Emmys Comedy Handbook: How 'Transparent,' 'Louie' or 'Veep' Could Dethrone 'Modern Family'

Emmys_Comedy_Handbook - H 2015

Emmys_Comedy_Handbook - H 2015

A version of this story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In the first year of seven nominees in the series categories, a five-time winner, four other perennial nominees (one of which just went off the air for good) and two newbies (both courtesy of streaming services) are doing battle for the top prize on the comedy side. Here, The Hollywood Reporter's awards analyst Scott Feinberg looks at what each has going for and against it as we approach the 67th Emmys on Sept. 20.

* * *


THE UPSIDE: Few TV comedies have as passionate a fan base as this one, in which Louis C.K. mines his own life as the perpetually neurotic and awkward comedian and single father. The show has now been nominated for the third year in a row — after its first two seasons were snubbed — while C.K. has accumulated an acting, directing and writing nomination for the fourth straight year. Furthermore, with Louis appearing as one of Jon Stewart's final guests on The Daily Show, he has once again proven his royalty status among comedians.

THE DOWNSIDE: Louie's persona is a bit too morose and his humor too vulgar for some. (He literally killed off a character this season.) The series is grittier than his competitors', and few would argue that season five was its best. The New York-based C.K. himself hates doing press and promoting the show for Emmys (or anytime, really), making him one of Emmy's least visible figures during the voting period. And it was announced at the recent TCA that he would be taking a Larry David-esque "extended hiatus" from making the show.

Modern Family

THE UPSIDE: Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan's hit comedy could make Emmy history this year — a win for its sixth season would be its sixth in a row and break a tie with Lloyd's Frasier for the most ever in this category. With the same winning cast and funny writing that got it this far, and only one other nominee from a broadcast network (the much lower-rated Parks and Recreation), it will strongly contend again.

THE DOWNSIDE: Fatigue about its near-history-making winning streak has set in for many, and this is the first time Modern Family landed neither a directing nor a writing nomination. Also, the category boasts edgier fare such as Amazon Studios' Transparent.

Parks and Recreation

THE UPSIDE: The seventh and final season of this cult favorite brings it its second series nomination and first since 2011. Comedy series rarely win for the first time for a final season, but it has happened (see Barney Miller), and voters adore star Amy Poehler (even if they've yet to recognize her as an individual). And have you noticed how the members of its big ensemble seem to be everywhere? Few haven't been in a movie this summer.

THE DOWNSIDE: There never was a time when this show wasn't on life support because of poor ratings, and Parks and Recreation will head into the Emmys with only one other major nomination (for movie star/television producer Poehler, who has all but stopped campaigning in recent years) and none for directing or writing, which doesn’t bode well for its overall prospects.

Silicon Valley

THE UPSIDE: Few shows ever have packed in as many laughs per minute as Mike Judge's, which only got better in season two as the boys at Pied Piper tried to fend off those who would steal or top their algorithm. Its first best comedy Golden Globe nomination (the only other Emmy nominee represented at the Globes was Transparent, which won) and Critics' Choice win (defeating Transparent and Veep) were big deals, as was landing directing and writing Emmy nominations for a second consecutive year.

THE DOWNSIDE: It is the only series nominee, drama or comedy, that didn't garner a single acting nomination. Because actors account for a big chunk of the Television Academy, that's not a good sign. The most recent show to win the comedy series Emmy without an acting nom was The Wonder Years, back in 1988, and before that The Monkees in 1967. Twice in nearly 50 years is not a stat that inspires confidence.


THE UPSIDE: Few 2015 shows have been more celebrated than Jill Soloway's real-life-inspired dramedy about an L.A. patriarch (Jeffrey Tambor) who reveals to his ex-wife and grown children that he is transgender. Its 11 noms — including shout-outs for writing, directing and two actors — are more than were accorded to any other comedy series. And its series nomination is yet another notable first — following two Golden Globe wins (for comedy series and for Tambor) and a series nomination and two actor wins at the Critics' Choice Awards — for streaming content newcomer Amazon.

THE DOWNSIDE: Transparent was unveiled way back in February 2014, when a show about transgender issues and relationships seemed far edgier than it does now in the era of Caitlyn Jenner media oversaturation. Perhaps partly for that reason, and perhaps partly because some people resist the idea that the show is a comedy in the first place, it was egregiously snubbed at the recent Television Critics Association Awards. Meanwhile, there is another concern: How many Emmy voters only recently have learned how to stream Netflix?

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

THE UPSIDE: Even with its impressive pedigree (co-creators Robert Carlock and Tina Fey are three-time winners in this category for 30 Rock), who would have guessed that the riskiest comedy concept show in years would turn out to be the most upbeat and feel-good? Apparently Netflix, which is laughing all the way to the Emmys — where Kimmy's catchy theme song might wind up playing at the end of the night.

THE DOWNSIDE: It's beyond bizarre that Kimmy Schmidt herself, Ellie Kemper, wasn't nominated for best comedy actress. It's also not a great sign that the show came up empty in the directing and writing categories. Frankly, it's hard to imagine Kimmy winning in any of the categories in which it is nominated, and shows don't win best series without taking other categories along for the ride.


THE UPSIDE: Its protagonist realized her dream of becoming president, but Armando Iannucci’s show, unlike another (House of Cards) that stumbled after that same development, remained as funny and engaging as ever — and arguably became even more nuanced. Its six major nominations are the most for any comedy series, and among them are mentions for directing and writing as well as three for its regular castmembers, something no other nominee in this category can claim.

THE DOWNSIDE: The downside to Julia Louis-Dreyfus' performance and the show's writing always being so sharp is that it's easy for voters to think they alone carry the show. Some may see the departure of showrunner Iannucci from the series as a strike against it (even though the London resident's reason for going home was the series' crushing U.S.-based schedule).