“Grace and Frankie” premiered its entire first season on Netflix on May 8, and now that we’ve gotten a look at it, it might be time to seriously consider its stars, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, as Emmy threats, not just for nominations but for wins. (Click here to make your Emmy predictions for a chance to win $1,000.)
Fonda and Tomlin plays the title characters — longtime foes who discover in the premiere episode that their husbands have been carrying on an affair for 20 years … with each other. The series follows their rocky relationship as they cope with the shocking news.
Getting into the race for Best Comedy Actress is tough for any star of a new show in this ultra-crowded TV market, but Fonda and Tomlin are Hollywood royalty, and the TV academy loves to honor prestigious veterans, sometimes without even having seen their work – remember Ellen Burstyn‘s nominated 15-second cameo in the TV movie “Mrs. Harris”?
Fonda is a two-time Oscar champ and a past Emmy victor, too, having won Best Movie/Mini Actress for “The Dollmaker” (1984), which she produced and championed creatively. Tomlin was nominated for one Oscar (for “Nashville” in 1975), but the TV academy loves her even more: she has six Primetime Emmys and one Daytime Emmy. Her most recent win was Best Voice-Over Performance in 2013 as the narrator of the documentary “An Apology for Elephants.”
According to Gold Derby’s current, official racetrack odds, Fonda and Tomlin will be nominated for Best Comedy Actress, but can one of them win? We know from years of following the Emmys that the keys to a strong episode submission are impact, range, and empathy, and Fonda and Tomlin deliver in those departments right from the get-go.
The premiere episode opens with a dinner in which Grace and Frankie hear the bad news from their respective spouses (Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen, also Emmy favorites) and Fonda lets them have it in a scene with both comedic and emotional impact: “You didn’t want me to make a scene, did you? … You spineless chicken shit!”
The first episode ends with the title characters getting high on peyote at the beach, and Fonda gets another chance to display emotional indignation. “I did everything right!” she yells. “I stood by him for over 40 years. I raised his children, I shopped with his mother. I did every single thing so he wouldn’t have to worry about it. I played by all the rules. Why didn’t you tell me there were no rules? It’s not fair!”
Fonda delivers the showier performance in the premiere; Tomlin’s turn as hippie, new-age Frankie is more wry and subdued, but when Grace asks her why she isn’t angry about the news of their husbands’ affair, she finally breaks down and tearfully admits, “I’m heartbroken.”
All three key factors are there: Impact (emotional outbursts upon learning of their husbands’ betrayal), range (the performances run the gamut from laughs to tears), and empathy (we feel for these women whose lives have been upended).
Fonda and Tomlin have one more secret Emmys weapon: each other.
At some awards, competing against a co-star can work against you; you split the votes and cancel each other out. But that’s not the case at the Emmys, where we’ve seen time and again that competing against a co-star is an advantage. That’s because voters will have a chance to watch two episode submissions from your show, giving you twice as much time to impress them.
The most famous instance of that in the Comedy Actress category was in 2005, when three women from “Desperate Housewives” were nominated: Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman. Huffman was considered an underdog because she submitted an episode without much impact or range, but she won anyway. We think that’s due in large part to the fact that voters were impressed by her work in her co-stars’ submissions.
That wasn’t the only time multiple nominees yielded a surprise result. In 2011, Lorraine Bracco was nominated for Best Drama Actress for “The Sopranos” and submitted the knockout episode “Employee of the Month,” in which her character is raped and considers asking her mobster patient Tony Soprano for help. But the Emmy that year went to her co-star Edie Falco, who also had scenes in her episode.
“Modern Family” has won Best Comedy Supporting Actor four times in the last five years, and that’s in large part because the show has always scored multiple nominations in that contest.
According to our racetrack odds, both Tomlin and Fonda will make it into the Comedy Actress lineup. Tomlin has a slight advantage, ranking fourth with 9/1 odds, while Fonda is sixth with 12/1 odds.
They’ll have to take down Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has won the last three years in a row for “Veep” and is the frontrunner again this year with 10/3 odds. Perennial also-ran Amy Poehler ranks second for the final season of “Parks and Recreation” with 5/1 odds. Falco is third with 8/1 odds for “Nurse Jackie‘s” swan song.
Sandwiched between Tomlin and Fonda in fifth place is another Netflix star, Ellie Kemper in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which has the benefit of more favorable reviews from critics than “Grace and Frankie,” which received a mixed response from TV journos (scoring 58 on MetaCritic).
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