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TeeVee Awards '04: Worst Actor

You may be familiar with the children’s book Bunnicula, in which it is discovered that a pet rabbit must suck the juices out of vegetables. For most, it’s a shaggy-bunny tale; for us, it created an indelible image of vegetables conscripted in an army of the undead.

This is relevant to this year’s Worst Actor award because David Caruso inevitably makes us think of vampiric carrots. It’s an unfair association, we know, but we can’t shake it. However, Caruso’s not getting this award because he causes us to conflate our Bram Stoker and Betty Crocker references — on purely aesthetic grounds, he’s no uglier than, say, Neal McDonough or James Van der Beek or the grown-up Fred Savage. He’s getting the award because it’s his acting that inspires vampire associations.

For those of you fortunate enough to find something else to do with your Monday nights — leading a life of quiet religious fulfillment or rambunctious, debauched emptiness, mastering such complicated technology as the “play” button on your TiVo, turning in early so you can milk Flossie and the other girls at 4 a.m. — here’s a quick explanation of what Caruso’s doing to earn our contempt. He’s playing the lead investigator on CSI: Miami, a preening, supercilious blowhard with a messiah complex that most religious cult leaders can only dream of cultivating.

In the abstract, we don’t object to Caruso’s Horatio Caine as a character. If every protagonist were a selfless moral exemplar, shows would be boring. Flawed protagonists are interesting protagonists, and if Caruso played Horatio as someone who is deluded, self-important and tolerable only because he’s useful around a corpse, he wouldn’t be getting this award. Instead, Caruso plays Horatio as God’s chosen detective, someone who read Lewis Carroll’s “‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ said the cunning old Fury: ‘I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.’” and thought, “There’s my role model.” His Horatio is moral monomania accessorized with a number of creepy tics: hovering over other characters like a vulture who can’t decide whether or not he’s hungry; standing around looking as if he’s minutes away from using a laser death stare on whomever irritates him, and drawling in a bored and contemptuous tone. The whole package is off-putting — and weirdly out of kilter with the way the character’s written; read a CSI: Miami script, and Horatio comes off as someone who’s smart, self-aware and genuinely driven by his character flaws. Watch the same episode and you’re waiting for Horatio to take a shortcut to a crime scene by trotting across Biscayne Bay. Caruso gives the impression that he either can’t stand the character or can’t stand his job, and doing his best to share the pain with the rest of us.

Even worse, he contributes nothing to the show’s ensemble. When we gave Marg Helgenberger the nod for Best Actress two years ago, it was not, as legions of rabid William Petersen fans accused, because we were blinded by her snoobs. Instead, it was because she was the crucial element in making that ensemble cast gel and in bringing out the best in her coworkers. Caruso had the potential to impress us all by rising to the challenge and lifting the CSI: Miami cast beyond its biggest handicaps: Worst Actress winner 2003 Kim Delaney and two-time Worst Actress winner Emily Procter. We know he could have done it: he was the only watchable thing in Proof of Life, and he has turned in fine ensemble work in other pieces.

Yet instead of contributing to the cast’s greater good and using his talent to elevate the show as a whole, Caruso’s managed to leave CSI: Miami’s largely unremarkable cast drifting on its own while simultaneously tainting every scene he’s in. If Marg Helgenberger’s the chocolate sauce at the CSI fondue party — making her fruity castmates even better while remaining the best thing about the course — then David Caruso’s the tabasco at the spin-off’s fiesta night: properly used, in the right doses, he could be a real asset. Now, however, he’s ruining the taste of everything else.

So for misinterpreting his character and dragging down everyone else, we give Caruso the Worst Actor award. Would that it were actually a stake through his carroty-vampire character instead.

Additional contributions to this article by: Lisa Schmeiser.


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