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The Role of Many Lifetimes for Jane Lynch

July 12, 2009

I am eagerly awaiting the first season of Glee, set to begin this fall on FOX. I caught the premiere episode after May’s American Idol finale, and I was hooked within the first minute. One almost has to love a series with a waterboarding joke in the very first line.

Such a joke would have probably been effective coming from anybody, but it certainly benefited from being delivered by the prodigiously talented character actor Jane Lynch. In Glee, she plays Sue Sylvester, a territorial, take-no-prisoners, status-conscious cheerleading coach. It’s a great role, and I hope it leads to well-deserved acclaim for Lynch, who’s been slaying me for years in small roles in Christopher Guest mockumentaries and Judd Apatow bro-fests.

It occurred to me this weekend that, when it comes time for me to shuffle off this mortal coil, I wish a Jane Lynch character could be the one to bring me the news. Lynch could play a perfect (not so) grim reaper, and I mean that as a compliment.

No one is better than Lynch at playing women with significant damage in their backstories and wringing laughs out of stories of their past traumas. Her characters in Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, The 40 Year Old Virgin, and Role Models are all women who are trying to leave behind some combination of prior pain, sadness, addiction, dysfunction, and exploitation. Each is singularly committed to the present life she has built for herself out of the ashes of her past. When revealing who her characters were and are, for their stories are almost entirely told in conversation rather than shown in the film, Lynch is reliably hilarious at conveying a mixture of fortitude, overconfidence, lingering pain, and emerging acceptance of where her travails have led her.

Seriously, watch those four movies again and pay particular attention to Lynch. I laugh at almost everything she says and does in them, and I feel instantly connected to the character she is slowly, skillfully revealing.

If there is such a thing as an Angel of Death, wouldn’t you want it to have all the qualities that seem to emerge so easily out of those Jane Lynch characters—humor, intensity, directness, and, though unconventional or less apparent at times, empathy? I would want the Lynch Reaper to tell me a bit of her story (which would invariably involve some combination of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and her own death by misadventure), to swat away my attempts to beg for more time (“Don’t BS a BSer,” Lynch’s Role Models character Gayle Sweeny would say), and to make me laugh, easing the anxiety of the transition I’m about to make.

In other words, when our time comes, I think it would all go a little better if a Jane Lynch character could be there, making us giggle with mixed metaphors and juvenile but hilarious sex jokes involving Bagel Dogs. Go rent Role Models, and you’ll see what I mean.

(And watch Glee this fall while you still can. Since it’s a good show on FOX, I’m predicting it will run, at most, a season and a half before the blunt axe falls.)

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