Let’s be honest: this year’s Emmy race for Best Comedy Actress makes the 2020 Democratic primary look like a cakewalk. There’s more than a dozen legitimate candidates fighting it out for a mere six spots, as several newcomers try to find space alongside returning champs and perpetual nominees. With so much competition, there’s certain to be a number of disappointing snubs. But don’t be surprised if Linda Cardellini (“Dead to Me”) manages to crash the lineup.
SEE Liz Feldman interview: ‘Dead to Me’ creator
Cardellini, of course, is far from a newcomer. She’s been on our television screens for most of her life, from her breakthrough in “Freaks and Geeks” through her roles in “E.R.,” “Bloodline” and “Mad Men,” which brought her an Emmy bid as Best Drama Guest Actress in 2013. She’s found time to make a few movies as well, earning a SAG ensemble nomination for “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and appearing in “Legally Blonde” (2001), “Scooby-Doo” (2012), “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) and last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, “Green Book” (2018).
To describe the plot of “Dead to Me” would verge into spoiler territory, so let’s just say it casts her as Judy Hale, a free-spirited assisted living nurse who befriends grieving widow Jen Harding (Christina Applegate). As the two grow closer, a shocking secret from Judy’s past threatens to ruin their red wine-soaked hangout sessions.
That’s as far as I’ll go, because watching the many secrets of Liz Feldman‘s freshman series unravel is one of its chief pleasures. And with each twist and turn, Cardellini manages to either make us laugh, break our hearts or blow our minds. Whether dealing with her narcissistic ex (James Marsden), a sympathetic nursing home patient (Edward Asner) or her new best friend, the actress is able to always keep us guessing as to Judy’s true motives while remaining deeply sympathetic.
SEE Christina Applegate, Linda Cardellini (‘Dead to Me’) explain possible Emmy submissions for 1st season [PINK CARPET VIDEO]
Truth be told, Cardellini’s got her work cut out for her. In an especially crowded field, she has to face off not just a slew of returning contenders and first-time possibilities, but against her own costar as well. Applegate is an Emmy fave herself, winning for her guest spot on “Friends” in 2003 and competing for that show again in 2004. She’s also previously contended in the Best Comedy Actress category for “Samantha Who?” (2008-2009), so she’s more than in the club.
Reviews are certainly in Cardellini’s favor. Caroline Framke (Variety) praises her ability to make Judy “empathetic even as she makes terrible decision after terrible decision.” Danette Chavez (AV Club) finds that she “transcends the loopiness that usually comes with being the ‘kooky one’ in an odd couple, bringing pathos and verve to the role of Judy in equal measure.” And Alan Sepinwall (Rolling Stone) calls it “one of the best performances of her career,” saying she “works wonders in making the comic and tragic halves of Judy feel like the same character.”
In a perfect world, both actresses would break through. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so it’s possible one or the other (or both, for that matter) will be sorely disappointed when the nominations are announced on July 16. But if voters found time to binge all 10 episodes on Netflix before last month’s deadline, then Cardellini could find herself very happy indeed.
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