Jay Duplass (‘Transparent’): ‘Mee-Maw’ could be Emmy-winning episode

After receiving acclaim and two Independent Spirit Award nominations as a producer, writer and director of feature films, Jay Duplass deserves additional recognition for his performance as Josh Pfefferman in season two of “Transparent.” His work has already earned him a Critics’ Choice Award bid for Best Comedy Supporting Actor. If he can get the corresponding nomination at the Emmys he could win: he has a powerful episode to submit in “Mee-Maw.”

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After dealing with his father’s gender transition from Mort to Maura in season one, season two finds Josh struggling on two fronts.  He is expecting a baby with his girlfriend, Raquel (the stellar Kathryn Hahn), while attempting to forge a relationship with his recently discovered biological son, Colton (Alex MacNicoll).  Both stories build to a climax in the season’s fifth episode, “Mee-Maw,” which critic Rachel Syme (New York Times) called “one of the season’s most moving.”

The episode centers around a visit from Colton’s conservative adoptive parents. Josh is desperate to make a good impression, but despite their initial cordiality, tensions boil over after Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) reveals that she knew about Colton’s existence all along and bribed Colton’s adoptive parents to keep his paternity a secret. Josh ultimately allows Colton to return to the family he knows rather than allow the tension to impact Raquel and their unborn child.

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The episode is a great showcase for Duplass, giving him moments of range, sympathy and impact — all key ingredients of a winning Emmy submission. We see Josh’s heartbreak, first when he discovers his parents’ deception and later as he watches Colton leave with his adoptive family. In-between, he gets an explosive, impactful scene where he argues with Raquel about how different his life would have been had he known about his son. Duplass manages to convey anger, hurt and confusion as his character struggles to avoid making another mistake. Writing in Hitfix, Alan Sepinwall called Duplass’s performance “dynamite.”

Working against Duplass is the fact that the episode lacks the kinds of broad laughs that have distinguished the reels of previous Comedy Supporting Actor winners like Ty Burrell and Eric Stonestreet (“Modern Family”). However, Emmy voters have shown a willingness to reward dramatic performances in comedy. Just last year, Tony Hale (“Veep”) won this category last year with a somewhat dramatic submission, and Duplass’s co-star Tambor triumphed in the Best Comedy Actor race with a similarly serious episode.

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