Tracee Ellis Ross‘s Emmy chances are on the upswing. Her portrayal of Dr. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson on the ABC comedy hit “Black-ish” has been attracting attention all season long. Will she win Best Comedy Actress?
All of this appreciation comes as “Black-ish” as a whole is riding a wave of awards notice, including three Emmy nominations last September for Ross and her co-star Anthony Anderson in lead-acting categories, and for the series itself for Best Comedy Series — that was up from the previous year when it only earned an Emmy nomination for Anderson.
Perhaps most significant, however, was Ross’s Golden Globe upset victory earlier this year over frequent awards favorite Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”) for Best TV Comedy Actress. Ross’s win has prompted talk of a similar win at this year’s Emmys, but earning an Emmy in this category the same year as winning the Globe is a relatively rare occurrence. In the past 20 years, only Tina Fey (“30 Rock,” 2008), Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City,” 2004) and Helen Hunt (“Mad About You,” 1997) have managed to pull that off.
But it’s not inconceivable for Ross to follow in their fabled footsteps. For one thing, she has the material, particularly with a pregnancy storyline that has kept the focus on Bow and how a new child will affect her family throughout the back half of the season. And pregnancy and childbirth storylines have been good luck for actresses competing in this category. Just ask Candice Bergen (“Murphy Brown”), Jennifer Aniston (“Friends”) and the aforementioned Helen Hunt, all of whom won for episodes in which they gave birth.
Besides her pregnancy storyline, an episode in which Ross truly shines is “Being Bow-racial,” in which Bow, who is of mixed race herself, examines her own internalized prejudice when her son Junior (Marcus Scribner) brings home his new girlfriend, who happens to be white. Bow, believing herself to be an educated and tolerant individual, can’t quite believe she’s having these negative feelings and explores her own doubts that, because of her light skin, she is truly considered a black woman.
That leads to a memorable scene in which Bow has a heart-to-heart with her white father Paul (Beau Bridges) that helps Bow come to terms with her own racial identity. Ross takes the ball and runs with it, and she never forgets to bring the funny, which of course is important when competing for Best Comedy Actress.
The critics concurred on the merits of “Being Bow-racial,” with Nichole Perkins (Vulture) writing, “It’s been a while since we’ve had such a perfect episode of ‘Black-ish,’ but ‘Being Bow-racial’ was worth the wait … It’s an incredible episode.” And Ashley Ray-Harris (A.V. Club) added that the episode “is ‘Black-ish’ finally addressing the ‘ish’ that looms heavily over its title and the results are stellar.”
Still, there is one element that Ross will need in order to get that Emmy Award: academy voters will need to finally reach the point of “Julia fatigue.” The “Veep” star has won five consecutive Emmys as Best Comedy Actress and is gunning for a record-breaking sixth. But even if Louis-Dreyfus falls short of her sixth, there’s no shortage of other potential contenders, including Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”), Issa Rae (“Insecure”) and that unpredictable category-switcher Allison Janney (“Mom”).
Still, multiple Emmy prognosticators think Ross is the contender to watch. (She currently ranks second in our Gold Derby predictions). And her big Golden Globe victory, plus the continued critical and ratings success for “Black-ish,” may be just enough to make Tracee Ellis Ross the new Emmy queen of comedy.
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