Beware: Both forecasts may turn out to be wrong – as demonstrated last year by Melissa McCarthy ("Mike & Molly"), who pulled off an upset when most pundits were split between Poehler and Laura Linney ("The Big C").
The Emmys are tough to predict and this year's battle over Best Comedy Actress is a cliffhanger. The outcome depends largely on the strength of the episodes chosen by the nominees to give to judges (actors and casting agents) as an example of their best work. Each contender gets to pick only one. Below, a breakdown:
Pro: Zooey admits to Gold Derby that "Bad in Bed" "may be the weirdest episode of television ever" as she tries to seduce Justin Long with kinky sex. It's a courageous performance (at one point she's dressed in a stringy thong) that gets physical (she strangles him) and increasingly funny as it becomes clear that she's a blushing rookie who'll never make it as a dominatrix.
Con: Zooey may be too hip and sexy for those notoriously conservative veterans in the TV academy.
Pro: In the final scenes of "She Did," Dunham displays powerful acting chops and vulnerability while spatting with her boyfriend on a street at night, shrieking, "I'm scared, OK? I'm really scared all the time … I'm like the most scared person who's alive. I'm 13 pounds overweight and it's awful for me my whole life!"
Con: She doesn't do much for the first 20 minutes of the episode. Will Emmy voters tune out?
Edie Falco, "Nurse Jackie" ("Disneyland Sucks")
Falco is an Emmy magnet, pulling three past victories for "The Sopranos" (1999, 2001, 2003) and one for "Nurse Jackie" in 2010, becoming the first woman to win lead awards for both a drama and comedy series.
Pro: In "Disneyland Sucks," she gives a raw, seering performance while going through withdrawal from painkillers in a hospital. Emmy voters -- who live in rehab-happy Hollywood -- are often suckers for addiction stories.
Con: Too much drama in this race for best funny girl?
Tina Fey, "30 Rock" ("The Tuxedo Begins")
Sure, she already won here in 2008 and "30 Rock" is no longer a rolling stone crashing through the Emmys (winner, Best Comedy Series 2007-2009), but it could pick up momentum in this race thanks to this great episode.
Pro: In "The Tuxedo Begins," Tina delivers a classic Lucille Ball vaudeville-styled performance when Liz Lemon dresses up like a witch-haired crazy lady in order to scare off competition for good seats on the subway and in movie theaters. She also has a nasty cold, which adds even more bravado to a big, bold performance. (Melissa McCarthy won last year for an episode in which she fights off a cold.) Because we also see Tina as regular Liz, Emmy voters get two performances in one. Multiple personality roles often win.
Con: Episode lacks a heart-tugging scene of poignancy. Often voters want that.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep" ("Tears")
Julia is an Emmy darling, winning here in 2007 for "New Adventures of Old Christine" and in the supporting race for "Seinfeld" in 1996. With this bid, she tied Lucille Ball's record of 13 nominations.
Pro: It's fun to watch Julia as the U.S. Vice-President flip-flop between being frantic, sweet, caustic, manic, vulnerable, furious, terrified, happy and then suddenly break into tears twice while dealing with a rude Ohio Congressman who doesn't want her to endorse his bid for re-election.
Con: After a while, this edgy character can get on your nerves.
Melissa McCarthy, "Mike and Molly" ("The Dress")
After pulling off an upset last year, she got crowned on the Emmy stage like a beauty queen, then went on to nab an Oscar nomination for "Bridesmaids." Does she return invincible?
Pro: In "The Dress," she gives a big, full-bodied performance – literally – as Molly goes on a frenzied fitness program to shed enough pounds to fit into her wedding gown. "I'm getting married in three weeks and I'm going to fit into that freaking dress if it kills us all!" she roars. But she also has a tender-hearted scene at the end of the episode when she cries to Mike, "I'm sorry to put you through all this, but I just want to look perfect for you on our wedding day."
Con: "Mike and Molly" seems like a featherweight sitcom next to such stylized shows as "Veep" and "Girls" that are usually preferred by Emmy voters, who are elitist snobs. Was her upset last year merely due to building buzz after the release of "Bridesmaids"? If so, that buzz has finally fizzled.
Amy Poehler, "Parks and Recreation" ("Win, Lose or Draw")
Amy holds a giant Emmy I.O.U. It's criminal that she still hasn't won yet as a performer, writer or producer despite five previous nominations.
Pro: Poehler experiences a wide span of emotions while tracking the ups, downs, then a voter recount while running for a seat on city council. In "Win, Lose or Draw," she even gets a tender crying scene when she's alone in the voting booth.
Con: While Leslie (Poehler) displays many emotions, they're all rather understated. Someday we hope Leslie will finally SCREAM.
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