No Emmy Nod? How Many Scenes Does Kathryn Hahn Have To Steal?

Slate's Culture Blog
July 20 2012 8:30 AM

The Best Female Comedian Who Wasn’t Nominated for an Emmy

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Kathryn Hahn has been stealing scenes onParks and Recreation,Girls, andThe Newsroomthis spring and summer.

Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Emmy acting nominations are not typically known for recognizing excellence per se—instead, they’re usually a strange mix of audience favorites, political picks, and, yes, some people who actually deserve to be nominated. Considering that, this year’s nominations were not half bad, and especially, as XX Factor’s Alyssa Rosenberg notes, when it came to recognizing women in comedy. But there’s one very funny lady who’s been stealing scene after scene on both cable and network TV lately but who was inexplicably overlooked by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

I’m talking about Kathryn Hahn, who’s been knocking it out of the park this spring and summer with guest turns on three of the most watchable shows on the air. Hahn is an exceedingly appealing actor who’s demonstrated an impressive range over the course of her career, and never more sharply than in the past four months. First, in March, she appeared on Parks and Rec as the brilliant and conniving yet somehow enormously likeable Jennifer Barkley, a campaign strategist for the opposition. The following month, she showed up on Girls as Katherine Lavoyt, the working mom who seems to have it all—until her deadbeat husband starts flirting with the nanny. Finally, on the most recent episode of The Newsroom, she played Carrie, a pot- and gun-obsessed man-eater who has a brief fling with protagonist Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels).

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Hahn’s role on The Newsroom was (apparently) a one-time thing, which is a terrible shame. In the hands of a screenwriter with a slightly more favorable view of women than Aaron Sorkin, Carrie could have been the kind of role Hahn was born for: fun, confident, opinionated, sexual. But despite Sorkin’s insistence on writing Carrie as a certifiable lunatic who’s quickly relegated to the sidelines, Hahn shone in her scene with Daniels, making Sorkin’s strained dialogue sound almost realistic. (Making false notes ring true is a particular gift of Hahn’s, as we discovered during her sappy heart-to-heart with Jemima Kirke’s character in Episode 9 of Girls.)

Yet Sorkin isn’t the only Hollywood producer guilty of under-using Hahn’s talents. Despite having stood out in such otherwise unremarkable films as Our Idiot BrotherHow Do You Know, and Step Brothers, Hahn has never been cast in a starring role in a studio film, and the one sitcom she headlined—last fall’s Free Agents on NBC, a mediocre American adaptation of a British gem—was canceled after four episodes. If you’re to believe her Wikipedia page, Hahn is best known for her supporting role on the six-season procedural Crossing Jordan.

This is a crime, and a baffling one at that. Hahn is as fearless an improviser as her more successful peers, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. She’s enormously charismatic, with a smile as endearing as Julia Roberts’. And she can play straight roles as readily as silly ones. What’s not to like?

If Margaret Cho deserved a nomination for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series for playing Kim Jong-Il in a few 10-second spurts on 30 Rock, Hahn surely deserved one for her well-developed role on Parks and Rec or Girls (or both). Since it’s too late for this year, we can only hope that Hahn will keep killing it in guest roles in time for an Emmy nomination next year. Or, better yet, we can hope that someone will give her a sitcom of her own.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

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