2012 Emmy Longshots: ‘Community’ Star Danny Pudi

AbedYou 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