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Maybe you recognized Nicco Annan from brief runs on Claws or Shameless, but chances are better that the actor first came to your attention in Starz’s P-Valley, reading creator Katori Hall’s pungent Mississippi Delta patois like he was nonbinary strip club owner Uncle Clifford and Uncle Clifford was him. The years spent developing the character, in its original theatrical incarnation, combined with Annan’s unfamiliarity to audiences made him the truest kind of breakout, a perfect match with Uncle Clifford, who defies all attempts at easy defining or compartmentalizing. Uncle Clifford serves as protective den mother, as take-no-shit badass proprietor, as larger-than-life fashion icon in press-on nails and teetering heels. The centerpiece in a show of unapologetic and poetic vulgarity, Annan would be a favorite instead of a dark horse, except that Emmy voters are closer to The Crown‘s wavelength. Uncle Clifford would absolutely make Queen Elizabeth blush.
Rutherford Falls, Peacock
In shows like I Know This Much Is True, Home Before Dark and the third season of True Detective, Michael Greyeyes has been effectively used as a solemn martyr — the Native American outsider or the convenient scapegoat — his charisma consumed by prestige TV gloom. Peacock’s Rutherford Falls, on the other hand, is like watching a man unchained. In the comedy series, Greyeyes gets to be more than a token “other.” He’s a father, a husband, a business leader and, depending on how you interpret Terry Thomas, CEO of a casino run by the fictional Minishonka Nation, he gets to be either a scheming hero or a likable villain. Greyeyes, a trained dancer and Plains Cree from the Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada, is also hilarious. It very much isn’t a coincidence that whenever Rutherford Falls focuses on Terry — the season’s standout fourth episode is named for him — the series truly comes to life.
Generation, HBO Max
Perhaps it felt premature when Netflix’s The Get Down coronated Justice Smith as a star and he was suddenly sharing scenes with dinosaurs (in 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion) and Pikachu (2019’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu) on the big screen, but to watch the 25-year-old actor swagger his way through HBO Max’s Generation is to go, “Oh, now I get it.” Smith’s character, Chester, a water polo star and outré high school provocateur, has to be the magnet for all eyes, the flashiest part of a youthful ensemble. He also has to make you see the youthful uncertainty beneath a life-of-the-party confidence. Smith succeeds and elevates the show around him, helping make stars of the less experienced actors with whom he shares the screen. Smith’s scenes with Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, playing a guidance counselor who forms a bond with Chester, are especially good.
Resident Alien, Syfy
With rare exceptions, Hollywood has settled on Alan Tudyk’s niche. He can be a wacky, scene-stealing part of an ensemble (see Firefly or Powerless). He can be the guy you put in a recording booth when you need 15 distinctive and wild voices (see Harley Quinn). It’s rare, though, that anybody has let Tudyk loose on a leading man role. In Syfy’s Resident Alien, however, Tudyk gets to utilize a full acting toolbox. As an alien on a destructive mission who is somehow mistaken for a small-town doctor, Tudyk has a ball expressing his character’s discomfort in a humanoid body and lack of familiarity with the nuances of language. Every line reading is an adventure, every step out the door a piece of loose-limbed physical business. What’s surprising is how Tudyk embodies the darker morality that makes Resident Alien an hourlong dramedy instead of just a silly sitcom. The show doesn’t always work, but when it does, Tudyk is the reason.
This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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