What If The Emmys Started Honoring Joint Performances?
John Ramos knows that for some shows, it takes two to make a thing go right: why shouldn't the Emmys?
In many ways, acting is a self-centered craft. The personality of some actors notwithstanding -- let's recall this brilliant piece as an example, because why not -- when thousands of eyes and/or a camera are trained on you, expecting you to entertain them and ready to excoriate you for false moves of character, diction, or appearance, it takes a certain level of ego and self-involvement not to go to pieces. Awards shows, like the imminent Emmys, duly reflect the recognition of such individual effort. However, I'm here to propose that the Emmys consider a new honor: a joint acting award.
There are practical reasons for such a move. For one, it would be an alternative to situations, awkward for everyone involved, in which two performers from a show are contending in the same category, whether both, one, or neither of them actually ends up getting a nod. It would also give the Emmys an extra tool with which to recognize relatively obscure but still worthy offerings. But the biggest consideration, having only to do with craft, is that sometimes two actors build an on-screen relationship that's so deep, so special, it becomes its own entity, greater than the sum of its parts. Here are some examples of onscreen pairs, past, present, and future, deserving of joint recognition.
1. Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin, Grace And Frankie
This is a good exemplar of all three above considerations: the two lead performances are sublime, but while mentioned in the Emmy conversation, they likely will ultimately be done in by the obscurity and, honestly, the mediocrity of the show, and if not, it's almost certain one actress will be left out in the cold. And that would be a shame, given how intertwined each performance is with the other. There's no need for me to go into the show's premise with the existing coverage on the site, but as the titular leads, Fonda and Tomlin pull out facets of the other's characters that they themselves perhaps didn't know were there; if they didn't, their development into each other's closest friend would ring completely false. Their relationship is one of the only parts of the show that really works -- it's no understatement to say it completely carries it -- and as such deserves this special recognition.
2. Timothy Olyphant & Walton Goggins, Justified
At the beginning of Justified's run, no one could have predicted the lasting complexity of the relationship between Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder, not least since the latter was originally supposed to die at the end of the pilot episode. But while Goggins's excellent performance prompted a departure from the show's source material and saved his character, even he couldn't have predicted how tumultuous and satisfying his onscreen relationship with Olyphant would prove to be. Although, relative to the length of the show, Raylan and Boyd didn't share a whole lot of screen time, when they did, the atmosphere was electric no matter where on the frenemy scale their needle happened to be at that moment. Olyphant's Raylan was often removed, sometimes appearing a bit too cool for school, but never so when Boyd was around; their relationship was so deeply depicted and provided such a visceral understanding of the relationship that when, in the series' ultimate scene, Raylan said he'd been thinking of something that brought him back to see his old adversary, I replied without thinking in time with Boyd: "When we dug coal together." And I'm sure I was far from the only one.
3. Jessica St. Clair & Lennon Parham, Playing House
A show far too obscure for Emmy notice -- its own network almost forgot about it, if the Rip-van-Winkle-nap-length time USA took to announce its renewal was any indication, and now its second season won't even premiere until well past the eligibility period for this year's Emmys -- that's nonetheless depicted one of the best on-screen friendships in years. Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, as longtime friends, comedy partners, and veterans of playing TV pals thanks to Best Friends Forever, bring an energy to their roles that, while never forced, manages to push both the comedy and the heartfelt past what either of them could do on their own. It's not the easiest premise to accept that a woman who fled the town of her upbringing like it was still flying the Confederate flag would ditch a high-power job and return thirteen years later to a strained relationship with her mother and her ex-boyfriend, but St. Clair and Parham navigate bumps in their relationship road and get to the core of a friendship so honest that you realize the question isn't why Emma came back; it's how she stayed away for so long.
4. Matthew McConaughey & Woody Harrelson, True Detective
The inspiration for this idea, around this time last year; as Marty Hart and Rust Cohle, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey took a mutual dislike and a series of wicked side-eyes and jointly molded them into such a strong presence that you could practically see it sitting between them in the front seat of Marty's Cadillac sedan. Even in moments during which they got along, there was something between them just waiting to explode; I think it's no exaggeration to say that neither of them was fully aware of the depth and range of his feelings toward the other. Yet they kept pushing and prodding, and eventually forged their onscreen relationship into something entirely different: actual, honest-to-God friends. Although both actors were nominated for a 2014 Emmy, neither won, and maybe that's fitting -- neither could have accomplished what he did without different but equally good performance opposite; Harrelson's immovable body against McConaughey's irresistible force. And that, to me, merits an honor all its own.