Performers of the Week: Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski (tie)

THE PERFORMERS | Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski

THE SHOW | Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

THE EPISODES | “Kimmy Goes to a Play!” and “Kimmy Drives a Car!”

THE PERFORMANCES | You’ve now had a full week to binge Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s second season, so unless you’re actually living in a bunker against your will — in which case, we’re not sure how you’re even reading this — you know that the Netflix comedy is bolder, weirder and funnier than ever.

The credit goes to the entire ensemble — Ellie Kemper’s titular mole-woman remains the series’ heart, while an endless parade of scene-stealing guest stars keep things weird and exciting — but Burgess and Krakowski stand apart as the true stars of Season 2. The more their characters are forced out of their comfort zones, Titus by entering his first (healthy) relationship and Jacqueline by learning to stand on her own two feet, the more the actors prove they can handle heart as well as humor.

Let’s start with Burgess, whose fearless performance throughout Kimmy‘s second season suggests that he now understands Titus even better than Titus understands himself. And while his romantic arc with Mikey is rife with material to discuss (“In the words of Sarah Bareilles…”), we’re going to focus on his oh-so-controversial one-man show, Kimono You Didn’t!: Murasaki’s Journey, in the episode “Kimmy Goes to a Play!” Not only is his facial work — excuse me, “face journey” — during that library scene the stuff of genius, but Burgess somehow inspires us to care about (and dare I say believe in?) Titus’ past lives as a dejected geisha, an openly gay slave and a doe-eyed pug. Plus, we’re total suckers for those golden pipes.

As for Krakowski, watching Jacqueline claw her way back up Manhattan’s social ladder — by any means necessary, internet cats be damned! — is proving far more satisfying than watching her live the good life was last season. And no episode illustrates Ms. White’s new normal quite like “Kimmy Drives a Car!,” in which she’s turned away from her ex-husband’s dental practice after cracking her tooth on a biscotti. From her maddening lisp and inventive use of a Mentos to her flawless delivery of nonsensical lines like “The mouth is the eyes of the lower face,” we get to see Jacqueline at her most manic, before eventually revealing her sensitive side.

And these are just a few examples from an all-around stellar season. Not only do we see more Emmy nominations in Burgess and Krakowski’s futures — both actors were up for awards last year — but we wish their competition the best of luck. They’re going to need it.

BatesHONORABLE MENTION | We’ve marveled before at Vera Farmiga’s gift for playing Norma’s underlying emotions on Bates Motel. But rarely has that talent been better served than in “The Vault.” Though she beamed as Mrs. Romero remarked that marriage to Alex made her feel “like [she was] watching a movie,” she also let us see the bride’s fear that Chick would expose her incestuous past. After Norma realized she could neither kill her blackmailer nor allow him to kill her brother, the actress layered anger over grief, challenging Chick to “break the woman in half,” then confessing to Alex herself. When he stood by her, Norma wasn’t the only one left incredulous. We were, too — by the fact that Farmiga had made us feel as scared, sad and ultimately relieved as her character.

Criminal MindsHONORABLE MENTION | There’s something about Frances Fisher that, no matter the role, you get the sense that the wheels are turning behind those blue eyes. That quality served her well on Criminal Minds, where the incarcerated Antonia Slade made sport of putting the BAU agents ill at ease. TV’s had no shortage of Hannibal Lecter homages over the years, but Fisher nonetheless found a fresh spin, whether erecting a wall of silence in front of Hotch or preying upon the hurt Reid is still nursing in the wake of Derek’s departure. (Already forsaking makeup and rocking a Flowbee ‘do, Fisher jettisoned any small semblance of vanity when she regurgitated lunch into the latter’s palm.) Add it all up and when Antonia warned that a “storm” was coming, you believed her.

unnamed-3HONORABLE MENTION | Game of Silence viewers don’t know exactly what went down years ago at the Quitman warden’s after-hours parties, but as Michael Raymond-James‘ Gil revisits that tragic part of his past, we’re beginning to dread the eventual reveal. In the aptly titled “Hurricane Gil” episode, Raymond-James underscored that his hothead is the most haunted of the three reunited childhood friends, regularly invited as he was to be a “special guest” at said parties. Though he, Jackson and Shawn had gotten a former guard to ‘fess up to past sins, Gil wanted — needed — more, so he went gunning for the warden’s abettor by himself. “I got a bullet that travelled 28 years to get here,” he warned Bobby Lee, whose subsequent confessions resurfaced old, blinding pains, until Gil broke down and lost his upper hand. Tears streaking his face, Raymond-James showed us that behind Gil’s hair-trigger ferocity resides immeasurable hurt.

Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit 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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  1. bj says:

    Francis Fisher was eerily good.

  2. Al says:

    No James Spader?

  3. Greg says:

    I actually grew annoyed with Titus this season, he was much better in small doses. The worst was when he was moping after Mikey’s family didnt give him the reaction he wanted… Barely made it through that episode.

    • Kevin H. says:

      That episode was the one I wish was highlighted here for Burgess. Titus’ whole one-act play storyline was a real low point in a season of numerous high points.

      I know Tina Fey has her issues with internet complainers but putting the blame on PoC (as the episode illustrated) is a really insensitive thing to do. I expect better from people as brilliant as Fey and Carlock.

  4. OM says:

    I loved Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge on Agents of SHIELD. Their chemistry is just so natural and unbelievably captivating, their scenes are always the best part of the show. The best performances are not always those that are extremely dramatic or over-the-top, so I thought that the scene this week where (SPOILER ALERT) they finally got together was one of the best of that kind. TV Shows love to make it seem like love is something that is followed by orchestral music and balloons (you know what I mean), but Agents of SHIELD proved that something natural, quiet and light-hearted can be good too.

  5. Daniel says:

    Seriously no James Spader?

  6. Ralph says:

    All the acting on Bates Motel is stellar. Great ensemble. Why Vera and Freddie haven’t received any Emmy love is beyond me and shameful.

    • Simon says:

      Famiga received an Emmy nom but only in Bates first season. She should be nominated every year. As for Highmore yes he not only needs a nom but also a win!!!

  7. Phun says:

    I just wanted to add the the Danvers Sisters (Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh) from Supergirl. I know they’ve been each honored with honorable mentions before but I just wanted to mention their performance in BETTER ANGELS, especially since it was the season finale.

    Kara to Alex: “He (Jerimiah Danvers) needs to know that everything good I did, it came from you being my sister”
    Alex: “You taught me Kara!”
    Kara: “I want you to have a good life! I want you to find love! Be happy! I want to you to do all the things that from being my sister kept you from doing!

    That scene at the end gets me every time I’ve seen it. (Or it must be those damn onions) LOL… They’ve shown throughout the season and in this episode that relationships are not bound by blood but by love.

  8. Kim R says:

    I guess I am not alone in thinking I was going to see James Spader here. :)

    • Kal says:

      Yes!! I was sure I’ll see him here after last episode!!! Magic!! But like always no one sees him and recognized his brilliant work!!

  9. Shaun says:

    The woman who plays Martha on The Americans,she was real good this week.

  10. Kacy says:

    Vera Farmiga is beyond amazing in Bates Motel. I find it insane that she hasn’t been recognized by the Emmys or even the Golden Globes for this! The writing on Bates Motel deserves recognition as well.

  11. Matt says:

    Nothing from the fine young actors from Underground? All were phenomenal.

    • APFW says:

      Matt, here, here! Definitely agree with your choice.

      • Not to mention the ensemble of “The Outsiders.” Damn, WGN! Your programming decisions are among the best; and I almost forgive you for cancelling “Manhattan.” Almost. But it would be hard to single out any one performance on “Underground” or “The Outsiders” because each and every one is top notch.

  12. Grace s says:

    How about Anna Maria on Mom? The scenes with Travis, and in the diner were excellent, so moving. I’m not a sitcom fan, but the acting is amazing on this show, and it’s so much more than your standard sitcom.

  13. kirads09 says:

    At least deserve Honorable Mentions:
    Spader – for that incredible Blacklist ep
    Michael McKean and Bob O for the S2 finale of Better Call Saul
    Clark Gregg and Powers Boothe for SHIELD – interrogation scenes
    Those are the performances that struck me this week.

  14. JM says:

    Thank you for recognizing Vera Farmiga this week. She was absolutely brilliant. I was on the edge of my seat the whole episode, and when Romero said. ‘Ok. Where are we going?’, I just burst into tears. She made me feel every ounce of her joy, anger, panic and pain, and I was emotionally exhausted afterward. Just give her an Emmy already!!

  15. LAwoman says:

    Vera Farmiga is so good. I want to give her awards every week! And this week, Alison Wright on The Americans was a standout.

  16. Andreia says:

    Totally agree with Michael Raymond-James, he is a great actor and when he gets good material he is able to show show good he is.

  17. Vanessa says:

    Michael Raymond- James totally deserves this. And his later scene with Bre Blair is also amazing, he was able to show anger and vulnerability in the same scene. Totally agree with someone saying, that when he gets good material he has the opportunity to shine.

  18. keenen says:

    There were no performances better than those of the young actors on Underground this week. Truly heartbreaking.

  19. HAP says:

    Why don’t the critics give some love to Kimmy herself, Ellie Kermper? Last year both Krakowski and Burgess got Emmy noms, as did the show. Nothing for Ellie.

  20. Annie Sisk says:

    Gotta agree with the “No James Spader?” comments – as much as I also love Burgess and Krakowski. That hour of Blacklist was a tour de force master class in acting for the small screen.

  21. Hazel says:

    Not even an honorable mention for Téa Leoni and Tim Daly? Really?!?

  22. Michael Raymond James was outstanding as Gil Harris in Game of Silence. So much rawness he put into the character that you were drawn into the character’s inner turmoil. That scene between MRJ and Bre Blair was very poignant. They had me in tears. Just remarkable.

  23. mc says:

    I thought we still treat the Netflix-type shows as weekly? Why do we have two episodes this week?
    Not that I don’t agree, I mean these two did solid job. I was just asking. :)

  24. Sandy Duncan's Eye on Network TV says:

    No love for Carol Kane? Lillian may not be the flashiest role on Kimmy but she more than holds her own and manages to illicit belly laughs out of her smallish role. If Ellie Kemper is the heart, then Carol Kane is the gut.

  25. Kevin says:

    I think the fact that Burgess is able to bring depth to a character that is so vain and ridiculously hilarious is the mark of a true actor. The same goes for Krakowski, they’re both terrific.

  26. mooshki says:

    Did you guys even watch Blacklist? James Spader has carried the show since it began, and this was his best work. Emmy-worthy.

  27. mollytanner says:

    The Vault should get Vera Farmiga an Emmy nomination for sure, but I thought the same thing for last season’s Norma Louise. It’s weird she only got that one nomination for the first season because she keeps upping the ante and only gets better as the show nears its inevitably horrifying conclusion.

  28. QueenB says:

    Calista as Cat Grant on Supergirl this week was exceptional. Calista brings seriousness and levity to a role that in lesser hands would be a caricature. I was never a fan of Ally McBeal but she’s an amazing actress who deserves some love. She has made Cat into a character that I actually root for! I really hope Supergirl is renewed for a second season. I also love the actor that plays Winn he’s my new Nolan Ross! He’s my new favorite dandy hacker

  29. I would enjoy TV Line’s take on “Worst Performance of the Week.” Of course, it would be repetitive during the entire run of “Mr. Selfridge”–JPiv would rack up the awards.

  30. Angela says:

    Yes to Vera and Frances being on this list. As nervous as I am for the “Criminal Minds” season finale, I’m glad she’ll be returning, ’cause her interactions with the team were so good in this week’s episode (and the whole thing with her taunting Reid…just…oh…).
    And Vera. Just…gah. Seriously, if she (and Freddie) doesn’t get an Emmy nod this year…

  31. Patrick Maloney says:

    It’s a shame that Charlie Cox keeps getting overlooked since his work in the first six episodes of Daredevil’s 2nd season has been exceptional!

  32. ember69 says:

    Anna Faris on Mom, when she lets go at Travis and then slowly comes around. Exquisite.