Jean Smart is hot on Kaley Cuoco’s heels as Emmy Experts are now evenly split between them

There may be some turbulence ahead in Kaley Cuoco‘s path to the Emmy. The “Flight Attendant” star still has a comfortable lead in our Best Comedy Actress odds, but someone is taking flight behind her: her HBO Max colleague Jean Smart. Since “Hacks” premiered on the streaming service on May 13, Smart has surged in the rankings and now our Experts are divided between the two as each has 10 backing them to prevail.

The only other person with an Expert pick to win is Lena Waithe (“Master of None”), who sits overall in seventh place, just outside the predicted six. Despite the major support from pundits, Smart — who also has three editors predicting her compared to six for Cuoco — is still in third place overall, behind No. 2 Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”). She’s ahead of Jane Levy (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”), Allison Janney (“Mom”) and Maya Erskine (“PEN15”). But at this rate, it’s just a matter of time before Smart passes Ross and perhaps make a play for the top spot as well.

On the critically acclaimed “Hacks,” Smart plays Deborah Vance, a legendary comedian with a Las Vegas residency who hires a young comedy writer, Ava (Hannah Einbinder), to spruce up her act after the latter has become an industry pariah thanks to an ill-advised tweet. Deborah is very much a diva, but Smart imbues her with vulnerability as easily as she fires off barbs, making it clear Deborah’s success is hard-won in a sexist industry.

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The three-time Emmy champ — twice for her guest appearances on “Frasier” (2000-01) and once for her supporting turn on “Samantha Who?” (2008) — has also been enjoying a career resurgence since she got everyone shook as Floyd Gerhardt, the matriarch of a crime family, on the second season of “Fargo” in 2015, earning a Best Limited/TV Movie Supporting Actress Emmy bid. She followed it up with roles on “Legion” and “Watchmen,” receiving an Emmy nomination in the aforementioned category for the latter last year.

Besides “Hacks,” the “Designing Women” alum is also currently starring on HBO’s hit limited series “Mare of Easttown,” which wraps up Sunday, in a scene-stealing performance as Kate Winslet‘s mother, so she could nab two nominations in July. Just like in comedy actress, Smart has risen in the limited/TV movie supporting actress race as well for “Mare” and now sits in sixth place, up one spot from last week. After she was widely predicted to win for “Fargo” and “Watchmen” — she lost to eventual “Watchmen” co-star Regina King (“American Crime”) and Uzo Aduba (“Mrs. America”), respectively — perhaps the time will come this year.

Meanwhile, Cuoco has been experiencing her own career milestones. “The Flight Attendant,” on which she serves as an executive producer, is her follow-up to the insanely successful “Big Bang Theory,” for which she received scant awards recognition compared to some of her co-stars (ahem, Jim Parsons). Cuoco’s already received Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for her layered performance as Cassie Bowden, an alcoholic flight attendant who wakes up to find her one-night stand dead in bed. She lost all of those to reigning Emmy champ Catherine O’Hara, who will not be back to defend her crown since “Schitt’s Creek” is over. Cuoco has been the Emmy frontrunner since, but with “The Flight Attendant” having aired at the end of 2020, “Hacks” may be (airing) in the right place at the right time for Smart to give chase.

Emmy odds for Best Comedy Actress
Jean Smart is ahead

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