Solid Performers to the front
Sometimes an actress can linger in the background of a show for a rather long time before she gets her due. They're known for their scene-stealing moments, but they don't often get to lead. So when that spotlight finally shines on them, it's a moment to celebrate. Three recent shows have taken solid performers and finally pushed them front and center.
Alison Brie is a consistent, solid comedic actress who is also capable of playing the gravitas of a dramatic scene. Her most notable television work, prior to this year, was on the sitcom Community, where she played the sunny, innocent Annie. While she was filming that show, she also showed her considerable dramatic chops in a recurring part on Mad Men, where she played Pete Campbell's long-suffering, entitled wife Trudy. That double act should have prepared us for her work on the new Netflix show GLOW. But nothing in her arsenal of talents suggested what she is able to do with the character Ruth on the show.
GLOW is a fictional telling of the history of the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a cult-hit 1980s women's wrestling show that used to air on UHF channels in the middle of the night. The original show showcased a mix of athletics, high comedy, vast stereotypes, amateur rapping, low production values, tacky plots and colorful leotards. It had women of all shapes and sizes, glamorized to the hilt and then let them rip each other apart. The new GLOW features Brie as an out-of-work, down-on-her-luck actress who finally agrees to attend any audition sent her way. She ends up in a gym full of a wide range of types and characters, including the show director (Marc Maron), who seems to run on enthusiasm and cocaine. And she is called upon to perform in a way that she never expected.
Brie is a revelation in this show, where scenes allow her to be funny, insanely physical and really, really vulnerable. The character she builds has this integrity, even though she does some thoroughly awful things, so you end up rooting for her even when she's annoying.
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (Netflix)
Orange Is the New Black remains great TV precisely because it knows how to use its vast well of talented actresses, giving each of them a turn in the spotlight. But the fifth season's standout performance comes from Danielle Brooks as Taystee. Taystee has been on this Netflix show from its first episode, with Brooks casually stealing scenes in the first season alongside her best friend Poussey (Samira Wiley). Last year's episodes culminated in the death of Poussey and a breakdown from Taystee, which led to the full prison riot that is this season's major plotline. Brooks, playing Taystee's heartbreak as still fresh and painful, puts fury and passion into every scene. The character becomes a leader, an activist and a voice for prisoner rights, fueled by the loss of her friend. Brooks never lets the audience forget what is motivating her character, giving the entire season a consistent, resonant tone. This season is much lighter than the previous two, and it deals all of the characters new roles in the prison hierarchy. Suddenly, the prisoners are in charge, the guards are in fear. And the entire show gets turned on its head. Taystee remains its heart, though. And that is a testament to Brooks' work.
Niecy Nash is a superstar, long deserving of her own show and TNT has given her that chance with Claws.
She's a comedy genius with an impressive TV background. Nash first gained attention on Reno 911! But recently she stole full episodes of Scream Queens and received an Emmy nomination for her work on the HBO hospital comedy Getting On, where she played a quiet, kind nurse. Nash is an incredible talent. But Claws is a weird, wild and uneven show - part Barber Shop, part Scarface.
Her character Desna owns a nail salon in Palmetto, Florida, populated by a staff of eccentrics. The nail salon also launders drug money for a wacky kingpin from the Dixie Mafia, and all sorts of murder and shenanigans occur within the first two episodes. The makers of the show, though, don't know yet how to juggle all the elements of the show. There are funerals filled with strippers, random nudity, girlfights, golden handguns and - weirdly - lots of stuff about salon real estate. It's a mixed bag. You've got a burning speedboat filled with dead bodies one minute. The next minute, you're supposed to care that there's a dissatisfied customer with a bad manicure. Perhaps it will eventually settle down. Nash certainly deserves a showcase for her considerable talents.