For Your Consideration: Lead Actresses – Mary-Louise Parker and Kristen Bell

[In Week Four of Cultural Learnings’ 59th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations Preview, we’re looking at possible contenders for the Lead Actress awards in both drama and comedy. Today, we present our fourth set of candidates. For complete listings for all Supporting and Lead Actor candidates from the past four weeks, check out our For Your Consideration index]

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Mary-Louise Parker (Nancy)

Weeds

It has now been about a week since I started watching Weeds, which perhaps makes it difficult to put the show in perspective compared to others. I finished both of the show’s seasons in the span of about a week, and I think that this should be seen as a testament to the show’s quality. However, let’s be honest here: while the supporting performances of Elizabeth Perkins, Justin Kirk, Romany Malco, Kevin Deacon are all great, the entire show hinges on Mary-Louise Parker’s portrayal of a suburban widow turned drug dealer. I think that a single episode could survive without her subtle and engaging portrayal of Nancy Botwin, but the series as a whole requires us to feel for Nancy, understand Nancy, relate to Nancy and to a certain extent judge Nancy on her actions. What Parker nails each and every time is a character who has no idea what she’s doing; every time she tries to assert herself, her character finds things moving too fast, and she’s forced to fall as she always invariably falls. But we always want to pick her back up: we want Nancy to succeed at selling drugs just as much as we would want the Dillon Panthers to win the big game on Friday Night Lights. As individuals living in a legal system that frowns upon this, we should see it as somewhat subversive…and we do, but just the right amount. That is the work of Mary-Louise Parker, and it is work that is worthy of Emmy consideration.

What I like most about Parker’s work is that there is that constant awareness of how dangerous what she is doing really is, and yet also her ability to get swept up in it all. The constant fear that her children will figure out what she does for a living was real for Nancy, especially in the case of young son Shane. Nancy got herself into hot water this season: her DEA agent beau found out about her occupation of choice, she married him to gain protection from the law, her grow operation was threatened by Armenians, her elder son figured out her position (And got his girlfriend pregnant), she realized how screwed she was in her sham marriage, and pretty well everything spiraled out of control in the season finale. And through it all you saw Parker both being overwhelmed by the emotion of it all and getting absolutely giddy as Snoop Dogg digs her “M.I.L.F. Weed”.

While Perkins and Kirk have the real “comic” roles, Parker’s core storyline forms the show’s entire dramatic construct. Without a deft hand, these storylines could become too dramatic, or perhaps even too comic. Instead, Mary-Louise Parker always gives Nancy Botwin qualities we find funny, charming, and just enough to make us sometimes forget the mistakes she’s made. And that is a performance that should garner her an Emmy nomination.

Episode Selection: “Mrs. Botwin’s Neighbourhood” (Aired September 11th, 2006)

“I have fires in two houses, Mr. Botwin…Mr. Scotson.” This line perfectly demonstrates why this episode is a strong submission for Parker: she is faced with conflict on both sides of her life (Mother and Pot Dealer/Grower). Silas’ girlfriend Megan is pregnant, and she tells her parents on her own…and then stops talking to Silas, who had wanted her to keep the baby. Meanwhile, Nancy has to deal with four Armenian pot growers in her neighbourhood who are more than a little hostile and her newly established growhouse, so she turns to her sham DEA husband (Mr. Scotson) for assistance. Combine this with a hysterical attack from Elizabeth Perkins, and you have a woman who is struggling to keep her head above water. She lashes out, attacking Megan’s father for hitting her son and just delivers a great performance in the process. This is Nancy at her lowest with a glimmer of hope in its conclusion, and it is an engaging performance worthy of consideration.

YouTube“Mrs. Botwin’s Neighbourhood”

Lead Actress in a Drama

Kristen Bell (Veronica)

Veronica Mars

Let’s be honest: Kristen Bell will not be nominated for an Emmy award. The show is too lowly rated, and struggled too much creatively in this its third season, for it to ever be considered a serious contender. However, I cannot help but continue to be engaged by Kristen Bell’s characterization of this young woman struggling with pretty well everything around her. She smart, intelligent, savvy, and yet is in many ways just as damaged as the rest of us. While her character has lost depth in the past two seasons, I still think that Bell remains the show’s highlight: without her turn as Veronica, I don’t know if the show would have ever engaged fans in the first place. As she moves on from the now cancelled Veronica Mars, I believe she has a bright future ahead of her. However, before she moves on, I think it is important that we at least bring attention to the fact that without her strong performance, Veronica Mars wouldn’t have lasted half a season. With wit and charm, Kristen Bell brought sophistication to the realm of teen dramas that it had not seen before: the result was a performance that, to hell with reality, is worthy of Emmy consideration.

The problem with Veronica this year was that she seemed out of her elements, and lacked her status as social outcast that she had gathered in high school. The show tried to recreate this by having Veronica investigate the rapes on Heart’s campus, thus making enemies, but it all felt arbitrary and at times I think the audience actually turned against her. However, I think that Bell weathered that storm fairly well: her emotional performances remained emotional, and her banter with her most trusted companions (Keith, Wallace, Mac) was as good as ever. Really, the season never gave her a true chance to shine: there was never a moment where Veronica, as a character, was truly able to step forward and return to her former status. That wasn’t Kristen Bell’s fault, though; her performance of the material provided her was strong, and she remained the principle reason to continue watching the series. While surrounded by strong supporting performances, such as in her interactions with Jason Dohring’s Logan, Kristen Bell had to handle most of the work herself this season, and it almost echoes Veronica’s own grit and determination. And it’s grit and determination, if perhaps two years late, would ideally receive Emmy attention.

Episode Selection: “The Bitch is Back” (Aired May 22nd, 2007)

[Note: Kristen Bell actually submitted “Of Vice and Men” where she is drugged and almost abducted by the Hearst rapist. I don’t like that submission.]

That bitch in the title? It’s the Veronica Mars we knew and loved. It’s the Veronica Mars who lays the smack down on her ex-boyfriend Logan, the one who messes with a guy’s credit cards to get the information she needs, the one who sneaks into mansions looking for information, and the one who falls apart as her world comes down around her but doesn’t let anyone see it. This is the Veronica Mars I felt was missing all season, and it is unfortunate that it only arrived in what will be the show’s series finale. When Veronica marches off after having placed a likely futile vote for her father in the Sheriff’s election, you understand the emotional weight on her shoulders and feel for her. That is something you can’t say about the rest of the season, and it’s her best performance of the year by far.

YouTube“The Bitch is Back”

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Filed under Award Shows, Emmy Awards, Television, The CW, Veronica Mars, Weeds

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