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Small screen’s big women

As far as TV performances go, 2014 was nothing short of epic.

How else would you explain the presence of Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Matthew McConaughey (True Detective), Woody Harrelson (True Detective) and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), all in the same category: Best Actor (Male) in a Drama series? For a while, McConaughey was the favourite to win for his astounding performance as Louisiana detective, Rust Cohle, but he’d have to fight tooth-and-nail to edge out the other legends (this was when Spacey could still be counted as one).

Eventually, the award (rightly) went to Bryan Cranston for his turn as Walter White in the final season of Breaking Bad. In his famous acceptance speech, he spoke about how he himself was rooting for McConaughey, and about his “own family” calling him ‘Sneaky Pete’ when he was a kid, due to his hustling ways (Cranston would go on to create the show, Sneaky Pete, about a hustling con artist).

It is the kind of TV moment fans yearn for.

(Clockwise from top left) Stills from Fleabag , Russian Doll and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

(Clockwise from top left) Stills from Fleabag , Russian Doll and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel  

Unfortunately, the Drama categories at Emmys 2019 don’t inspire similar enthusiasm. The pool of great shows — and, indeed, performances — to choose from is smaller, to begin with. A contender as strong as The Americans bowed out last year, whereas other favourites like The Crown and The Handmaid’s Tale premièred their new seasons outside the eligibility cut-off dates. What we are left with, hence, is a bunch of Game of Thrones-dominated categories. Yawn.

The good news, however, is that the Comedy segment has never looked stronger. The make-up of the genre itself has drastically altered over the years. Sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family have made way for concept-driven shows like Barry and Russian Doll. Making the cut in the category is no laughing matter anymore, with shows that deal with heavier themes like mortality (The Good Place), karma (Russian Doll), and mental health issues (Fleabag) dominating.

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_REM3770.tif   | Photo Credit: Hal Shinnie

But nothing is more awe-inspiring than the list of women nominated for Best Actor (Female) in a Comedy series. The competition is so fierce, in fact, that heartbreak is guaranteed. Whether it is the favourite, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, coming back from a cancer scare to play conniving politician Selina Meyer one final time on Veep, or the luminous Rachel Brosnahan, who became the first woman in seven years to win Best Actor (apart from regular winner Louis-Dreyfus), for her portrayal of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel last year. Then there’s Hollywood’s woman of the moment, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who, apart from creating the hit drama, Killing Eve, and becoming the first female writer to be employed on a Bond film, returned with a stupendous sophomore season of Fleabag. Or the fantastic Natasha Lyonne who, like Waller-Bridge, scripted her way into the hearts of TV lovers as the lead character of this edition’s most inventive show, Russian Doll.

I’m going breathless marvelling over the collective talent of the category, and I haven’t even spoken about the ever-graceful Catherine O’Hara, finally acknowledged for her work on Schitt’s Creek, and Christina Applegate, who made a comeback of sorts with Dead to Me. Phew.

The men of 2014 were a wild bunch, but the ladies of 2019 are a class apart. More importantly, they ensure there’s at least one award at the upcoming Emmys, where everyone is a winner.

Emmys 2019 will air on September 23, at 5.30 am, on Star World.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 5:49:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/small-screens-big-women/article29408979.ece

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