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Best Actress: Drea de Matteo

There were a lot of parallels between Carmela Soprano and Adriana La Cerva on the most recent season of The Sopranos. Both could have probably done better in the dating pool had they actually left the tri-state area. Both demonstrated to the viewers that standing by your man is quite possibly the worst thing you can do when dating a mobster. And both were ably portrayed by fine actresses. However, it is not perpetual award magnet Edie Falco who got our TeeVee Award for Best Actress in 2004, but Drea de Matteo.

Thanks to her work, Adriana elbowed Carmela aside as the moral center of The Sopranos . Granted, it wasn't a huge challenge: Carmela's brief stint as a singleton demonstrated how her marital compromises had eaten away at whatever moral center or courage she once had, and she eagerly sold herself back to Tony for the price of a tacky McMansion, so Ade really didn't have to shoot much higher. However, Carmela's story should have been more riveting -- she was, after all, the woman who used to agonize over the immortal souls of her family, and she sold hers for a song. It wasn't, because Falco's performance had a shrill, snappish edge to it, an undercurrent of contempt for Carmela that led viewers to suspect that she deserved everything that happened to her. On the other hand, Adriana -- lying, lazy, drug-using, self-indulgent Adrianna, who flipped because it seemed like the easiest thing to do at the moment -- was such a sympathetic character, you found yourself hoping against hope that she wouldn't get what she had coming.

de Matteo is responsible for that. Her portrayal of Adriana was generous to the character, letting us see the simple, good heart that pushed the reactive, unreflective, superficial brain. de Matteo's Adriana had potential; anyone who could emanate such wholly unconditional love for Christopher Moltosanti had access to reserves of generosity and forgiveness. She could have been a great person, but she struggled just to figure out what it meant to be good. Whenever we saw her with the prim and duplicitous Agent Sanserverino, it was hard not to wince through Adriana's alternating, conflicting desires for self-preservation and approval from others. Adriana should have been detestable, but you found yourself rooting for her -- and against the "good guy" Feds.

Credit how wholly de Matteo inhabited Adriana. What could have been a one-shot joke -- the Joisey Moll, cheap and corrupt -- became a complex characterization: get distracted by the big hair and bling-bling pedicure, and you won't notice that what she's really hiding is her painful moral evolution. And she kept growing right up to the moment when she realized that the thing she had counted on to save her -- her unconditional love -- had doomed her instead.


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