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Keeping Score

October 12, 2006 By:
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Jeffrey Tambor

"Four score and seven years ago" goes the Gettysburg Address.

Forget the seven years; four score is what John Mason (John Lithgow) and Jeffrey Pyne (Jeffrey Tambor) address these days.

And since they've already handled the first three, it's the next "20 Good Years" that interest them the most.

And they also interest NBC, which offers one for the ages Wednesday nights: A boomer or bust comedy in which Mason and Pyne decide how fast they can accelerate from 60 to 80 without burning rubber -- or burning out.

BMWs of the boomer years? Tambor's got it in gear, pairing with Lithgow as the oddest pair to be friends since Oscar discovered that F.U. was Felix's sign-off, not a kiss-off.

In a way, it's all a case of parole after "Arrested Development" for the multiply honored and saluted Tambor, who can start a new life after his much-incarcerated George Bluth Sr. of that Emmy Award-winning comedy spent more time in the can than Prince Albert.

Both Sides of the Fence
It's almost as if Tambor, a San Francisco treat of a California native son, has taken "Law & Order" as a personal order from Hollywood: He's gone from criminal accountant in "Arrested Development" to criminally shy and retiring judge in "Twenty Good Years." Cross off this judge as competition for the one he played long ago on "Hill Street Blues," however. That one was a cross-dresser.

Yet, at 60, this judge is guilty of an arrested development, too; he and John jimmy loose their inner child as they try to make the next 20 the best 20.

Score! That's what Tambor does with this part. The self-described "tummler" who was "Bar Mitzvahed at gun point" takes his best shot here. And if in real life "I think I'm a bit of an eccentric; I'm always attracted to the odd choice," he's evened the count with this character.

"This is about where I am," says the 62-year-old of his two-year-younger character.

When "The Larry Sanders Show" was recently honored at the Aspen Comedy Festival, "I looked at Hank Kingsley" -- his kingpin of a second-banana role that appealed to audiences and Emmy voters -- "and I said, well, that's [me at] 40 years old; 'Arrested' was 50 years old; and this allows me to be 60 years old. And I'm really grateful for the chance.

"But, you know, it's not about that. Most people are not doing what they're supposed to be doing," vying for victory via another chance at the gold ring.

So, Pyne pays the price and enters the ring once more: "That's really what this show is about, people trying to break out of the box."

Don't try and box Tambor in; he won't allow it. The San Francisco State University and Wayne State University grad with a master's degree from the latter's theater-arts program has mastered Broadway (Tony Award-winning revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Sly Fox") and off-Broadway; as well as TV and film, where, before he donned judge's robes, he took part in a donnybrook as an unhinged lawyer/partner to Al Pacino in " ... and Justice for All."

Just desserts ... that's what Tambor has the tam for these days. Who else but a grandfather -- and father -- of 21-month-olds would understand the importance of being earnest at pursuing 20 good years?

Does he feel his age? At 62, is he 62 mentally?

"Mentally -- well, I'm Jewish," says Tambor, which means being that age is either filled with gelt or guilt.

Nu, new zayda and daddy? "My wife" -- Kasia Ostlun, to whom he's been wed five years -- "and my child keep me very, very young. I can't believe that I'm 62; I think it's a mistake."

Make no mistake, this son of a prizefighter ("There was lore about him being known as the Jewish Heavyweight of San Francisco; he sparred with Joe Lewis") prizes every moment on and off camera.

And that might very well explain why Tambor tamps time into more than pipe dreams, and is eager himself to see if the next "Twenty Good Years" lives up to its title off-screen. 

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