Emmys 2012: Handicapping the Outstanding Comedy Series Race - Plus: Our Pick to Win!

2012 emmys best comedyIf ABC were to go into Sunday’s Emmy ceremony confident that Modern Family was about to add its third comedy series statuette to the network’s trophy case, no one would be the slightest bit surprised. The odds are so in favor of a threepeat for the feel-good, laugh-hard smash that it’s almost no contest. So just imagine how shocked everybody would be if HBO’s Girls — arguably the most talked-about show of the season — managed to parlay all of its buzz into gold. Could the breakout hit, with its sheen of indie cool, really defeat the returning champ, in many ways the poster show for mainstream success?

While you draw your own conclusions, here’s our assessment of those series’ — and all the nominees’ — chances, followed by our final, fearless prediction:

RELATED | TVLine Readers’ (Emmy) Choice Results Are In 

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30 Rock
A three-time Emmy winner, NBC’s critical darling is riding high following what was widely considered to be one of its strongest seasons (certainly one of its strongest in recent memory, at least). Yet this go-’round — contradictory as it may seem — lead actress nominee Tina Fey’s baby is nonetheless something of a longshot. The problem is twofold: On one hand, as the show approaches its seventh anniversary, it finds itself battling a vague perception that its heyday has come and gone. (This, in spite of its 13 nods — only one fewer than Modern Family.) On the other hand, its on-screen hijinks, brilliant though they were, have often run the risk of being overshadowed by certain cast members’ off-screen misadventures. Good show, great season, slim chance.

The Big Bang Theory
It isn’t merely a hypothesis that CBS’ brainiacs laffer has reached a new creative peak since fleshing out its supporting cast and making a regular of supporting actress nominee Mayim Bialik. On the contrary, it’s provable: In addition to the show now being television’s top-rated comedy, it’s also just received its second Emmy nod in this category. However, in spite of the series’ heightened ensemble status, it’s still largely regarded, whether rightly or wrongly, as The Jim Parsons Show.  (It doesn’t help that the two-time victor and his on-screen love interest are the only cast members who were nominated this year.) As such, he stands a much better chance of winning his third Emmy than the series does of winning its first.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Left out of the 2011 Emmy derby due to ineligibility, lead actor nominee Larry David’s HBO comedy returned this year in fine form, with a new setting (Manhattan) and the same old attitude (curmudgeonly). But, though critics and voters alike may agree that the show has hit its stride, its schizophrenic scheduling (on one year, off the next) and relative elderliness (in its eighth season, it’s the oldest series nominated) rob it of the momentum it would need to win the award. (That momentum is especially important when, as Curb is, a show is up against programs with bigger ratings and/or louder buzz.) So, in spite of the “enthusiasm” with which the series’ comeback was greeted, its reward is probably the nod.

Ironically, the series with the best — and perhaps only — chance of stealing away the Emmy from Modern Family is the one with which it has the least in common. HBO’s freshman dramedy — as edgy and unpredictable as ABC’s juggernaut is polished and reassuring — isn’t just an overnight sensation, it’s a pop-culture phenomenon. Right out of the gate, it sparked water-cooler debates over everything from its lack of minority actors to its plentitude of colorful characters (“Is Adam a sociopath, or merely a jerk?”). About the one thing on which everyone — especially industry-ites — seemed to agree was that the show is genius. So, at very least, series creator-writer-director-star Lena Dunham is sure to go home with a statuette. The only questions there are, in which and in how many categories?

Modern Family
At the risk of stating the obvious, the Emmy is this ABC hit’s to lose. Not only is the show coming off back-to-back wins, it just scored its first Golden Globe victory, its ratings remain enviable, its quality is still sky-high, it received more Emmy nods than any other primetime comedy (14), and its entire adult cast is nominated in the supporting actor and actress categories. Then again, this summer’s ugly contract dispute — which ended with the cast scoring huge pay hikes — may not have endeared them to industry execs and potential voters. Still, were the show to lose — uh, good luck with that, Girls — it wouldn’t just be an upset, it would be an upset of monumental proportions.

Leading lady Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ nomination was a no-brainer. Even if the reviews hadn’t proclaimed her to be the best thing about her first-term HBO comedy (which she is), she’s still been up for Emmys a dozen times and won twice (once for Seinfeld, once for The New Adventures of Old Christine). In other words, she’s a ringer. But this nod that the show itself received was more of a head-scratcher. Perhaps it’s a vote of confidence that, while the series hasn’t yet found its footing, it will?

Who will win: Modern Family

The 64th annual Primetime Emmy ceremony airs this Sunday at 8/7c on ABC.