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TeeVee Awards '03: Worst Actress

You've got to feel bad for poor, hapless Emily Procter.

The squeaky-voiced blonde thespian has probably spent the weeks leading up to our annual TeeVee awards bouncing about in giddy anticipation and clearing off space on her mantelpiece for yet another trophy. Procter, you see, has been lauded for two years running with one of our coveted awards, provided you define "lauded" as "razzed mercilessly" and "coveted award" as "recognition for horrific acting."

Still, a win's a win.

And a win this year seemed like a mortal lock. After all, Procter's previous victories came during guest-starring stints, first on a recurring role that helped hasten West Wing's descent into madness and later on a one-and-thankfully-done crossover episode of CSI. This year, Procter got herself cast in a starring role on an actual series -- the inconceivably stinky CSI: Miami -- meaning the American viewing public would have to endure 24 installments of full-frontal blandness. The only questions remaining for Procter appeared to be whether it would come across as unseemly if she began her victory lap in November and who to blame in her acceptance speech after her undisputed win.

Because a win would have vaulted poor, hapless Emily Procter into heights that few actors of her lack of caliber will ever know -- a state of bad-acting nirvana as perfect and improbable in its own way as Shakespeare's first folio, Mahler's nine symphonies, Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitters. Win the worst actress award this year, and that's three consecutive Pyrrhic victories for Ms. Procter. No one has ever pulled that off -- not even Jon Seda, and we're so sickened by the sight of him, we named our worst actor award after Seda. An unprecedented three Worst Actress Awards in a row, and Emily Procter ascends from the merely woeful to the sublimely Danza-lithic.

Which is why, after two-plus years of unadulterated cruelty toward Emily Procter and her craft, we wound up doing perhaps the cruelest thing of all -- passing her over at the very moment she stood on the cusp of immortality. We have two very worthy worst actress recipients for 2003, and ain't none of them named Emily Procter.

Oh, Procter tried her level best to score the hat trick. Cast by CSI: Miami's producers as a... snort... ballistics expert, Procter never was able to convince viewers that she could tell the difference between a Glock and a Super Soaker. She delivered every line with a sing-songy chirp, even when telling the families of victims that their loved ones had been horribly murdered, and, perhaps even worse for the survivors, that David Caruso was on the case. All of this while wearing enough makeup to make us think her character joined the crime scene investigation team by way of Ringling Brothers. If that's not crying out your Worst Actress credentials for all the world to see -- or, at the very least, a cry for help -- we don't know what is.

Only one hiccup: Procter wasn't even the worst actress on her own show. That distinction goes to one of the winners of this year's Worst Actress prize -- the inimitable Kim Delaney.

Most recently seen leaving nothing but scorched earth in her wake on the forgettable Philly, Delaney held several advantages heading into the Worst Actress race. First, she was cast on CSI: Miami, a show whose many terrors and inadequacies we have chronicled before and will continue to hammer home until the mass of men rise up in revolt and drive this misbegotten spin-off into the sea. Second, the producers of CSI: Miami did Delaney no favors by saddling her with a character so hopelessly moronic that even the most gifted and resolute of actresses would find herself snogging whatever director, writer, gaffer, and foley artist would have enough pull to get her bounced from the project posthaste.

Delaney played Detective Megan Donner, who, as the first season of CSI: Miami began, was returning to work after an extended leave of absence that began when she had the great misfortune of watching her cop husband get murdered in the line of duty. To make sure that this vital plot point was driven home to the audience, the producers arranged for Donner to mention it in nearly every subsequent episode, usually to establish empathy with some pitiable soul who had just watched his or her loved one get gunned down, thrown off a moving airplane or otherwise forced to prematurely shuffle off this mortal coil. In one episode, Donner was dispatched to convince a pair of grieving Cuban emigres to cooperate with a police investigation; sadly, she delivered her "I too have known loss" spiel in English, thus robbing America its chance to howl in derisive laughter as Delaney stammered "Mi esposo esta muerto tambien."

So Delaney was dealt a loser of a hand to start with; and like all Worst Actress contenders, she played her hand like a chump.

It was probably her delivery that clinched the award. On CSI: Miami, Delaney had this habit of reciting her lines with a series of fits and starts and ill-placed, Shatner-esque pauses; then, after a pause so pregnant you could birth quintuplets during it, Delaney would say the rest of the line at 2X speed. A simple ho-hum piece of dialogue like "We work for the victim" would, once it lolled off Delaney's tongue, come out sounding like "We work (pause... pause... still pausing... almost there... OK... OK... now!) forthevictim." That Delaney would then punctuate her lines with a series of inappropriate hand gestures -- a Hong Kong Fooey-like judo chop in this instance -- would merely add to the comedic effect. Which is not really the sort of impact you're looking for in a drama.

Instead of a competent crime-solving professional, Delaney's theatrics made it seem like her character had spent the last seven years stashed away in a meat locker before she thawed out and began studying forensics. Or that she suffered from a series of verbal and facial tics caused by prolonged exposure to fumes from open paint cans. Or -- to crueler viewers -- that she spent her entire screen time in the midst of a particularly debilitating stroke.

The end result? Delaney -- who was only added to the show after the producers worried that guileless waif Emily Procter didn't have the on-screen gravitas to mesh with David Caruso -- was so lamentably bad that she was booted off the show. And not even on camera, in one of those hail-of-bullets-I'll-avenge-you-Megan-Donner moments that earn people Emmy nods. Instead, Delaney's exit took place off camera, with the other characters barely registering that she ever existed. If only the audience could have been so lucky.

To their credit, the producers were right about Procter's gravitas.

For all her sins, Kim Delaney merely made a bad show worse. What do you do when an actress is the worst thing about an otherwise decent program? Why, you split up the Worst Actress award and present half of it to that witless thespian.

And you call her Elisha Cuthbert.

In the first season of 24, Cuthbert's Kim Bauer was a necessary if regrettable plot device. Without her, who are the terrorists going to kidnap, and without blood relative hostages, how are the terrorists going to convince Kiefer Sutherland to pump that nice Dennis Haysbert full of holes? Sure, Kim fell in and out of the terrorists' clutches with laughable regularity during season one, but if it got us one scene closer to Kiefer matching wits with Balkan war criminal Dennis Hopper, then so be it.

But in season two, the multitude of woes befalling Kim Bauer made "The Perils of Pauline" look like "Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm." Consider that in one 24-hour period, Jack Bauer's dippy little kid:

  • Lands smack dab in the middle of a domestic dispute between her employer and the employer's wife-beating husband;
  • Gets chased by said wife-beater;
  • Is falsely accused of her employer's murder;
  • Shows up at CTU headquarters just as terrorists blow it to kingdom come;
  • Is involved in a car accident as a sheriff's deputy is transporting her off to the pokey for attempted kidnapping and that whole murder thing;
  • Gets chased by a mountain lion;
  • Is held captive by a moody mountain-man loner who thinks she's got a purty mouth;
  • Erroneously believes her father dies in a nuclear explosion over the Mojave Desert when, really, the blast just took out that nice Xander Berkeley;
  • Gets taken hostage in a liquor store robbery gone wrong;
  • Is chased once more by the murderous wife-beater; and
  • Is egged on by her father to put a bullet in the murderous wife-beater's brain so he can get back to saving the president from the complexities of the 25th Amendment.

As far as bad days go, finding out that Nina Myers gutted your mom like a trout suddenly doesn't seem so terrible.

Faced with these ridiculous plot twists, Cuthbert opted to play her character -- if such a thing is possible -- even more ridiculously. There was none of the intensity brought to the table by the other actors in 24 that makes you overlook how eminently preposterous most the show's twists and turns are. She didn't even play her part with a wink and a nod, a look that said "Yes, I know I'm being chased by a freakin' mountain lion; just go with it, OK?" Instead, Cuthbert approached each new trial and tribulation with distracting equanimity, facing mountain lions, murderous wife-beaters, and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation with a vacant, open-mouthed look and body language that suggested all of these hardships were more inconvenient than terrifying. It kind of killed the mood.

In fairness to Cuthbert, the moody mountain-man loner is right about her purty mouth, however.

The byproduct of all this is not necessarily that scenes involving Cuthbert are wretched, so much as they are boring, and boring is far, far worse than wretched. The Vidiots blessed with TiVo found themselves making liberal use of the fast-forward button whenever Cuthbert was on the screen, and while that certainly helps the hour zip along, it's probably not what 24's creators were shooting for.

We have a simple solution. The folks behind 24 should follow CSI: Miami's lead and give Kim Bauer the Delaney treatment. Have Nina Myers return to try and notch the second leg of the Bauer-women Daily Double. Bring back the mountain lion and make it best two-out-of-three falls. Just keep Elisha Cuthbert off camera until the 59th minute of the 24th episode of Season Three, when she can walk on screen and say to Kiefer, "So how was your day, Dad?"

Then, maybe Emily Procter can finally get the recognition from us she so richly deserves.

Additional contributions to this article by: Philip Michaels.


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