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Performer Of The Year - Readers' Choice Most Outstanding Performer of 2019 - Oliver Stark (TIED)



The article was written by Ellys Cartin and Beth Whitley. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

From the minute he was introduced on 9-1-1 restarting a heart, his smile lighting up his whole face when he succeeded, Evan "Buck" Buckley (Oliver Stark) has lived rent-free in our hearts. He is one of TV’s most beloved characters, and that love just keeps growing. It’s no wonder that Season Two built to the agonizing, glorious moment that Bobby (Peter Krause) walks out unprotected to face a serial bomber, because Buck is semi-crushed under a firetruck nearby. Though Buck survived his injuries, his future was left very much up in the air, and viewers were left on the edge of their seats. Stark, who portrays Buck, has often spoken in interviews about what it means to play a character whose entire heart is tied up in being able to protect and rescue others alongside his team. The third season puts everything Buck cares about at risk, which in turn permitted Stark to deliver episode after episode of stellar performances that achieved what is increasingly impossible in the crowded TV landscape: making us even more invested in Buck and 9-1-1 than we were before. For those at times inspiring and heart-breaking performances Oliver Stark was selected as one of the two SpoilerTV Readers’ Choice Performers of the Year for 2019. This article will look at some of his most memorable moments of the past year.

The third season of 9-1-1 draws on the bond between Bobby and Buck to create an emotionally fraught conflict that raises the stakes for not only their friendship but also their very survival. Stark takes Buck through hell and literal high water as the entire foundation of his life is jeopardized. Fittingly enough, this battle begins in Kids Todaywith Buck standing in front of Bobby at Buck’s return party. In a heartfelt moment, Buck thanks Bobby for supporting him through his recovery. Stark plays this scene with overwhelming relief and gratitude generating from Buck who is seeing himself finally reaching the end of a long, dark tunnel. This celebration is snatched away when Buck can’t stop coughing blood, and his startled eyes lock with Bobby’s before Buck collapses. Later, it’s Bobby who delivers the news to Buck that he can return to work, but he will be put on light duty. Stark has seconds to deliver Buck’s reaction. He stares back at Bobby with disbelief and hurt in his eyes, protesting as soon as he can form the words. Under those emotions, you see his anger at being doubted, at being benched. His reaction forms a sharp contrast to the Buck seen moments earlier, the one contentedly walking alongside Bobby and sharing the details of his condition. Towards the end of his conversation with Bobby, Buck looks at his captain with indignation, but his eyes briefly plead for some indication that this can be changed, a door that Bobby stoically refuses to open. The lack of response shuts off most of the fight in Buck, and Stark lets you watch the betrayal etch its way across his face.

Acting is a multifaceted art, often it will call on the actor to not only wow us with their words, but also sheer physicality if the story calls for it. InSink or Swim, Stark’s Buck was fighting for his and Christopher (Gavin McHugh)’s lives as the unforgiving tsunami tried to swallow them both; And thanks to his flawless portrayal of survival in an impossible situation, every bit of Buck’s struggle was realistic as he fought to hoist Christopher, other survivors and himself onto temporary safety. As soon as Chris and Buck were perched on that fire truck, we were gifted with a tender moment between the two and it showcased the beautiful dynamic Stark and McHugh have formed. Oliver’s portrayal of Buck’s wonderment at how resilient Christopher is despite everything he’s faced showed the pure beauty that rests in the chemistry of these two gifted actors. That is what makes him truly special at his craft because in a chaotic storyline like this one he can pull at your heartstrings and give you a beat to take in the tender moments so as not to forget they happened despite the nail-biting action. As the episode draws to a close, we once again have our hearts ripped out thanks to Buck’s desperate and painful screams for a now lost Christopher, and here we go again. Stark will take us on Buck’s physical and emotional journey as only he can.

Even though it’s apparent that the conclusion to Season Three’s incredible tsunami arc must hinge on Buck discovering Christopher’s fate, the show doesn’t waste the opportunity to let Stark put his character through another terrifying wringer in The Searchers. He slowly makes his way through the emergency medical tents, oblivious to the dirt and bloody cuts on his own body, exhausted determination in his eyes. When Buck finally does encounter someone with a list of survivors, Stark identifies Christopher one word at a time, as if he can’t bear to describe him all at once and risk the nurse immediately not recognizing the description. The nurse suggests he check the morgue tent next. For several seconds, Stark doesn’t move. Buck hasn’t stopped moving ever since he lost Christopher, but now he is completely still. When he does turn towards the morgue, his movements are almost imperceptible in their slowness. The light dims in his eyes, the very flicker of hope itself is nearly extinguished. Stark composes himself with a shudder, a firm clamp of his jaw, and we see Buck limping towards the other tent, committed to seeing this search through. A scene later, however, Buck hasn’t found Christopher, and he comes face-to-face with Christopher’s father Eddie (Ryan Guzman) instead. Who can ever forget the absolute gut-punch of Stark carefully removing the glasses from around his neck, his voice and our hearts breaking into a million pieces, as he tells his best friend the very worst has happened. The reveal that Christopher is alive doesn’t take away from the intensity Stark’s anguished performance at this moment, which is immediately followed by Buck collapsing into the arms of the rest of his Station 118 family.

Buck’s brush with death and loss motivates him to accept the offer of light-duty and return to work in Triggers. Watching his teammates rush into danger to save lives without him proves to be harder than he could have imagined. In one poignant scene, Buck is left standing alone, as the rest of Station 118 speeds away on the trucks and ambulance. Stark’s face is in focus for just a moment, but we see Buck’s unmistakable frustration in the tension on his face and the rigid posture of his body. The image Stark creates here suggests a defiance that Buck doesn’t have the words for just yet. He finds those words after he finds betrayal in the last place he expects: Bobby’s dinner table. Buck is sharing his hopes for Station 118 supporting his return, and Bobby reveals he is the one preventing Buck’s return. Stark makes sure we absorb every bit of the blow along with Buck. He is frozen at first; as he was gesturing with his hands before Bobby interrupted, he keeps his hands there in midair. He looks quickly towards Athena (Angela Bassett) to see if her face will confirm that Buck just misheard what Bobby said. As Bobby and Athena attempt to resume the normal flow of conversation, Stark almost moves in slow motion, with Buck carefully enunciating each word of his subsequent question. The shock dissolves into pain, and Stark lets the unseen wound color everything Buck says next: his belief Bobby was his friend and his difficulty reckoning with this lie. Later, in the scene where Buck serves Bobby with the lawsuit papers, he draws an extra breath before explaining that he is suing Bobby too. Stark leaves no doubt that this action will take a toll on Buck.

Rage opens with one of the most unforgettable Buck scenes of the season. Proceeding with his lawsuit, Buck attends arbitration meetings with his lawyer. In these meetings, his Station 118 teammates and Bobby are questioned, as Buck sits silently across the table from them. He doesn’t maintain eye contact with his friends at most moments, but when he does and doesn’t, it speaks volumes. When Chimney (Kenneth Choi) finishes speaking about his recovery and looks toward Buck, Stark’s lips nearly form a bittersweet smile. Stark completely turns his head downwards and stares at the floor when Chimney is asked about the stabbing she survived, quietly reminding us that it was Buck who found Chimney after that incident. When Hen (Aisha Hinds) shares her take on Buck’s medical condition, he listens with thoughtful, respectful intent. When Buck’s lawyer raises the specter of Bobby’s alcoholism, Stark has his character jolt in his seat, immediately uncomfortable and, for a fraction of a second, afraid that he might be burning bridges he can’t rebuild. Bobby’s face is placid. Buck’s is regretful. You know neither one of them will back down from their position, but in all these moments with Buck sitting across the table from his colleagues, you know these are bonds too strong for mere lawyers to break.

In Monsters, Stark takes Buck through repairing the holes in those bonds. One of the most endearing qualities that Stark lends his character is the courage of wearing his heart on his sleeve. He also demonstrates that Buck is a reflective listener, willing to hear what others have to say. In this episode, Buck asks Eddie to speak to him, even if it’s just to express anger. As Eddie explains how the ramifications of Buck’s actions could have hurt the rest of the team, Stark has Buck move towards his friend, earnestly hopeful that Eddie can understand. When Eddie calls out Buck for having a self-focused defense, Stark reflects Buck’s humility and sincerity in his quiet responses. He stands straight and tall, looks into his friend’s eyes, and confesses that his actions came from feeling angry and helpless. Eddie gives Buck forgiveness, so promptly that Buck is taken by surprise, and he can’t stop the smile that just flares across his face, the pure joy that cracks into a grin as they hug. Later, after Buck saves two lives and imperils his own in the process, Bobby rushes to the hospital to check on him. This conversation contains many intriguing layers, because Buck treats the incident as minor, although Bobby knows a hospital visit suggests otherwise. Knowing Bobby knows this, Buck makes an indirect plea for Bobby to not bench him again. He doesn’t make protests about his health. He just stands there with his hands in his pockets. And the slight lump in his throat when he tells Bobby that being a firefighter is like putting on a costume that lets him be smart and brave is immediately shared by the audience. The pride in Bobby’s voice when he tells Buck that he, too, is all those things without his uniform.

Falloutreturns to Buck’s relationship with Eddie. During a quiet dinner at his home with Christopher and Eddie, Buck shares his regrets at not supporting them the way they needed. Eddie tries to brush it off, but Buck doesn’t let him. The conviction in Stark’s voice shows the strength of how much he cares about Eddie and Christopher, and Eddie is speechless for a second. Viewers particularly adore this bond that is deeper than friendship, this mutual love and empowerment that Guzman and Stark have built between these two men who would wade through fire to save someone else or each other and who aren’t afraid of vulnerability. They seamlessly progress from Buck’s reaffirmation that he will be there for Eddie and his son going forward to jokes about keeping each other out of future trouble. Immediately afterward, Buck challenges Eddie about the latter’s recent responses to mandated counseling. Eddie becomes a little defensive, but Buck closes the gap between them, both physically and verbally, by once again reassuring Eddie that he can find a safe space by tapping into their friendship.

When the crew finds themselves managing a nuclear disaster-in-the-making, Bobby orders Eddie and Buck to leave him behind temporarily to limit their exposure to the radioactive material. In the midseason finale Christmas Spirit, Bobby manifests alarming symptoms that result in Buck interrogating his commander to see if there are any other concerns. He tries to keep it light with a quip about Marie Curie, the kind of frank irreverence that Stark inserts into any scene so naturally. He reaches to check Bobby’s head for fever, only to get swatted away by the latter who is feeling backed into a corner. The season comes full circle at this moment when Buck is the one worrying about Bobby, but in another beautiful execution that considers the growth of both characters, Buck doesn’t cover up his concern. He makes it personal. Stark delivers Buck’s next remark with complete openness on his face, nothing but genuine love and respect in his tone. Buck tells Bobby that he doesn’t know what he would do if anything happened to Bobby, so he can’t take any chances that Bobby might be concealing something about his health. It is the most rewarding callback to the season premiere and the equally excruciating and triumphant journey viewers have taken with Stark and Buck.

The ultimate decider between characters we love and beloved characters is the emotional authenticity that an actor puts into their performance. When a performer loves the character they are playing and allows that love to enrichen their work, they create what amounts to a real person. Someone who inspires, frustrates, and thrills in equal measure. There is no moment where we don’t believe Buck is the kind of person who throws himself into a flood to save a life. We feel every second of his conflict over involving his teammates in the fight for his job. Buck’s victories, whether they come in the form of a daring rescue or a forgiving hug, feel like our victories too. Oliver Stark has given us one of TV’s best characters on one of TV’s best shows, and it’s no surprise our readers voted him as one of SpoilerTV’s Readers' Choice 2019 Performers of the Year.

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