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I put Shawkat and her HBO Max colleague Cristin Milioti in a similar category of actresses who are so good and who have been in so many good things and who have acted opposite so many acclaimed performances that you simply assume they’ve been nominated for Emmys previously. I feel like Milioti may finally force her way to a nom for carrying the weird-ass tonal balance of Made for Love. I feel the same way, but with less confidence at her nomination, about Shawkat’s work in the fourth season of Search Party. Not every comedy could sustain a creepy, harrowing and still weirdly funny storyline about Misery-esque obsession, but wringing laughs out of things that definitely shouldn’t make you laugh is a Search Party hallmark. Shawkat and Cole Escola pulled off a dazzling trick this season, and none of it would have worked if Shawkat’s Dory didn’t remain a character who you want to simultaneously mock and pity for her deepening torment.
DOMINIQUE JACKSON (Pose, FX)
Indya Moore and Mj Rodriguez are the heart and soul, respectively, of FX’s Pose, while Billy Porter is the series’ do-everything Swiss Army knife. Jackson filled a different capacity as Elektra Evangelista. For the first season, she was such a compelling screen presence that it didn’t always matter if she could “act” in a conventional sense. In the second season, she became a spectacular reservoir of comic timing, delivering hilarious lines of dialogue, usually throwing shade so dark it could block the sun, that no other performer could get away with. In the third and final season, Jackson unloaded her fair share of scathing one-liners, whether calling poor Lulu “Chunkerella” or issuing versatile burns like “You look like you’re deficient in vitamin D and shea butter.” She also got, in “The Trunk,” one of the season’s best dramatic episodes, a heartbreaking origin story for her larger-than-life character. No member of this terrific cast grew more over three seasons.
MAYA ERSKINE, ANNA KONKLE (PEN15, HULU)
In an uncertain year for comedies at the Emmys, the lead actress category needs to start with Jean Smart, continue with the stars and co-creators of Hulu’s PEN15, and go from there. The problem is that there’s an instinct to choose between Erskine and Konkle as if to pretend that they deserve some sort of shared nomination, like they’re a single entity to be recognized as Konkine or Erskle. This is false. They’re separately spectacular. Check out the crazed physicality that Erskine brings to the growing humiliation of the “Sleepover” episode, which is as high-intensity as comedy gets. Then watch the sadder grounding that Konkle brings to the arc built around her character’s parents’ divorce, especially the ambitious “Vendy Wiccany” episode. They’re very different performances, completely complementary and integral in selling a show whose “30-something actresses playing teens” premise could have played as a stunt.
In a reasonable world, Smollett would be a lock for an Emmy nom and I could concentrate my hidden-gem attentions on Wunmi Mosaku, specifically her performance in the “Strange Case” episode. Instead, it feels like hype for Lovecraft Country has maybe dwindled, disappointing for a hit-and-miss supernatural allegory that hit astonishingly lofty highs, especially when Smollett’s Leti is front and center. The Underground and Birds of Prey veteran has a distinct force-of-nature energy, whether she’s staring down creepy tentacle monsters from another dimension or protecting her neighborhood from racists with a freely wielded baseball bat. Smollett is probably at her best in the haunted-house-centric “Holy Ghost” episode, though I’m not sure how anybody could watch her flexing her Indiana Jones-style muscles in the subsequent “A History of Violence” hour and not want to build some sort of action franchise around her.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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