Emmy episode analysis: Bradley Whitford changes perceptions in ‘Transparent’

Emmy Bradley Whitford Transparent Jeffrey Tambor Amazon 13579086

Fourteen years after winning the second of his three consecutive Best Drama Supporting Actor bids for “The West Wing,” Bradley Whitford could claim an Emmy bookend with his Best Comedy Guest Actor nominations for “Transparent”. On the Amazon dramedy, Whitford plays Mark “Marcy” May, a closet transvestite who confides in transgendered Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor). He has already won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for the role.

Click here to see the updated list of all 2015 Emmy episode submissions

Whitford has submitted the episode “Best New Girl”, in which Marcy sneaks off with Maura to a cross-dressing camp, where they clash over definitions of gender while sexual tension simmers. Will this be the performance that reaps him his second Emmy?

Let’s weigh the pros and cons. 

“Best New Girl” is set 20 years before the rest of the first season. This gives Whitford greater prominence, as three of the five series regulars are limited to a silent cameo, if that.

A new voting system places less emphasis on submitted episodes, so Whitford may benefit from being in the most popular series, as “Transparent” leads all comedies, with 11 nominations.

Whitford is the only comedy guest and the only guest actor this year to be nominated at both Critics’ Choice and the Emmys. Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black) was the only comedy guest nominated by both groups last year and she won both awards.

After seven years of awarding recurring performances in the guest categories, the academy cracked down to disqualify “guest” performances if they appeared in at least half of the season’s episodes. Whitford was just an episode shy of this, setting him apart from his competitors who were nominated for one-off performances (Mel Brooks, Louis C.K., Paul Giamatti, Bill Hader) or only appeared near the end of the season (Jon Hamm).

The Emmys like performances that defy traditional definitions of gender, having recently awarded the likes of Uzo Aduba, Dan Bucatinsky (“Scandal”), Eric Stonestreet (“Modern Family”), Michael Douglas (“Behind the Candelabra”). “Best New Girl” notably features a scene in which Mark — wearing a wig and dress — tells his son on the telephone to man up.

Whitford is giving a dramatic performance in what is arguably a drama. This has repeatedly proved to be a losing formula for comedy categories in recent years. The last dramatic performance in a dramedy to win was lead actress Edie Falco (“Nurse Jackie”) in 2010.

He is playing against type and Marcy does get drunk in the episode, but this is not the bombastic type of performance that the Emmys typically award, especially in the comedy categories lately.

Whereas competitors like Brooks, C.K. and Hader have episodes built around their guest appearances, Marcy is very much a supporting character in Maura’s story. This is demonstrated even in the episode’s climactic montage in which Maura dances in something of a breakthrough for her character growth, while Marcy merely looks on solemnly with disdain.

Bradley Whitford on facing ‘acting mid-life crisis’ on ‘Transparent’ and ‘Happyish’ 

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Photo: Bradley Whitford in “Transparent” Credit: Amazon

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