Emmy episode analysis: Julia Louis-Dreyfus (‘Veep’) makes a political comeback in ‘Groundbreaking’ submission

Few performers boast as impressive an Emmy track record as Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The beloved comedienne has won five consecutive trophies for her performance as the endlessly ambitious and narcissistic Selina Meyer on the HBO two-time Best Comedy Series winner “Veep,” which set a new Emmy record. In September, Louis-Dreyfus looks to extend her historic streak with a sixth victory in the Best Comedy Actress category.

Louis-Dreyfus’s prowess at the Emmys dates back to 1992, when she earned her first nomination for “Seinfeld.” Over the course of her career Louis-Dreyfus has earned 24 total Emmy nominations, winning one for “Seinfeld,” one for “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” five for acting on “Veep,” and two as an executive producer of the political comedy. In addition, Louis-Dreyfus has won seven Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Critics’ Choice Television Awards and one Golden Globe Award out of myriad nominations.

In the sixth season finale “Groundbreaking,” the episode Louis-Dreyfus submitted for Emmy consideration, Selina (Louis-Dreyfus) prepares for the start of construction on her presidential library at Yale University. But her political capital on a significant upswing after the truth about her freeing Tibet finally leaks to the public, so Selina torpedoes the college’s planned groundbreaking in order to kick off a new campaign for the presidency.

Could Louis-Dreyfus make Emmy history again with a sixth consecutive win in the Comedy Lead Actress category? Let’s dive into the pros and cons of her submission:

PROS

“Groundbreaking” is set in both the present and the past via new flashbacks to major moments in Selina’s personal and professional life, so Louis-Dreyfus has no shortage of memorable scenes that showcase her range. Louis-Dreyfus particularly shines in the flashbacks, from her daughter Catherine’s (Sarah Sutherland) birth, in which Selina feels no immediate affection for her baby, to her catching husband Andrew (David Pasquesi) cheating on her on her campaign bus, to her stint in the insane asylum after losing the presidency, in which Louis-Dreyfus manages to mine some sympathy for Selina out of a broadly comedic scene. In the present day the episode also features one of Louis-Dreyfus’s most emotional moments of the season, when Selina has to break up with her loving boyfriend Jaffar (Usman Ally). Their exchange, as well as Selina’s silent tears as she descends an escalator in his hotel, emphasize Louis-Dreyfus’s dramatic chops.

Emmy voters clearly have an affinity for speeches, and in “Groundbreaking” Louis-Dreyfus gets to deliver not one, not two, but three of them, each with a very different tone. The opening scene of the episode, a flashback to Selina’s presidential concession speech, finds her at a low point in her career, which allows Louis-Dreyfus to play Selina’s grave disappointment off of the unfortunately miscalculated celebratory music and an avalanche of balloons. In her second speech, Selina reveals her political cunning when she exploits her newborn, half African-American grandson and her daughter’s Native American lesbian life partner Marjorie (Clea DuVall) for her personal gain in front of the press at the hospital. Finally, the episode ends with a crane shot of Selina making a celebratory first campaign appearance in Iowa. All told, the speeches bring Selina’s story full circle from a low point in her career to a new high.

While some may feel Louis-Dreyfus has earned her fair share of awards recognition for “Veep,” the television academy clearly continues to adore the series as this sixth season earned 17 Emmy nominations, the most for the show to date, including both a writing and directing nomination for Louis-Dreyfus’s episode submission. In addition, her acting peers, who are the ones casting ballots in the Emmy performance categories, just awarded Louis-Dreyfus the SAG Award in January, where she delivered a rousing political speech. That victory at SAG, where she’s only won two of her four nominations for “Veep,” bodes well for her chances at the Emmys.

CONS

Louis-Dreyfus faces a few new challengers in the Comedy Actress category this year. New entrants Pamela Adlon (“Better Things”) and Jane Fonda (“Grace and Frankie”) could prove tempting choices for voters. Emmy favorite Allison Janney (“Mom”) competes against Louis-Dreyfus for the first time after winning two trophies for her performance in the Comedy Supporting Actress category (2014-2015). And Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”) contends after besting Louis-Dreyfus for the Golden Globe in January. Returning contenders Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) and Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”) both have a lot of industry support as well.

In theory, the more consecutive victories Louis-Dreyfus amasses, the more difficult it should become for her to triumph again with continually rising expectations and voters’ possible desire to spread the wealth. After her historic win last year voters may move on to someone else, but with no single clear alternative for voters to rally behind, Louis-Dreyfus may go on to break her own record.

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