Michael McKean Better Call Saul

Performer of the Week: Michael McKean

THE PERFORMER | Michael McKean

THE SHOW | Better Call Saul

THE EPISODE | “Chicanery” (May 8, 2017)

THE PERFORMANCE | McKean’s skills as a comedic actor are legendary, and for good reason. (Spinal Tap, anyone?) But like his co-star Bob Odenkirk, he also possesses a hidden talent for dramatic work — and this week’s Better Call Saul, with its climactic courtroom showdown, was the finest showcase yet for his fascinatingly layered performance as Jimmy’s brother Chuck McGill.

Chuck is a brilliant lawyer, and is all too happy to inform you of that fact; McKean was positively gleeful as Chuck arrogantly held court at Jimmy’s disbarment hearing, taunting his brother from the witness stand. But Chuck is also hampered by a debilitating sensitivity to electricity, and McKean’s pained grimaces and visible panic whenever Chuck is near any electronic device lend the know-it-all a tragic poignancy he wouldn’t have otherwise.

This all led up to an epic battle of words between the two brothers, with Chuck imperiously firing back at Jimmy’s questions like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. When Jimmy pulled a trick proving that Chuck’s electronic sensitivity might all be in his head, Chuck melted down on the stand in true “You can’t handle the truth!” fashion, with McKean furiously spitting out Chuck’s utter contempt for his brother. It was an ugly side of Chuck we haven’t really seen, and McKean was unsparing in his portrayal of the normally composed Chuck’s long-buried anger.

We don’t know if Chuck and Jimmy can ever mend fences after this… but we do know that McKean, the longtime comedy god, is giving one of the best dramatic performances on TV.

American Gods Recap Season 1 Episode 2HONORABLE MENTION | We only got him for the briefest of scenes in last week’s American Gods, but was Orlando Jones born to play Mr. Nancy or what? Jones entered the Starz drama and dazzingly — also, literally — set it aflame, giving a ship full of kidnapped African men a come-to-Anansi moment as he showed up in answer to their desperate prayers. Jones prowled the lower decks, offering a grim-yet-exuberant take on the bleak future the slaves could expect in America. (One of the best moments: When he bemoaned the futility of slaves being worked to death in the indigo fields “for a f—king purple shirt,” which Jones chose to punctuate with a proud tug on Mr. Nancy’s own colorful lapels.) Jones expertly layered his character’s ire until it was a towering pyre of anger and absurdity: Is it any wonder that the ship’s doomed cargo saw no other choice than to light it (and everything else) ablaze? Executive producer Bryan Fuller has said that, while filming, the cast gave Jones a standing ovation after his first take on the monologue. We’re right there with them: We can’t wait to see what else the Sleepy Hollow alum will do in the role.

Tracee Ellis RossHONORABLE MENTION | The season finale of black-ish added a new member to the Johnson family: baby DeVonte, whose premature arrival was as anxiety-inducing for Bow and Dre as it was joyous — and Tracee Ellis Ross nailed every beat of Bow’s emotional C-section. In the course of just two minutes, Bow bounced from confident (“I didn’t go to med school to not get the J-Law baby drugs.”) to uncertain (tearfully confessing to Dre her fears about bringing a baby into the world too early) to just plain drugged (“You’re my best friend in the whole world!” she bawled to her nurse). Ross effortlessly fused comedy and drama during the climactic scene, all while reminding us of the rollercoaster of emotions that come with bringing a human being into the world.

HONORABLE MENTION | So fantastic was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Mallory Jansen this week, a handful of fans may have been mulling the hashtag #Ophitz (if only for a fleeting moment). For starters, Jansen had us rapt as Aida became attuned to her flesh-and-blood form and in doing so was flooded with emotions, truly feeling things for the first time and exhilarated by the notion of making free-will choices. But therein lies the rub — having ruthlessly claimed Fitz during their Framework existence, Aida chose him to be hers back in the real world, while he only has room in his heart for Jemma. What Jansen then pulled off — as Aida cycled through a tsunami of jealousy, disappointment and anger, alternating between rage-filled eyes, irate roars and a sad, furrowed brow — was two parts harrowing, one part heartbreaking and 100-percent masterful.

Which performance knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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32 Comments
  1. z says:

    Agents of SHIELD has been so good this season. Thankful for a season 5 to watch this very talented cast

  2. Wes says:

    So many great performances this week!
    -Brian J. Smith and Doona Bae on Sense8
    -Michelle Hurd on Blindspot (absolutely terrifying)
    -Christopher Larkin on The 100 (had me crying real tears in that scene with Jasper)
    -KJ Apa on Riverdale

  3. Hipper says:

    That was a heck of a Emmy tape by Tracee Ellis Ross. It might even do the trick and win over JLD!

    • CJKatl says:

      Agreed, but TVLine, “You’re my best friend in the whole world” was bawled to Holiday Hannah, who is a DOCTOR, not a nurse. Just because someone is female doesn’t mean she is a nurse. Some doctors are men. It’s was made clear both in this episode and another recent episode that she’s a doctor. At least let’s hope that Dr. Bow’s competition for partner wasn’t a nurse.

  4. MMD says:

    Michael McKean’s performance was absolutely incredible this week and just makes me detest his character more and more.

    • TXGunner1 says:

      I was looking at Bogey in Caine Mutiny. It was almost the exact performance. Different subject, but the timing was the same. The crazy was the same.

      • John says:

        I couldn’t get the Queeg scene out of my head after seeing this one. Don’t get me wrong, McKean made it his moment, but the breakdown was eerie.

  5. Leo says:

    No Grey’s Anatomy or Riverdale? Kevin Mckidd ,Jerrika Hinton and Lili Reinhart were outstanding

    • JennyfromGeorgia says:

      I was going to come here and say Kevin Mckidd-Owens breakdown was fantastic and he not acted that he also directed himself. Jerrika should have also been considered–happy go lucky Stephanie and then the fighter/survivor Stephanie. Greys was great this week!

    • KateC says:

      I like an Honorable Mention for Kevin McKidd as well. Beautifully directed episode and scenes focusing on Owen’s PTSD.

  6. kirads09 says:

    Agree with McKean as POTW. Absolutely incredible in this episode, but throughout the series as Chuck as well. I hate how he treats Jimmy, but what a performance. I am old enough to remember the first greasy hello with Lenny and Squiggy.

  7. Joey Padron says:

    Michael McKean did great in this week’s episode of Better Call Saul. Hope he gets an Emmy nomination for his performance in season 3. Mallory Jansen did amazing in this week’s episode of AOS.

  8. Lisa says:

    Jansen and de Caestecker were so good in the latest episode of SHIELD (the whole season, really), it’s a shame genre shows don’t really get recognised by major awards. Because these two deserve it.

  9. Lily says:

    Mallory Jansen and Iain De Caestecker

  10. DreamRose311 says:

    McKean was amazng, but so was Mr Odenkirk. Nothing will stick with me as much as the look on his face that so clearly said “I hate doing this to you, but you’ve left me no choice”.

    Also I think Kerri Russel, Matthew Rhys and most especially Holly Taylor should get an honorable mention for that last scene alone of this week’s The Americans…

  11. Phil says:

    Thank you for singling out Mallory Janson! What SHIELD lucked into with this actress – honestly, would this season work as well without her? She has excelled at everything they’ve given her, and made it so much fun to watch her “furrowed brow.”
    Also, when she was incapacitated in the Framework and her feet were dangling over the too-short bed – I feel that.
    She was wonderful on Galavant (her “big day.” line reading at the end of her song in S2E9 is still the highlight of last season), so I really hope SHIELD preps her for bigger things!

  12. David Hambly says:

    i saw micheal McKean on broadway this week in the little foxes along with laura linney and cynthia nixon. my vote would be for cerrie coon again. she killed it last week in fargo and this week in the leftovers in twin tour de forces.no,i’m not her agent

  13. AprilJo says:

    Its only taken 35 years for me to stop thinking of Michael McKean as Lenny from Laverne and Shirley. Now I’ll always think of him as Jimmy McGill’s prick of a brother. lol

  14. rod says:

    What about that Kevin – Nora exchange at the end of sunday`s The Leftovers??

    • militantgod says:

      They’re probably saving Theroix for the 7th episode, which is said to be this season’s International Assassin, and they’re probably assuming Coon is going to tear it up in the finale, “The Book of Nora”.

  15. HAP says:

    Anyone remember Michael from his days as a member of The Credibility Gap in the late 60s and early 70s?

  16. LAwoman says:

    Michael McKean was definitely my favorite performance this week. I can’t wait to see the fallout from that courtroom confrontation. Orlando Jones was great too.

  17. Rod says:

    Great choice with Michael McKean!

    Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon on the Leftovers…
    Aziz Ansari on Master of None…

  18. Rod says:

    Great choice with Michael McKean!

    Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon on the Leftovers…
    Aziz Ansari on Master of None…

  19. Evelyn says:

    L L Cool J in NCIS Los Angeles.

  20. Felipe Puerta says:

    What about Justin Theroux & Carrie Coon?!

  21. Don Irving says:

    Michael did a great job but anyone that has scene Humphry Bogart in the Caine Mutiny will tell you that this was a rip off. I was waiting for McKean to pull out the silver balls from his pocket.

  22. TXGunner1 says:

    McKean was channeling Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny, I think, more than Nicholson. Great performance…

  23. So glad to see Mallory Jansen receive her due credit. She’s been fantastic of AoS this whole season, and this episode – her meltdown when she realized Fitz had chosen Simmons, in particular – was the crown jewel. I hope she goes far, because she’s *certainly* got the talent.

  24. Cynthia says:

    Mallory Jansen has been off the hook brilliant at Aida/Ophelia/Madame Hydra!!! Her acting skills are just phenomenal and her facial expressions magical and expressive!
    To be able to emote all those emotions and make them believable was impressive for sure.