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TeeVee Awards 2001: Best Half-Hour Actor

Television is a funny beast. If you were to take the typical networks' portrayal of moronic fathers as typical of real-life dads, you'd be amazed the human species continues to exist. Yet if some unenlightened producer created a TV mom half as bumbling and scatter-brained as most Hollywood pops, now would be screaming for his head on a pike before the first commercial break. As a result of this boob tube double standard, being a TV dad is easy. Feed set-up lines to your wise-ass kids, screw things up with your battleaxe of a wife and swoop in just before the final commercial with a couple of hackneyed words of wisdom.

Being a good TV dad, one actually worth watching, is a lot tougher. It's so tough that until recently, only animated television fathers were capable of carrying creative family comedies. We all love Ray Romano and Everybody Loves Raymond, but it's hardly a groundbreaking burst of originality. The only major difference between Romano's Ray Barone and Tim Allen's Home Improvement character is that Romano is actually funny.

Then along came a little show called Malcolm in the Middle and a fatherhood revolution was born. Even with an entire family of breakout characters, it's Bryan Cranston's Hal, the long suffering patriarch of the surname-deprived family, that consistently steals every scene he's in. For his rubber-faced portrayal that finally injected some life into the stagnant realm of TV dads, we bestow upon Cranston the TeeVee Award for Best Actor in a Half-Hour Show.

To be sure, Cranston's character is a TV dad like many other TV dads: bratty kids, domineering wife, complete lack of skill with power tools. But Hal, like every other member of the family, is the sitcom cliche multiplied to the nth degree. The result is a turbocharged vehicle for Cranston to showcase what just might be the most expressive mug on television. Make no mistake, we're not heaping praise on Cranston for the subtle nuances he brings to fatherhood, we're cheering for a performance so broad and over-the-top it's a miracle they don't have to shoot Malcolm on an aircraft carrier.

The best thing about Cranston is that he's not a former stand-up comedian. As a result, Hal is the exact opposite of the Tim Tayloresque, wise-cracking sarcasm machine. He's so earnest it's painful. Whether it's the stark terror of facing hundreds of bats he accidentally released into the house or the unadulterated thrill of quitting his job to pursue painting, Hal never jumps off his emotional roller-coaster. He's the Buddha of bipolar, the Prozac poster boy.

As a result, many of Cranston's funniest moments are the ones where he doesn't say a word. His performance in the bowling episode where Hal is within reach of a 300-game before having it torn from his grasp on the last frame is a monument to body language and the entire spectrum of human facial expression.

Nobody else on television does world-weary like Bryan Cranston: he hates his job with a passion, he forgets his wife's birthday, he tries to fix the roof despite a paralyzing fear of heights, his son Reese is a blockheaded bully who poisons his cooking class in order to win first prize in a souffle contest. Every day seems like it's the end of the world for Hal, which make his little triumphs just that much sweeter. And no one else in recent TV history has turned sneaking a cigar, discovering a hidden toilet or painting abstract art into as joyous an occasion as Cranston does every week.

We here at TeeVee are a cynical bunch. Before Malcolm, it's not likely any television father would have even been nominated for Best Actor, let alone walked away with a first-ballot slam dunk. It's no small feat, then, for Bryan Cranston to convince us of the joys of family TV. We can only hope Hal's tortured existence continues to plague him for years.

Additional contributions to this article by: Gregg Wrenn.


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