How TV Actors Like Will Forte, Anthony Anderson Avoid the Sophomore Slump

TV Shows Sophmore Seasons Stay Fresh
jason raish for Variety

For actors on sophomore series in the running for Emmy nominations, there are hurdles aplenty: How do they and the show avoid a sophomore slump? Does it help to be better established in year two, or will attention drift to a newer kid on the block?

“We probably had some people concerned we had a freshman year slump,” says Will Forte, jokingly referring to Fox’s “Last Man on Earth,” for which he earned a 2015 Emmy nomination for lead actor in a comedy series. “Who knows? I never worry about that stuff. We’re just taking it one episode at a time.”

But he concedes season one offered lessons regarding storytelling that proved instructive in season two. “The main thing is getting the experience of doing the first season and you have that extra bit of knowledge of what worked and what didn’t work,” Forte says, noting that there were more adjustments in the show’s writing than in his performance.

“We definitely wrote the character a little differently. In the first season he did some pretty unlikable things and we wanted to see if we could get away with it. Some of it we did, other things we thought went too far. So we definitely did not strip the character of his idiocy, but we did try to protect him a little more.”

“Black-ish” star Anthony Anderson entered season two of his ABC comedy eager to build on the success of season one, which saw him land an Emmy nom. “I think what resonated with the audience was the authenticity of our show and the truth in which we told our stories,” Anderson says. “We just wanted to be consistent with what we did. We never worried about a sophomore slump or trying to outdo what we did.”

Anderson, like Forte, is an executive producer on his show in addition to having a lead role. “What keeps the character fresh is the work that’s done in the writing room,” Anderson says. “The character is really me and Kenya [Barris, the series creator] blended together and once we really established who he was that first season, you know what you’re gonna get. What keeps him fresh are the stories and the situations we put him in.”

Anderson says he made an effeort to be more focused on “Black-ish” in season two. “I was very busy last year outside of our show,” he says. “I wanted to devote more time to the character and to the show than I was doing [in the first season] with extracurruicular activities because I saw the effect we had.”

“Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk says he found his show’s second season more difficult early on. “I was very uncertain of myself in the second season,” he says. “You’d think I’d be more [certain], but in the first season I was driven by such a big challenge that was before me that I was pretty myopic and stayed focused on the words and the character and the moments coming my way.

“We just wanted to be consistent with what we did. We never worried about a sophomore slump or trying to outdo what
we did.”
Anthony Anderson

“For the second season — and I’m not used to having a second season of anything — there’s the notion of how do you carry on from where you were eight months ago? How do you re-find the character and tune it in just so?
“I was thankful one of the producers shared with me that [“Breaking Bad” star] Bryan Cranston had a similar experience at the beginning of every season of reconnecting with the character. I really idolize Bryan’s performance and his skills and craft and how he managed himself as a person. He’s a good guy I look up to. So it feels good to know other actors greater than I struggle with the same thing.”

Gael Garcia Bernal enters Emmy season with wind in his sails thanks to a Golden Globe win for his lead role in the Amazon series “Mozart in the Jungle,” which also won a Globe for comedy series. “It felt like going back to school, to a school I really loved,” Bernal says about the show’s second season. He says the show’s use of music helps keep him in the moment. “It’s true there is a thing one can fall into, where it can get you perhaps a little bit lazy in some cases and with this show we have something very good: We have to come up with these amazing [music] pieces we have to perform. That’s what keeps us on our toes.”

Bernal, who plays a symphony conductor, studies the music and rehearses his conducting performance. Whether in person or on video, he watches conductors as they direct the same music his character will have to conduct. “It gives you something to hang onto,” he says. “We have to do stuff we don’t know how to do. That throws us into concentration and the atmosphere and tone of what we’re doing.”

Bernal says the Golden Globe was a surprise he’s not expecting to repeat in this year’s Emmy nominations, but if it happens, he’ll be more excited for his character than for himself. “Awards give the character more life,” he says. “I would be happy for Rodrigo.”

Odenkirk says he was surprised to be nominated in the first season of “Better Call Saul.” “It’s so hard now with so much good
stuff these days,” Odenkirk says. “The best things about the Emmys and Oscars and all the awards show is that an interesting project can get noticed and get some attention, and in the world of excellent entertainment, as we have in dramatic TV right now, it’s just very easy to fall through the cracks. So it’s good to get that vote and then people sample your show.”

Anderson isn’t shy about saying he hopes for a repeat nomination, but he’s also clear about what it would and would
not mean. “I want the trophy, not that I need a trophy to validate who I am in my work, but to be acknowledged by your peers is a feather in your cap,” he says. “Do I want these statues on my mantle? Yes, I do, I’m not gonna lie about that, but that’s not what drives me. What drives me is I live my dream every day and I get to tell stories about my life every day that people respond to. Everything else is a cherry on top.”

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