Last Year’s Winner: Catherine O’Hara, “Schitt’s Creek”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: It may seem like only yesterday, but it’s been four years now since Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her sixth straight Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, all of which were bestowed for her work on “Veep.” (Louis-Dreyfus has won 11 Emmys total, including one more in this category for “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”) Since then, three different actors have won — Rachel Brosnahan for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Phoebe Waller-Bridge for “Fleabag,” and Catherine O’Hara for “Schitt’s Creek.” With O’Hara ineligible in 2021, there will be a new victor for the fourth consecutive Emmy season.
Fun Fact: Of the 15 TV shows to win multiple times in the Best Actress in a Comedy category, only three crowned more than one performer: Shelly Long and Kirstie Alley both won for “Cheers,” Ruth Gordon and Carol Kane won for “Taxi,” and three of the “Golden Girls” took home the Lead Actress trophy: Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Bea Arthur. (Estelle Getty won for Best Supporting Actress in 1988.)
Notable Ineligible Series: Catherine O’Hara, “Schitt’s Creek (the series has ended); Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, “Dead to Me” (Season 3 is not expected to be eligible); Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Season 4 is not expected to be eligible); Issa Rae, “Insecure” (Season 5 is not expected to be eligible); Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie” (Season 7 is not expected to be eligible); Pamela Adlon, “Better Things” (Season 5 is not expected to be eligible)
At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. This article will be updated throughout the season, along with all our predictions, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest news from the 2020 race. Voting for the 2021 Emmys will be held from June 17 through June 28 (with polls closing at 10 p.m. PT). Emmy nominations will be announced Tuesday, July 13. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out in September, at a date (or dates) to be announced. The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place Sunday, September 19. CBS is broadcasting the ceremony.
The State of the Race
Like so many categories in the 2021 Emmys, there’s going to be a lot of turnover in the Comedy Actress nominations. Only one of last year’s nominees remains eligible (Tracee Ellis Ross for “Black-ish”), and looking further back, even previously nominated stars from past Emmy seasons don’t have eligible work this year, like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in “Grace and Frankie” or Pamela Adlon in “Better Things.”
That means TV Academy voters will have to honor new faces, which also means the heat is on for yesteryears’ dark horses and perceived snubs to break in now. Who’s got the edge? Well, one has to think that SAG nominee Kaley Cuoco will land her first Emmy nomination for “The Flight Attendant.” The HBO Max original enjoyed a strong winter awards run, solid reviews, and heaps of praise for its titular star.
Meanwhile, the nascent streamer also has contenders in Cristin Milioti for “Made for Love,” Jean Smart for “Hacks,” and Alia Shawkat for “Search Party.” Despite acclaim throughout their (still burgeoning) careers, neither Milioti or Shawkat has been nominated for an Emmy just yet, and both shows have their fair share of supporters. (“Search Party” has been building them for years, while the freshman “Made for Love” is hoping interest peaks right before voting.) Smart was nominated just last year (for “Watchmen”), marking her ninth nomination overall, and she’s won three Emmys already (two for “Frasier,” one for “Samantha Who?”). HBO Max has to believe voters will be responsive to seeing the beloved talent in a lead role, which is also what makes “Hacks” one of the most anticipated titles on the TV horizon.
Over at Hulu, both Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle should be strong contenders in “Pen15,” a comedy which snagged a writing nomination for its first season but should see more love for its second, while Aidy Bryant is hoping the final season of “Shrill” will earn the show its first nomination. Apple TV+ will be pushing for Hailee Steinfeld in “Dickinson” and Charlotte Nicdao in “Mythic Quest,” neither of which cracked the Emmys for their first seasons but could benefit from recent premieres and more openings in the Comedy categories. Netflix’s main contender was Lily Collins for “Emily in Paris,” but that was before the streaming network announced a new season led by two women: Lena Waithe and Naomi Ackie.
Still, broadcast might see a minor resurgence this year. After snagging three nominations in the last three years, they could match (or top) that total in 2021. Tracee Ellis Ross remains a top candidate for “Black-ish,” and Allison Janney could very well land her first nomination for “Mom” since 2018. (She’s a 14-time nominee and seven-time winner!) Then there’s Jane Levy, who’s arguably doing the most work of any actor in contention via “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” The NBC drama just marked its 100th musical number in less than two seasons, and Levy’s ability to ground a fanciful story in affecting drama, clever comedy, and endearing romance is damn impressive. Many thought she was an unjust omission last year, so we’ll see if voters perk up this time around. She’s exactly the kind of new face they should try to spotlight.
- Kaley Cuoco, “The Flight Attendant”
- Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
- Jane Levy, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”
- Allison Janney, “Mom”
- Jean Smart, “Hacks”
- Maya Erskine, “Pen15”
Contenders: Anna Konkle, “Pen15”; Lena Waithe, “Master of None”; Hailee Steinfeld, “Dickinson”; Cristin Milioti, “Made for Love”; Lily Collins, “Emily in Paris”; Alia Shawkat, “Search Party”; Aidy Bryant, “Shrill”; Charlotte Nicdao, “Mythic Quest”
In a Perfect World: Robin Thede, “A Black Lady Sketch Show”