You love them, we love them, and it's high time Emmy recognized them. We're talking about the TV actors and actresses who have yet to be recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, despite drawing us in week in and week out with their awe-inspiring ability to make us laugh, cry, or a weird combination of both. So every day here at Hollywood.com, we're going to be saluting those on the small screen who deserve an Emmy nomination, longshot status be damned. To kick off the series: Danny Pudi, who plays Community fan favorite, Abed Nadir.
In the 1950s, a CBS-employed sound engineer named Charles Douglass invented and unleashed onto the world the American institution we know as the laugh track. For over half a century, recorded audience reactions have maintained a consistent home in network television, proving with its durability that people prefer to be told how to feel about their TV shows. The practice of spelling out desired emotions for viewing audiences has become the norm, taking form in other ways — characters “feel” quite strongly. They laugh heartily, weep openly, and shout out their rage with passion. In turn, these are the characters that make us laugh and cry. These are the characters that win their actors Emmys, because they make us feel. So imagine the plight it must be for an actor to achieve the same result — inspiring the same heartfelt laughter and diabolical eye-misting — without so much as changing his facial expression or altering his vocal tone an iota over the course of three seasons on television. That’s no fluke; what you’re dealing with there is a masterful performer handling one of the most challenging TV characters with unabashed gravitas. What you’re dealing with is Community’s Danny Pudi, the man behind the NBC comedy’s breakout star, Abed.
In the first few minutes of Community’s pilot, Pudi was introduced amid a rapid-fire rattling off of an inordinate amount of mundane details about himself and co-Greendale Community College student, Britta Perry (the also remarkably adept Gillian Jacobs). From this episode, you’d think of Abed solely as comic relief. He’s a weirdo: He speaks oddly, thinks strangely, and obviously doesn’t quite meld well with the world around him. And considering the fact that this is a sitcom, you’d be wise to expect nothing but great gags rooted in the character’s idiosyncrasies. But if that’s all you’ve gotten as of the finale of Season 3 (and, as far as many are concerned, the series altogether), you were sourly shortchanged.
The program’s intention with Abed was made clear as early as the third episode, when fans got a heartbreaking insight into how much difficulty the character has expressing himself, and how his “abnormality” contributed to his mother’s leaving the family. Ever since, Community has scattered Abed-centric episodes evenly throughout its seasons, gradually giving us more and more insight into the young man’s ostensibly nonexistent pain and suffering. And Season 3 really kicked this into high gear.
Pudi was charged with some of his most demanding maneuvers to date. He experienced his first fight with best friend Troy (Donald Glover, who also shone in Season 3… but I’ll stop complimenting Community’s entire cast now); this was an arc that showcased the best and worst aspects of both Greendale students. Abed battled through his own emotional conflicts by playing off an imagined evil version of himself and Pudi handled both roles immaculately. In the unforgettable Dreamatorium episode, Pudi managed to unravel, deconstruct, and then reconstruct Abed so artistically that even the most diehard fans learned a few new things about their favorite Community character.
But Pudi doesn’t have to go grandiose to sell emotion. In fact, when he decides to “go normal” for Shirley’s (Yvette Nicole Brown) wedding, attempting to assimilate by talking at length about hors d’oeuvres to a relative stranger, it’s hysterical. When he commits (and then some) to his Law & Order-inspired detective role during a mission to find out who sabotaged his science project, you’ll be overcome with laughter. But not even these gems top Pudi’s delivery of the over-the-top hokey shtick as a bawdy plumber pulling a ruse on Greendale Community College security in the
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.