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Emmy contenders: Will Laura Linney continue to go undefeated?

August 9, 2011 |  3:05 pm

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Laura Linney has yet to win an Oscar despite three nominations, but at the Emmys she has proved unbeatable. She is three-for-three, winning her first award in 2002 for lead actress in a TV movie or miniseries for Showtime's telefilm "Wild Iris," an upset in which she defeated Vanessa Redgrave for "The Gathering Storm," that year's winner for best TV movie, as well as Linney's own costar, Gena Rowlands. Her second win was in 2004 for guest-starring as Kelsey Grammer's final love interest on "Frasier." And in 2008, she won a third prize, once again in the movie/miniseries race, for her lead role as Abigail Adams in the HBO miniseries "John Adams."

Last year marked her first regular television role, playing a woman battling cancer on Showtime's "The Big C," which has earned her a fourth nomination. Will she continue her unbroken winning streak? She submitted the pilot episode, a whopper of a reel in which she responds to her cancer diagnosis by lashing out at her neighbors, students and family before finally revealing her diagnosis to a dog. It's an episode with tons of impact and range, but just one problem: It's not very funny.

But two previous Showtime leading ladies have won this category for more dramatic fare: Toni Collette took home the gold in 2009 for playing a mother with multiple personalities on the the now-defunct "United States of Tara," and Edie Falco won last year for playing a drug-addicted nurse on "Nurse Jackie." Falco is back in the race again this year, and she submitted a funnier episode this time around: "Rat Falls," in which she discovers that the titular rodent has gotten into her stash of painkillers. But buzz has dwindled for "Nurse Jackie" this year, so Falco may have to step aside for Showtime's newest star.

But Linney isn't a lock. She's got tough competition from a pair of actresses who have never won before and submitted strong episodes. Amy Poehler, nominated twice before for "Saturday Night Live" and then last year for NBC's "Parks and Recreation," is back this year with her fourth career nod, and she submitted the "Flu Season" episode of "Parks," in which she comes down with the flu and struggles her way through an important public event. It's a broad, slapstick-heavy episode without the gravitas of Laura Linney, but Poehler's altered-state performance might remind voters fondly of Lucille Ball's famous "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" episode of "I Love Lucy," in which she gets drunk selling "Vitameatavegamin."

Martha Plimpton is another major contender. She plays Virginia, the grandmother of a newborn on Fox's "Raising Hope," and she submitted "Say Cheese," in which she struggles to corral her family for a perfect family photo. It's a broadly comic, manic performance, but also sympathetic, after Virginia discovers that her perfect family photo was taken unexpectedly by a red-light traffic camera.

Emmy darling Tina Fey won this category in 2008 for "30 Rock"; she's nominated for the fifth year in a row and submitted "Double-Edged Sword," in which a flight delay causes an emotional meltdown and the epic breakup of Liz's relationship with her pilot boyfriend, Carol (Matt Damon, a guest-actor nominee who also submitted this episode for consideration).


Melissa McCarthy ("Mike & Molly") was a surprise nominee, possibly aided by her increased notoriety this summer from the blockbuster film "Bridesmaids." On paper, her episode submission is strikingly similar to Poehler's. In "First Date," she is desperate to overcome a cold so she can have dinner with Mike (Billy Gardell) but ends up getting hopped up on cough syrup. Will the two performances cancel each other out? Perhaps going up against five funny ladies will help Linney, whose reel will certainly stand out against the lighter fair offered by her competitors.

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— Tom O'Neil

Photo: Laura Linney in "The Big C." Credit: Showtime.

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