While there has been a lot of justified praise for Connor Jessup on “American Crime,” there’s another young cast member of this ABC anthology series who deserves equal recognition: Joey Pollari. He plays Eric Tanner, the co-captain of the basketball team at an elite private school. After accusations of sexually assaulting another male student (Jessup) turn his life completely upside down, he is forced to confront his sexuality, desires and destructive behavior.
An accused rapist is not the type of person for whom would expect to feel compassion. And that is why Pollari’s performance is so incredible. The actor plays his character’s struggles in a measured way. When the realities of Eric’s surroundings come into focus, it makes his performance heartbreaking. You genuinely feel sympathy for him, while by no means excusing the actions of which he’s been accused.
One of Pollari’s most outstanding moments comes in episode seven. After a failed suicide attempt, Eric is forced to go public about his homosexuality and finds himself unable to talk to anyone about what he’s going through. His father shies away from discussing it, his mother believes that his father must have molested him and his brother now hates him. He resorts to a gay hookup app to try to find a connection with someone. His date turns out to be a closeted married man with children but Eric reluctantly gets in the man’s minivan anyway. Eric begins to vent about everything that’s going on in his life and the man tells him that he can’t handle that type of thing at the moment. Eric can’t stop talking though, since he doesn’t have anyone else to confide in, which leads the man to physically attack him. Eric manages to fight back and escape out of the vehicle and run away from his assailant. The camera stays stationary during the entire last part of this scene but you can’t take your eyes off of Pollari and the genuine terror and loneliness that he brings to Eric.
Can Pollari reap a Movie/Mini Supporting Actor Emmy bid for his breakout performance? Let’s examine the pros and cons.
The cast of “American Crime” certainly didn’t have any trouble getting noticed by Emmy voters last year when they were nominated in all four categories: leads Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman Supporting Actress champ Regina King and an out-of-nowhere nod for Richard Cabral in this category.
In a season with some side plots that could be considered esoteric, Pollari is directly involved in the season’s main story.
Playing a gay character could definitely make his performance easier to single out.
The field for this category is extremely crowded this year. Also competing for the six slots are three of Pollari’s co-stars (Cabral, Jessup and Elvis Nolasco) as well as four fellows each from “Fargo” (Jeffrey Donovan, Nick Offerman, Jesse Plemons, Bokeem Woodbine) and “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” (Sterling K. Brown, Nathan Lane, David Schwimmer and John Travolta) as well as supporting actors in two HBO telefilms — “All the Way” (Anthony Mackie and Bradley Whitford) and “Confirmation” (Wendell Pierce).
While Pollari has great moments in many episodes, he doesn’t have one episode where his storyline is the focus and that could hurt him.
Emmy voters might favor veterans over this 22-year-old newcomer.
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Photo: “American Crime” (ABC)