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TeeVee Awards 2000: Best Actor, Half-Hour

This was the year of the dyspeptic dad.

When we voted for the Best Actor, Half-Hour award, we had four strong contenders: Peter Boyle, Brad Garrett, Bryan Cranston and Kurtwood Smith. Last year's winner, Garrett, deserved mention for his consistently hilarious and understated work as Robert Romano, the slighted older brother of the much-beloved Raymond.

Garrett spent the entire season in perpetual parboil; he suffered the indignity of being speared in the nether regions by a runaway bull, then suffered some more by convalescing in his parents' home. Every episode showed him simmering, pushed to the edge with wondering why me? When Garrett erupted -- and he often did -- his fits of pique would have been frightening if they had not been so funny.

But he's a dyspeptic sibling, not a father, and so he doesn't fit the theme for this award. Next!

Next is Garrett's costar, Peter Boyle, who plays dyspeptic patriarch Frank Romano, father to Robert and Raymond. Boyle is in the running because he brings to Frank something we admire and recognize in ourselves: a joie de malice, the ineluctable delight of pissing on everyone else's corn flakes. Frank manages to be both hypersensitive and insensitive, and his outraged, brutally inconsiderate responses to other's problems give Raymond viewers the best guilty pleasure of all: laughing because they've been in situations where they've only dared to think what Frank says.

Boyle turned in great work, which is something of an annual tradition with him, and we nominated him, with is something of an annual tradition with us. But he wasn't quite dyspeptic enough to win. Next!

Bryan Cranston's portrayal of Hal, the dad wearing an expression of near-constant ambush on Malcolm in the Middle makes his inaugural appearance in this year's awards. In a cast packed with actors who specialize in amplifying their characters to epic levels, Cranston stood out for being the quiet center of the storm.

One suspects this is his character's survival strategy: stay low, and nobody will notice what you're doing. Defensive low-key demeanors also mask a stunning lack of father-knows-best acumen: Hal isn't an omniscent paterfamilias, but a regular guy who fumbles when confronted with some situations (like telling freshly-dumped son Francis, "I've never been dumped") and comes through brilliantly in others. He's a flawed character, to be sure, but Cranston portrays Hal with such obvious love that he's put one of the most fully-realized and flattering portrayals of real fatherhood on the small screen.

But we only said "one of" and not "the" -- the winner of this year's Best Actor, Half Hour Show award goes to the man who's turned in two years of fantastic work as a television dad -- Kurtwood Smith, who plays Red Forman on That '70s Show.

Smith, whose sharp-edged grin broadcasts Red's prickly personality, is dyspepsia personified. Red doesn't suffer fools gladly, and nothing makes him gladder than making fools suffer. As a result, Red's devoted his life to calling people on their idiocy, and in trying to prevent it from manifesting in his son, Eric.

Fortunately for us, Red's jihad is hilarious. Smith has infused Red with sly humor -- this is a man who enjoys his chosen mission in life -- and gnawing frustration. His physical vocabulary is as sharply focused as his line delivery. Smith plays Red with short-fused astringency, which is beautifully buffered by costar Debra Jo Rupp, who plays Kitty, the dithering sweetie pie with a solid steel center.

On an ideal planet, the two of them would have their own spin-off, That Red and Kitty Show; on this one, we can only watch and marvel at what a great job Smith has done.

Additional contributions to this article by: Lisa Schmeiser.


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