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TeeVee Awards '03: Best Hour Actress

While television in general remains a relatively bleak and unrealistic landscape for women -- find us one Single Female Lawyer who isn't prepared to work a miniskirt in the courtroom, for example -- there are a number of very good actresses in one-hour shows.

We've sung the praises of Marg Helgenberger before, and we're pleased to report that she's still as competent as ever. This was no easy job: CSI's third season was its weakest, and plots which stuck Helgenberger in raging water a la George Clooney's turn with the kid and the sewer on ER did her no favors. However, Helgenberger doesn't get the award for showing up. If that were the strongest criterion, we'd be tempted to hand over the statue to Khandi Alexander, who managed to evince talent in every second of her scant screen time on CSI: Miami without once looking as though she wanted to smack David Caruso's pompous Horatio Caine clear into the next scene.

We've also given the nod to Sarah Michelle Gellar before. There's no doubting that she did a fine job on Buffy the Vampire Slayer this year, but not fine enough to build a voting bloc and overcome the Vidiots who thought that Slayer rival Eliza Dushku turned in the best female work in the Joss Whedon landscape this year. It's quite possible that the Buffy split vote also explains why Farscape's Claudia Black, who also gave an even more sterling performance than she has in the past on that late, lamented series, failed to emerge as our winner.

There is no good explanation for why nominee Lena Olin as Sydney Bristow's is-she-evil spy mama on Alias didn't make it to the winner's circle, other than not quite enough of us thought that her work was sufficiently compelling to actually earn the final vote.

Truth is, a lot of actresses showed up and did fine this year: Six Feet Under's Rachel Griffiths, Lauren Ambrose and Frances Conroy? Check. The Sopranos' Edie Falco? Check -- we think. Of all the Vidiots, a grand total of four pay out for HBO and thus watched her bravura work in "Whitecaps." And her tepid work making eyes at family lackey Furio. Falco was good, but not good enough to compel those four premium cable-paying Vidiots into fixing the vote.

That there are so many names in this category -- and we can add more by pointing out that some among the Vidiots think that Jennifer Garner (Alias), Allison Janney (The West Wing) and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) aren't exactly dribbling all over themselves on the screen -- is good news. Well, good news for TV viewers in general, since there's a crop of capable actresses breathing life into pretend people some 13 to 23 weeks per TV season.

It is, however, bad news for the awards. Nobody gets the award for showing up and doing a good job. They get it for doing a better job than everyone else. And this year, while a lot of actresses showed up and did good jobs, nobody stood out. Hence, the biggest vote-getter of all this year -- a repeat winner! -- was Nellie No-Award, the hardest-working award stealer in television.

Don't feel bad, ladies. You did good work. Some of you almost broke through. And we're looking forward to next year. Even if there aren't any new candidates making themselves known to us next year -- and we certainly hope there are, if only to balance out the terrible 2002-2003 television season -- there are still several of the actresses listed here. Most of them have the potential to knock us out of our seats next season. Even if most female TV characters are of dubious merit, it's cheering to note that sometimes, the same can't be said of the women who are playing them.

Additional contributions to this article by: Lisa Schmeiser.


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