This story about Mo Amer, Jessica Williams, Helen Mirren, Aminah Nieves, Brandon Sklenar, Delroy Lindo and Mayan Lopez originally appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
First-year series play a vital role at the Emmys, which can start to feel like a parade of “been there, done that” as the same shows take home awards year after year. Five new shows broke into the Outstanding Drama and Comedy Series categories last year, and here are some of our favorites from the many hoping to accomplish the same feat in 2023.
MOHAMMED AMER, “Mo”
Hollywood might not have seemed predestined for Mo Amer, a Palestinian American standup who, after fleeing Kuwait (where he was born), settled in Houston, Texas. He’s a natural storyteller, and his semi-autobiographical Netflix series “Mo” proves that he’s exactly where he’s meant to be.
TRAINING GROUND “It was a big focus of mine just to hone my craft in standup, and when it’s time, you can bring that television show to life or film to life. And through that training, all those years spent on the road and working from the diviest of dive bars to the Royal Albert Hall in London, it all played a really key role for me in making a successful TV show: being able to be nimble, the surprises factor, the storytelling, understanding what it takes.”
BEING A “DIVERSE” VOICE “There’s an irritation that comes with this, but telling these (marginalized, immigrant) stories is incredibly important because it’s also really funny, really universal. When I’m done with the show, I’ll go on and show you what else I can do, what other stories I can tell. I feel like I can step forward as myself. A lot of people spend most of their lives without being themselves, and I just wanna be me and the most honest part of me.”
HITTING CLOSE TO HOME “The material, I’m already so emotionally tied to it that I don’t even realize what depth of emotion I have until I’m there. Especially the stuff about my dad (dying) is real to my life and realizing that I didn’t mourn right in my real life. We shot the scene and I had, like, a real breakdown, which, let me tell you, makes you very self-conscious! Tissue, somebody? It’s just one of those things that happens by being in the moment and truly feeling it.” —Benjamin Lindsay
JESSICA WILLIAMS, “Shrinking”
“Shrinking” brought Jessica Williams (who plays Gaby) home — literally. After stints on “The Daily Show,” “2 Dope Queens,” “Love Life” and more kept her in New York City, the 33-year-old L.A. native returned to co-star with Jason Segel and Harrison Ford (Paul) in the comedy created by Segel, Brett Goldstein and Bill Lawrence.
THE FORCE “I was really excited to work with Harrison. I was really excited to work with Jason Segel, and Harrison was a bonus. I tried to learn more about him as a person, so I watched a lot of interviews. And then once I got past initially getting used to his face, especially on set and settling into, ‘Oh, that’s Harrison Ford,’ then I was able to kind of detach that and be like, ‘OK, this is my boss, Paul, and this is our relationship.’ But it being Harrison Ford does help inform Gaby’s relationship with Paul, who’s kind of her mentor who can be a bit grumpy.”
IN TREATMENT “The way that ‘Shrinking’ helps people perceive therapists a bit differently, I was really interested in that concept. I’ve done therapy for a long time, and I don’t know my therapist’s life. With Gaby, we wanted her to feel really relatable in that way so people go, ‘Oh, I wanna find a therapist like that.’”
MOM LOVE “My mom sent me a really nice text after she watched the show, and she was like, ‘I love you on this show.’ She’s seen everything, but she was like, ‘I also like that you make everybody else look good.’ It feels really good to be able to support Jason and support Harrison and Christa (Miller) and Michael Urie and everyone with partners in every scene.” —Benjamin Lindsay
HELEN MIRREN, AMINAH NIEVES and BRANDON SKLENAR, “1923”
Paramount+’s breakout hit “1923” is both a prequel to Taylor Sheridan’s insanely popular series “Yellowstone” and a follow-up to the Emmy-nominated “1883.” It follows Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford) and his wife Cara (Helen Mirren) as they encounter various forces that threaten their land —and their family — while also dealing with changing eras, as the Old West gives way to the 20th century.
UNDER THE COVERS “I had to be in the bed with him, you know,” Mirren said of those scenes with Ford. “I’m lying there and I’m thinking, I’m in bed with Harrison Ford. I was so excited, I can’t tell you. I had to pretend to be cool. Don’t tell him. Promise me.”
PROCEEDING WITH CAUTION “Getting the first script and even doing the audition, it’s heavy,” Aminah Nieves said. “To re-enter that (oppressed Native American) life that deeply was very scary because I wanted to honor our communities as best as I could and all indigenous communities across the globe.”
MISTAKEN IDENTITY “This gentleman is walking up,” Brandon Sklenar said of his first encounter with his legendary costar. “Had no idea who it was. He hops up on the gate. And within two seconds I’m like, ‘S–t, it’s Harrison Ford.’ He said, ‘Are you the star wrangler? How are the actors doing?’ I said, ‘I’m an actor. I play Spencer Dutton.’ Then he looked at me with that classic Harrison Ford grin and he said, ‘Very cool. Nice to meet you.’ He genuinely is a shining example of how you can be.” —Drew Taylor
DELROY LINDO, “Unprisoned”
In “Unprisoned,” the new Hulu comedy series from Onyx Collective, Delroy Lindo stars as Edwin, a man recently released from prison who’s trying to heal past wounds — his own and those of his estranged daughter Paige (Kerry Washington) — and get back on his feet. Created by Tracy McMillan, the series explores the complexity of familial bonds.
A FRESH TAKE “Tracy and Kerry said they both wanted to change the perception of what a formerly incarcerated person looks like. And that was one particular element that resonated for me — and the notion of this family trying to repair themselves, trying to reconnect the relationship.”
MEETING KERRY WASHINGTON “I met her in the initial Zoom conversation about this project. I appreciated that there was an openness that we shared in our initial conversations. As far as awareness of Kerry as an actor, I saw her in ‘Ray’ and ‘The Last King of Scotland.’ I actually did not see ‘Scandal.’ I know ‘Scandal’ was huge, a very popular, big hit. Perhaps it’s scandalous that I didn’t see it.”
THE TAKEAWAY “I hope people are struck by this family trying to repair themselves. I hope there’s an aspect of redefining what people think about formerly incarcerated persons and that, in turn, causes people to reexamine what they may feel about not only formerly incarcerated people, but the families of the formerly incarcerated, the fact that so many individuals are impacted by the fact of incarceration. The fact that it impacts disproportionately people of color. And I hope that it increases the sensitivity to the challenges.” —Raquel “Rocky” Harris
MAYAN LOPEZ, “Lopez vs. Lopez”
In the aftermath of her parents’ divorce, Mayan Lopez spent years estranged from her father, comedian and actor George Lopez. The route to reconciliation came via “Lopez vs. Lopez,” the NBC sitcom in which they two play versions of themselves, fictionalized but dealing with real family issues.
ORIGIN STORY “I’d just finished the Second City conservatory in Chicago, and I still wanted to be creative. My dad and I weren’t really speaking at the time, and sometimes the only way that we could communicate was through comedy. Someone made a TikTok about past transgressions in (my) family, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna say something about it. What would get people’s attention?’ I twerked upside down on a wall. And (showrunner) Debbie Wolf saw it and thought, ‘This is a show.’”
THE BIGGER PICTURE “Two years ago we weren’t really speaking, and now we are in front of cameras helping families. People have asked me, ‘Did you know what you were signing up for when you did this project?’ I don’t think we did. But I knew that our relationship means something that is bigger than ourselves, and we can help a lot of people and make people laugh.”
THE NEPO LABEL “I get called (nepo baby) all the time. Really all the time. I am incredibly lucky, and I know that I had doors open for me, absolutely. But when I went to college, I auditioned for all these improv troupes and they didn’t go to me. They’re like, ‘You’re George Lopez’s daughter, you’re gonna get successful.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m trying to learn.’ I’ve had to work hard to not be what everyone expects me to be. Hopefully I can win you over — and if not, then I wish you well.” —Elijah Gil