The 2016 Emmy Awards season is officially underway! To celebrate, we’re highlighting a few of this year’s nominees whose recognition from the Television Academy feels long overdue. These hard-working acting veterans consistently deliver brilliant performances in everything they do—but this year, in these roles, their work practically demands that statuette of a winged woman holding aloft an atom. Which actors do you think are especially deserving?
ABC’s “Black-ish” scored Emmy nominations in three top categories this year: lead actor Anthony Anderson, lead actress Tracee Ellis Ross, and outstanding comedy series. All three are particularly well deserved given the show’s brilliant second season; showrunner Kenya Barris incorporated funnier gags and more hot-button issues into his increasingly ambitious sitcom about the African-American experience today. And his two leading actors upped their game to do right by that material.
Although the Academy left out the strong supporting performances from Laurence Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis, as well as child actors Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Marsai Martin, and Miles Brown, it’s Anderson and Ross who ground the series as the goofy, flawed, and loving parents of the Johnson family. We’re counting down the reasons Andre aka Dre and Rainbow aka Bow—and the actors who bring them to life—are two of the best characters on the small screen.
Their chemistry together.
Almost every episode of “Black-ish” features an argument between Dre and Bow... they are married, after all. This means almost every week we get to see the easy rapport between Anderson and Ross, who bicker and needle and love each other as only longtime couples do. Look at their seamless exchange of dialogue (particularly at the 2:17 mark!) in the clip below. You get the feeling they know each other better than themselves.
Anderson’s vocal range.
No joke—Anthony Anderson should consider a career in opera. The scene below is a perfect example of the actor’s astonishing voice; he can do a raspy mumble, then explode into a piercing falsetto, then switch to big belly laughs—all effortless. Dre’s enthusiasm is often infectious (he can be a typically awkward dad) but whenever the character is scared, Anderson’s mastery of his voice is hysterical.
Ross’ reaction shots...
Comedy series are all about the reaction shots: How to make them feel like authentic responses to a scene partner? How to continue to make fresh and surprising choices in those milliseconds between dialogue? Ross is a master of the reaction shot. Check out the amount of thinking and emoting she does in the clip below (especially at 0:23). Her responses to what Dre is saying tell full stories in a matter of seconds—practically pieces of dialogue themselves.
...and the faces she makes in general.
In fact, Ross is a gifted physical storyteller. Actors looking for pointers on how to move their bodies, use their voices, and especially twist their faces into hilarious expressions should study her work in every episode.
Seriously, she’s too funny.
Anderson’s moving “wake up” speech.
But if there’s one thing that separates “Black-ish” from most other family sitcoms, it’s the willingness to take on sensitive, topical subject matter amid the comedy. Two episodes in particular from Season 2 demonstrated courage in the face of controversy: the season premiere titled “The Word,” which dissected the many uses of the N-word in the black community; and episode 16, titled “Hope.”
In the latter, Dre and Bow disagree about what to tell their kids in the wake of yet another police brutality case broadcast over the news. After the officer receives no indictment, the stakes of their debate become higher than ever, giving voice to one of the biggest questions facing our country today: What is hope’s function in the face of violent, systemic racism? Lesser actors would shy away from such emotionally and politically charged material, but Anderson and Ross, in tour de force performances, feel it in their very bones.
Although Anderson and Ross prove time and again their comedy chops are indisputable, it’s the clip above that should be on Emmy voters’ minds as they cast their ballots. Regardless of whose names will be read aloud come Sept. 18, these actors’ nominations are richly deserved.
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