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TeeVee Awards '02: Worst Actresses

This year, not one but two actresses were so bad, they deserved our Worst Actress award. One of them will not care, and she should not, as she's not really an actress by trade anyway. The other should care, and the real tragedy is she will not.

Reba McEntire will give neither hoot nor holler over our opinion that she is one of the two worst actresses of the 2001-2002 television season. After all, her show hasn't been cancelled, so she's free to continue her sui generis brand of bad acting, i.e. paring down her repertoire of emotional reactions to a handful of responses toddlers would find limiting, and overcompensating for the paucity of her range by amplifying her reactions to levels previously only achieved during heavy metal videos. This brand of terrible thespianism manages to impress both with its novelty and its bottomless depth, which is why McEntire is taking home one of our prizes.

Regardless of our reasoning, Reba will not care for two reasons: first, she keeps moving from one form of the lively arts to another, staying one step ahead of the law. First it was aiding and abetting in the odious practice of Broadway stunt-casting by playing the title role in Annie Get Your Gun, a musical so wracked by bad casting decisions that former Duke boy Tom Wopat looks like a classy choice in comparison. Then we shouldn't forget that country music career. A song about the trials and tribulations of being a cross-eyed megamillionaire will not crack CMT's most-played list, but we're willing to bet a song about being the target of derision by acerbic know-it-alls might play well with the gimme-cap crowd.

The person who should care about sharing this year's Worst Actress award is Emily Procter, who's bringing home the tarnished trophy for the second year running. We typically don't beat up on an actress for two years in a row, because we figure once is enough: the thing about being a bad actress is that you typically stay consistently bad, so giving the award to Mariska Hargitay for two years' worth of Law and Order: SVU is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. We're usually on the lookout for some fresh-faced young thing who can add to the Oeuvre of Awful, not merely maintain her previous contribution.

Along came Emily Procter, someone who managed to be terrible on not one show, but two, on not one network, but two. We didn't like her as Ainsley Hayes because her lack of presence and habit of delivering lines as though she were participating in a third-grade spelling bee dragged down a show that focused on expressive, hyperverbal characters. This year, we also didn't like her on CSI, which is impressive given that she was in only one episode.

First, the only thing she apparently learned on The West Wing was how to stick out like a sore thumb. We've already reviewed why she did so on that show. However, Procter managed it on CSI -- a show, mind you, that doesn't have nearly the acting bench depth of The West Wing -- by appearing to completely miss the point of her character. CSI is by, for, and about geeks; the characters get off on puzzle-solving and their emotional involvement with this aspect of their work is evident, even among such arguably workman-like performances as the ones George Eads and Jorja Fox typically give. Procter, by contrast, played her character -- a ballistics expert, who appears to live in the same reality-distorted Florida that gave us Cindy Crawford as a maritime lawyer -- as an ennui-riddled bubblehead. Every one of her handful of scenes ground to a halt as she defused any tension by yawning about nine-millimeter guns or practicing for "Lab Tech on a Hot Tin Roof."

Second, Procter is evidently Meryl Streep's direct opposite, as she appears to be incapable of mastering any other dialect than the one she was apparently raised with. We have nothing against southern accents -- at least one Vidiot slips back into one every now and again -- but we do have something against actresses who can't manage to shake them, or even vary the tone and style of their dialogue delivery from role to role.

Either one of these acting crimes isn't inherently bad -- shows typically have one actor or actress who appears to be nurturing the impression that they're in an entirely different show than the one that actually employs them, and shows typically have one actor or actress hobbled by profoundly limited range. But when that one actress combines both misdemeanors -- well, then you have Procter, who will continue to jar viewers out of a pleasurable viewing experience so long as she's on screen.

Perhaps this time next year, we'll have seen another side of Ms. Procter as she completes her first season as a series regular. Perhaps we'll be wrong. (Perhaps she'll have faded away from that show entirely, given that the recent addition of Kim Delaney to the cast suggests that Procter's power as a leading lady is, indeed, limited.) Or perhaps we'll simply be marveling as she shows us yet another way to be truly awful on the small screen. Given the scope of Ms. Procter's sinister anti-talent, anything is possible.

Additional contributions to this article by: Lisa Schmeiser.


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