lena dunham girls hbo episodic 325 Emmys 2012: A 'Girls' win would be an upset, but not a surpriseWhen you look over the Emmy nominees for outstanding comedy series, your first reaction is likely, “Psssh, ‘Modern Family’ has got this in the bag.”

You wouldn’t be wrong if you thought that way. “Family” is the two-time defending champ in this category, and it feels like this is the kind of show the academy would give its highest prize to every year if it could: Family-oriented but with an edge and lots of great characters, it gets both critical praise and high ratings. That combination makes the show Emmy gold.

But scan down the list of nominees and the name of the show that might end the “Family” streak stands out: HBO’s “Girls.” If it won the Emmy this year, it would certainly be an upset. However, knowing the show and how the academy has voted in the past, it wouldn’t be a big surprise.

“Girls” is just the type of high-quality “premium” program that the academy loves showering with awards, something they’ve rarely been able to do in the comedy category. The most “highbrow” show that the academy has bestowed Emmys to lately is “Arrested Development” (with “30 Rock” a close second) and they’d love to be able to latch onto what might become the “Mad Men” of comedies.

It doesn’t hurt that the show and creator/star Lena Dunham have gotten so much media attention, both good and bad. If it weren’t for the critics drooling all over the show in print and pixels in the weeks leading up to the premiere, the breathless profiles of Dunham and her fellow producer, Judd Apatow, and the post-premiere controversies over the show’s characters and diversity, “Girls” might have gone the way of “Bored to Death.” In other words, it would have gotten some loyal fans, but not much in the way of awards attention.

But it also helps that, after a bit of a bumpy start, “Girls” had an excellent first season. It’s rare when a comedy series manages to find its narrative and comedic footing as quickly as “Girls” did, rapidly moving characters such as Hannah Horvath (Dunham) and Adam Sackler (Adam Driver) from annoying and overprivileged to people that the viewer can root for, or at the very least relate to on some level. The last time we saw a show move so confidently through its freshman season was, well, when “Modern Family” arrived three years ago.

Speaking of “Family,” that’s the other factor at play here: The show slipped a bit in its third season. Now, “slipping a bit” is a relative term when it comes to the ABC hit, because even when it’s not firing on on cylinders, it’s still pretty funny. But this year we saw more less-than-stellar episodes than we have in the show’s first two seasons, and the perception that the show is in coasting mode may open the door just enough in the minds of the academy voters for the new kid on the block to slip through.

Then again, as we’ve said many times, the academy loves its repeat winners, so “Family” may not have a problem here. But for the first time since the show hit the air, it has to watch its back, which is something we thought wouldn’t happen for a long time.

Posted by:Joel Keller