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Critics’ Rating: Carol Burnett in ‘Better Call Saul’ shouldn’t be a Dark Horse Contender


When is one of the most decorated and widely loved actresses of all time a dark horse with awards? Perhaps when her last hope is recognition as part of possibly the greatest Emmys black horse of all time.

Expect to hear a lot more about it in the coming months You better call Saul and the statistical anomaly that placed the exceptional AMC drama on the Emmy radar enough to receive 46 nominations yet zero wins.

For a while, it seemed that the solution to this bizarre drought would be Carol Burnett. With six Primetime Emmy wins to her credit and in a year where a tribute to the iconic star’s 90th birthday is likely to compete for Emmys of her own, Burnett seemed lined up for an easy nomination and likely win for her crucial turn as Marion in the second half of the sixth season of You better call Saul. Then Emmy Math stepped in, and suddenly Burnett’s four episodes Saul run took her out of a guest acting field highlighted by worthy contenders like Melanie Lynskey for The last of us and J. Smith-Cameron Succession and in a much busier category of supporting actresses with everyone from The White Lotus to half of the casts of Yellow jackets And The crown. That’s how Burnett, whose lifetime also includes a Tony, a Grammy, and so many lifetime achievement awards that the Golden Globe for Television Achievement is even named after her, finds herself in the unlikely position of being an Emmy dark horse this year.

Categorization shouldn’t matter, mind you. Burnett’s performance, whether more “guest” or “supporting” in your mind, is a subtle symphony of world-weary nuance, a characterization that simultaneously matches the mind-blowing black-and-white texture of the series’ Omaha interludes and tapes. fits perfectly with one of the most colorful chapters in the life of Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman.

As a central figure in the pivotal Sandpiper Crossing lawsuit, Jimmy built a reputation and client base as a pied piper for the geriatric group, a master manipulator able to curry favor with seniors and send seniors to kill the son or become the grandson that most desired of them.

In Marion, Jimmy—or “Gene Takavic,” if we’re technical—saw another easy target, a scooter-prone homebody accustomed to being disappointed by the ways and ambitions of her own son (Pat Healy’s Jeff). The genius of Burnett’s performance is that she manages to fool both Gene and the audience. We’d have to think she’s being duped, supposed to be laughing at this slow-witted older woman who is easily distracted by access to online cat videos, but at every turn she’s smarter and more determined than we or Gene pretends to be.

She may not have been Saul Goodman’s main adversary throughout the series, but when it comes time for him to reach the end of his scam journey, Marion is a hugely satisfying bête noire. And when it comes to finding an opponent for Odenkirk, a sketch comedy genius redefining his career in dramatic terms, who better than sketch comedy titan Burnett? Hopefully she won’t be overlooked in the tsunami of HBO ensembles.

This story first appeared in a standalone June issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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