All of our editors and most of our readers are predicting Steve Carell to finally win his first Emmy for playing incompetent boss Michael Scott on NBC’s comedy “The Office.” This was his farewell year on the series, and it wouldn’t be the first time Emmy gave an overdue hug to a star. After three losses in a row, Michael J. Fox won Best Comedy Actor for his final season on “Spin City.” And Sarah Jessica Parker finally won Best Comedy Actress after five losses for the last year of “Sex and the City.”
Carell’s toughest competition is thought to come from last year’s winner, Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory“), and two-time champ Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock“), but we should not underestimate one of this year’s surprise nominees — Louis C.K. — who has developed a passionate following thanks to his FX comedy “Louie.” Emmy history may be on his side.
C.K. is a veteran stand-up comic and writer who has scripted some of the funniest shows on TV including “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “The Chris Rock Show,” the last of which won him an Emmy for Best Variety Writing in 1999.
He took a stab at situation comedy in 2006 with the HBO sitcom “Lucky Louie,” but it was poorly received and cancelled after its first season. His current series, “Louie,” consists of loosely connected vignettes in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself dealing with various subjects; imagine “Seinfeld” if it was directed by Alexander Payne.
The show’s loose format may be a tough sell when the nominees submit their sample episodes to Emmy judges, but if you think a popular writer-actor can’t snatch the Emmy away from Carell, remember Ricky Gervais, who did just that back in 2007. Few were predicting him to win Best Comedy Actor for his HBO series “Extras,” in which he played a lowly aspiring actor, but he emerged victorious. Like Louis C.K., Gervais was a writer admired within the industry, and like C.K., Gervais wrote and directed every episode of his show. Gervais was also up for Best Comedy Writing when he won Best Comedy Actor, and so is C.K.
Both stars also have that elusive Cool Factor. Emmy voters like to prove that they’re ahead of the curve by picking a winner who makes them feel like they’re in-the-know. That’s why they have showered so much love on iconoclasts David Letterman and Jon Stewart, who like to skewer the establishment on their late-night talk shows, and Tina Fey, who deftly spoofs the TV business on “30 Rock” and occasionally spoofs politico Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live.”However, Louis C.K. could suffer the same fate Larry David, an writer-actor who has never managed to win this race despite four bids. David won two Emmys for writing and producing “Seinfeld” in 1993 but has never won for starring on his long-running HBO comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Like C.K., David plays a version of himself, which may not appeal to the actors among the voters.
But David has also been hurt by the fact that his “Curb” character is a curmudgeon nobody likes. Emmy voters clearly don’t want to honor such an unlikable crank. Louis C.K. is much more sympathetic on “Louie.” Consider the episode “Double Date/Mom,” a strong possible submission, in which he receives an unexpected visit from his cold, distant mother, bringing to light all his unresolved issues about his upbringing.
And of this year’s six Best Comedy Actor contenders – the others are Matt LeBlanc (“Episodes“) and Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”) – Louis C.K. is the only one whose show is currently airing new episodes, making him freshest in voter’s minds. Will he be a big winner like Ricky Gervais, whom voters love so much they’ve even nominated him for his controversial hosting of this year’s Golden Globes? Or will he sit on the sidelines like perennial also-ran Larry David?