Getting nominated for an Emmy is a crapshoot, but winning is even more random and strange, since you only get to submit one episode to showcase all your skills. Emmy voters will be sitting down and watching screeners to help decide their votes. We replicated the process, watching each category's submitted episodes, in no particular order, to see what tickled our fancy.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Fred Armisen, Portlandia
Episode Title: "Pull-Out King"
Episode Description: Portland, man.
As we previously covered, weird Emmy rules mean anyone in a sketch comedy counts as a supporting actor, even though Fred Armisen is obviously Portlandia's lead actor. So on the one hand, good for him getting his first acting nomination. On the other hand, sketch actors never seem to win here, perhaps because the nomination serves as a recognition of their overall contribution, but they have no real arc to hang their hat on.
Some of the characters Armisen plays in this episode: the lady who thinks she's pregnant by the titular "Pull-Out King," the Prairie Home Companion fans staking out Garrison Keillor's performance, a guy who has to email his friend about their baby...and on and on. Armisen won't win, but it's nice for the Emmys to tip their cap to his great work.
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Episode Title: "Christmas"
Episode Description: Captain Holt is placed under Jake Peralta's (Andy Samberg) care after death threats are made against him. Holt is grumpy about it and Peralta bounces off him being goofy and dumb. That's Brooklyn Nine-Nine for you!
Braugher in one way had the toughest call here, because his Captain Ray Holt character is pretty consistently deadpan and Andre Braugher-y. The Emmys know what they like, they like Andre Braugher, and in "Christmas" they get plenty of him.
Still, I'm a little surprised Braugher didn't submit "The Party," the episode set at Holt's birthday party, which lets him show a little more range. "Christmas" does feature brief glimpses of 1970s Holt, with tricked-out hair and bad attitude, but it's not really enough to latch on to (perhaps his pop-and-lock at the end of the episode is). Still, Braugher has to be a threat to win—this is his eighth nomination, the first in the comedy category (he has two previous wins). The Academy loves him.
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Episode Title: "Spring-a-Ding Fling"
Episode Description: Phil is getting ready to emcee some annual dinner for real estate agents. His wife is going to miss it, so his oldest daughter is going as his date. She's thrilled, as you might imagine.
Now, it's worth remembering that Burrell (a five-time nominee) already has a trophy for Modern Family's second season. So maybe that's why he picked such a dud of a submission this year—he's getting out of his co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson's way. Or, more likely, he submitted "Spring-a-Ding Fling" because it's kind of a Phil Dunphy showcase. Kiiiind of.
You watch the episode thinking Phil is gonna dominate, since he's dressed in a tux and emceeing the event and all. But then most of the episode is preoccupied with other characters, and Phil only gets one embarrassing set-piece, singing a parody of Styx's "Sailing" and falling over when he catches his daughter texting through it. To Burrell's parody, the performance is believably cheesy, not over-the-top embarrassing, but that will help him even less in his quest to win a second trophy.
Adam Driver, Girls
Episode Title: "Two Plane Rides"
Episode Description: Adam makes his stage debut as Hannah acts like a real Hannah about it.
A low-key choice from Driver, although Adam definitely had less of a wide-ranging arc in Girls' third season, since he was with Hannah and largely stable. He picked the finale, so we don't get to see a ton of him, but we do see him onstage doing an English accent for Major Barbara, and he has a scene with Hannah before and after the performance, where she tells him about getting into Iowa (ugh) and he freaks out at her for throwing him off.
I don't really know why Driver picked this episode—his work with Gabby Hoffmann earlier in the season was way more energetic and is probably what the voters were thinking about when they nominated him. But Driver is still getting famous, he's gonna be in Star Wars, and he's the only other Girls actor to get a nomination aside from Dunham so far. He probably won't win, but don't write him off completely.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Episode Title: "Message Received"
Episode Description: Wedding prep stress ends in Mitch blowing up at his grumpy dad and accusing him of not hosting the nuptials at his country club because the whole thing makes him uncomfortable.
So Ferguson and Burrell, the only two Modern Family stars to get nominated for every season, are the only supporting actors remaining as the show (slightly) begins to dwindle in the Academy's eyes. Somewhat surprisingly, Ferguson did not submit Mitch and Cam's marriage episode, but this rather tense affair instead.
The moment is pretty dramatically effective, and Ferguson is a good actor, but he always seems to submit episodes where Mitch is prickly and mean for most of the 22 minutes, and this is no exception. He has a running thing with Cam over some fake antique that's prized in Cam's family, which mostly just makes Mitch look like a jerk. I'd be surprised if Ferguson, the perennial nominee, gets the win this time, but maybe there'll be a sense that he's overdue?
Tony Hale, Veep
Episode Title: "Crate"
Episode Description: A typically problem-filled leg of the Meyer campaign gets goosed by the shocking news that POTUS is resigning... making Selina president.
Hale won last year, a total surprise that was nonetheless very well-deserved. Could this be the beginning of an Emmy juggernaut, or was this just a welcome recognition of a great TV character actor? If he's gunning for a second win, Hale made the right pick with "Crate," which was also Julia Louis-Dreyfus' submission. The first half is just him lugging around the titanium crate for Selina to stand on, and you might be baffled at his choice.
But the second half, where Selina realizes she's going to become the President after POTUS resigns and she tells Gary in the bathroom, and he starts crying, and his nose bleeds, and the two devolve into hysterical laughter, and the tampons are produced…well, you remember, and of course he made the right choice. It's a stupendous scene and establishes Hale as a very credible threat to win.
Braugher has been seen as the favorite pretty much since the Brooklyn Nine-Nine pilot aired, but maybe his lax submission will see Hale boxing him out. This category was all Modern Family for that show's first three seasons, but with Hale winning last year and only two MF actors nominated this year, the show may be in decline. Driver and Armisen are probably in the "happy to be nominated" spot. Braugher and Hale should be the big vote-getters.