Why the Entire ‘Better Call Saul’ Cast Deserves Emmy Recognition (Column)

Michael Schneider

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The Screen Actors Guild Awards is unique among the major entertainment honors in rewarding entire acting ensembles all at once. It’s a way to recognize the overall chemistry and interconnected nature of an entire cast, which can come together to make a film or TV show even better than the words on the page.

The Oscars and Emmys already dole out prizes to lead and supporting performers, and have opted not to expand their awards purview even further by adding cast categories — and honestly, that’s fine: There are more pressing categories they should consider adding first. But if the Emmys were to hand out full ensemble awards, AMC’s “Better Call Saul” ought to be right and center.

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There are a lot of great casts on television, but “Better Call Saul” boasts a surplus of talent, starting with lead Bob Odenkirk, as eager opportunist Jimmy McGill/crassly immoral Saul Goodman.

Surrounding Odenkirk is an equally talented batch of heavy-hitter supporting actors and actresses who have made “Better Call Saul” the “Godfather II” or “Empire Strikes Back” of its time: A sequel that matches, or even surpasses, its originator. Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks, as Gus Fring and Mike Ehrmantraut, respectively, add new layers to characters we thought we knew from “Breaking Bad.” Michael McKean, throughout the show’s first three seasons as Chuck McGill, proves that, as with Odenkirk, some of the best dramatic actors hail from comedy origins, while Patrick Fabian, as Howard Hamlin, adds depth to a character that could have been simply played as a villain.

This season, Michael Mando infused a fresh sense of urgency to his heartbreaking portrayal of Nacho Varga, who’s trying to protect his dad and escape the Salamanca drug organization. And Tony Dalton is clearly having a blast playing psychopathic kingpin Lalo Salamanca.

But the true MVP of “Better Call Saul” — the person who deserves every accolade imaginable for the past five seasons — is Rhea Seehorn, who plays Jimmy’s increasingly unpredictable confidante and (now) wife Kim Wexler. Kim isn’t ever mentioned in “Breaking Bad,” and the mystery behind her fate provides much of the underlying tension to how “Better Call Saul” might conclude. Kim can’t be neatly defined as one type of character, given her often-surprising and contradictory choices — including a shocking moment in Season 5 in which she proposes marriage after Jimmy’s web of lies falls apart. And then there’s the moment toward the end of the season as she takes on Lalo, saving Jimmy from a brutal confrontation.

“This season was so challenging and I mean that as blissful,” Seehorn says. “It was so much fun to have to do the mental acrobatics in your head for all of our characters.”

Co-creator Peter Gould credits the cast for what they’ve accomplished with both complicated scripts. “One of the great things about this whole cast is they’re very physical actors and we’re very lucky that they are,” he says. “Every single one of them, they act from the tips of their toes to the tops of their head. I could name scenes with every single one of these actors where they don’t just act up here [points to his face]. We try to think about that.”

“Better Call Saul” has only been nominated once for a SAG drama ensemble award. In the Emmy race, Odenkirk (as lead actor), Banks and Esposito (supporting actor) and McKean (guest actor) have been nominated — but not Seehorn or the others. And “Saul,” despite 32 nominations overall, has not won a single Emmy yet. It’s time to fix that — and with just one season left, time is running out.

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