“The Big Bang Theory” and “Parks and Recreation” have been on the air for several seasons, but they’re newcomers to the race for Best Comedy Series. They compete against previous winners “Modern Family” (2010), “The Office” (2006), and “30 Rock” (2007-2009), along with “Glee,” a nominee last year. In a category known for repeat victories – “Frasier” won five in a row from 1994 to 1998 – the race is “Modern Family’s” to lose.
Nominees in the acting races submit one episode to Emmy judges, but contenders for Best Comedy and Best Drama enter six episodes in three pairs, which are then delivered randomly to voters. “Modern Family,” gunning for its second win in a row, did not submit its best six episodes, and though that’s unlikely to cost them the victory – episode submissions have proven less influential in the top series races – there are significant missed opportunities. Though they have solid entries in “The Kiss,” “Mother’s Day,” and “Caught in the Act,” the other three are head-scratchers: “The Old Wagon,” “Someone to Watch Over Lily,” and “Manny Get Your Gun” range from forgettable to bad.
What makes those entries surprising is that the show has three funny and heartwarming episodes nominated for Best Comedy Directing, but didn’t submit any of them: “Halloween,” in which the ensemble clashes in a haunted house; “See You Next Fall,” which features Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen) trying desperately to reach their daughter’s middle school graduation; and “Slow Down Your Neighbors,” in which Claire crusades against a reckless neighborhood driver who happens to be Phil’s real estate client. Nevertheless, “Modern Family” is the overwhelming favorite whether or not producers submitted their very best.
“30 Rock” won Outstanding Comedy Series for its first three seasons, losing for the first time last year. They’re unlikely to mount a comeback due in part to a few weak submissions. The divisive “Live Show” was a particular misstep, though the episode did pick up a directing nomination for Beth McCarthy-Miller. The episode is an impressive technical accomplishment and features charming cameos by Jon Hamm and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but the studio audience and multi-camera format throws off the show’s usual rapid-fire dialogue and sight gags.
“Reaganing,” which picked up a nomination for writing, and “Double-Edged Sword” are also less than stellar. They could have been traded out for superior episodes “Brooklyn Without Limits,” “Mrs. Donaghy,” or the side-splitting “Real Housewives” parody “Queen of Jordan.” However, the rest of its entries – “When It Rains, It Pours,” “Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning” and “TGS Hates Women” – are classic “30 Rock.”
The submissions for “The Office” demonstrate a show past its expiration date; the series submitted two of the worst entries in the category: “China,” in which manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) panics about China’s emergence as a global superpower, and “Threat Level Midnight,” which breaks from the show’s format for the screening of a homemade action film Michael has been working on for ten years – the episode’s one gag (the poor production values of Michael’s amateur flick) wears thin quickly. Two other entries, “Andy’s Play” and “PDA,” are passable, but not really winners. However, the series entered two inspired episodes as its final pair: “Garage Sale,” in which Michael proposes to Holly (Amy Ryan), and “Goodbye, Michael,” which bids farewell to series star Steve Carell. Voters receiving these sweet, sentimental episodes to judge might just check off “The Office” on their ballots.
“Parks and Recreation” could have submitted almost any episode from its strong and consistent third season, but they entered one episode they might better have stayed away from, “Ron & Tammy: Part Two.” The episode, about Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and his crazy ex-wife Tammy (Offerman’s real life spouse Megan Mullally), was a treat for regular viewers, but is it too zany for voters who aren’t familiar with the series?
But it’s hard to argue that “Parks and Recreation” went wrong with the rest of their submissions. “Fancy Party,” “Flu Season,” “Harvest Festival,” “The Fight,” and “Li’l Sebastian” were among the funniest episodes of any comedy series last year. With the best overall submissions, “Parks and Recreation” could be a spoiler to win. Emmy voters have shown affection for workplace comedies in the past, including “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “Ally McBeal,” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” to name a few. However, “Parks” earned only three nominations overall, and few programs with so little overall voter support have gone on to win the top series prize.
“The Big Bang Theory” is the only multi-camera sitcom in the category, so it might seem out of place alongside contemporary comedies like “Modern Family” and “Parks and Recreation,” though traditionalists among voters might long for a return to the format; no multi-camera series has won Best Comedy since “Everybody Loves Raymond” in 2005. But producers did themselves no favors by submitting “The Justice League Recombination,” in which the scientist characters come off as smug when they judge their friend for dating someone they deem less intelligent. Another submission, “The Love Car Displacement,” is excessively lewd. Producers also entered “The Herb Garden Germination,” “The 21-Second Excitation,” “The Engagement Reaction,” and “The Agreement Dissection,” which is also star Jim Parsons‘s submission for Best Comedy Actor. Surprisingly, they passed over “The Benefactor Factor,” Johnny Galecki‘s submission, which features a delicious performance by Jessica Walter.
Even the most devoted fans of “Glee” took issue with its uneven second season, but to the producers’ credit, they entered the show’s six best episodes, which might lead unfamiliar voters to believe the show was more consistent than it actually was. Their strongest episode is “The Substitute,” featuring a sublime appearance by Emmy nominee Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s paired with “Original Song,” in which the glee club performs self-written tunes in a regional competition. Recurring star Darren Criss, as an openly gay student at a rival school, led a rendition of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” in the episode “Never Been Kissed.” Criss returns in “Silly Love Songs,” in which he and his singing troupe, the Warblers, flash mob a Gap to serenade an employee he’s smitten by. “Audition” and “Duets” are sweet and lighthearted, reminiscent of better episodes from season one, but producers strangely neglected to submit the 90-minute “Born This Way,” a buzzed-about episode in which the characters learn to accept themselves. “Glee” faces an uphill struggle to win, as voter support for the series has clearly waned. It was snubbed for directing, writing, lead actor (Matthew Morrison), and lead actress (Lea Michele), despite contending in those categories last year.
Gold Derby experts, editors, and users are convinced “Modern Family” will achieve a repeat win. A few have gone out on a limb for “Parks and Recreation.” But “The Big Bang Theory,” “Glee,” “The Office,” and “30 Rock” appear to be long shots.