TVLine's Performer of the Week: Jussie Smollett

A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Jussie Smollett

THE SHOW | Empire

THE EPISODE |Die But Once/Who I Am (March 18, 2015)

THE PERFORMANCE | Empire‘s two-hour Season 1 finale was a whirlwind of OMG plot twists — murder! arrests! hookups! catfights! — but it was Jussie Smollett’s transformation of middle son Jamal from sensitive R&B singer to hard-charging heir to his father’s crown that truly took our breath away.

The fireworks began as Jamal returned with his homophobic father Lucious to the Philadelphia apartment where he’d spent so much of his tortured childhood. Ignoring Lucious’ cheap taunts — “You want me to throw your ass in the trashcan again?” — Smollett kept Jamal steely, with just a glint of pride in his eyes now that his father was turning to him for help in conquering a crippling case of writer’s block. It’s no small task to turn the mechanics of songwriting into explosive drama, but that’s exactly what went down as Jamal and Lucious traded words and melody to the ear-wormy “Nothing to Lose” — Smollett’s face registering the release of his character’s anger and the fresh surge of joy from finally earning his father’s respect.

Later, though, as Jamal set out to complete the final hurdle to earning his place as next-in-line to the Empire CEO position, Smollett unlocked another aspect of his character passed down from Lucious: Monstrous, take-no-prisoners ambition. Hanging rival label chief Billy Beretti (Judd Nelson) over a high-rise balcony and demanding the return of his father’s recording masters, the typically kind-hearted Jamal looked downright sociopathic, snarling to his terrified rival, “My daddy thinks I’m a killer. I think he’s right.” We’re not sure exactly how dark Jamal’s Season 2 arc might go, but Smollett’s performance this week has us excited to find out.

HONORABLE MENTION | Mindy Kaling potw_kalingwas born to play a pregnant Mindy Lahiri. As the Mindy Project protagonist’s due date approaches, Kaling excels at exploring the mindset of the increasingly unglued OB-GYN. This week, she played Mindy’s expanding waistline both for yuks (the sight gag of her trying to shimmy into too-small jeans was one to which most women can relate) and real emotion (Mindy’s lament about never being able to lose the baby weight? No joke, right ladies? The struggle is real). The best part: Throughout, it was very easy to remember that this is the same woman who once drunkenly rode a bicycle into a pool. Nicely (and zanily) played, Kaling.

HONORABLE MENTION | On Tuesday’s The Flash, POTW-flash-carlos-valdesDr. Wells (AKA Reverse-Flash) stabbed Cisco through the chest, killing him, but we were the ones who were gut-punched thanks to Carlos Valdes’ emotional performance as he confronted the man who was once his mentor. After more than half a season of stealing scenes with his funny quips, Valdes stole our hearts — and then crushed them just as Dr. Wells crushed his own. And the fact that the actor’s tears weren’t scripted only makes us even more excited to see where Valdes’ instincts will lead Cisco next.

HONORABLE MENTION | On Episodes, POTW-kathleen-rose-perkins-episodesKathleen Rose Perkins’ impeccable comedic timing has helped craft one of TV’s great supporting characters. As the self-absorbed Carol Rance, her fall from grace in Sunday’s finale was the embodiment of a beautiful disaster as she lost her girlfriend and blew up her career in one fell swoop. Perkins didn’t need words to exude Carol’s feelings amidst the downfall, letting a series of suggestive facial expressions do all the talking. The often shameless character was at her lowest of lows as she realized there was no job for her at The CW, but Perkins’ vulnerable performance showcased the actress at her best.

Which performances rocked your TV this week? Tell us in the comments!

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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32 Comments
  1. Mommaknowsbest60 says:

    I liked both Tea Leoni and Tim Daly’s performances in Madam Secretary. I hate how this show is continually overlooked by both critics and its own network!

  2. Julia B says:

    Where are the honorable mentions for Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, and Jane Lynch for the series finale of Glee? Still can’t believe that there will be no more New Directions or McKinley High.

    • Steph says:

      Exactly!

    • Dude says:

      They were outstanding but truthfully, they weren’t really acting. All those tears were real. The cameras just caught them coming to grips with the end of their series. That said, the scene where Rachel wins her Tony and thanks Will as he proudly watches from home was the most perfect Glee scene and the absolute best way to cap the series as it’s basically what the show has built towards since Rachel said to him, “being a part of something special makes you special”

      • murley says:

        One reason I found the finale so powerful is that in a way the story was just the story of the actual actors. Most of the cast were relative unknowns who found their place on that show and are now going on to their own success because of their time there. Right down, tragically, to the guy who realised his dream only to lose his life before it could be fulfilled. The scene in the choir room with Mr. Schue singing and the tears flowing and Rachel, or maybe just Lea, saying thank you, was very moving because it felt very rooted in reality. In a weird way Glee was the true story of all the people in it.

  3. Tran says:

    No love for Ryan Eggold’s performance on The Blacklist this week?

    • julia says:

      Agreed! I don’t even like his character, but he was great!! I’m glad they’re giving him screentime again.

  4. lll says:

    While everyone is entitled to their opinions, I feel that TVLine chose the wrong person. I feel like Terrence Howard or the person who plays Andre should get the performance of the week.

  5. Annie says:

    I don’t want the Empire writers to turn Jamal into someone who doesn’t have a conscience, or a person who would kill people to get what he wants, but I am excited to see what they do with his character. His season ending plot point was the most interesting thing about the finale, and opens up a lot of possibilities, since he will have his father manipulating him, and everyone else in his family plotting to take him down.

    • Ron says:

      I completely agree. I like the arc that this potentially gives his character, but I’m gonna need the writers to make sure Jamal has a come-to-Jesus kind of moment, if you will. I want him to realize that he doesn’t need to be his dad, he doesn’t need to dangle people off rooftops to achieve greatness. I’m also a little confused how he can suddenly have so much love and empathy for his father. It’s like he thinks his father finally accepts him and has his best interest at heart. Wasn’t it Jamal who just a few episodes ago said to Cookie that Lucious is incapable of loving anyone but himself? Jamal was right then, and he needs to remember that now. Lucious will do what he has to do to get what he wants, and Jamal needs to remember that.

      • Isobel says:

        I think he’s just always wanted his father’s love and pride as much as his brain knows Lucius can’t be trusted, his heart right now is ruling him and his ambition to rule Empire. Hopefully season 2’s journey for him is exploring all the facet’s of Jamal and him learning about himself but hopefully he still stays a good guy. They’ve done other characters fairly well with them doing wrong actions but still being people we can root for.

  6. I still remember when Vibe was one of the most ridiculed characters in comics. With the proper rehabilitation, any character can become a fan favorite.

  7. Chris says:

    The songwriting scene between Howard and Smollet was one of the best Empire moments all season. It was electrifying and a testament to the talent of both actors.

    • kirads09 says:

      So True. Electrifying scene. The song is fantastic. But the intensity of both the love and loathing the two men share for each other seemed to really come through to me.
      Add to that the setting of the “old house” and flashbacks — fall out of your chair moment.

  8. bj says:

    I’m happy to see an honorable mention for Carlos Valdes. His performance in that scene was gut-wrenching. I don’t watch the other 3 shows so I won’t comment on them.

  9. Carlos Alvarez Jr says:

    Carlos Valdes’ performance as Cisco was heartbreaking. I was in tears. For someone who usually portrays a comic relief his scene with Professor Wells was so good

  10. hazel says:

    Carlos Valdes killed it Tues night! His scene with the always exceptional Tom Cavenaugh was the best scene of the series this far. I can’t wait to see what he does next!

  11. CJ says:

    Tons of great performances all over the place this week. For me, Carlos Valdes and Ryan Eggold both absolutely killed it. Really fantastic stuff.

  12. LAwoman says:

    Kathleen Rose Perkins is hilarious. We just love her and Episodes.

    • HAP says:

      She has the lead role in a theatrical movie titled The Better Half, coming out later this year. She plays two parts. I think it’s a shame that Episodes only has 9 episodes per season.

  13. Beth says:

    Gooo Mindy!!

  14. Roberta says:

    How do you consistently ignore Justified. Best show on TV right now and this final 😢😢 season is on fire. I’ve never seen a show come close to the amazing writing and acting. Timothy Olyphant and Walter Goggins have a screen presence like no other. I will miss this show a lot. Raylan, Boyd and Ava, thanks for the wild, magic, hysterical ride.

    • S McMary says:

      To be fair, I think that TVLine has been fairly magnanimous in their praise for Justified. I know Walton Goggins got an Honorable Mention a few weeks ago and that Joelle Carter was Performer of the Week last month so I think to say they’ve consistently ignored this program isn’t entirely accurate.

    • matt says:

      Justified is really amping it up this year. Sam Elliott is great as Avery Markham.

  15. Nick says:

    I don’t watch Empire or Episodes, but I have to say you’re dead on about Carlos Valdes. I could’ve done with some love for Ryan Eggold, or frankly even James Spader, who should be a consistent contender for this award.

  16. Kat says:

    I’d like to add Ryan Hurst was pretty great on Bates Motel this week. Hope we get to see more of him on the show. Nice mini SOA reunion with him and Kenny Johnson in the scenes together.

  17. Ginger Snap says:

    Sorry, but Empire is just really bad soap opera.

    Every character is so plastic and more like a caricature. Totally unbelievable.

  18. zarah says:

    That is minor what I could Call that but hey it not me right

  19. Allee says:

    Great Mindy performance, but she’s had a lot lately. The Christmas episode and one about a month ago, when she her character was dealing with morning sickness and her controlling boyfriend’s insistence that she eat healthier were even more tour-de-force. Nice to see her finally get the recognition she deserves.