During all the Betty White-comeback-mania we’ve experienced over the last couple of years, people have gotten all doe-eyed at the prospect of the 89-year-old comedy legend being just as current and relevant as actresses half her age or younger. They remember her from “The Golden Girls” or “Mary Tyler Moore” or hundreds of game-show appearances and take heart that she’s still kicking around.
But what gets lost in all of this nostalgia is this: Betty White is still pretty darn funny.
So, even though her Emmy nomination for supporting actress in a comedy, for playing the crusty Elka in “Hot In Cleveland,” might be looked at through the lens of everyone’s youthful memories, it’s not a stretch to say that White actually got the nomination on her own merits.
And guess what, folks: She might win it on her own merits, too.
“Hot In Cleveland” is no one’s idea of edgy comedy. It’s as traditional as traditional could be, and seems to have no problem going for the easy and cheap laugh time and time again. It’s turned into a hit for TV Land, though, because of the expert comic performances of its four leads: Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and White.
But White is the standout. Sure, a lot of the Elka role is designed around how funny it would be to hear Betty White talk dirty. However, of the four leads, White is the only one you can’t wait to see appear on screen. Why? Because she brings as much energy and commitment to the role as she did to Sue Ann Nivens or Rose Nylund. She makes the show’s mediocre writing better with her unflinching delivery and ability to make what seemed like a one-note character into something more.
Which is why, despite some heavy competition in this year’s supporting actress category, White’s chances to win are as good as anybody’s. Her main competition is the duo from “Modern Family” — Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara — and last year’s winner, Jane Lynch. As we’ve said before, Lynch may take it again because the episode of “Glee” she submitted, “Funeral,” is as full of drama as it is comedy. But taken on a purely comedic basis, White did just as good a job as the other three.
This nomination isn’t a fluke or a novelty. White won the Emmy last year for guest actress in a comedy for her Facebook-mandated stint as “Saturday Night Live” guest host; take a look at her performance that night, and you’ll see one of the best host performances of that season. She’s been nominated or won guest Emmys throughout her post-“Golden Girls” career, and she won a SAG award last year for “Cleveland.” This so-called comeback she’s on is one in name only, since she never really went away.
If White takes home the Emmy on Sept. 18, the entire audience in the Nokia Theatre is going to give her a standing ovation as a tribute to a 60-year career that gave so many people in that audience one good memory or another. But what they should be giving her a standing O for is the fact that, even at 89, she’s one of the best comic actors on TV today. And that’s no small feat.