Can Rita Moreno make an Emmy comeback for “One Day at a Time” after a 35-year absence from the awards? As the wise-cracking grandmother of a Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles, CA, Moreno has the kind of showy supporting role that brought Emmys to Estelle Getty (“The Golden Girls”), Rhea Perlman (“Cheers”) and Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”), who could actually return herself this year for that show’s revival. And given that her Netflix series is a reboot of a 1970s sitcom from Norman Lear, whose hit shows “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” made him King of the Emmys that decade, it would almost feel like a done deal, right? Well, almost.
The EGOT recipient was widely expected to reap a Best Comedy Supporting Actress nomination for the show’s first season in 2017, but was snubbed. She did, however, contend at this year’s Critics Choice Awards, losing to Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”), and made a memorable appearance at the Oscars for their 90th anniversary. So with a critically-acclaimed second season of “One Day” streaming now and a few empty slots in the Comedy Supporting Actress category this year, is this the perfect storm for her triumphant return?
It certainly helps that reviews for “One Day at a Time’s” second season have been glowing, particularly for Moreno. Liz Shannon Miller (Indiewire) praised her ability “to turn the most simple line delivery into a hilariously dramatic tour-de-force.” Margaret Lyons (The New York Times) agreed, calling Moreno “the brightest star in our solar system” and adding that her comedic timing is not “just funny,” but also “joyous.” And Jen Chaney (Vulture) said, “We are so lucky that Rita Moreno is still entertaining us and bringing the same vigor to the sitcom that she brought to Sondheim and Bernstein decades ago.”
None of this would matter if there weren’t some wiggle room in the Comedy Supporting Actress race, but thankfully for Moreno there is. Three of last years contenders — Vanessa Bayer (“Saturday Night Live”), Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”), and Kathryn Hahn (“Transparent”) — will be out of the category: filming of “Veep’s” last season has been delayed, so it won’t air new episodes in time for this Emmy cycle, while Bayer and Hahn are no longer on their respective series. Since the Emmys often nominate the same performers multiple times in a row, that leaves back-to-back victor Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”), Leslie Jones (“Saturday Night Live”), and Judith Light (“Transparent”) eligible to duke it out again. Provided they all make it back in they’ll be joined by a trio of newcomers. Given her recent visibility as well as her Critics Choice bid, Moreno feels like a natural choice to take one of those slots.
It may be hard for voters to resist her after her recent appearance at the Oscars. Moreno was on-hand to present the Foreign Language Film award to “A Fantastic Woman” wearing the same black gown she donned 56 years ago to accept her Supporting Actress trophy for “West Side Story” (1961). And a few weeks before that she bestowed her former “Electric Company” co-star Morgan Freeman with the SAG Life Achievement Award. Both appearances were telecast highlights that reminded viewers (and perhaps TV academy members) that Moreno is still going strong at 86-years-old.
Moreno previously won back-to-back Primetime Emmys for “The Muppet Show” (Variety Supporting Actress in 1977) and “The Rockford Files” (Comedy/Drama Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in 1978). That first Emmy, in fact, was how she completed her EGOT, following her Oscar victory for “West Side Story,” a Grammy win for “The Electric Company” (Best Children’s Album in 1973), and a Tony triumph for “The Ritz” (Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1975). This makes her one of only 12 people to rack up all four major industry performance prizes. Needless to say, people love to shower this woman with awards.
She competed once more for “The Rockford Files” in 1979 and had three other Primetime Emmy noms over the course of her career: for “Out to Lunch” (Variety Supporting Actress in 1975), “Portrait of a Showgirl” (Movie/Mini Supporting Actress in 1982), and “9 to 5” (Comedy Actress in 1983). But despite several more notable TV performances, including a juicy role as a nun and counselor in HBO’s prison drama “Oz,” Moreno has been conspicuously absent from the Primetime Emmy lineup for the last 35 years. Though she did make her mark at the Daytime Emmys with three straight noms for voicing the title character in the animated series “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?” (1995-1997). Will all that change this year? More importantly, could she add a third Emmy to an already crowded shelf?
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