Previous winners “Modern Family,” “The Office,” and “30 Rock” once again have episodes in contention for Best Comedy Writing. Those three network series face off against cable newcomers “Episodes” and “Louie.” History strongly favors one of the network comedies to repeat, because only one cable show has ever won this category: HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” back in 1998.
The creators of “Modern Family,” Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, won this category last year for the show’s pilot. Levitan is nominated again this year for “Caught in the Act,” this time with co-writer Jeffrey Richman. A high point of the show’s second season, the episode focuses on Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil (Ty Burrell), who must do damage control after their kids walk in on them having sex. The premise is comic gold, but the B-stories are just as good: Gloria (Sofia Vergara) and Jay (Ed O’Neill) delay their Vegas vacation in order for Gloria to recover a snide email accidentally sent to Claire, and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) make all the wrong moves during a playdate hosted by a restaurant owner they hope to impress. It looks like “Modern Family” is poised to win again.
“Episodes” co-creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik picked up a surprise nomination for the Showtime comedy’s season finale. The series follows married writers Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig), who are asked to adapt their hit British series for American television and then forced to change the show’s premise and cast Matt LeBlanc in the lead role; a pungent satire of the Hollywood TV industry, the show is tailor-made for Hollywood insiders, especially the writers’ branch, which decides this category. The finale brings the first season to a delightful end, never funnier than when Sean goes berserk after realizing LeBlanc slept with his wife.
Louie C.K. shows you don’t need endless punchlines to make a good comedy on “Louie.” Also nominated for Best Comedy Actor for playing a version of himself, C.K. is nominated for writing “Poker/Divorce.” The first half of the episode features Louie and his fellow comedians extensively discussing gay culture during a poker game, bringing to light the sobering origin of a gay slur. In the unrelated second half, Louie looks up his high school crush after his divorce is finalized. Though the episode is scripted, much of it has an improvisational feel. It’s entertaining in any case.
Greg Daniels won this award in 2007 for the classic “Office” episode “Gay Witch Hunt.” Much has changed since the show’s glory days and it shows in “Goodbye, Michael.” This episode is a sweet, uplifting send-off for manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell). He finds ways to say farewell to his employees without revealing he’s leaving a day earlier than they expect. Unfortunately, an uncomfortable subplot focuses heavily on a recent breakup between Gabe (Zach Woods) and Erin (Ellie Kemper), which is a serious drag on the episode.
Matt Hubbard won this category in 2009 for “Reunion,” arguably the best episode “30 Rock” has produced, but his nomination this year for “Reaganing” demonstrates a noticeable decline in the show’s quality. The episode isn’t a total wash, thanks to a hysterical subplot in which Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) scam a cake store with the help of actor Kelsey Grammer (playing himself). But the main storyline — Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) trying to help Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) with her relationship problems while he’s having a perfect day, which he describes as “Reaganing” — isn’t very funny. “30 Rock” deserved a nomination for season five, but for superior episodes like “When It Rains, It Pours” or “Queen of Jordan.”