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2001 Best of TV


Last year my “Best of” list focused on those tv actors whom I thought just weren’t getting their due. Two of those on my list, Bradley Whitford of The West Wing and Michael Emerson of The Practice, went on to win Emmys this year. So now that I know the Hollywood community is finally paying attention to me and following my lead, I’ve decided to expand my list to all aspects of tv. However, unlike many “Best of” list-makers, I didn’t create categories, such as Best Drama Series, and then pick winners for them. I picked my winners and created categories for them. So, even if my categories never make it onto an Emmy ballot, hopefully, my winners will (again).



Best performance, episodic tv: Martin Sheen, The West Wing (NBC). Many an actor has played out the scene before—angrily cursing God after the loss of a loved one. But how many have done it in Latin? And how many have so convincingly conveyed their grief with just the tone of their voice? Sheen did, and it was a stunning piece of acting. Honorable mention: Lorraine Bracco, who was finally given something interesting to do on The Sopranos (HBO).


Best performance, movie: Judy Davis and Tammy Blanchard, Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadow (CBS). There was only one Judy, there will forever only be one Judy. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Garland took possession of Davis and Blanchard during the filming of this bio-flic. How else do you explain two such dead-end impersonations in one film? Honorable mentions: Barry Pepper, as Roger Maris in 61* (HBO), and Emma Thompson, who was the soul of Wit (HBO).



Best hour of episodic tv: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Musical (UPN). Funny, creative, and possessing all the flair and drama of a Broadway musical, Buffy’s hour (and eight minutes) of song and dance was not only a joy to watch, it actually moved the series’ storyline forward and introduced some surprising plot developments.


Best half-hour of episodic tv: “Bowling,” Malcolm in the Middle (Fox). This was Malcolm’s dip into sci-fi, as viewers were treated simultaneously to alternate realities: a day at the bowling alley with Mom and a day at the bowling alley with Dad. The script was ingenious and Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston as Malcolm’s parents were hilarious, as always.


Best hour of nonfiction tv: George W. Bush’s address to Congress. Everyone who knows me will be shocked that I used “Best” and “Bush” in the same paragraph. But you’ve got to give the man his due. His speech to Congress and the nation following the terrorist attacks was eloquent, touching, and forceful all at once. In a time of national emergency, America turned to its President, and he had the words we needed to hear. Honorable mention: Okay, it was much longer than an hour, but the Sampras-Agassi match at the U. S. Open was pure magic.


Most touching episode of a series: “The Wedding,” Ally McBeal (FOX). For all the hoopla about Robert Downey, Jr.‘s appearance on Ally, the series’ best episode last season didn’t even feature him. It starred 19-year-old Josh Groban as Malcolm Wyatt, a shy and clumsy high school senior jilted by his prom date. Groban, an up and coming opera star, ended the show with a heart-tugging solo, and didn’t leave a dry eye in my house. Honorable Mention: “Life’s Too Short,” the poignant episode where punk Gabe finally acts like a human being on Six Feet Under (HBO).


Most enjoyable arts programming: Aeros (Bravo). Take twenty of Romania’s best gymnasts, three of the U.S.‘s top choreographers, and the two men who fashioned the hit group Stomp, and you end up with the most athletic display of dance since Cirque de Soleil was formed. Honorable mention: Inside the Actor’s Studio (Bravo), which is also tv’s best talk show.


Best cast addition: Meredith Eaton as Emily Resnick, Family Law (CBS). It’s amazing that a show with so much cultural diversity could produce so many homogeneous cookie-cutter characters. It took the addition of Eaton as a take-no-crap, smart-ass lawyer to finally establish a memorable character. Honorable mention: Amy Acker as Fred, the mentally fragile new resident on Angel (WB).


Best reminder of why we loved you in the first place: Mike Farrell, Providence (CBS). No matter what he does, Farrell will always be remembered as B.J. on M*A*S*H. However, his role as a recovering gunshot victim on this family drama not only showed his comedic side, but also allowed him to display his often overlooked dramatic abilities. Honorable mention: Kathy Baker, Boston Public (FOX), who showed she does have a dark and cold side.


Guest star who most needs to become a regular: Amber Benson as Tara, Buffy. She was in virtually every episode last season and several major stories centered on her character. Isn’t it time to stop listing her as a “guest star” every week? And don’t even think about writing her off of the show.


Speaking of guest stars…


Characters who most need to be brought back: Troubador Jack (Oliver MacReady) and Fighting Iris (the New York Giants’ Lawrence Taylor), Going to California (Showtime). This gay country and western harmonica player and his brawling transvestite friend were the most memorable and fun characters the show’s protagonists have yet to encounter. Honorable mention: Luke Perry, Oz (HBO). Rumor has it he will be back, but when last we saw him, he had been chained inside a wall and left to die, so who knows?


Best Music Video: “Weapon of Choice,” Fatboy Slim, directed by Spike Jonze. Three minutes and only one performer, Christopher Walken. This video showed the power of simplicity. Honorable mention: “Whenever, Wherever,” Shakira, directed by Francis Lawrence. She is everything the little girls of “Lady Marmalade” wish they were.


Worst Day of Television Ever: September 11. I never want to have to see images like that on my tv again.


And that about wraps it up. Oh sure, there were other things on television in the last year worthy of mention, but, for me, these were the things that will most likely stay with me for years to come. Or at least until the next sweeps.

Michael has been writing for PopMatters since 2000. His primary focus, aside from queer culture, is television reviews and commentary, and his article Male Bashing on TV has been reprinted in two college textbooks. He currently lives in Louisville, KY, and is a Lecturer of Communication Studies at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. As a teacher, he has an interest in the study of contemporary political rhetoric and argumentation. He and his partner Jim have been living in un-wedded bliss since 1995.


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