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2022 Emmys Preview: Handicapping the Comedy Categories

Barry, Ted Lasso, and Hacks headline a stacked category, but who will win?
  • Photos: HBO, Apple TV+, HBO Max.
    Photos: HBO, Apple TV+, HBO Max.

    Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz. Over the coming weeks Joe will be looking at the competition in each of the major categories at this year's 74th Annual Emmy Awards. First up: Comedy Series.

    If the 2021 Emmys were the year of the limited series — with The Queen's Gambit and Mare of Easttown facing off in the night's top contest — the 2022 Emmys may well be a year for the comedies. With old Emmy favorites like Barry, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Curb Your Enthusiasm returning to contention, last year's heavy hitters Ted Lasso and Hacks back for more, and strong debut series like Abbott Elementary and Only Murders in the Building, from top to bottom it's as strong a category as it's ever been in Emmy history.

    Now that the nominations are in, we turn our heads towards who's actually going to win these awards. For the top comedy categories — Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series — it's shaping up to be a battle between several hugely acclaimed shows with big nomination totals. Ted Lasso was the big winner in the comedy categories last year, and the Emmys do love a repeat winner, but it won't be quite so simple as that.

    So which shows are best poised to triumph in the three top comedy categories?

    Outstanding Comedy Series

    • Abbott Elementary (ABC)
    • Barry (HBO)
    • Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
    • Hacks (HBO Max)
    • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Prime Video)
    • Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
    • Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
    • What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

    The Frontrunner: In what may well be the most competitive of the major Emmy races this year, you could make a case for several shows as the leader of this particular pack. Ted Lasso triumphed last year against fellow freshmen series Hacks, and it's worth mentioning that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won this category in 2018. But in a tight race that really could go anywhere, the edge goes to HBO's Barry, which returned from a three-year hiatus and was greeted with the best reviews of its entire run. It's now attained the level of "more than just a TV show" which is often essential for an Outstanding Series win. With three nominees, HBO is flexing its muscle in this category, but Barry would seem to be its lead horse.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Here's where things get interesting. Maisel is a former champ, yes, but at this point it's running on fumes. Only Murders in the Building had a robust showing in its freshman season, and as Hulu's only nominee, they can really go all-out campaigning for it. But we're probably looking at another Ted Lasso vs. Hacks battle, this time to play spoiler. Both shows weathered some degree of second-season backlash to retain their popularity with Emmy voters, but if the nominations in the acting categories are any kind of bellwether, Ted is holding onto its edge.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: After a superb first season, Abbott Elementary is holding it down as the lone representative for broadcast television. You could absolutely make the argument that it's the most worthy show on the ballot, and a stronger-than-expected showing in the acting categories (four nominations, including Quinta Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Janelle James, and Tyler James Williams) is a good indicator that voters are really into it. With vote-splitting possible among the major contenders from cable and streaming, an Abbott upset is definitely on the table.

    Stat to Chew On: There are a couple interesting stats to linger on. Ted Lasso's presence in the category means that a defending champion is nominated for the first time in three years. And then there's the matter of Curb Your Enthusiasm being such a stealthily reliable Emmy fave, nominated for its 11th season. That marks the longest into its run that a comedy series has been nominated since Cheers was nommed for its 11th and final season in 1993.

    Prediction: It feels like Barry's year, although for real: what a great field of nominees.

    Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series

    • Donald Glover as Earn Marks on Atlanta
    • Bill Hader as Barry Berkman on Barry
    • Nicholas Hoult as Peter III on The Great
    • Steve Martin as Charles-Haden Savage on Only Murders in the Building
    • Martin Short as Oliver Putnam on Only Murders in the Building
    • Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso on Ted Lasso

    The Frontrunner: As with the Comedy Series category, this is a stacked field, with three former winners — Glover won in 2017, Hader won in 2018 and 2019, and Sudeikis triumphed last year — and that's not even including comedy legends Steve Martin and Martin Short. If Barry is the lead horse in the Comedy Series race, it stands to reason that Bill Hader would be leading the field here after a season where he was the driving creative force behind one of TV's most acclaimed shows.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Jason Sudeikis's Ted Lasso remains just an incredibly likeable performance, and if voters are looking for a way to honor that show without voting for it in Comedy Series, handing Sudeikis a back-to-back win certainly feels like an option.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: It's hard to imagine what would nudge a voter to opt for one of the Only Murders in the Building leads over the other, although both Steve Martin and Martin Short hold comedy legend status that would make for a hugely crowd-pleasing moment if either one of them were to win. And well-deserved, too. Martin's Charles-Haden savage brings an undercurrent of missed opportunity to his persnickety Upper West Sider, while Martin Short tamps down some of his more manic energy while still retaining status as the show's dip-enthusiast live wire. Of course, the MOST feel-good moment would be if the two were to finish in a tie for first and have to accept the award together.

    Stat to Chew On: A win for Bill Hader would be his third in the category, placing him in the company of Don Adams, John Lithgow, Tony Shalhoub, and Dick Van Dyke.

    Prediction: The urge to hedge one's bets by saying Sudeikis here in case the voters want to spread the wealth is considerable. But if Barry is going to take Outstanding Comedy, Hader will almost certainly nab Lead Actor as well in what's shaping up to be a battle of Saturday Night Live alums.

    Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series

    • Rachel Brosnahan as Midge Maisel on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
    • Quinta Brunson as Janine Teagues on Abbott Elementary
    • Kaley Cuoco as Cassie Bowden on The Flight Attendant
    • Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great on The Great
    • Issa Rae as Issa Dee on Insecure
    • Jean Smart as Deborah Vance on Hacks

    The Frontrunner: Jean Smart, an long-time Emmy favorite, stomped all over this category last year in a Deborah Vance-like trouncing of her competition. The field this year is incredibly accomplished, but there really isn't much reason to doubt that Smart has an open lane to her second consecutive win, especially after a season where her character ran the gamut from petty to pathetic to emotionally open.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Rachel Brosnahan won this award back in 2018 so she's not to be underestimated, although the real spoiler might be Quinta Brunson, especially since she's not only the lead actress on Abbott Elementary, she's also the creator and driving force behind the show. That could earn her a lot of respect from Emmy voters, especially if they feel like they've already given Jean Smart her laurels.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: In her final year of eligibility for this role, a win for Issa Rae and her groundbreaking performance on Insecure would have a whole lot of people standing up and cheering.

    Stat to Chew On: Over the past ten years, this category has only seen five winners, and two of them — Smart and Brosnahan — are nominated here this year. (The others were Catherine O'Hara for Schitt's Creek, Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag, and of course Julia Louis-Dreyfus's six wins for Veep.

    Prediction: Oscar voters like to spread the wealth and will often look elsewhere if a former winner is nominated. That is not the way Emmy voters work. Don't expect Jean Smart's win last year to at all hinder her chances for winning again.

    The 74th Primetime Emmy Awards are scheduled to air September 12th on NBC.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer 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.

    TOPICS: 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, Abbott Elementary, Barry, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Hacks, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Only Murders In The Building , Ted Lasso, What We Do in the Shadows, Bill Hader, Issa Rae, Jason Sudeikis, Jean Smart, Martin Short, Quinta Brunson, Rachel Brosnahan, Steve Martin