So, here at SHE BLOGGO, I like to occasionally indulge in the superlative game. Y'know, who's the best or the most or the least, or whatever. It's a dangerous game to play, largely because absolutes make me skittish and also because declaring someone the BEST at something always seems to insinuate that you think that everyone else is the WORST. Stupid binary comparisons.
But, I can't help myself, and so I try to point out some excellence here and there - reminding everyone fully that selecting just one person does not negate others' awesomeness. Last time, I awarded Kevin McHale with the honor of Glee's Most Versatile Performer. This time, I decided to ponder over Glee's Most Underrated Actor.
Now, this is acting we're talking about. Not singing, not dancing, not musical performances. Just, acting. And not only acting, but who is underrated in their portrayal. So that immediately rules out anyone who was nominated for an award - Lea, Chris, Matt, and Jane? Ineligible.
No, I decided that Glee's Most Underrated Actor is indeed Ms. Naya Rivera, whose birthday is today so it's perhaps timely to give her a superlative. But please, let me elaborate on the un-birthday-related reasons.
On the surface, Naya Rivera has met all the qualifications to effectively portray Santana Lopez. She's solidly reliable for a perfectly-delivered sarcastic comment, an artfully loathing bitchface, and the occasional dirty joke.
This is the basis for a good performance - Glee characters are built almost entirely on stereotype. Rachel's the diva, Finn is the dumb jock, Puck is the bad boy, Tina is the shy theater geek, Brittany is the dumb cheerleader, and Santana's the bitch. And what's great about the show is that each of these characters is allowed to be something more. However, the original stereotype and the "something more" aren't always synthesized effectively in every scene.
But somehow, Naya Rivera has managed to do exactly that. Santana Lopez is a bitch. We're never allowed to forget she's a bitch - in fact, she's written almost exclusively as such.
But Santana is also so much more - more which is not always written explicitly on the page. There aren't many solid examples of Santana doing good deeds. And yet, the general consensus is that something is going on underneath her lizard-skin exterior. Beneath the disdain and the boredom and the ego, there is a real, vulnerable, human being. There is very little concrete development happening with Santana on the screen (thanks a lot, writers), yet we're all convinced that something is going on with her. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Naya Rivera doing a bang-up acting job.
Because, with every second she's appeared on screen, she has simultaneously embodied and defied her character's given stereotype. We love her because of her obnoxious comments, disgusted bitchfaces, and sneering ego-centrism - and we love her in spite of it. We love her because she's given us reason to believe that there's something more there - it could be gay panic, body image insecurity, loneliness in love, or a troubled family life - who knows? But the fact of the matter is that none of these things are even remotely spelled out on the page. This is all reading between the lines of what Naya interpreted and presents us with in the few moments where Santana is not snarking.
It's also in no small part due to Naya that the Brittana relationship exists. Because they were originally supporting characters, Naya and Heather were most likely - and understandably - afforded a certain freedom in constructing their characters onscreen, because the written storylines weren't focused on them. So Naya took her role as Bitch, ran with it, and then added to it. It's there in the background, it's there in the forefront, it's there in the musical numbers: Naya Rivera is Santana Lopez onscreen, 100% of the time. Vulnerable, truthful, loyal, sarcastic, biting, determined, inappropriate, confident, bitch. And the icing on this cake of accomplishment is that she is still empathetic, if not even downright likeable the whole way through.
And it is because of this that I declare her Glee's Most Underrated Actress. I highly doubt she's going to get nominated for any actual acting awards, unfortunately, but the truth of the matter is that she is sneakily one of the best the show has. Her range is impressive, her line deliveries consistently hilarious, and the way in which she believably integrates all different parts of her character simultaneously is masterful.
To Naya Rivera, an Underrated Actor, on her birthday!
(And, in case you were wondering, Runner-Up in this category was Cory Monteith, who plays a main character yet often gets overlooked for his rather convincing performance firstly as a person 12 years his junior, and secondly as an average guy finding his way and through music. Cory's got solid acting chops, himself. But it's not his birthday.)