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TeeVee Awards 2000: Worst Actress

We should say something up front: We have nothing personal against Mariska Hargitay. Sure, we once made the joke about her eyebrow being permanently arched due to botched plastic surgery following a car accident; but the intern charged with fact-checking that bit -- which was, after all, a throwaway joke -- failed to mention to us that Mariska had in fact been in a car accident when young. The accident, in fact, which killed her mother, Jayne Mansfield. That baby Mariska needed no surgery of any kind after the accident doesn't make our little gibe any less mean. At least it was kinder than what we did to that intern.

No, despite such ad hominem attacks, we have nothing personal against Mariska. She may very well be a stunningly nice person. Certainly, during the one talk show appearance of hers we saw, Ms. Hargitay was entertainingly goofy.

And Mariska is certainly not the worst actress of all time. She memorizes lines, apparently, and hits her marks, and seems to know about where the camera is when she's on. We must admit: Mariska is no Bo Derek -- she's not even a Farrah Fawcett.

Alas, however, Mariska Hargitay is the worst actress of the 1999 fall season, beating out such lumnious rivals as That Blonde Broad From Wasteland. It comes down to a reach-to-grasp ratio: Kirstie Alley may have torn up the bottom of the barrel and dug six feet down to find her performance on Veronica's Closet; That Low-Rent Debra Messing Broad From Then Came You might have required another two feet of digging from Alley; Portia de Rossi might have been regularly out-acted by her hair; Calista Flockhart might also have been regularly out-acted by de Rossi's hair. But none of those actresses assayed roles actually requiring acting. All of those roles merely required approximately six square feet of surface area covering a portion of the background set.

Not so the role of Det. Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Think for a moment about this woman: She is a female police officer of the rank of detective operating in New York City in a unit specializing in particularly gruesome sexually-oriented crimes. Any one of these would qualify Det. Benson as an exceptionally strong woman: None of us have ever undergone police training, but we imagine there are many hurdles for a woman to jump in this traditionally male-dominated profession. To reach the rank of detective must take intelligence and effort. To do this in New York City, probably one of the hardest cities in the country for police officers, must be even more difficult. And to work in a sex-crimes unit and be confronted with the worst of man's inhumanity to man -- Det. Benson must be tougher than nails. She must eat nails for breakfast and shit backyard decks before dinner.

Yet Mariska appears onscreen and manages to emote not a single kilowatt. Where is the power that a Det. Benson must wield? Where is her confidence, her strength? Her toughness? Missing. Mariska gives not a hint of any of this. Rather, she's good at tearing up. No, she doesn't cry as much as an Ally McBeal -- most humans run dry and keel over at only halfway to Ally levels anyway -- but she certainly cries a lot more than Benson should. She spends far too much time leaning on costar Chris Meloni and his character Det. Stabler. I would think half the time he should be leaning on her. That's at least one reason why police officers come in pairs.

Some of this is the fault of the writing on L&O:SVU and that adds to why it won the Biggest Disappointment award this year. It's not entirely the writing, though: Whatever might be there on the page just isn't coming through Mariska. From where she's sitting, maybe she's conveying a quiet potency; from here it's more like line delivery the consistency of Pergo floor laminate.

There is still hope for our Mariska. She could grow into the role and find new nuances; perhaps the writing will improve and with it her performance. But for now she stands out as the Worst Actress of the 1999-2000 season, bad standing out from bad on a bad series.

Additional contributions to this article by: Chris Rywalt.


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