Emmy episode analysis: Jeffrey Tambor (‘Transparent’) answers a trans woman’s desperate call for help in ‘Elizah’

Jeffrey Tambor has won the Emmy for Best Comedy Actor for the last two years and is nominated once again for his role as Maura Pfefferman in Amazon’s “Transparent.” If he wins again this year, he will be the first actor to win in three consecutive years since Michael J. Fox (“Family Ties”) dominated the category from 1985 to 1987. Tambor has submitted the third season’s premiere episode “Elizah” to Emmy voters.

In “Elizah,” Maura reveals that even though she has found love and happiness, there is still something missing in her life. At a local LGBT crisis center where she has been volunteering, she answers a phone call from desperate trans woman named Elizah (Alexandra Grey), who says she is on the verge of taking her own life. After fumbling for the right words, Maura gets Elizah to breathe, but a distraught Elizah hangs up the phone.

Haunted by the call, Maura decides that she needs to find Elizah, tracking her down to a local clinic and then to a busy swap meet. As she looks for Elizah, Maura encounters a group of trans women only to unintentionally insult them by insinuating that they are “from the streets.” Eventually, an overwhelmed Maura stops for a refreshment, only to realize that she is without her purse and cannot pay. Suddenly she sees Elizah and rushes out to meet her. After she is stopped by security for failing to pay for her drink, Maura collapses and is rushed to a local hospital.

Will “Elizah” bring Tambor his third consecutive Emmy win? Let’s examine the pros and cons of his submission.


The submission is a tour de force for Tambor, who is on screen for virtually the entire episode. That amount of screentime combined with the episode’s subject matter provides Tambor with one Emmy-worthy scene after another. We see Maura’s desperation during her initial phone call with Elizah, and Tambor’s face is haunting as Maura listens to this young woman’s pain. We also get moments of awkwardness as Maura fumbles in her interactions with a group of young trans women. The episode ends with an emotional one-two punch as Maura comes face to face with Elizah, a moment of relief that is shattered by Maura’s medical emergency. With Tambor’s performance at the center of the episode, it is a textbook example of a leading performance.

There is a certain prescience to this episode regarding the challenges of trans people in today’s America, particularly given Donald Trump‘s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military. When you take into account the Emmy love showered on “Veep” and “Saturday Night Live” in this year’s nominations, it seems as if Emmy voters are dying to make a political statement this year, and what better way to do that than to once again honor this particular performance?

The Emmys love repeat winners, particularly in the Comedy Actor category. An impressive total of eight actors — including Carroll O’Connor (“All in the Family”), Don Adams (“Get Smart”), Dick Van Dyke (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”), and Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) — have earned three or more wins in this race. The respect for Tambor among his peers makes him the ideal candidate to join this distinguished list.


Even though Tambor has won before with submissions that were more dramatic than his funny-man rivals, this episode may simply be too dramatic for some Emmy voters judging this category, who may look elsewhere for a performance with broader humor.

“Transparent” saw its nominations total dwindle this year, earning seven (down from 10 last year) and missing out on noms for Best Comedy Series as well as writing and directing. It is possible that Emmy voters have moved on from the show and may choose to reward one of his competitors, all of whom have yet to win in this category.

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