One of the things you learn about the Emmys if you follow them long enough is that when they like someone, they really like that person, and Emmy voters have really liked Laurie Metcalf for thirty years now.
Ever since she broke out with her role as Aunt Jackie on Roseanne through her many guest appearances and later roles on shows like Getting On, Metcalf has been a reliable presence on an Emmy ballot. She won three consecutive Emmys in the '90s for Roseanne, she was once nominated three times in the same year for three different shows, and this year she could end up with another trio of nominations for her roles as Aunt Jackie on The Conners, as a skeptical Stanford professor in Hulu's The Dropout, and as "Weed," Deborah Vance's grisled tour manager in Hacks Season 2.
All told, Metcalf has been Emmy-nominated eleven different times, including five for Roseanne alone. Which of those nominations were the most deserved? We decided to get ranking and find out.
After earning five nominations in the '90s, it would be seven years before Metcalf would find herself Emmy nominated again. Her return came for an episode of the USA series Monk titled "Mr. Monk Bumps His Head," where Tony Shalhoub's titular OCD detective gets mugged, is knocked unconscious, and wakes up in Wyoming with amnesia.
Metcalf plays the eccentric local woman who passes Monk off as her husband for reasons that barely hold together, and while it's an entertaining enough Monk episode (Shalhoub won his third of three Emmys with this episode as his submission), Metcalf doesn't have much beyond a vague character description and a bad wig to work with.
After winning three consecutive Emmys for Roseanne from 1992-94, Metcalf lost in her bid in 1995 to Christine Baranski in Cybill. Over 20 years later, the two women were nominated side-by-side for the same episode of The Big Bang Theory — the Season 9 finale, "The Convergence Convergence." Both lost, somewhat appropriately, to the tandem of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for Saturday Night Live.
Metcalf played Sheldon's hyper-religious mother (a role her daughter, Zoe Perry, would take on in Young Sheldon) who was in town for Leonard and Penny's wedding and struck up a flirtation with Leonard's father (Judd Hirsch), with Baraksnki as the estranged and embittered ex-wife. If that whole setup sounds incredibly juicy given the talent involved, don't get your hopes up, as Metcalf gets almost zero good lines and the potential for farce went nowhere.
Roseanne's much ballyhooed — and eventually highly controversial — return to television in 2018 brought with it a familiar refrain at the Emmy Awards, as Metcalf picked up her fifth career nomination for playing Jackie Harris. In the reboot, Jackie and her sister Roseanne are estranged after the 2016 election, and although Metcalf would eventually pick up the reins of the show after Roseanne Barr was fired for racist comments, this season's characterization of Jackie felt weary under the strain of trying to make the show topical.
Metcalf appeared on a handful of Desperate Housewives episodes in its third season, including a memorable episode where her character, Carolyn Brigsby, holds a supermarket full of people hostage. It was a legitimate tour-de-force performance (as you can see in the clip above), but bizarrely it's not the episode that was submitted for the Emmy. The show instead submitted the season premiere where we (rather briefly) meet Carolyn, former neighbor to Orson Hodge (Kyle McLachlan), whom she suspected of murdering his wife, and at whose engagement party to Bree (Marcia Cross) Carolyn crashes. It's likely that no one was going to beat Elaine Stritch that year for 30 Rock, but the show should at least have given Metcalf a fighting chance.
People forget that 3rd Rock was a momentary Emmy powerhouse in the late '90s, and Metcalf got swept up in that tide, getting nominated for her performance as Jennifer Ravelli, a literature professor who briefly catches the eye of Dick Solomon (John Lithgow), before he catches a bit of buyer's remorse. Metcalf is a trip here, playing the irritatingly erudite Jennifer, whose penchant for rhyming and taste for vegan food ultimately drive Dick crazy.
Metcalf's fourth consecutive nod for original-run Roseanne came in the show's seventh season, where Jackie was mostly dealing with issues involving her marriage to Fred (Michael O'Keefe). It's by no means a bad season, and Metcalf is great as always, but she didn't have a ton of standout material — aside from the Gilligan's Island-themed season finale where Metcalf played Gilligan — and it's not hard to see why Baranski went home with the Emmy instead.
Metcalf's third straight Emmy win for Roseanne came for the season where both she and her character, Jackie, were pregnant, which gave the show a lot to work with. Ironically, Jackie's best moment that season came right before the pregnancy, when she and Roseanne got high off an old stash of weed and Jackie wound up paranoid in the bathtub.
Metcalf was nominated for three Emmys in 2016, in three different categories. The most unlikely was for Horace & Pete, Louis C.K.'s self-distributed, quasi-experimental drama series which often felt like televised theater (and which boasted a tremendous cast including Edie Falco, Alan Alda, and Steve Buscemi). Metcalf only appeared in one episode, but she was undeniable in a spotlight hour consisting of a single scene between her and C.K., playing Horace, her ex-husband.
The episode, in which her character confesses in disarming detail her extramarital affair with her current husband's father, includes an unbroken nine-minute monologue and calls upon all of Metcalf's considerable training as a stage actress. While the show, and Metcalf's performance, felt almost like a secret that only TV critics and industry folk knew about, it's not the least bit surprising that Emmy voters went for her performance in a big way.
That same year, Metcalf was nominated for her role as an abrasive yet driven doctor of palliative care in the HBO dramedy Getting On. For three seasons, Getting On was the unsung standout of HBO's programming lineup, and it felt like a minor miracle when Metcalf's performance was recognized in the show's third and final season. It's one of Metcalf's great performances, as a woman who is incapable of modulating how she comes across to people even as she's working beyond her resources to care for incredibly ill patients.
Metcalf's very first Emmy nomination was also her first win, coming in Roseanne's fourth season on ABC. Jackie was all over the map this season, which included a regrettable one-night stand with Arnie (Tom Arnold) and a career pivot into becoming a long-haul trucker. That said, the season was full of standout episodes and moments that showed off Metcalf's incredible comedic ability and her chemistry with Roseanne Barr, which by this point was unimpeachable, as evidenced by episodes where Roseanne and Jackie break into their childhood home and where Jackie convinces Roseanne to let Becky get birth control.
Metcalf's second consecutive win for Roseanne also represented her very best work on the series. This was the season where Jackie and Roseanne mom, Beverly (Estelle Parsons), moved to Lanford, causing Jackie no end of hysterics. This was also the season where Jackie and Roseanne opened the diner together.
But two episodes in particular stand out, showing the tremendous range Metcalf had in the role: the dramatic turn when it was revealed that Jackie's boyfriend has been beating her up, and the peerless gallows humor of Jackie trying to make calls to the family after her father's death. It's actually rare that a performer's best work gets recognized at the exact right time with an Emmy, so it's probably worth it to nod to the grand cosmic justice that happened with this one.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.