They almost certainly won’t win. They aren’t even on too many Emmys short lists to be nominated. But there are two shows eligible for Outstanding Comedy Series this year that — at least in this humble TV watcher’s opinion — really do deserve some sort of prize.
A James Beard Award for one of them, perhaps? And maybe the Order of Lenin for the other?
The first is “Julia,” HBO Max’s delicious comedy-drama following the life and career of cooking icon Julia Child, the grand dame of PBS who for 10 years, from 1963 to 1973, taught America how to sauté. Child has been played by some heavyweights in the past — Meryl Streep in 2009’s “Julia and Julia” and, of course, Dan Aykroyd in his famous 1978 “SNL” skit — but never before with the heart and soul, not to mention vocal alacrity, that veteran English actress Sarah Lancashire (“Coronation Street,” “Where the Heart Is”) brings to the role.
I know the comedy actress category is crowded this year — with Jean Smart for “Hacks,” Quinta Brunson for “Abbott Elementary,” Rachel Brosnahan for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Tracee Ellis Ross for “Black-ish,” to name a few of the top contenders elbowing for a nomination — but seriously. If a performance as joyful and exuberant as Lancashire’s doesn’t rate a nomination, then Emmy voters should be smacked with a red-hot spatula.
Weirdly, the show itself, recently picked up for a second season, barely registers in most Emmy prognosticators’ prediction lists, so it’s the longest of longshots to win the big prize. Tres disappointing. After all, it’s this year’s “Ted Lasso,” a character-driven show so quirky and engaging and, at times, heartbreaking, it’s impossible not to fall in love with it.
“Julia”’s best, maybe only, shot at an Emmy is with its supporting players, who definitely know their way around the awards circuit. David Hyde Pierce, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series 11 times and picked up four trophies back in the 1990s and early 2000s for playing Niles Crane in “Frasier,” could conceivably pick up his 12th nom for playing Julia’s adoring, if sometimes annoying, husband, Paul Child. And Bebe Neuwirth, who won two back-to-back supporting actress prizes for her role as Lilith, Frasier’s ex-wife, has at least a theoretical shot at another for her portrayal as Avis DeVoto, Child’s life-long friend who helps her launch her cooking show on PBS’s local Boston station.
The other Emmy-deserving show is “The Great,” Hulu’s wacky, wildly inaccurate portrait of Catherine the Great, ruler of all Russia in the late 1700s. Not since “Hogan’s Heroes” has an American television show had so much fun playing tragic European history for laughs.
Elle Fanning portrays the empress as a young woman, at first with adorable wide-eyed innocence but soon shifting gears into ruthless but still adorable doggedness, determined to drag a backwards Russia into 18th-century modernity. Fanning is truly awesome in the part.
Even more awesome is Nicholas Hoult — the boy from “About a Boy,” now grown up — as her arranged (and deranged) husband, Peter the Third, a brutal loon who sashays through the Winter Palace smashing wine glasses while shouting “Huzzah!,” issuing random laws (beards are forbidden!), and bedding his best friend’s wife, among many other ladies of the court.
I’m not sure why this show, which enters its third season in November, isn’t getting more Emmy traction; virtually nobody making predictions is giving it or many of its actors (including Belinda Bromilow as Peter’s even loonier aunt, Adam Godley as the deeply repressed Archbishop and Phoebe Fox as Catherine’s maid and best friend) much hope for a nomination.
Maybe it’s just too zany and ribald for timid, politically correct Emmy voters. Or maybe its subject matter — you know, Vladmir Putin’s favorite historical figure — is a touch radioactive at the moment, given current events in Ukraine.
Still, you’d think that an absurdist, ahistorical comedy that takes the piss out of Russia’s expansionist history would be the sort of thing even Volodymyr Zelenskyy could get behind. He might even say, “Huzzah!”