TVLine's Performer of the Week: Transparent's Jeffrey Tambor

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A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Jeffrey Tambor

THE SHOW | Transparent

THE EPISODE | “The Letting Go”

THE AIRDATE | September 26, 2014

THE PERFORMANCE | Transcendent. Transformative. Transfixing.

Those are just few of the adjectives that spring to mind watching Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development, The Larry Sanders Show) completely disappear into the role of Transparent‘s Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman coming to terms with her identity after 70 years of living as a man (and fathering three children in the process).

RELATED Jeffrey Tambor: Amazon’s Transparent Is Part of a Civil-Rights ‘Revolution’ (and Funny, Too)

Episode 2 of the series opens with Maura (whose gender transition remains a secret to her family) arriving home and dressed in women’s clothing — only to find her married adult daughter Sarah (the equally remarkable Amy Landecker) and ex-girlfriend Tammy (Melora Hardin) are using her bedroom for an illicit makeout session. As the shockwaves of Maura and Tammy’s discoveries settle in, Tambor makes completely believable and utterly hilarious the way Maura almost unconsciously settles into nonchalant parent mode. “It’s been a while,” she says to Tammy. “How’s mom and dad?”

With Sarah struggling to comprehend what she’s seeing, though, Maura sits her down on the bed and begins a heartbreaking confession of a life lived in the wrong body, in an era where being her authentic self had never been an option. When Sarah briefly interrupts, Maura erupts with exasperation — “Please, God, let me do this!” — and you can feel the urgency to finally share her story and the panic setting in that she might lose the courage to do so. At first, Sarah wonders if her dad is going to “dress up like a lady all the time.” Tambor’s rueful laugh betrays Maura’s seven decades of hiding in the shadows. “My whole life I’ve been dressing up like a man,” she replies. “This is me.”

Maura’s fledgling freedom is juxtaposed beautifully with almost wordless flashbacks to her life in 1989 — when she was living as a male political-science professor who could only acknowledge growing feelings of gender confusion in a darkened office after hours. Watching Tambor gently thumb a brightly colored silk blouse, and then later, slip it back into a shopping bag and discard it in a hallway trashcan, you can feel the loneliness of a human being acutely aware that no one will be able to comprehend the truth of her life story.

Maura, of course, is only at the start of her journey in Transparent‘s first season, and Tambor imbues her with a sometimes awkward physical presence — as if she’s finally found her correct skin but can barely believe she’s been allowed to slip into it. Watching her try on sunglasses and sit at the vanity of Davina, a friend from her transgender support group, however, there’s also a certain radiance about her. Tambor’s latest character may be a late bloomer, but oh how magnificently she’s blooming.

POTW1HONORABLE MENTION | For two seasons, we’ve watched as time and again Masters of Sex’s unhappy housewife, Libby, vanished into the background of her marriage and, unwittingly, her spouse’s affair. So when, in a moment of breathtaking self-awareness, she confessed to co-worker Robert not only why she had become invisible but what a thrill it was that he saw her — even if he didn’t like what he saw — it felt almost as cathartic to us as to her. This was the scene we’d been waiting for — and probably Libby’s portrayer, Caitlin FitzGerald, too, because she didn’t so much perform Amy Lippman’s beautiful, brutal monologue as inhabit it. Wow. Just wow.

POTW2HONORABLE MENTION | Once we got over The Good Wife‘s latest shocking twist – Cary’s in jail! – we were left with another unbelievable sight, courtesy of Matt Czuchry: a scared, confused man where there was once a confident, take-charge lawyer. The pit in our stomachs only grew larger throughout the hour as the situation grew worse, the actor’s performance bringing home the fear and helplessness that Cary was feeling in his dangerous new surroundings. (Oh, my God, they cut him!) When Kalinda came to visit her friend-with-bennies in jail, Czuchry’s surprised, tearful stare — did you notice how he had to blink away the oncoming waterworks? — said it all: All hope is not lost.

What performances rocked your TV set this week? Sound off below and let us know!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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27 Comments
  1. Steven says:

    Great call on Matt Czuchry. He’s been underused way too often on this show so i’m glad he’s getting some meatier material even if poor Cary doesn’t deserve it.

    • Rebecca says:

      I agree!! He was amazing! I was so impressed. I hope he keeps it up all season.

    • DW says:

      Agree completely with you. Czuchry has been under-appreciated for years. This past episode showed his tremendous talent. It felt like the episode lasted about 10 minutes because it was so engrossing. Really pulling for Cary now more than ever. What a great job by Czuchry here. Go Cary!

    • cannoir says:

      not worse than the throwaway Lawyers chicas he’d been boning for 3 seasons before he became a spare wheel.

  2. a says:

    david boreanaz – bones : he frakking owned that premier ep from start to finish…so so good

  3. Bellamy Young was outstanding in the season premiere of “Scandal.” She made me laugh out loud at her one-liners, and also made my heart ache for her at the same time.

  4. LAwoman says:

    I so agree about Caitlin FitzGerald!

  5. Alex says:

    Hayden Penettiere was amazing on Nashville!

  6. Iain De Caestecker broke my heart this week. He did a phenomenal job.

  7. Tom says:

    I second the Bellamy Young choice. This week was one of the hardest weeks, I think, for the performer of the week because there are so many that come to mind. I loved Bellamy, though. She says everything with her eyes. It was a gorgeous performance.

  8. Cookely says:

    I got to go with Matt Czuchry. I’m terrified!

  9. HAP says:

    Since none of the comments above mentioned Tambor, I assume none of these folks use Amazon Prime. I’d like to quote Hank Kingsley. “Hey Now!”

  10. Lucy says:

    Matt (Czuchry) made me feel so bad for his character and so good for him as actor. They’ve jailed his character but have finally released his talent. I hope that was just a taste of what they’ve in store for him that season.

  11. Amanda says:

    Emily Rose on Haven. Mara’s so deliciously snarky and b!tchy that I almost don’t want Audrey to come back.

    Almost. Lol

    • I agree. She’s done a wonderful job of playing both parts. They are so different, and her use of little mannerisms make her fascinating. It is a shame that Sci-Fi shows don’t get the acting respect they deserve!

  12. E. says:

    Tambor is a fantastic choice. He’s perfect in the role. What a gorgeously written show–funny, dark, warm, and real all at the same time. I started watching the episodes yesterday and am already on number 7! So addictive.

  13. Hayden Panettiere delivered an amazing performance this week on Nashville. Juliette’s scenes in the premiere were heartbreaking.

  14. Matt says:

    I am loving Transparent. I was binge watching it all day when I should’ve been sleeping because I work overnight, but anyway. Tambor’s performance is wonderful. I find myself wanting more scenes with him. I’m more interested in Maura’s story than I am anyone else’s.

    Also, I really can’t stand Tammy. Idk if I dislike the actress playing her or how she is playing her. The mannerisms seem very stereotypical lesbian to me and for a shoe like this I feel like she should be less stereotypical.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the butch side. That’s not the problem. The way she moves her head and says things like, “thanks man,” with only half her fingers in her pocket are what get me.

    But again, Tambor is amazing. He is the reason I watched past episode two.

    More Judith light though!

    • Eric says:

      Agree about this being addicting! I started on Friday night and burned through have the season. I finished the rest on Saturday. Tambor is amazing, as always. Judith Light in unrecognizable in her part… she’s brilliant… and hysterical!

  15. Edward says:

    I understand all three choice especially Matt Czuchry.There were so many outstanding performances this week.But I can’t help but feel like VIola Davis deserved some recognition even if it’s just an honorable mention. She delivered in that pilot , kind of opened my eyes and made me realize fall has arrived. I don’t know if this is in TVLINE’s radar but this episode of Please like me with Josh Thomas and Debra Lawrence was divine.

  16. Rand says:

    Viola Davis in How To Get Away With Murder, she’s such a HBIC!
    And Iain De Caestecker in Agents of SHIELD.
    And Bellamy Young is always always fun to watch. Either drunk, scheming, evil, and now crazy.

  17. Olya says:

    Iain de Caestecker from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That kid is going places.

  18. shamangrrl says:

    I haven’t watched the whole season of Transparent yet (I’m not much for binge watching), but Tambor has me transfixed. He’s doing an incredible job as Maura/Mort, and I am so glad that this show was picked up by Amazon. While I love Amy Landecker as well, I have to mention Gaby Hoffman. I’m finding her arc to be incredibly disturbing – and she’s doing a incredible job as a lost soul.