"Do not underestimate Larry David!" our forums moderator Darrin "DoubleD" Dortch roared to me via e-mail after seeing that I ranked the star of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in fifth place out of six nominees when listing the likely Emmy winner of best comedy actor.
It's easy to discount Larry David's current nomination. He's lost three times. But this year might be different, warns Dortch, referring to the sample episode that David submitted to Emmy judges: "He submitted his best tape EVER. He handed in the very first 'Seinfeld' reunion episode of their season where he's battling his former 'Seinfeld' co-workers. I bet voters will get a kick out of all those old 'Seinfeld' chums reuniting. Critics raved over that episode and that helped create an intense media buzz for the show's seventh season. He's definitely in the top three in the category."
Maybe so. Currently, I have likely winners ranked thus:
1. Tony Shalhoub ("Monk")
2. Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory")
3. Alec Baldwin ("30 Rock")
4. Steve Carell ("The Office")
5. Larry David ("Curb Your Enthusiasm")
6. Matthew Morrison ("Glee")
I think Shalhoub's ahead because he gave judges the two-hour series finale of "Monk" in which he finally, after eight seasons, solves his wife's murder. It's four times longer than the other episodes in this category and Shalhoub grandstands emotionally throughout it. He not only has his character's usual ticks and neuroses (which has earned Shalhoub three Emmys) and weeps over his wife's death, but he groans and mugs a lot when Monk is poisoned by his wife's killer.
Voters are usually suckers for that kind of big, operatic performance, but they may be sick of Shalhoub's repeats wins. And they may be eager to catch up with Larry David at last.
In the "Seinfeld" reunion episode, David certainly gives a big, hambone performance too, come to think of it. He moons over his ex-wife, fights with everybody except Jerry Seinfeld (Jason Alexander, Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a network president, etc.) and goes all pop-eyed at the end when things don't go his way. It's much more emotionally expressive than most of his performances on "Curb." A lot of Emmy experts thought he'd win in 2006 for another flamboyant performance in "The Ski Lift," but he lost to Tony Shalhoub for the "Mr. Monk Bumps His Head" episode.
One reason David has repeatedly lost might be because voters don't take him seriously as an actor. They think he's portraying himself. Remember, Emmy voting is done by peer group, and the thespians checking off ballots in this category can be snobs.
In general, knee-slap comedians like David don't win acting Emmys. There are a few notable exceptions. Roseanne Barr prevailed as best comedy actress for "Roseanne" in 1993, and Ray Romano won for "Everybody Loves Raymond" in 2002. However, Roseanne's episode was largely a dramatic tour-de-force as she tried to cope with the death of the abusive father she hated. Romano's episode, "The Breakup Tape," is quite dramatic too because his character and Patricia Heaton's reveal the souvenirs they've retained from past romances.
Larry David's episode has no dramatic touches. Usually, voters like a wide emotional range, but Alec Baldwin ("30 Rock") and John Lithgow ("Third Rock from the Sun") have won for purely comedic turns. So yes, Larry David is in this race. He does have a realistic chance to win.
Photo: Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld in "Curb Your Enthuasism" (HBO)