Emmy episode analysis: Maya Rudolph (‘Saturday Night Live’) captures the essence of VP nominee Kamala Harris

The nomination of Senator Kamala Harris as presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate was welcome news for many people, not the least of all Maya Rudolph. The “Saturday Night Live” alum was chosen to portray the former presidential candidate for the show’s send up of the Democratic primaries, appearing three times overall. Harris’s VP nomination means she’s likely found a steady gig, similar to Alec Baldwin’s Emmy-winning portrayal of Donald Trump, and her popularity helped her score a Best Comedy Guest Actress Emmy bid, her first for “SNL” since 2012. It’s one of three noms she received overall this year, including two in this category (she’s also contending for the third consecutive time for “The Good Place”) and one for her voice-over performance in “Big Mouth.”

While voters likely considered all of Rudolph’s guest appearances as the California senator over the past season, her official submission is the December 2019 episode hosted by Eddie Murphy. She pops up briefly in that installment’s cold open, a parody of one of the Democratic debates. Near the end of the sketch, she walks onstage, martini in hand, to interrupt Andrew Yang (Bowen Yang), lambaste America for “withholding [its] donations,” and remind us that we “could have had this bad bitch.” Rudolph also appears in a later sketch as the beleaguered wife of Murphy’s family man, both of whom are struggling to deal with family during the holidays.

Could Rudolph win her first Emmy for her “Saturday Night Live” guest spot? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

PROS

Rudolph will likely benefit from Harris’s VP nomination, as many voters may want to symbolically show their support for the Democratic presidential ticket by casting a ballot for her (this could also benefit Brad Pitt, who’s competing for a brief stint as Dr. Anthony Fauci). It helps that she’s legitimately funny in the role, uncannily capturing the spirit and mannerisms of the well-known politician much like Will Ferrell did as George W. Bush, or Larry David as Harris’s former presidential rival Bernie Sanders.

There is also the long history of “Saturday Night Live” guest spots leading to Emmy wins. Since 2009 five out of the 11 winners in this category were actors on the late night sketch show, including Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy, Betty White, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler

Rudolph made history by becoming the first performer to earn dual nominations in this category, since she also contends for “The Good Place” (a feat made possible by a rule change in 2010). Might her role as a supernatural judge help her win for playing a potential vice president?

CONS

Of course, being nominated twice has a downside. Rudolph is strong in both roles, so the vote may be split if Emmy voters can’t come to a consensus as to which they prefer.

Rudolph is only on screen for just over a minute in the episode she is nominated for; it’s a funny performance but it also feels very slight. Her win makes more sense if voters are thinking of all of her appearances as Harris together, but they may also want to give the award to a more substantial role, including her own on “The Good Place.” Of course, Emmy wins for roles with little screen time are not without precedent: just look at Margo Martindale’s two victories on the drama side for just a couple of minutes on “The Americans.”

Rudolph faces competition from another actress with a brief appearance, as Wanda Sykes is currently the odds-on favorite for playing real-life comedian Moms Mabley in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which won this prize last year for Jane Lynch. She’s also going up against another “SNL” guest star, last year’s Emmy queen Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose hosting job may feel more impressive than Rudolph’s brief cameo.

Emmy predictions for Best Comedy Guest Actress

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