While Laura Linney overcame underdog status to win her first three Emmy bids, she has always been the frontrunner in Best Comedy Actress for the first season of her Showtime hit "The Big C." She plays Cathy Jamison, a high school teacher diagnosed with advanced cancer.
For her Emmy submission, Linney entered the pilot episode, in which Cathy receives her diagnosis and responds with drastic changes in behavior, lashing out at students, neighbors, and family alike. It's a bold, showy performance full of emotional gravitas, the kind that Emmy voters usually can't resist.
Linney won her first Emmy in 2002 for another Showtime project, the telefilm "Wild Iris." Among those she bested was Oscar champ Vanessa Redgrave who starred in "The Gathering Storm," that year's winner for Best TV Movie. In 2004, Linney took home Guest Comedy Actress for her recurring role on the final season of "Frasier," defeating, among others, all-time Emmy champ Cloris Leachman ("Malcolm in the Middle"). And in Linney rode the "John Adams" juggernaut to claim Best Movie/Mini Actress edging out frontrunner Phylicia Rashad who was favored to win an overdue first Emmy for reprising her Tony-winning performance in the telefilm "A Raisin in the Sun."
Showtime stars have won Best Comedy Actress for two years running -- Toni Collette ("United States of Tara") in 2009 and Edie Falco ("Nurse Jackie") last year. Collette was snubbed this year, but Falco returns to defend her title. She submitted the episode "Rat Falls," in which her character, drug-addicted nurse Jackie Peyton, discovers that a rodent has gotten into her secret stash of painkillers and then helps a hospital administrator hide a statue of the Virgin Mary. It's a lighter episode of the often dramatic skewing series, but no actor has repeated in this category for the last ten years and, according to Gold Derby editors and users, Falco won't be the one to do it this year.
Tina Fey won't be a repeat champ either. She won this category in 2008 for "30 Rock" with the episode "Sandwich Day," in which Liz Lemon (Fey) tried to impress her ex-boyfriend, and this year she submitted more relationship fireworks. In "Double Edged Sword," she battles her boyfriend Carol (Matt Damon), an airline pilot, during a torturous flight delay. But based on the predictions of editors and users she too is on the outside looking in.
Melissa McCarthy is another long-shot. The former "Gilmore Girls" star – and a scene-stealer this summer in the blockbuster comedy "Bridesmaids" – is nominated for the freshman comedy "Mike & Molly." It's the only multi-camera performance in contention this year. The last to win was Julia Louis-Dreyfus in 2006 for "The New Adventures of Old Christine." McCarthy submitted the episode "First Date," in which Molly (McCarthy) gets high on cough syrup before her date with Mike (Billy Gardell). Playing a character in an altered state paid off just last year for Jim Parsons, who won Best Comedy Actor for an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" in which he gives a drunken acceptance speech.
But McCarthy may not be able to compete with the similarly themed submission of Amy Poehler ("Parks and Recreation"), "Flu Season". In the episode, Poehler's character, Leslie Knope, is stricken with the flu just as she is about to make an important presentation to the chamber of commerce. It's a broad comic performance that will remind Emmy voters of Lucille Ball's famous "Vitameatavegamin" scene from "I Love Lucy." Though a minority of our editors put Poehler out front, most have her in second place, positioned for an upset if voters decide to honor a performance with more laughs than the most recent winners have offered.
Martha Plimpton ("Raising Hope") may be a potential spoiler. A previous Emmy nominee for a guest appearance on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (2002), she submitted the episode "Say Cheese," which recalls how her character, young grandmother Virginia Chance, has struggled to corral the family for the perfect portrait, leading to a bittersweet realization that the best portrait was taken by a red-light traffic camera.
With four broad comic performances in this race, will voters gravitate towards Linney, whose emotional fireworks stand out even more in comparison? Or will the abundant laughs in the competing reels work against her? While Gold Derby expects her to continue her winning ways, as we learned last year when seven-time champ "The Amazing Race" lost Best Reality-Competition to "Top Chef," streaks are made to be broken.