Comedy actress Emmy race: Jean Smart takes on Rachel Brosnahan

Long before the 2021 Emmys, it was essentially a foregone conclusion that the ‘Hacks’ star John Smart walked away with the prize for best actress. Now that she’s the defending category champion, she could emulate the likes of Candice Bergen (“Murphy Brown”) and Julia Louis Dreyfus (“Veep”) by picking up a straight win for his show’s second season, which is slated to premiere on HBO Max in May. Although she won hands down last time out, she could face more challenges this year given that she has two things in common with her biggest competitor. Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”): The two women have already won the award and both star in comics.

Brosnahan was nominated three times for Amazon Prime Video’s “Maisel” and triumphed on its first outing in 2018. At the time, this run was notable for not involving Louis-Dreyfus, whose work on “Veep” brought him unprecedented success. six straight trophies from 2012 to 2017. On the same night, “Maisel” also won Best Comedy Series and picked up half a dozen additional awards, including directing and writing.

Picking up after a hiatus of more than two years, the eight-episode fourth season of “Maisel” aired from February to March 2022. Brosnahan continued as Midge Maisel, a 1950s housewife-turned-comedian who, at this point in the series, has had more lows than highs in his tumultuous career. Part of her growing up has been realizing that most of her mistakes are rooted in self-doubt, and she’s ready for a change of attitude at the start of the show’s fifth and final season.

Brosnahan and Smart are the only two actresses to ever win in this category for playing characters who regularly work as artists. Smart’s Deborah Vance, a veteran modern-day Las Vegas headliner, was last seen making amends with her scorned young songwriting partner after her residency ended and is set to tour by bus in season two. Smart’s recent main win completed her comedy Emmy Trifecta, as she nabbed two guest awards for “Frasier” in 2000 and 2001 and a supporting one for “Samantha Who?” in 2008. “Hacks” also won in the directing and writing categories last year, but lost the series contest to “Ted Lasso.”

What makes this possible battle of actors particularly intriguing is that, although these two characters live in different times and are at opposite points in their careers, they share major life experiences. Both of their stage characters were heavily influenced by marital betrayal, and both of their arcs involve balancing motherhood and the demands of their jobs. If they existed in the same universe, Maisel might have had some influence on Vance as someone who helped pave the way for bawdy women in comedy.

This comic book showdown would mark the 30th overall instance of former Best Comedy Actress winners going head-to-head, as well as the fifth in 10 years. The most recent case concerned Brosnahan and Louis-Dreyfus, both beaten by Phoebe Waller Bridge (“Fleabag”) in 2019. Smart and Brosnahan are currently ranked first and second in our Prediction Center, while their respective shows are second and fifth in our Comedy Series race behind “Ted Lasso.”

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