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Emmy Race: Give These Key Supporting Turns a Second Look

Variety logo Variety 6/12/2017 Maureen Ryan
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There’s no doubt that we’re living through a comedy golden age. Whether your tastes lean toward the experimental, the traditional, the reboot or the revolutionary, there’s a comedy or three that cater to your preferences.

There’s a downside, however: The deluge of shows competing in the comedy categories during Emmy season means that some performances are bound to be overlooked. Consider this column a friendly reminder — one that only names a few of the terrific actors who may unjustly fly under the radar come awards season.

HBO’s “Insecure” put creator and star Issa Rae on the map, and rightfully so: The first season of the show was assured, smart and reliably insightful. Backing up Rae every step of the way was Yvonne Orji, whose character, Molly, navigated multiple worlds at work and at play, and whose personal life supplied an array of dating dramas. Orji lets you see the contemplation and calculation behind the various personas that Molly inhabited, and brought her fully alive as not just a best friend but a lively, complicated character in her own right.

Speaking of a woman trying to achieve her full potential, Judith Light was even more transfixing this season on “Transparent.” As Shelly Pfefferman explored her difficult past and tried to build a new future for herself as a single woman, Light gave her story transfixing depth, even as the show had some sly fun with Shelly’s new obsession: Documenting her life in a one-woman show, “To Shell and Back.” The joke was on us: Not only was Shelly’s arc affecting and incisive, Light’s season-closing rendition of Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” was nothing short of electrifying.

Speaking of moms who steal the show, not enough laurels can be laid at the feet of Becky Ann Baker. In all six seasons of “Girls,” she was a rock, giving Hannah’s mother, Loreen, a specificity and a warm, tough intelligence that grounded the show, which was otherwise inhabited by often-flighty core characters. The arrival of Baker on the screen elevated every episode she appeared in, especially in the show’s series finale, which was uneven but uplifted by typically terrific work from Baker.

John Rothman also played a parent teetering on the verge of crises — his own and other people’s — in the wonderful Amazon comedy “One Mississippi.” Few characters were as instantly recognizable as Rothman’s character, Bill — a controlling dad who had to have everything done his way, which made his relationships with his wayward adult kids rocky, to say the least. But Rothman’s tremendous performance allowed the viewer to see the core of sweetness and the fierce love that drove Bill’s worrying and nagging. Bill found it hard to tell his family members how he felt about them, but Rothman made those strong emotions beautifully clear and present.

That said, TV’s greatest matriarch is Rita Moreno, of course. Unlike some other performances discussed here, her work is hard to overlook: Moreno’s Lydia on Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” is a big presence, a woman who relishes making a grand entrance and doesn’t believe in living a small, timid life. But Moreno, a national treasure for a million reasons, does not merely wring the maximum laughs from any given situation. She demonstrated on the rebooted comedy that she can still turn on a dime and deliver a heartbreaking monologue that is as charismatic as any aspect of her comic work.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Roberta Colindrez just about stole “I Love Dick” out from under the fine actors who starred in this ensemble comedy about neurotic artists and the people who love them. As Devon, Colindrez delivered an arresting portrait of someone in love with the possibilities of art, communication, community and the beauty of wide open spaces. If “I Love Dick” comes back, let’s hope Devon gets a whole lot more to do the next time around.

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