’s character, Shalhoub’s second season performance brings much turmoil after his wife leaves him to live in Paris; he learns his daughter is a standup comedienne; his son is working as a secret government agent; and his job as a tenured Columbia professor may be on the line. A season that should be referred to as “The Wonderful Mr. Weissman,” doesn’t fall short in highlighting what an incredible actor Shalhoub really is.

JT: Tony Shalhoub, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Shaloub gets more moments to shine in season two, seizing upon them with relish. From the small (Abe Weissman tuning people out because he doesn’t find them interesting), to the large (particularly his reactions as he learns his wife has fled to Paris and his daughter is a stand-up comic), Shaloub unearths shades of Abe in unexpected ways.

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Jane Lynch, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; Sandra Oh, “Saturday Night Live”; Maya Rudolph, “The Good Place”; Kristin Scott Thomas, “Fleabag”; Fiona Shaw, “Fleabag”; Emma Thompson, “Saturday Night Live.”

KDJ: Fiona Shaw, “Fleabag.”
Shaw, who plays the role of Fleabag’s therapist, brings a delightfully funny, witty and in-your-face character to the series in which she makes Fleabag think about her life in a way she hasn’t before. On screen for less than 10 minutes, Shaw has you laughing for the entire time, while adding a thought-provoking scene, as well.

JT: Kristin Scott Thomas, “Fleabag.”
Thomas is always a welcome presence whenever she appears and here is no exception. Though a colleague of Claire’s, it’s Fleabag whom Belinda befriends and leaves an impression. Delightfully droll and disillusioned, Belinda is a refreshing character for the show. Thomas reminds us in less than 30 minutes why she’s one of the finest actors working. Not that we needed it, of course.

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Matt Damon, “Saturday Night Live”; Robert De Niro, “Saturday Night Live”; Luke Kirby, “The Marvelous Mrs. Masiel”; Peter MacNicol, “Veep”; John Mulaney, “Saturday Night Live”; Adam Sandler, “Saturday Night Live”; Rufus Sewell, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

KDJ: Luke Kirby, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
A category that is filled with A-List celebrities for their impressions of current icons of today, Kirby stands out as the only male who gives a performance that’s not an impression, but an embodiment of a true comedy icon. Playing Lenny Bruce, Kirby not only looks the part, but he sounds and personifies the man to a T. His standup act, which consists of jokes as told by the real Bruce, feels as if the viewer is transported back to the ’50s and we are watching the real Bruce perform.

JT: Luke Kirby, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Lenny Bruce is iconic in comic circles and Kirby breathes life into what could have been a one-dimensional caricature in lesser hands. As Midge’s friend and unintentional mentor, Lenny guides her toward becoming a comic force. Ballsy, smart and verbally lethal, Kirby pops onscreen, brightening every scene he’s in. His chemistry with leading lady Brosnahan is not to be underestimated.

Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
Nominees: Alec Berg, “The Audition” – “Barry”; Alec Berg, “ronny/lily” – “Barry”; Harry Bradbeer, “Episode 1” – “Fleabag”; Mark Cendrowski, “Stockholm Syndrome” – “The Big Bang Theory”; Dan Palladino, “We’re Going to the Catskills!” – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; Amy Sherman-Palladino, “All Alone” – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

KDJ: Amy Sherman-Palladino, “All Alone” – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Sherman-Palladino’s “All Alone” concluded her series’ second series where she left fans with more questions than answers. The title of the episode leaves fans feeling just that, and viewers get the sense of isolation, just as the characters do. We get the sense of abandonment, just as Sherman-Palladino intended, and viewers are left to think on their misery as the season comes to a close.

JT: Harry Bradbeer, “Episode 1” – “Fleabag.”
The premiere episode of series two takes place almost exclusively in a restaurant, where the family gathers to celebrate an engagement. Bradbeer’s camera gives an appropriately claustrophobic feel that puts you in the same headspace as Fleabag herself. Dutch angles and capturing Fleabag alone as she repeatedly processes what’s she’s just witnessed effectively add a touch of the surreal to the proceedings.

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
Nominees: Alec Berg & Bill Hader, “ronny/lily” – “Barry”; Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Episode 1” – “Fleabag”; Maya Erskine & Anna Konkle, “Anna Ishii-Peters” – “PEN15”; Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne & Amy Poehler, “Nothing In This World Is Easy” – “Russian Doll”; Allison Silverman, “A Warm Body” – “Russian Doll”; Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, “Janet(s)” – “The Good Place”; David Mandel, “Veep” – “Veep.”

KDJ: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Episode 1” – “Fleabag.”
Waller-Bridge, who not only writes the series, but also stars in the Amazon hit, brings a hilarious season two premiere that had me laughing through its entirety. A chaotic engagement dinner that brought viewers miscarriages, fisticuffs and even a priest was certainly an episode to remember as Waller-Bridge’s second season started off with a bang and didn’t take its foot off the pedal. An episode that certainly will leave an impact on any viewer, doesn’t miss a beat and will bring home an award.

JT: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Episode 1” – “Fleabag.”
As mentioned above, the bulk of the action in this episode takes place in a restaurant with people seated around a table for the most part. However, Waller-Bridge’s hilarious, shocking (occasionally brutal) script packs a lot into its just under 30-minute runtime. The emotional whiplash is akin to being at a family dinner where the group’s dynamic can be viewed as spiky at best and toxic at worst. So yes, it’s magic to watch.