2020 SAG Awards Viewing Guide: Part 3 – Television Comedy Awards

Not that you shouldn’t watch all the performances, but it’s difficult, at best, to find the time. As a rule, I don’t sleep, so…here are my observations of the nominated performances.

As I mentioned in the TV Drama viewing guide, we have a real problem with no Supporting awards. And while it was noticeable in the Dramas, it’s REALLY a problem here. Alex Borstein, Alan Arkin, Andrew Scott, and Tony Shalhoub are all supporting roles. That’s 40% of the nominees! As a result, there is no room for:

  • Anthony Carrigan, Sarah Goldberg and Henry Winkler for “Barry”
  • Will Arnett for “Bojack Horseman” (are we ever going to acknowledge voice performances?!)
  • Hank Azaria or J.K. Simmons (“Brockmire”)
  • Andy Samberg…or the entire cast of “Brooklyn Nine Nine”
  • Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle for “PEN15” (the BEST!)
  • Marin Hinckle, Michael Zegan, Jane Lynch and Luke Kirby (“Mrs. Maizel”)
  • Natahsa Lyonne for “Russian Doll” (a show I didn’t particularly love, but must acknowledge for her fearlessness)

And on and on…regardless…


PART 3: TELEVISION COMEDY

Women

Christina Applegate (“Dead to Me”)

Not sure when we decided that our comedies should revolve around grief and tragedy, but this year alone we have several excellent offerings including “Fleabag” and “After Life”. Now we have “Dead To Me”…even if I’m not exactly sure it’s a comedy. It’s very funny, to be sure, but its humor is neither situational (except maybe from the support group moments), nor is it based on one-liners. No, here the humor comes mostly from the show’s quiet dialogue and heightened emotional angst. And not many female actors are better at that than Christina Applegate (although her work here is slightly reminiscent of Jennifer Aniston’s character in “The Morning Show”). Does the performance rise above any of the other nominees? No. But it’s worthy of the nod (even if I think Maya Erskine, Sarah Goldberg or Anna Konkle are more deserving).


Alex Borstein (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)

This third season, Borstein’s Susie Meyerson moves well beyond the Milton Berle-esque, Vaudeville zingers she was previously trapped in. Fully three-dimensional now, she is a driving force, more believable, and every bit as hilarious. Possessing moments of sheer emotinoal brilliance, she is the only female actor in a supporting role I would consider for the award.


Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)

This is what I wrote last year: “So, really, is there any doubt who deserves the award? Not even nominated last year, she should be a shoo-in for this years statuette. Her timing, commitment and emotional connection to both us and the world she lives in are extraordinary for a show this funny. “Maizel” will be in the discussion of the best of the best comedies for decades to come…and much of it is due to her performance.” Of course, that was before season two of “Fleabag”. Whether or not Ms. Brosnahan wins, she’s amongst the two best in this category.


Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”)

Who doesn’t love Catherine O’Hara? My only problem? I don’t think the show is all that funny. I’ve tried, I’ve really tried. But the “Schitt” schtick gets old within seconds, and it hasn’t really progressed in its five seasons. Compare that to the wildly evolving “Maizel”. Much as I would give O’Hara and award for almost anything she’s ever done…this isn’t it.


Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) (she gets my vote)

Although I preferred season one for its larger dose of empathy and humanity, this season was still the very creme of the crop. And Waller-Bridge’s incredible timing, unbelievable use of a broken fourth wall, and her interactions with one of the best ensembles ever put forth elevates her to winning status for me. Plus, who doesn’t want to hear her acceptance speech after her Critic’s Choice remarks (look it up)?!


Men

Alan Arkin, “The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)

Just as I wrote for Bornstein, Arkin is brilliant. Always. He’s the best thing on that show by a mile and a half, and I’d give him an award for reading the phone book. Hell, I’d pay for a ticket to watch him read the phone book. In fact the highlight of my life as an actor is, without a doubt, the evening he was in the audience for an evening of personal essay storytelling that I was featured in (as was his son). At the end of the evening, he came up to me(!) and told me how funny he thought my piece was and how much he enjoyed it(!!). Seriously, the greatest night of my performing life. And since there are THREE supporting performances in this category, he would be my second choice for the hardware.


Michael Douglas, “The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)

Well, I don’t particularly like the show. The jokes are one-liners, and he’s not particularly great at that…especially standing next to Alan Arkin. Also, he plays an acting teacher in Hollywood on a half hour comedy. And he’s not even the best one of those. That would be the not-nominated Henry Winkler.


Bill Hader, “Barry” (HBO) (…he gets my vote)

More well-rounded. More conscience. More…well…everything, Hader’s Barry grew to a new level this year. His audition scene alone should get him the award (as should Sarah Goldberg’s monologue in the same episode)! Easily the most undefinable and ever-surprising comedy on TV, Hader is its linchpin (along with the three I mentioned above). A no-brainer for me.


Andrew Scott (“Fleabag”)

I’m well aware that what I’m about to say is not a popular or remotely shared opinion. I am not a fan of Andrew Scott’s acting. Everything I’ve ever seen him is a bundle of ticks and eyebrows. However, I have to admit that he has been much more restrained, and thus, better in his two major appearances this year. Both in “Fleabag ” and in “1917”, I found him to be watchable, interesting, and three-dimensional. Here, especially, he walks the tightrope of carnal desire vs. religious obligation better than most have, and he heightens the work of those around him (the highest compliment one can pay an actor), not that he needs to. That’s one hell of an ensemble. Great work.


Tony Shalhoub, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (AmazonPrime)

In season three, the writers of “Maizel” made what I consider to be a grave mistake. They took away the quiet, constantly undermined, strength of Shalhoub’s character. Abe Weissman is much more interesting being a man in total control who is utterly unaware of how little control he has. This season, he has been made aware…and a down-on-his-luck Abe is not a very funny one. I applaud the effort to move the story in to a more stylized, evocative look at the entertainment biz…a move that they were mostly successful with. But, the biggest loser in that new equation was Shalhoub.


Ensemble

“Barry” (HBO)

The cast of Barry is great…and unlike “Kominsky”, all the students in this Hollywood acting class are utilized and hilarious – as are all the players from his other life. As such, it’s a much bigger and better cast than most of the other nominees. Sure, there’s Hader and Winkler, but there is also Sarah Goldberg, Anthony Carrigan, and, of course, the brilliant Stephen Root. I mean, come ON! And even with all this talent (and terrific writing), it doesn’t get my vote.


“Fleabag” (Amazon)

This might be one of the best congregations of talent in a comedy in…well…a decade. In addition to the Ms. Waller-Bridge and Mr. Scott, we have Olivia Colman, Sian Clifford (amazing), Bill Paterson and the great character actor, Brett Gelman. It’s a chamber-comedy, so it doesn’t have the breadth of charcater work in, say, ‘Maizel” or “Barry”, but it is incredibly strong. And STILL doesn’t get my vote.


“The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)

Again, this two-actor show has very little to offer in terms of ensemble. Now that Susan Sullivan is no longer in the show, I feel the rest of the cast is down to guest star appearances (Paul Reiser, Jane Seymour, Kathleen Turner). Is it any wonder it is my parents’ favorite show?


“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” (AmazonPrime) (…they get my vote)

Now this is one giant ensemble. And everyone in it is fabulous. In addition to Brosnahan, Borsteing, Shalhoub, Hinckle, Lynch, Zegan and Kirby, there is also the hilarious Brian Tarantina, terrific Bailey de Young, smooth Leroy McClain, ferocious Sterling K. Brown and (apparently ambidextrous) Liza Weil – among dozens more. And all are fully written, interesting and emotionally invested. Even the caricature Maizel’s (Kevin Pollack and Caroline Aaron) are written with love. This ensemble is precisely who the comedy award was made for.


“Schitt’s Creek” (CBC Television/Pop TV)

Well, at least it’s not “GLOW”, a show I never found funny. I don’t particularly think this show is funny either, but I acknowledge that anything with Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara is elevated simply by the two of them being in it. But everyone else in the show (Dan Levy, Annie Murphy, Chris Elliott), with the exception of Emily Hampshire, is written so incredibly two-dimensional, it’s just not funny. To me. Would be nice to acknowledge “Brooklyn Nine Nine” here…or maybe an animated show?


Next up: Part 4: Miniseries and TV films…

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