Actress Alison Brie attends a special screening of "The Decision", a short film promoting the John Frieda Precision Foam Colour hair product at LAVO on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)(Credit: Evan Agostini)
She didn’t snag an Emmy nomination Thursday — despite being in the cast of both a beloved comedy and a critically acclaimed drama series. But “Community” and “Mad Men’s” Alison Brie is nonetheless having a swell week.
First, a clip of her doing a rocking karaoke duet of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” last month with Emily Blunt in Ann Arbor, Mich., went viral, proving her adorable shamelessness knows no bounds. Then GQ answered America’s prayers and served up a black lingerie-clad Brie getting spanked with the business end of a hairbrush by her “Community” costar Gillian Jacobs. Take that, Betty White.
What is it about the fresh-faced Brie that makes her such a standout? Well, the looks don’t hurt. Like Katy Perry, she’s got the kind of doe eyes and formidable rack that would make a manga character jealous. But more than that, Brie isn’t just another hot chick lucky enough to land on a sitcom.
In her relatively short career, the 27-year-old actress has managed to carve out a distinctive niche for herself as the most winningly uptight woman on television. On “Mad Men,” her buttoned-up Park Avenue princess, Trudy Campbell — the Charlotte York of the Beatles era — has dazzling, youthful spark, touching naiveté and, increasingly, deep wells of inner strength. But it’s on “Community,” as the studiously “irony-free” Annie Edison, a woman who boasts, “I like being repressed! I am totally comfortable with being uncomfortable with my sexuality!” that Brie really shines. Troy and Abed may get all the attention, but Annie is the show’s most reliably warped scene-stealer.
In letting her often exasperating characters fall just shy of unlikable, Brie somehow manages to make them vulnerable and real and eminently appealing. How can you not love a lady whose “Community” back story of losing her virginity to a gay man, in a closet, to the strains of Madonna’s “Erotica,” was based on a mortifying incident from Brie’s own freewheeling college years? That she’d turn her sexual disaster into a comic bit is hilarious, that it happened in the first place is close to brilliant.
What makes Brie fantastic is her unique knack for being smart, sexy and utterly weird at the same time. She brings to mind Susan Sarandon’s Janet Weiss — a woman who’s one part uppity priss, one part wanton sexpot. Few performers of either gender could get away with her commitment to playing both parts so convincingly — and be so wickedly funny while doing it. And though she may not get awards for it, there’s nobody else out there so beautifully comfortable being uncomfortable.
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.