Megan Mullally won two Emmys and four SAG Awards for her role as the pill-popping, binge-drinking socialite Karen Walker on NBC’s “Will & Grace.” But despite that success, Mullally went home empty-handed year after year at the Golden Globes, despite earning four consecutive nominations from 2000 to 2003. The Golden Globes shunned not only Mullally, but the entire series, which failed to earn a single Golden Globe out of 27 nominations. Now that the beloved comedy has returned to both critical raves and strong ratings, the time is right to end that losing streak, and Mullally’s winning work this season could bring the show its long-overdue first Golden Globe win.
In the first six episodes of the show’s revival, we’ve been treated to many of the quirks that made Karen such an endearing character from the start. She hurls racially insensitive pickup lines at Grace’s (Debra Messing) new assistant (Anthony Ramos). She provides Jack (Sean Hayes) with a number of mechanisms — including a full-body compression garment — to help him look younger. And in one episode, she finds herself locked in a flooded shower with Grace, a scene that Dave Weigand of The San Francisco Chronicle described as “a sequence that evokes the best of Ethel and Lucy [that] highlights the screwball chemistry that has always powered the relationship of Karen and Grace.”
But Mullally showed us a whole new side of Karen in the season’s sixth episode, “Rosario’s Quinceanera.” Karen learns of the death of her beloved maid Rosario, a plot point devised to address the retirement of the character’s portrayer, Shelly Morrison. Karen decides to throw Rosario the quinceanera that she never had. Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace try to give Karen support, but Karen feigns indifference, pausing only to scream at Jack and face off with her rival Lorraine Finster (Minnie Driver). Mullally is hysterically funny in these scenes, particularly in her abuse of Hayes as she unleashes a guttural scream that is far removed from the high-pitched vocal style to which viewers have become accustomed.
Later, Karen sits alone with Rosario’s casket and reveals her true feelings. She calls Rosario her best friend and her everything. She reflects on everyone asking her what she needs to get through Rosario’s death. “I need you not to be gone,” she says. Karen apologizes for not being able to watch Rosario be buried, and the sadness is alleviated when Karen pulls a bottle of spray cleaner out of the coffin to clean a spot off of the lid. TVLine’s Charlie Mason called Mullally “particularly excellent” in this scene, and writing in Entertainment Weekly, Justin Kirkland said, “Mullally makes a play for the Emmy.” And it’s easy to see why. Mullally gives a truly devastating performance, showing a side of Karen that we rarely see: vulnerable, tender, and grieving. There are no tears or hysterics, just a beloved comic actress showing new dimensions to a character viewers thought they knew.
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