Kim Dickens may be the most underrated actress working today.
At the very least, she either has an incredible knack for reading scripts and selecting projects, or she has the best agent in the business.
Because Dickens has had roles in four of the best television shows of all time.
She’s played parts varying in size on Deadwood, Lost, Friday Night Lights and Treme. Who else has a television track record like that? Does anybody?
Now, Treme is not yet on the level of those other three, but it’s a very good show in its own right that would likely draw more acclaim were the creator of The Wire not associated with it. One actor featuring all four of those quality fucking programs on their IMDB page is almost inconceivable. Dickens is the John Cazale of TV.
But it’s not just that she’s appeared on our screens in these shows and stood in the background while others did the heavy lifting — Dickens contributed mightily to each show. She’s a supporting player, certainly, but one capable of elevating her roles above what’s on the page. If there’s a theme that unites all of Dickens’s characters, it’s an outer toughness masking vulnerability. Not the most unique trait in the world, true, but’s a beat she plays with aplomb.
Treme – Janette Desautel
Dickens plays the most likable character on Treme, and that includes The Bunk. Of the four great shows Dickens has appeared on, this is her largest role. In it, she pulls off the impressive feat of making us believe that her character would be willing to have sex with Steve Zahn’s character. Not many actresses could do that. Treme can be a difficult show to dive into, but Dickens helps makes the effort worthwhile.
Deadwood – Joanie Stubbs
Deadwood has so many memorable characters, brilliantly written and played, that Joanie Stubbs gets lost in the shuffle. But that’s unfair — Joanie is one of Deadwood’s saddest, most sympathetic characters. Her depression, repressed sexuality and general human kindness combine to make her a sad little light in an often-bleak town. And despite the weight of the character, Dickens could still be funny.
Lost – Cassidy Phillips
On Lost, Dickens played Sawyer’s con victim turned girlfriend turned con artist turned reformed mother. She only appeared on a handful of episodes, but Cassidy played a crucial part in both Sawyer and Kate’s story arcs.
Hey, did some insane Lost fan make a YouTube video of Cassidy and set it to a terrible song? Of course!
Friday Night Lights – Shelby Saracen
As with Cassidy on Lost, Dickens took what could have been a throwaway role in lesser hands and transformed it into something believable and human, and something that added needed background color to an ensemble show.She brought ambivalence and pathos to good ol’ Matt Saracen’s Mom. Her arc could have been overly simple — an absentee mom realizes her mistake and makes amends — but Dickens’s textured performance made it clear that things weren’t that clean.
Sadly, there are no homemade fan videos for Shelby Saracen. I’m disappointed in you, Internet.
Despite her presence in all those shows (and, uh, 12 Miles of Bad Road with Lily Tomlin), Dickens remains underappreciated. It’s time to remedy that. And when Treme ends, I’ll certainly be paying close attention to whatever show Dickens winds up on next. Check out this interview for her thoughts on her notable characters.