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Why Sheldon deserves an Emmy

Who will win and who won't be laughing when the Emmy Awards are handed out at the end of September? Michael Idato previews the comedy categories in the first of four articles building up to the big night.

Comedy remains one of the most intriguing category groups at the Emmy Awards, if only because it is one of the few where free-to-air networks have not been steamrolled by cable channels. Over in drama, it's been a rout.

Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development (Netflix)
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes (Showtime)
Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Showtime)
Louis C.K., Louie (FX)
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock (NBC)

In the actor category, there will be enormous affection for Arrested Development's Jason Bateman, if not for the fourth series which landed a little more softly than a lot of us hoped, but as a sentimental nod to the three brilliant seasons that came before it.

The most inspired performances are from Don Cheadle in House of Lies and Matt LeBlanc in Episodes. LeBlanc, in particular, incinerates himself with a mischievous glee, which is rare for an actor who fell out of a decade in straight-down-the-line three-camera sitcom.

But Episodes has never really got its due. The short order means most people seem to have missed it and its subversive premise – Hollywood actor cast in ghastly Hollywood remake of a great British series – is a little close to the bone in a town that lacks a sense of humour when its own foibles are in the firing line.

The winner is most likely to be Jim Parsons, who delivers a mesmerising performance as Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper, a boy genius whose vulnerability and humanity seems to resonate with us all. He is greater than the sum of his parts.


Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series
Laura Dern, Enlightened (HBO)
Lena Dunham, Girls (HB)
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Tina Fey, 30 Rock (NBC)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)

Outstanding actress seems at first glance to be a little more straightforward. How can it not be Lena Dunham in Girls? All that fuss. She writes, she produces, she stars. Hollywood has a little crush on Lena Dunham and with good reason: Girls is fresh, sometimes stark, often frustrating but ultimately excellent.

But then what of Tina Fey's final year of 30 Rock, or Julia Louis-Dreyfus' electric turn on Veep? Some of the smart money is probably on Fey.

Outstanding comedy series
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Girls (HBO)
Louie (FX)
Modern Family (ABC)
30 Rock (NBC)
Veep (HBO)

The big question is which show will take out outstanding comedy. There's a bit of chicanery at work here. How, for example, are you supposed to equate Girls with The Big Bang Theory?

It's an illustration of how, in the last decade, traditional award categories have struggled to keep pace with evolving genres. Over at the Golden Globes they're still wedging comedies and musicals into the same category, even when the musical is that hilarious political bloodbath Les Miserables. At the Emmys the problem seems to be comedy, drama and that hideous contemporary creature, the comedy-drama.

Jim Parsons delivers a mesmerising performance as Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper, a boy genius whose vulnerability and humanity seems to resonate with us all. He is greater than the sum of his parts.

In that sense, Girls really shouldn't be in the comedy category, but has almost no chance of finding oxygen in the drama category, which is bursting with amazing dramas, so it's off to comedy's more open field. Desperate Housewives used to play the same game, and it rang a little false there too.

For the purists, Louie is probably the best comedy-comedy, starring the finest comedian. 30 Rock is a sentimental favourite in this category: it's won three times before and this is its final season. And Emmy loves to lavish a favourite with a little love. Frasier, anyone?

But how can you go past Modern Family? It may not have the creative nuance of Veep. Or the jagged brilliance of 30 Rock. But it's a comedy-drama if you choose to see it that way, loaded with pathos and gorgeously touching moments.

It also has an ambitiously large cast, and the toughest job in situation comedy: turning a garden-variety family comedy into the best on TV. It succeeds in spades, electrified by sharp, resonant writing and perhaps the best ensemble cast in comedy today.

The only risk might be The Big Bang Theory, which has come off its best year since its debut, creatively and commercially. Once upon a time it was ignored by programmers for being too niche. Now its numbers are off the scale and its writing has never been better. If any of the nominees is capable of kicking Modern Family from its perch it will be The Big Bang Theory.


The 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast on Monday, September 23, on FOX8 from 9am.


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