Thursday, July 4, 2013

Son of Great Performances

This is the third installment in an irregular series of posts recognizing good acting, not necessarily in recent work but also those performances that have stood the test of time. I guess you could consider this one the TV edition.

Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore in "Bates Motel."

A&E seems to be on its third life. Beginning as an arts network, it actually had some good programming before it became one of the leading purveyors of garbage television. Now, with shows like "The Glades" and "Longmire," it's seems to be trying to make amends by following the agreeable trend of programming original longform scripted television.

Joining the ranks of AMC's "Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad," the series "Bates Motel" is one of the network's best new shows, especially considering it shouldn't work at all. I mean, a contemporary prequel to "Psycho"? But Highmore and Farmiga, as Mama's Boy Norman and manipulative Mom Norma, inhabit their characters so well.

Farmiga's incredibly expressive face is always fascinating to watch. And she plays Norma subtly, not as an out-and-out nutjob but a desperate single woman always angling to improve her condition. Of course, she's not without her secrets, and she's a lousy liar, acting increasingly offended when people get to close to the truth about something.

Highmore matches her almost note for note. Norman tries to maintain a façade of bland normalcy, but the monster inside him keeps rearing its ugly head. And it doesn't help that Norma has him emotionally debilitated. Then, of course, there was the whole Dad thing. Highmore has strange eyes that can look lifeless, which he uses to great advantage when Norman is trying to conceal his real feelings. The final episode of this season was a killer. I can't wait for it to return.

Jennifer Carpenter in "Dexter."

Poor Deb. After the promotion to lieutenant, she's hit what we might consider an extended rough patch.
First the failed relationship with Quinn; then she comes to the realization that she's in love with her own brother; then she sees him kill a man; and finally she kills LaGuerta herself to protect him.

Carpenter has done some Emmy-worthy work showing us the agony Debra is going through. First, she comes to terms with her inappropriate feelings for Dexter, only to have them dashed when she discovered his monstrous secret last year.

We're only one episode in to the final season, but she's still on a downward spiral, having left the police department and working for a private investigating firm. But she's sleeping with the guy she's supposed to be investigating and doing lots of drugs.

I've always appreciated Michael C. Hall's understated performance, but Dexter looks positively sedated next to Carpenter's fiery, obscenity-spouting performance as his broken sibling. It'll be sad to see this show go. Even in its weakest season (the one with Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks), it was still more entertaining than "True Blood," which has been on life support ever since the second season ended.

Edie Falco in "Nurse Jackie."

Talk about a mess. Jackie's addiction and lies have cost her both her marriage and the love of her eldest child, Grace, who blames her mother for the breakup and is on a serious rebellious streak. Falco, with her large, expressive eyes, brings the troubled but tough character to life.

It's a convincing performance and one filled with wry humor. I loved the episode last season when, faced with having to enter a treatment program, she imagines herself addressing an AA crowd, only to snap out of her reverie, stare directly at herself in the mirror, and defiantly say "Blow me."

The first episode this season worried me. It was flat-footed and sitcommy, and even her hairstyle was weird. But the producers must have realized how far they'd strayed because it was back on track the very next week.

Jackie's got a new relationship with a sweet-natured cop, but her family troubles keep crashing in on their intimacy. And she's got to keep on her toes with fifteen-year-old Grace, who keeps rushing off to Manhattan to see her older boyfriend, a street musician. Naturally, Jackie's on edge, and Falco keeps the character believable, even when she celebrates one year of sobriety by taking a pill in this season's finale.

Emmy Rossum in "Shameless."

Another actor with incredibly expressive eyes, Rossum, as eldest Gallagher daughter Fiona, is the glue that holds her dysfunctional family together. She's tough as nails, but also vulnerable, as when she found out that her boyfriend had been lying about himself to her.

And her siblings all need care: Lip, the enormously intelligent underachiever, needs constant motivation; Debbie, her little sister, is entering an awkward stage. Frank has become an out-and-out sociopath, so much so that in this season's finale Fiona took him to court to make him forfeit his parental rights.

Rossum's Fiona is a character you can care about. Never intentionally cruel (except to Frank, who deserves it), she keeps everyone pulling in unison, even when it involves a liberal interpretation of the law. And the awful jobs she takes to pay the monthly bills — Fiona always stands firm no matter how challenging the adversity, and Rossum does such a good job with the role.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Standout actors and performances all! Let's hope Emmy will share some love.


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