TVLine's Performers of the Week: Laurie Metcalf and Stephen Colbert

A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Laurie Metcalf

THE SHOW | Getting On

THE EPISODE | “Doctor Death”

THE AIRDATE | December 14, 2014

THE PERFORMANCE | From the very first episode of Getting On, Metcalf’s self-absorbed, perpetually beleaguered Dr. Jenna James has been a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or perhaps even a psychotic break). In the show’s Season 2 finale — as her fledgling hospice program became the focus of a racketeering and anti-kickback proceeding in California Superior Court — Metcalf conveyed her character’s denial, panic, scheming and, ultimately, her acceptance of a probably grim fate, in a way that was both wickedly funny and undeniably sad.

As Dr. James first got wind of the scandal from the hopsital’s board, Metcalf physically shrank into her leather conference-room chair, nervously gulping water and trying not to let her fear show. You could see Jenna’s mind racing ahead as she hastily cobbled together excuses and reassurances about her program’s files: “They’re scattered in various locations, but I absolutely can gather those together, because really everything is actually fine!” she declared, terror percolating beneath each optimistic word.

Later, Metcalf took what might have been a nondescript moment — Dr. James leading her bewildered staff out of yet another daunting meeting with the hospital’s legal team — and made it darkly comic, as she sprint-walked back to the ward, desperate to outpace their questions but not wanting passersby to get the impression that anything unusual was happening. Behind the closed doors of her office, Metcalf gave us one last glimpse of Jenna in charge, barking out commands and assigning blame — until the hospital’s lawyers arrived in the hallway and left her whisper-screaming “we’re being thrown to the wolves!” while trying to convince her nurses to destroy incriminating files.

The scenes that followed — Jenna yanking out her hair extensions over a hospital sink and whispering “I’m not that person, I’m not Dr. Death”; Jenna being chased to the roof by Nurses Dawn and Didi for one last cathartic/resigned confrontation; and Jenna violently shaking back to life an elderly patient despite her “Do Not Resuscitate” instructions — served as additional reminders of Metcalf’s dramedy superpowers. Her HBO counterparts — Girls‘ Lena Dunham, Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus and even The Comeback‘s Lisa Kudrow may get more buzz and awards recognition, but Metcalf (along with costars Niecy Nash and Alex Borstein) is quietly doing work that’s every bit as stunning. Here’s hoping HBO recognizes that by ordering a Season 3 — and allows a wider audience to discover the brilliance of Getting On in the process.

Crouch-Colbert-Finale-1200THE PERFORMER | Stephen Colbert

THE SHOW | The Colbert Report

THE EPISODE | “Grimmy

THE AIRDATE | December 18, 2014

THE PERFORMANCE There’s a thin line between genius and insanity, and after Thursday’s final episode of The Colbert Report, it’s safe to say Colbert has one foot planted firmly on either side.

The now-former Comedy Central host had a heck of a task ahead of him this week: Not only did he have to bid farewell to the show that made him a household name, but he also had to lay to rest the very persona with which he’s charmed us all these years. Frankly, he accomplished both with flying colors.

From the death of Grimmy to the arrival of Santa Claus and a horned (I knew it!) Abraham Lincoln, Colbert sold every second of his twisted final outing with the same infectious, almost-childlike charisma he’s used to keep us hanging on his every word.

As for “Stephen Colbert,” the idea of him literally becoming immortal was a stroke of genius — kudos, writing staff! — one which no other TV newsman, real or otherwise, could pull off on his best day. In fact, it’s now hard to imagine him not circling the globe in Santa’s sleigh, stuffing truthiness into the stockings of every good little Republican girl and boy.

Additional kudos to Colbert for beginning his episode with a segment on Syria, thus tricking us into thinking his final half-hour was actually going to be about the news.

Oh, how he almost had us fooled.

OnceHONORABLE MENTION | Time and again on Once Upon a Time, Robert Carlyle’s Rumplestiltskin chose power over all else, and that predilection cost him dearly, dearie, in the winter finale. After having his bid to crush Hook’s heart halted, the Dark One faced his darkest moment when his dagger-wielding wife banished the “beast” from Storybrooke. Carlyle crushed our hearts with his portrayal of a supreme sorcerer rendered inert, a magic addict who fell off the wagon one too many times. “Belle, please…. I’m afraid,” the all-powerful Rumple wept before being compelled across the town line, where he saw his true love vanish before him.

AffairHONORABLE MENTION | For most of The Affair‘s freshman season, viewers have been kept in the dark about what really happened to Alison’s son, Gabriel, on the day he died. We knew he was very young. We knew he drowned. And we certainly knew the toll — physical, mental and emotional — that it had taken on Alison in the years since she lost her boy. But in Sunday’s episode, Ruth Wilson gave us a heartbreaking glimpse into her memory of that day. As Alison recounted the events leading to Gabriel’s death, she unraveled slowly, and then all at once, as she realized she may have been partially responsible for the loss. “Oh, God. Why did I put him to sleep?” she sobbed to her doctor, barely able to catch her breath. In the end, it was Wilson’s portrayal of a still-grieving mother that left us breathless.

pepperHONORABLE MENTION | In “Orphans,” the winter finale of American Horror Story: Freak Show, Naomi Grossman did something more remarkable than even transform herself into Pepper: She changed our impression of the pinhead. As the carny mourned the passing of her mate, Salty (and later the nephew for whose murder she was framed), the actress sketched such a heartrending portrait of grief that it left no room to doubt the character’s capacity to not just understand love but to love, truly and deeply. The fact that Grossman was able to pull off this feat while uttering scarcely a word only makes her accomplishment that much wilder.

What performances rocked your TV set this week? Sound off below!

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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33 Comments
  1. Daniel says:

    Oh come on, did you guys even see The 100? So many heartbreaking scenes there.

  2. dax says:

    Naomi Grossman herself as Pepper in this episode! I do love when an actor’s expressions are SO powerful that the words seem unrequired for the scene..

    • dax says:

      outdid* herself

    • Belle says:

      I know. I just wanted to give Pepper a huge hug. I loved how she took care of her b (fill in the rest) sister’s baby. She wad so cute. And how at the Asylum when she saw Elsa’s face on the cover of life. Ryan Murphy may be inconsistence with storytelling (cough cough) but when he brings out the best in actors it shines so bright. I just Normal Heart again on HBO.

  3. Et al says:

    Excellent choices this week! All of them!

  4. Liza says:

    Yes, Stephen Colbert! What an excellent choice.

  5. elsa says:

    robert carlyle was – again – amazing. such a masterclass actor

  6. Tran says:

    IN COLBERT WE TRUST

  7. dref22 says:

    Getting On and its cast are finally getting some recognition! The Comeback and Getting On are the best sitcoms nowadays.

  8. Eliza says:

    Yup, agree, Laurie Metcalf and Ruth Wilson gave amazing performances. They’re very deserving. Same for Stephen Colbert! I do not watch the other two shows so cannot comment on them.

  9. HAP says:

    Does anyone have an idea as to how Colbert was able to get so many people of note to show up in the same place at the same time? I was astounded by it.

  10. Michelle says:

    Definitely Robert Carlyle’s performance. He’s always amazing but that scene was just so heartbreaking. Emilie de Ravin was right there with him with an amazing performance. The two of them really knocked it out of the park.

  11. Ray says:

    Glad Laurie Metcalfe was recognized for her amazing work in Getting On. She’s absolutely brilliant in the role! Niecy Nash and Alex Borstein also deserve high praise for their respective portrayals. Getting On is such a little gem on HBO. I really hope it’s renewed for additional seasons.

  12. mommaknowsbest77 says:

    Sorry, but have to mention Sean Murray’s performance on NCIS this week, saying good-bye to his father. His best work, by far.

  13. Alyse says:

    Eliza Taylor was amazing in the mid season finale of the 100. Especially the ending scene.

  14. Wendy says:

    Naomi Grossman broke my heart.

  15. Angela says:

    Stephen Colbert. YES. Excellent choice. I would say more, but you pretty much summed up his awesomeness perfectly :).

  16. It’s unfortunate that so many people pass over The 100, because it is perceived as a teeny bopper show skating by on good looks *ehem*TVD*ehem* on CW. It’s actually a serious “the stakes are real” science fiction show.

    It’s been really hard to like Clarke (Eliza Taylor) because she is the goody two shoes square “guy” on the show. But in the midseason finale, we see how difficult it is to portray her character. The weight of the world is on her shoulders and the uphill climb is not yet over.

    I really liked Finn’s line, “thanks, princess.” So sad.

  17. Fairy says:

    Name Grossman tore my heart out. She’s truly brilliant. I cried just watching her grieve. I can never watch this episode again, it was so heartbreakingly rendered, so genuine in its impact. Mare was part of that by being her counterpoint, but Naomi is brilliant.

    • Lou says:

      Yes, both Naomi and Mare were phenomenal in this tale of two sisters, one ugly on the outside, the other ugly on the inside.

  18. S. says:

    Two performers of the week and two honorable mentions, none of them Craig Ferguson? I was more moved by the loss of Craig from late night than anything the others above might’ve done save Colbert. Craig and Stephen are the performers of the week to me. Sure Colbert is playing “Stephen Colbert” and maybe that’s what you mean, but eh. Both these guys played with convention in their respective shows. I’m still in denial that I can’t tune into The Colbert Report or The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Craig’s improvised wit was unmatched and he deserves credit for that.

  19. Tom says:

    ” one which no other TV newsman, real or otherwise, could pull off on his best day.”

    Brian Williams could. I think he might actually be immortal. Now I want to start ‘Brian Williams facts’ akin to Chuck Norris facts.

    Also, Tricia Helfer and/or dude who played Stokes should have gotten honorable mentions for the third episode of Ascension.

  20. AnnieM says:

    I would very much like to see Naomi Grossman play a role looking herself on AHS.

  21. Jenna says:

    Naomi was by far the stand out for me this week. I was sobbing uncontrollably during the episode and for a good 10 minutes after it finished! Phenomenal performance.

  22. Michelle Clapp says:

    Naomi Grossman, hands down I am still “vaclempt.”

  23. Carlos Alvarez says:

    Naomi Grossman as Pepper had me in tears by the end of the episode. She conveyed so much emotion without any words.

  24. dman6015 says:

    What, no love for Craig Ferguson? Heartfelt goodbyes, a star-studded ‘Bang Your Drum’ musical number, followed by his own swan song, Bob Newhart as Secretariat, and then the homage-filled bit with Drew Carey. Come on!

  25. Jean White says:

    Fabulous show, getting on, ranks right up there with shameless! And if u have ever dealt with family in nursing facilities, a very dark sense of humor geriatricly speaking. June squibbs guest appearance, out did Nebraska!