Arts & Culture News

The Dallas Actors Who Should Be Nominated for Emmys This Year

William Jackson Harper is so "forking" good as Chidi, he deserves an Emmy this year.
William Jackson Harper is so "forking" good as Chidi, he deserves an Emmy this year. Frazer Harrison/Getty
As a result of the pandemic, the entertainment world has been drastically changed, and it will be interesting to see how these changes will ripple into the award shows that generate so much attention. How will the Oscars, the Grammys and the Tonys celebrate a year in which so much great content was either delayed or canceled?

Are we in for a year where acceptance speeches are delivered via Zoom? These are the questions that these shows’ producers will have to consider in the coming months. Regardless of what form they take, the Emmys are still set for Sept. 20, with returning host Jimmy Kimmel taking charge. Considering the eligibility window is from June 1, 2019, to May 31, there’s no shortage of content to be considered, as the last year has boasted some incredible shows. While returning favorites such as Succession, Ozark, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown and Westworld are all poised to get many nominations, a year this hectic could also allow some surprise contenders to get in.

Among those most deserving to get nominations are many local actors. With nominations set to be unveiled July 28, Emmy voters should take a look at these proud Dallas natives who did exemplary work in the last year.

Jesse Plemons
Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Made for Television for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Expectations were nearly insurmountable for El Camino, the Breaking Bad spinoff film that chronicled the further adventures of Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman following the show’s 2013 finale. It’s rare to have a drama show with a finale that is so universally beloved, and many were skeptical about the necessity of continuing the story.
Thankfully, El Camino proved to be an emotionally resonant exploration of Jesse’s psyche as he reckons with the trauma he endured.

That trauma manifests itself through flashbacks to characters from Breaking Bad, most notably Jesse’s torture at the hands of Todd Alquist, a cruel skinhead who’s tasked with forcing Jesse to cook crystal meth. Played by Dallas native Jesse Plemons, Todd was always one of the most peculiar villains in the Breaking Bad rogue’s gallery; while he won’t think twice about killing an innocent person (in El Camino he ruthlessly murders a cleaning lady who finds his stack of cash), Todd makes attempts to be an affable, friendly guy. He’s the type of guy who will offer you a slice of pizza after a grueling day of emotional abuse.

Among the themes of El Camino is Jesse’s isolation and abandonment at the hands of his loved ones, most notably his friend and mentor Walter White. At the end of the day, he just needs a friend. It would be one thing for Jesse’s tormentor to be a force of pure evil, but the fact that Todd has the guise of a friendly face makes Jesse’s situation even more cruel. Plemons is just extraordinary in the ways he merges Todd’s social aloofness with his sociopathic tendencies, and considering he was never recognized throughout the run of Breaking Bad, it would be suitable to see him snag a nomination this year.

Gina Carano
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for The Mandalorian

Disney+'s launch as a streaming service was tied to its debut Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, which took a very different approach to the galaxy far, far away. Instead of telling another story of Jedi and Sith and the everlasting battle for galactic control, The Mandalorian delivered on the premise of being a “space Western,” featuring simple standalone adventures about a motley crew of morally ambiguous bounty hunters, thieves and scoundrels.

Among the standout characters of the first season was Cara Dune, the rebel soldier turned mercenary who appears as a former ally of Pedro Pascal’s titular character. As played by Dallas’ own Gina Carano, Dune has a lifelong hatred of the Empire and relishes the chance to kill Stormtroopers once again. Carano is able to hint at a tragic backstory that is never specifically spelled out to the audience, but that doesn’t mean she’s joyless. Carano is able to deliver the one-liners and Han Solo-esque comic skepticism that is necessary for a grand Star Wars adventure.

Although award shows tend to honor acting that can be condensed into 30-second monologues used as clips, it’s often the physicality of a role that is most impressive. Carano is a former MMA competitor who broke out in Stephen Soderbergh’s action spectacle Haywire, and she’s doing all her own stunts throughout The Mandalorian. Carano is clearly having a blast anytime she’s on screen, and it would be nice to see that infectious energy manifest into a nomination this year.

William Jackson Harper
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for The Good Place

In an era when the most subversive and daring comedies tend to air on streaming services and premium networks, The Good Place became the rare network comedy that infused philosophy, satire and pathos into a 22-minute weekly show. While the show’s inherent premise, which revolves around a group of people who must determine their moral value in the afterlife, seems like it would make for a breezy situation comedy, The Good Place was highly serialized in a way that benefited its character arcs.

In many ways, Chidi Anagonye (played by Dallas’ William Jackson Harper) represents why the show works as well as it does. He’s a moral philosophy professor who does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to paraphrasing the more intricate themes of the show, but he’s also an agonizingly indecisive and neurotic character who often bites off more than he can chew. A show that deals with such elemental concepts as good and evil risks being condescending and pretentious, and Chidi is able to bridge the gap between being infinitely knowledgeable about a variety of subjects and still knowing nothing about what constitutes personhood.

The Good Place
slowly transformed from an oddball favorite into a mainstream success, landing its first nomination for Best Comedy Series last year. Considering that this is The Good Place’s last eligible year since it wrapped up in January, it would be fitting to award the final season with nominations for its core cast. Jackson Harper has certainly proven to be one to watch with his eclectic roles (last year he co-starred in both Midsommar and Dark Waters), but he is deserving of a nomination for what is undoubtedly his defining role.

Sasha Lane
Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series for Amazing Stories

AppleTV+’s reboot of Amazing Stories faced an uphill battle when competing against other sci-fi anthology shows such as Black Mirror and Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, and as with any anthology, there were ups and downs. Among the standout episodes of the first season was “Signs of Life,” which follows the relationship between a mother who awakens from a coma with superpowers and her daughter Alia.

Starring as Alia is Sasha Lane, who first broke out with her performance in Andrea Arnold’s modern masterpiece American Honey. While the familial drama in Amazing Stories is often old-fashioned and borderline hokey, Lane is able to dig deep into the emotions of a character who finds a mother she no longer recognizes. What’s impressive is that Lane is able to take the simple material and elevate it, which is usually the sign of a unique talent.

Lane is also able to help ground the fantastical elements within the human drama. She’s just as in the dark about her mother’s abilities and the government conspiracy as the audience, and that pathos gives the audience a strong connection to her as a character. Amazing Stories may have been a mixed bag, but Lane is undeniably one of the bright spots.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.