TVLine's Performer of the Week: Playing House's Keegan-Michael Key

Keegan-Michael Key Playing House

THE PERFORMER | Keegan-Michael Key

THE SHOW | Playing House

THE EPISODE | “Knotty Pine” (Aug. 18)

THE PERFORMANCE | When you think of USA Network’s Jessica St. Clair-Lennon Parham comedy, a few choice phrases might instantly come to mind — “totes kewl” and “body be bangin'” among them. “Heartbreaking dramatic performances,” however, might not be included on the list. That is, until we saw Keegan-Michael Key’s work in Tuesday’s episode.

Throughout the half-hour — in which woodworking instructor Buck Finch (played by Rob Riggle) attempted to seduce Lindsay Sloane’s Tina away from Key’s Mark — there were ample warning signs that Mark’s marriage to Bird Bones might be in danger. But even then, as Mark obsessed over Pinebrook’s vandalism problem and hid away in his man-cave instead of talking to his wife, Key brought his signature brand of levity to a situation that seemed like no laughing matter.

It wasn’t until the final act of the episode, when Mark spotted Tina locking lips with Buck, that Key allowed his character’s months-long marital frustration to come to the surface. What began as anger — “All I ever do is pay attention to you!” — quickly morphed into something much softer and sadder, as Mark tearfully admitted his marriage to Tina was “just so much work.” No matter how incompatible Mark and Tina have seemed throughout the last season and a half, Key did a spectacular job of making us wish this weren’t the end for the mismatched pair.

With four episodes remaining in Playing House‘s sophomore run, and a divorce just around the corner for Mark, we’re confident that Key will be given even meatier material in the weeks ahead — and we can’t wait to see what he does with it.

chasing-life-potwHONORABLE MENTION | Thanks to consistently honest, visceral performances from Italia Ricci, Chasing Life is gunning to become the new Parenthood — that one drama guaranteed to make you weep at least once a week. And this Monday’s episode was unquestionably the most devastating to date. April’s discovery that Leo had died suddenly in his sleep (“Life is short, so let’s have dessert for breakfast!”) played out in real time over the final minute, though it felt like an eternity had passed once 7:49 finally changed to 7:50 on Leo’s bedside clock. The only thing more haunting than the image of Leo drained of life was Ricci’s portrayal of a woman whose entire universe was falling to pieces around her. Those 60 seconds might have only been a taste of the gut-wrenching material Ricci has in store for us as we near the finale, but considering the gravity of the moment, it’s also probably all that we could handle at the time.

HONORABLE MENTION | It’s a testament POTW_HaveHaveNotsto the strength of Crystal Fox’s work as Hanna on Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots that, although her character is the soap’s moral compass, she’s never for an instant overshadowed by the show’s flashy bitches. Take, for instance, this week’s episode, “A Home for Q.” Amoral Candace seethed spectacularly upon learning that her mother was trying to keep her from her son, yet Hanna didn’t blink. Instead, she alternated between pleading with her daughter to put the boy’s needs first and attacking her sketchy-at-best lifestyle — and, every step of the way, Fox put the “right” in “righteous.”

HONORABLE MENTION | Typically,Murder in the FirstMurder in the First‘s Kathleen Robertson puts up a fierce front, as SFPD Homicide Inspector Hildy Mulligan. But now and again, that facade cracks, as it did when she learned that her brother’s sins extended far beyond adultery. First hearing from Terry that Junior runs girls out of a strip club, Robertson registered Hildy’s (measured) disbelief. Then after Junior copped to his illegal acts, the actress allowed the heartbreak of a sister to surface, especially once he acknowledged, plainly, “This is me.” While holding back tears, Hildy responded, “Prostitutes? You’re a scumbag,” her last shred of faith in her kin perhaps crumbled once and for all.

Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!