Among the many surprises found in this year’s Emmy nominations, one of the most pleasant was the inclusion of Zach Galifianakis in the Best Comedy Actor category for FX’s “Baskets.” While it was almost a given that Galifianakis’s costar Louie Anderson would reap a second nomination after his win last year, Galifianakis was given 100/1 odds for a bid based on Gold Derby’s predictions. But now that he’s in, Galifianakis may have an advantage over his fellow nominees: he plays multiple roles, something that helped Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”) win in the Best Drama Actress category in a big upset last year.
In “Baskets” Galifianakis plays twin brothers Chip and Dale Baskets, who are constantly at odds over their polar-opposite lifestyles. Dale runs a small career college while Chip is a terminally unemployed clown. The roles allow Galifianakis to play diametrically opposed personalities: Dale is a loud-mouthed, obnoxious egomaniac, while Chip is melancholy and down on his luck, frequently making the wrong decisions. In a single episode, and sometimes in a single scene, Galifianakis gets to give two radically different performances, which inherently gives him the chance to display a huge range of emotions, something that is usually a necessary element for winning over Emmy voters.
And we could see just how important that factor was last year when Maslany took us by surprise — she plays more than a half dozen different characters in “Orphan Black,” with a wide variety of personalities and even accents. Emmy voters often love to reward the showiest performance — the biggest acting. And what better exemplifies big acting than a performer playing more than one character? That also helped Toni Collette win Best Comedy Actress for “United States of Tara” in 2009, and it gave Sally Field the edge she needed to win Best Movie/Mini Actress for “Sybil” in 1977; both played women with multiple personalities. It’s a trait that even benefits actors nominated at the Daytime Emmys, like six-time winner Erika Slezak (“One Life to Live”) as multiple personalities and five-time winner David Canary (“All My Children”) as twins.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the second season’s fifth episode, “Fights,” which might be Galifianakis’s ideal episode submission. Both Chip and Dale are at their lowest points, with Dale thrown out by his wife and Chip just released from jail. The two are back under their mother’s roof, and it isn’t long before they are at each other’s throats. The highlight of the episode is a fight between the two brothers that hilariously escalates until they leave their mother’s house in ruins. Despite the chaos of the fight — and the obvious visual trickery necessary to pull off such a scene — Galifianakis plays each brother so uniquely that you never get confused as to which character is which. The episode also contains a great deal of sympathy and impact as both brothers reluctantly admit their jealousies and failings to each other. Chip resents Dale for his financial success, while Dale is envious of Chip’s ability to pursue his dreams.
Galifianakis has already shown himself to be popular with Emmy voters, with previous wins in 2014 and 2015 for his short-form entertainment program “Between Two Ferns,” as well as an additional nomination for hosting “Saturday Night Live” in 2011. Will his dual role now lead to his first acting Emmy?
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