[16 January 2008]
It has become one of the great mysteries of television history, but all the clues are neatly laid out: the Members Only jacket, the basket of onion rings, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” Boy Scouts, Meadow’s lousy parking job… and wait, isn’t that Lee Harvey Oswald signaling a man on the grassy knoll?
For all the attention to it, The Sopranos’ non-conclusion wasn’t the only big TV story of the year. The writers’ strike has left the prospects of an original spring 2008 season as shaky as a former teen star in rehab. Marie Osmond saw her star rise again by literally dropping to the floor, American Idol produced another winner whose record no one really wants to buy, and almost every woman in America served as guest co-host on The View, including CNN’s Nancy Grace, which is akin to having a rabid pit bull guest on Barney & Friends.
Showtime turned a fat, gout-ridden king into a hunky porn star for The Tudors and for the first time in soap opera history, the most popular supercouple on a daytime drama was gay, Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silbermann) of As the World Turns. Is that the Armageddon I hear?
Yes, 2007 was a memorable year in television. However, amid the round-the-clock coverage of the Not-so-fantastic Four (Britney, Lindsey, Paris, and Nicole), you may have missed some of the best that television had to offer. So here is a look at those actors who excelled and were, for various reasons, overlooked.
This was certainly the case with Anastasia Griffith, who played Katie Connor on FX’s Damages. With Glenn Close and Ted Danson exploding in most every episode, it was easy to miss Griffith, who believably morphed from party girl to reluctant witness to vengeful victim. No matter Katie’s state of mind, in every moment Griffith made her sympathetic.
Maria Doyle Kennedy, The Tudors’ Catherine of Aragon, was equally sympathetic (and one of the few cast members who is the actual age of her character). Like Griffith, Kennedy was surrounded by histrionics, but her consistent and controlled performance revealed how devastating divorce can be, regardless of the era.
For something lighter, viewers could check out Saving Grace‘s redneck angel Earl, cleverly portrayed by Leon Rippy. He’s a moral compass with a spittoon and an AC/DC t-shirt. (Another character with a strong moral compass is 30 Rock‘s Kenneth, played by Jack McBrayer. He’s a totally believable unbelievably stupid pawn in other people’s schemes.)
Two supporting characters spent the past year unraveling other people’s schemes. James Kyson Lee, Ando on Heroes, was finally given screen time away from his more popular co-star, Masi Oka, and proved that he could carry a storyline on his own. Meanwhile, Khandi Alexander, who plays medical examiner Alexx Wood on CSI: Miami, not only has the best hair and make-up of anyone in the crime field, she also has the most loving touch. If, God forbid, I’m ever brutally murdered in Florida, I want her soothing me softly during my autopsy.
All the previously mentioned are noteworthy, but my personal favorites were the trio of Broadway greats on Pushing Daisies: Kristen Chenoweth, Swoosie Kurtz, and Ellen Greene. Please, more duets for Kristen and Ellen!
Not every actor has a whole season to make us admire his or her work. Some only get one shot, usually a guest shot. The Law & Order series usually dominate on this front, due to the high number of guest actors they employ, and this year was no exception. On Criminal Intent, the always great Rita Moreno won the crazy old coot award for her performance as Bobby’s mother in three different episodes, while Broadway star Donna Murphy won bitch-of-the-year award for her murderous politician on the “Albatross” episode. However, the star-making performance of the year was 12-year-old Paulina Gerzon on the “Savant” episode of SVU, riveting as a victim of William’s Syndrome who overhears her mother’s murder.
The usually goofy Adam Goldberg played a dying man who takes hostages after being fired in the “Joe Day Afternoon” episode of Medium, and the usually irreverent Laurie Metcalf went pious with equally good effect on The Big Bang Theory‘s “The Luminous Fish Effect.” In TV movies, kudos go out to Lindsay Duncan as Lady Elizabeth on HBO’s Longford. Her evolution from skeptical wife to advocate was a delight to watch.
Among non-actors, Tom Bergeron proved on Dancing with the Stars that he could handle the unpredictability of live television well, and is a lot better ad-libbing than spewing corny jokes on the tired America’s Funniest Home Videos. CNN’s Christine Amanpour displayed remarkable objectivity in examining God’s Warriors. Had he been host of the series, Bill O’Reilly would have had an aneurism before the first commercial break.
I feel obligated to point out those aspects of TV that would improve my viewing experience in the coming year. A serious reduction in the number of pharmaceutical ads would be nice, so that watching TV is a little less like reading the Physician’s Desk Reference. Also, why do all primetime game shows have to be lit like an Aerosmith concert, with blinding backlighting and hyperactive spotlight operators? It would also be a pleasant change of pace if the investigators on the CSI series took cases where the victims were poor or homely.
The most irritating trend of the past year was the “extended” episode trend, which involves running a show anywhere from one to 10 minutes over its scheduled time in hopes that viewers will say, “Damn. We’ve missed the first two minutes of our favorite show on the other network so let’s just stay here and watch this piece of crap instead.” It’s never worked on me, and I doubt it’s worked on most other people, so stop it.
Looking forward: if the writers’ strike drags on and the networks begin to air an endless stream of reality and game shows, then next year’s list will undoubtedly contain more bad than good. For the love of TV viewers everywhere, give these writers whatever they want.