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 Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Lena Dunham, Girls
Episode Title: "Beach House"
Episode Description: "Beach House" is the episode of Girls better known as the one where they all go to North Fork—not the Hamptons—and yell at each other because all of them are general nightmare human beings. Ultimately that makes it an interesting choice as Lena Dunham's submission episode, because it was one of the episodes this season that truly showed off the ensemble piece. And, in fact, if you had asked me after it aired who were the stand outs I would have probably said Allison Williams or Zosia Mamet.
This episode shows Hannah at her most horrendously self-centered, actively trying to ruin Marnie's (admittedly horrible) plan to have a reconciliation weekend by inviting Elijah and his friends over. Though it's an episode wherein Hannah gets mad, it doesn't do a great job of showing Dunham's levels as an actress. For that we would have submitted the episode "Flo," which features Hannah confronting her dying grandmother. What "Beach House" does show is Dunham's willingness to make Hannah completely unsympathetic.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Episode Title: "Crate"
Episode Description: JLD is the reigning champ here and just based on the submitted episodes it's likely that she'll continue to reign. In "Crate," Louis-Dreyfus gets to go through a whirlwind of spectacular emotions. Selina faces a disaster in her campaign thanks to a really expensive crate and a reporter's forgotten cell phone, and then, just as she's about to break down, gets the good-for-her news that the president is resigning.
Not only does JLD get to dole out some of the show's trademark barbs, but she's marvelously restrained as Selina tries to keep her emotions—first sadness, then glee—in check as she meets with a Syrian couple on a campaign stop and vaguely attempts to be sympathetic. Her scene in a disgusting single occupant bathroom as she giddily tells a bleeding Gary that she's going to be president is side-splittingly funny.
Part of the frustration with the Emmys is that the same people win year after year, but based on episodes alone JLD is the deserved front runner.
Melissa McCarthy, Mike and Molly
Episode Title: "Mind Over Molly"
Episode Description: "Mind Over Molly" was surprisingly subdued given what I expect from a CBS comedy. The episode is pretty much solely focused on Molly attending a therapy session. (John Michael Higgins, always welcome, plays the therapist.)
As Molly, McCarthy isn't as wild as you might expect from her recent film work, and the episode is especially subdued considering it revolves around her character grappling with emotions related to her dead father. Don't get me wrong, the episode isn't particularly deep, but McCarthy shows her talents for subtle emotion.
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Episode Title: "Super Greens"
Episode Description: The "Showtime half-hour show that isn't really a comedy" slot in the Best Actress competition goes to Edie Falco of Nurse Jackie. There's nothing particularly remarkable about Falco's performance in this episode, which finds Jackie taking drugs, as she does, and dealing with her rebellious daughter. Falco, of course, is good, but there's nothing that stands out here.
Not being a regular Nurse Jackie viewer, I'm not sure if Falco had a better episode to submit, one that was at least more flashy than this one, where her (main) character tends to slide into the background of scenes.
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Episode Title: "Recall Vote"
Episode Description: If it's not going to be JLD, it deserves to be Poehler, and this is a great episode for her. "Recall Vote" gives Poehler the chance to be her Leslie Knope-iest, as she eagerly prepares to rally troops for her city council recall election. The episode, however, quickly turns things around when she learns that she lost almost immediately. Leslie then proceeds to fall into a deep funk, lecturing little kids on the futility of their lives while dressed as Buttercup from The Princess Bride. (It was also a Halloween episode.) Parks and Recreation has a ton of fun when its characters get drunk and "Recall Vote" is no exception. Poehler and Adam Scott seem to be having so much fun playing off of each other as they engage in self destructive behavior.
"Recall Vote" isn't exactly as strong an episode as Veep's "Crate," but Poehler is positively wonderful. She should get an Emmy and this is a fine reason to give her one.
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black
Episode Title: "The Chickening"
Episode Description: We can talk for days about whether or not Orange Is the New Black should be in the comedy category, but it is and so we are here. Schilling submitted one of her most comedic episodes, "The Chickening," in which Piper spots a legendary chicken on the grounds of Litchfield and incites an inmate frenzy. "The Chickening" still has a bit of early season one preppy, naive Piper—she after all is still trying to schedule calls with Polly about her scented-soaps company—but is ultimately more about how Piper is becoming a more integral part of the prison culture. (Interestingly enough, the flashback in this episode focuses on Daya rather than Piper.)
Schilling's best moment comes in the final moments of the episode when she decides to leave Polly hanging and runs after the chicken. It's a great example of how Schilling can get a wonderful little spark in her eyes when exploring Piper's mischievous side.
This is probably Louis-Dreyfus' award to lose again, and, honestly, would anyone really mind? She's very good. But if anyone should break her streak it should be always-a-bridesmaid Poehler, who should get a turn at the podium, and could with a great episode this year.
Meanwhile, I'm not really sure what Falco is doing in this lineup, aside from the fact that she's a regular nominee, and Mike and Molly is certainly not where McCarthy's heart is. Dunham should be rewarded for Girls more as a creator than an ensemble member, and the amount of love for Taylor Schilling will depend on whether the Academy loves Orange as much as the Internet does.