For Your Consideration: Supporting Actresses – Hayden Panettiere and Jenna Fischer

[In Week Two of Cultural Learnings’ 59th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations Preview, we’re looking at possible contenders for the Supporting Actress awards in both drama and comedy. Today, we present our seventh and last set of candidates. For last week’s Supporting Actor candidates, and all of the Supporting Actress candidates, Click Here]

Supporting Actress in a Drama

Hayden Panettiere (Claire)

Heroes

When I previewed Heroes’ pilot back in August, I had the following to say about Hayden Panettiere’s performance as Claire: “The texas cheerleader is perhaps the most grating of the characters, although there is still nothing inherently negative there.” I don’t really know what that even means to be honest with you, but I do know that my opinion of Claire turned around drastically as the series went along. Perhaps more than any other character, Claire allowed us a glimpse at someone coming to term with their powers in a real way, without the grand world-saving idylls of people like Peter or Nathan. While her story started as her against her father, it was clear as time moved forward that he was simply protecting her…and then it all made sense. As part of this ensemble cast, Hayden Panettiere got to be the only actress to understand her powers not through some sort of contrived plot device, but through natural progression and understanding as the season wore on. I might not have been squarely in her court in the beginning, but I am now willing to submit Hayden Panettiere for Emmy consideration.

There is something instantly appealing about Claire, even if I found her grating in the beginning. A young girl realizing she has powers, she is forced to face the perils of high school while also hiding her true self from all those around her. This period provided some good material for Hayden: her on the autopsy table was a moment to remember, and her friendship with Zack was certainly one of the show’s most convincing outside of Hiro and Ando. However, that period of Claire’s life was really just the life she knew; as she struggled to figure out her relationship with her parents, she became curious. As she became officially part of the Petrelli clan after meeting her fire-starting mother, suddenly she was faced with a different dilemma: now that she knew who her real family was, where did her true allegiance lie?

And that is where the character came to a real high point. Now an integral part of the series mythology not just due to the ‘Save the Cheerleader, Save the World’ talk, Claire was forced to choose a side between her new family (Led by her triumphant hero Peter) or to remain loyal to her father as she knew him, Noah Bennet. As Claire’s story came into full view, it was clear that Panettiere was up to the task. Claire’s discovery of her true past, and of her true future, were compelling almost entirely because Panettiere never allowed the role to completely overcome her. Whereas other actresses might have been unable to handle the transition gracefully, I came to believe Claire’s transformation from high school cheerleader to world-saving heroine because it never jumped to extremes or gave into its gimmick (I’m looking at you, Ali Larter). While Heroes’ cast is certainly diverse, none of the other supporting actresses can claim as solid a season as Hayden Panettiere, and it’s why she is most likely to gain Emmy attention.

Episode Selection: “Company Man” (Aired February 25th, 2007)

Remember last week where I discussed how this is the episode for which Jack Coleman (Mr. Bennet, Claire’s father) should be considered for an Emmy? Well, I have to say the same for Panettiere, who holds her own in this episode that gives her what I believe is her most genuine hero moment of the entire series. With her father in jeopardy, Claire shifts into full-on hero mode by going out of her way to help her father and save them all from a nuclear meltdown. By establishing her love for her adopted father, even in the wake of his betrayal of her, Claire was given just as much depth in this episode as her father. Panettiere waltzes through it all with a sense of childhood playfulness in the flashbacks and genuine heroism in the present, without playing things too harshly in the process. It is a strong performance, and one that is likely to garner her Emmy attention once her dramatic conclusion arrives at the end of the episode.

YouTube “Company Man”

Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Jenna Fischer (Pam)

The Office

Oh Pam. In my first attempt to write this paragraph I really just wanted to talk about Pam as if she actually existed and I could in some way shape or form influence her. I think that is what has always been what makes Pam interesting: her ability to be so damn real you want to reach through your screen and strangle her for being such an idiot, especially this season. I think this says a lot about Jenna Fischer’s character, because she always made me care: not always in the best ways, mind you, but I always felt that Pam’s fate was important to me personally. And this season, I watched Pam spiral into a place that wasn’t happy, and saw as everyone around her basically treated her like she was just another character. If she had stayed in that rut all season, I don’t think I could have possibly considered her for an Emmy award…but then the end of the season happened. Those final two episodes were everything they needed to be for Pam: a chance to speak her mind, and a chance to return to her old self. And in the process, Jenna Fischer finished a character arc worthy of Emmy consideration.

What makes Pam so engaging is that she is the perfect example of missed potential. In past seasons, she was the girl in the long-term engagement with an aloof fiancé who wanted to be taking art classes but was stuck in Scranton working a receptionist’s job. What we saw this season was Pam attempting to define herself as something more than this…and failing. She took art classes, but she stayed in Scranton: she ended her engagement, but ended up back in Roy’s arms as soon as his beard turned from creepy to handsome. What we saw was Pam being unhappy because she was compromising, because she was trying to be something different but falling into her old habits all over again. Even as she tried to find success in art, no one came out to her art show except Michael and, for a brief second, Roy. There was something missing in her life, it was clear.But, and while fans of Jim and Pam might stone me to death, I don’t think that’s Jim (Although it’s a good start). What Pam needed was the ability to start fresh and to actually let go of her feelings. When she was finally able to do so, it was a complete turning point for the character. Suddenly, even though it perhaps hurt those around her (Meh, it was just Karen), it was incredibly important for her character to walk across those coals. In that moment of perhaps madness, Pam was finally able to break out of her rut and find herself…and in the process found her connection to Jim still present, more potent than ever. And through it all I always believed Fischer: her comic timing was always spot on, and I always empathized with her character even while screaming at her for making poor life decisions.

Episode Selection: “The Job” (Aired May 17th, 2007)

You might be surprised why I am not selecting “Beach Games,” the episode featuring Pam’s season-changing moment at the beach where she walked across the coals and said her peace to Jim and the entire office. Well, there’s a reason: Pam isn’t very funny in that episode. That moment is really all setup for “The Job,” where Pam basically becomes a one-woman show in her attempts to egg Dwight on while Jim is off at his job interview. She finally returns to the receptionist who plays along, who goads, who teases, as opposed to the one who avoids it all while worrying whether Karen might be uncomfortable with it. It was the first time in a long time that Fischer was able to break free, and it resulted in a light-hearted Pam that is impossible to resist. Combine this with her episode-ending “What was the question?”, and you have an emotional and funny episode for this character. And that, in the end, is the best kind of episode to showcase Jenna Fischer’s talent. You’ll see it smattered throughout this clip, and it’s quite engaging.

YouTube“The Job”

1 Comment

Filed under Award Shows, Emmy Awards, Heroes, NBC, Television, The Office

One response to “For Your Consideration: Supporting Actresses – Hayden Panettiere and Jenna Fischer

  1. I agree with your assessment of Jim and Pam.

    What I want the fourth season to do is explore them dating and it just not work. For some reason, this seems more fitting and satisfying.

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