Why you shouldn’t sleep on ‘Dead to Me’s’ Christina Applegate at the SAG Awards
The Screen Actors Guild Awards race for TV comedy actress appears to be a close battle between red-hot rookie contender Quinta Brunson (“Abbott Elementary”) and defending champ Jean Smart (“Hacks”), who are currently 1-2 in our combined odds. But if support is more evenly split between the two actors than we might be expecting, you shouldn’t be surprised if the person lurking in third place, “Dead to Me’s” Christina Applegate, nabs the coveted statuette on Sunday.
Despite not being the odds-on favorite, Smart, as the incumbent champ, is still the smartest (sorry) bet on paper. No one loves returning to the well more than the SAG Awards, in whose 28-year history there have been six instances of someone bagging at least two consecutive trophies in this category. The “Hacks” star has demonstrated continued strength following last year’s guild triumph, prevailing a second time for the HBO Max comedy at the Emmys in September and last month’s Critics Choice Awards — at both occasions, over Brunson, even though she was expected to pocket a defeat at the latter. The only places she failed to go 2 for 2 are at the Television Critics Association and Golden Globe Awards, falling to Brunson at both. But given that the Television Critics and Hollywood Foreign Press Associations rarely hand out repeat wins, her losses there aren’t surprising.
SEE SAG Awards nominee profile: Christina Applegate (‘Dead to Me’)
At the same time, “Abbott” has been on one hell of a roll since racking up three Emmys — for casting, writing (for Brunson) and supporting actress (for Sheryl Lee Ralph) — last fall. In addition to winning the comedy actress Globe for Brunson, it picked up series prizes at Critics Choice and the Globes plus a supporting acting victory at each — for Ralph at the former and Tyler James Williams at the latter. If SAG-AFTRA is as much in the tank for the ABC sitcom as these groups, there’s a good chance that Brunson, who is the show’s only individual nomination, reaps the benefits of this love.
Hence, while Smart is entering the race with more awards for her performance under her belt and history on her side, Brunson is contending for the series with the most palpable momentum. These are very different but equally significant strengths that could lead to neither performer having overwhelming support and another nominee from the lineup — which is rounded out by 2019 champ Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and first-timer Jenna Ortega (“Wednesday”) — pulling ahead.
The reason Applegate could be the most likely to benefit from a fractured race is that her presence in the category is the one that carries the most weight. This is not just the last and only chance for guild members to acknowledge her work on “Dead to Me” — which completed its run with the third season that dropped on Netflix on Nov. 17 — but might also be their final opportunity to honor her altogether. The 51-year-old actor, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the middle of shooting “Dead to Me’s” farewell installment in 2021, said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times that she is unsure whether her physical condition will allow her to ever return to regular acting, noting that she might instead turn to producing and voiceover work to make a living going forward. This possibility could spur voters to rally behind Applegate when they still can, especially if they’re aware that the seven-time nominee — who was shortlisted thrice for “Samantha Who?” and four times for “Dead to Me” — has never won a SAG Award.
What helps her case is that SAG-AFTRA has been here for “Dead to Me” since the get-go. Although Applegate was the only consistent nomination for the series over the course of its three seasons, the twisty dramedy raked in additional bids for its cast and co-lead Linda Cardellini in 2021. Its inability to retain those mentions this year can arguably be chalked up to stiffer competition and Season 3 releasing not even three weeks before voting began on Dec. 5 (for comparison: Seasons 1 and 2 aired in May of their respective years of release). But the recency of the final installment could now be of great advantage to Applegate since it’ll be fresh in voters’ minds. The season is another nonstop showcase for Applegate, whose character, Jen Harding, runs the gamut of emotions as she loses her best pal to cancer but also opens herself up to a relationship for the first time after her husband’s death.
SEE Christina Applegate says upcoming SAG Awards will be ‘my last awards show as an actor, so it’s kind of a big deal’
Bestowing the comedy actress SAG Award on Applegate on Sunday would be a great way for voters to reward an actor who not only turned in career-defining work while battling personal health struggles but also, outside of an Emmy win for her guest turn on “Friends” (2003), has yet to receive her proper due from the industry she’s worked in since she was a child. It’s the type of poignant but urgent narrative that Applegate’s peers in the guild may not be able to resist.
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