The 2005 TeeVee Awards
Our beefs with the Emmys are ancient and well-chronicled. They rubber-stamp the same winners year after tedious year. They shoehorn hour-long programs with just a hint of humor into the same category as 30-minute sitcoms because heaven forfend that voters be forced to think outside the limiting Comedy and Drama divisions. And whoever votes on these things apparently has a really crappy cable provider — how else to explain Emmy voters’ apparent inability to realize that F/X, WB, and (gasp) even UPN have a couple award-worthy shows that are going to spend a statue-free Sunday night.
So bag the Emmys, we say. Why waste your time with an award show that has to jostle with the inconsequential likes of the People’s Choice Awards and ESPYs for relevance? Instead of a program where the honorees are selected by rote, devote your attention on awards that are handed out by people who actually bothered to watch television sometime during the past 12 months.
We speak, of course, about our awards.
Sure, the TeeVee Awards lack the notoriety and prestige of the Emmys. Heck, our awards lack the notoriety and prestige of the Honors Student of the Week column in your local fishrag. And the next actor or actress who calls up demanding one of our trophies — operators are standing by, Sarah Michelle! — will be the first. Which is probably just as well since then we’d actually have to, you know, physically build a trophy instead of just whipping up the JPEG equivalent of one.
But consider, for a moment, the advantages our humble little awards round-up enjoys over the inexplicably more popular Emmys.
• We don’t pretend that Desperate Housewives has anything in common with the likes of Everybody Loves Raymond, Scrubs and Will & Grace, other than all of those shows are produced by and star carbon-based life forms. And whatever Sean Hayes is.
• We will never, ever force you to sit through any lavish musical tribute numbers — especially after Boychuk’s ill-fated medley saluting the legal dramas of David E. Kelley back in 2000.
• There is no awkward, forced banter between the presenters handing out our awards. Frankly, we can barely stand speaking to one another as it is.
• Have you heard one peep out of Joan or Melissa Rivers since you started reading this article? You’re welcome.
• No matter how long this introduction prattles on, you’re still going to be done with our awards long before Leah Remini is brought out to introduce the clip from the technical awards ceremony held two weeks ago.
So yeah, we’ll stick with our awards, thanks very much. Even if we should have gotten around to presenting them months ago.
Without further ado then, here are the winners of the Ninth Annual TeeVee Awards.
Biggest Disappointment: We give HBO a lot of credit. While other networks will yank a show for retooling at the first hint that viewers have let their eyeballs wander, HBO can set back and let its programming build an audience at its own pace. The cable network can afford to — since it gets a nice chunk of subscription fees every month, it can tell the bean-counters over at AC Nielsen to go pound sand if executives there like a show well enough. But this year, Carnivàle proved there are limits to even HBO’s patience and that if you want to remain on the air, there are a few simple elements you need to provide. Like plot advancement. And coherent narrative. And, eventually, a goddamned point. Look, we get that Daniel Knauf was going to take his sweet time telling us what the deal was between Clancy Brown and that filthy Oakie. But we’re busy people. And two seasons of mumbo-jumbo with little to no payoff is about a season-and-a-half too much for our tastes.
Worst Actor and Worst Hour Show: Perhaps it’s just our inability to willingly suspend our disbelief, but we don’t buy, for one second, the performance the actor who plays the boastful billionaire Donald Trump at the center of NBC’s The Apprentice. For one thing, Trump is stiff and unconvincing as a billionaire. His judgments are so puzzling, his demeanor so unlikable, his hair so obviously constructed out of straw and bailing wire, that we just can’t buy into the notion that anyone would trust this guy to mow their lawn for beer money, let alone broker mega-real estate deals. If Mark Burnett has any eye for talent, he’ll recast the Donald Trump role immediately with someone more suited to the task.
Hmmmm? That actually is Donald Trump? Well, he’s just dreadful.
Though not nearly so dreadful as his show has become in the past year. The first season of The Apprentice was surprisingly good, a sort of Survivor in the urban jungle of New York City. The cast was at turns winning and (hello, Omarosa) completely insane. Donald’s sidekicks, George and Carolyn, were good additions. Then the show got a whiff of success and went right into the crapper with its second and third runs, with the producers making bad casting decisions (Book Learnin’! Street Smarts!) and the Donald making a series of seemingly random firings. And with that, a formerly quirky and classy reality show crumbled into a crass morass.
Worst Half-Hour Show: If it’s any consolation to Seth MacFarlane and the rest of the folks that have made American Dad such an unwatchable eyesore, we recently had occasion to watch repeats of the first couple episodes of Family Guy, the other animated series about an idiot patriarch and his long-suffering family. And you know what? Those first few Family Guy episodes were pretty terrible, too.
Wait — that’s probably little consolation at all.
What we mean is, early installments of Family Guy suffered many of the same problems currently dogging American Dad. The characters weren’t fully formed yet. The writing was pretty spotty. The episodes were curiously paced and altogether even. We didn’t notice it at the time because Family Guy felt new enough with an original take on a very familiar premise. But we are noticing it with American Dad because it feels like… a Family Guy knockoff.
There’s plenty of room for improvement, especially after the show’s disastrous post-Super Bowl premiere. Family Guy eventually found its footing and developed such a following that Fox was forced to bring it back from the dead. It’s possible American Dad could undergo a similar renaissance. (Step One: More of the teutonic fish. Step Two: Less of the Paul Lynde-esque alien.) Until it does though, we’ll stick to repeats of the first flawed Family Guy episodes. At least we know that show will get better one day.
Worst Actress: You wouldn’t think that a procedural drama, an over-hyped dramedy, and a silly sci-fi program would have much in common. But CSI, Desperate Housewives and Stargate Atlantis all hold the distinction of employing three actresses who set our teeth on edge.
Marg Helgenberger’s character on CSI has always been one that works better the less you think about it. (“She’s a former stripper… turned crime scene investigator!”) However, this year, audiences had no choice but to wallow in the preposterousness of it all, as Helgenberger was handed one ego-stroking gratuitous Emmy clip scene after another. Our personal favorite: the episode where Helgenberger investigates a series of deaths related to cosmetic surgery and spends the episode wondering if she might use a little nipping and tucking, only to be assured by most of the men folk on the show that she’s pretty enough not to need it — this despite the fact that even a cursory examination of Ms. Helgenberger’s face indicates she’s probably been on the business end of a doctor’s scalpel more often than Ken Griffey Jr.’s knees.
We haven’t bought into the Desperate Housewives hysteria that’s seemingly gripped the rest of the nation’s TV watchers. Where other people see an original, incisive satire of modern life, we see a trite rehashing of toothless observations about suburbia that have been around in one form or another for the last 30 years. (You mean the suburbs are full of people leading lives of quiet desperation? Good God, man, who knew?) As silly as the proceedings are, at least most of the actors participating in them seem to be striking similar tones — all except for Marcia Cross who appears to be acting in an entirely different series requiring broad, over-the-top, “goes-to-11”-style emoting. It’s a wee bit annoying.
Over on the Sci Fi channel, the producers of the long-running Stargate SG-1 TV series decided to spin off a new series, Stargate Atlantis. The spin-off’s actually not bad, but one of its two leads is horribly miscast. Canadian actress Torri Higginson is way out of her depth as Dr. Elizabeth Weir, earning her the title of the most wooden actor currently on Sci-Fi. It’s not entirely her fault, of course — Weir may be the most useless character on television today, a dithering second-guesser who is theoretically in charge of the Atlantis team but tends to do nothing except quibble over the decisions of the show’s other lead, played by Joe Flanigan. So to sum up: wooden acting, useless character, waste of space. And a share of the Worst Actress trophy.
Most Annoying Fans: Consider yourselves fortunates, fans of reality TV show fame-whores Rob and Amber. We were all set to give you this award for your ceaseless devotion to the couple that single-handedly ruined the last season of The Amazing Race. But then we flipped on an episode of Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo and were appalled that a hand of poker couldn’t be dealt without some cementhead in the peanut gallery shouting out some supposedly uproarious bon mot. So, instead, our award for the Most Annoying Fans goes to Celebrity Poker Showdown Audience Members Who Think They’re Hilarious. Because they’re not.
Worst Host: There are many things that are horrible wrong about ESPN right now, chief among them the network’s odd decision to move away from sports coverage and into the nebulous realm of entertainment programming. This is sort of like executives at Animal Planet waking up one day and exclaiming “Bag these animal shows — let’s do more soap operas!”
But there are other problems at the Worldwide Leader in Sports besides its newfound addiction to game shows and reality programming. It has fully embraced style over substance, favoring anchors and personalities who detract from the simplest highlight by littering the airwaves with “Hey! Look at Me!”-type catch-phrases.
No one embodies these ESPN-wide maladies more than Stuart Scott. Besides his singularly awful work anchoring SportsCenter, Scott has also extended his special mix of no-talent and faux-attitude to hosting duties on Stump the Schwab (a game show), Teammmates (another game show) and Dream Job (a reality show program tasked with the horrific mission of finding a new generation of catch-phrase-spewing Stuart Scotts to detract from Pacers-Spurs highlights). It takes a special sort of host to ruin four programs. Runner-up Ryan Seacrest is content merely to ruin one.
Unjust Cancellation: We dreamed up this award a few years back as a way to tweak networks for any boneheaded or short-sighted decision to pink-slip superlative programming before its time. True to their mission to thwart our hopes and dreams at every opportunity, network executives threw us a curve ball this year by not actually canceling any undeserving show.
Oh, we thought about giving this award to JAG, which was shown the door despite being one of those shows ostensibly built to air until the sun is a burnt-out cinder. And there was a small movement to lament the passing of Tru Calling, which had the honor of getting renewed for a second season and then getting cancelled before any episode of that second season ever hit the airwaves after Fox executives sobered up and realized their mistake. But both shows were hardly the standard-bearers for quality TV — though Tru Calling’s so-awful-it’s-actually-entertaining ethos is a kind of quality — so instead we’ll just go with No Award.
Best Animated Show: We were not big fans of Justice League Unlimited when it replaced the original Justice League on the Cartoon Network. Whereas the original Justice League wisely concentrated on the exploits of just seven superheroes, Unlimited expanded to a… um… unlimited cast of characters. Entire episodes were devoted to introducing yet another superhero from an increasing obscure subsection of the DC universe.
Ah, but this season, Justice League Unlimited found its purpose. It stopped the parade of superheroes in favor of an actual plotline — a compelling story arc about a shadowy government agency fretting that the Justice League might go rogue and taking steps to destroy Superman, et. al. And it developed a sense of humor — an episode featuring pretenders to the Justice League throne (complete with a shout-out to the horrible Wonder Twins) was set in the old Hall of Justice building from the 1970s Superfriends cartoon. These qualities helped push Justice League Unlimited to the top of the animated series heap, just barely edging out the sublimely ridiculous Robot Chicken for our meaningless award.
Best Reality Show: Yes, Freddy and Kendra proved to be intensely unlikable winners of the sixth version of The Amazing Race. And while Joyce and Unchenna were slightly more acceptable winners in Race No. 7 — largely on the basis of not being Rob and Amber — this past season of Race won’t go down in the record books as our favorite. (Ah, Amazing Race 5, how we miss you…) We keep spending barrels of virtual ink thinking up ways to improve the show, for heaven’s sake.
And yet… The Amazing Race is still so far ahead of any other reality program in terms of quality, entertainment value and overall watchability, it’s not even an argument that this show deserves our award. (We hope we can say the same thing after the sure-to-be ill-considered Family Edition hits the airwaves). In fact, we’d even call it the best hour show on television were it not for…
Best Hour Show: …The Wire and Lost. If you are not sending a large chunk of money to HBO each month for the privilege of watching The Wire, we question as to why you’re even bothering with TV in the first place. The Wire, a complex drama about the Baltimore drug trade, is everything a television program should aspire to be — sweeping, literate, and planned out so far in advance that seemingly minor plot developments from season one emerged into full-blown story arcs by season three. The Wire’s cast of characters is so immense that even Tolstoy would have trouble following along. And yet, even the secondary and tertiary characters are so well-drawn and fully realized, you’ll want to invest the time to immerse yourself in The Wire’s universe. Which is good, since it’s nearly impossible to watch any episode from season three, without having watched the entire first two seasons of The Wire seconds beforehand. On the bright side, with season four of The Wire slated for arrival in 2006, you’ve got plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the backstory.
Lost takes a Wire-like approach to story-telling, and so it shares the award for Best Hour Show. There is some magnificent acting on Lost (more about one performance in particular in a moment) that, coupled with the program creators’ obsession with character development and backstory, has produced something unlike anything else you’ll find on network TV. Yes, Lost can be a little bit perplexing at times with its scattered plot points and seeming inability to adequately resolve some storylines while advancing the overall narrative. In fact, we halfway suspect that the show’s writers are just making things up as they go along. But in the end, Lost is a hell of a roller-coaster ride, even if the only place it winds up taking us is back to the station where it started. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy the ride. Speaking of which…
Best New Show: Also, Lost. That piercing scream you just heard was Veronica Mars Fan Supreme Nathan Alderman vowing ever-lasting vengeance against us.
Best Hour Actor: Throughout this year, as we marveled at the unspooling of the first season of multi-TeeVee Award winner Lost, we often found ourselves screaming at the television set. No, we weren’t screaming about the length of time it took to open that damned hatch, or screaming for Evangeline Lilly to take off more of her clothes. We were screaming one simple phrase: “Hand Terry O’Quinn The Emmy Right Now.”
Well, we can’t hand Terry O’Quinn an emmy. But we can give him our Best Hour Actor actor award for his amazing portrayal of John Locke on Lost. O’Quinn’s been really good for a long time now — in supporting roles on shows like Millennium, Alias, and the blink-and-you-missed it Harsh Realm. But with Lost, he’s been given the role of a lifetime. Locke is a mystical figure who spouts philosophical phrases that would be ludicrous coming from anyone else, but O’Quinn sells Locke’s lines with his steely-eyed, slightly crazed delivery. Lost is a showcase for acting, thanks to its remarkable focus on flashbacks, but amid the show’s gigantic cast, one cast member shined far brighter than the rest. Give Terry O’Quinn the TeeVee Award Right Now.
Best Hour Actress: We were tempted to say equally nice things about Evangeline Lilly in this category. But in the end, “has a pretty mouth” isn’t much of a basis for handing out a credible award. So, in the absence of any other contenders, we’re afraid we’ll just have to list this one as a No Award as well.
Best Half-Hour Actor: In keeping with the grand TeeVee Awards tradition of not reaching any kind of definitive conclusion, we’ve decided to split the honors in our Best Half-Hour Actor category. Joint custody of the trophy is given to a pair of actors who pulled off the heady feat of standing out amid a strong ensemble cast on their respective programs.
On Scrubs, Zach Braff may be the lead actor and John C. McGinley may be given the juiciest lines, but this season, Donald Faison turned in the best acting work. Faison is an incredibly under-rated actor — his comedic timing is impeccable, he throws himself head-first into Scrubs’ trademark fantasy sequences, and just check out his reactions to other characters’ lines some time. It takes a lot of skill to be able to get a laugh without even saying a word. Faison deserves special accolades this season as the writers opted to saddle him with that most tedious of plot developments, the ol’ Marriage-on-the-Rocks storyline (thus fulfilling the well-known TV mandate that no married couple can ever be contented with their relationship). Faison handled this stinker of a plot twist with aplomb and also navigated similarly mawkish plot twists — his character developed diabetes — without ever stooping to hammy over-acting. He’s the best thing about a very good show.
It takes a lot to stand out in a cast that features both Jason Bateman and Jeffrey Tambor nailing their respective parts, but Will Arnett did exactly that on Arrested Development this year. Arnett’s GOB is a fun role to play — the idiotic blowhard who half-suspects that he’s overmatched by the world around him and desperately tries to hide that fact from everyone else — and a lesser actor could turn in a fairly competent performance. Arnett owns the role. From Arnett’s delivery to his body language to the glint of manic desperation in his eye, you simply could not imagine any other actor inhabiting this character. One of our happiest memories of this past season will be the sight of Arnett using an ether-soaked puppet to drug unsuspecting family members. It’s an absurd sight, sure, but in Arnett’s hands, it strangely works.
Best Half-Hour Actress: Speaking of memorable performances on Arrested Development, how could we not mention Jessica Walter, the drunken, acid-tongued matriarch of the Bluth family? Few actors are willing to play a character so unrelenting unlikable as Lucille; even fewer are capable of injecting that character with the humanity that Walter does — we end up enjoying Lucille Bluth in spite of ourselves.
It’s no secret that the TV industry takes a Logan’s Run approach to older actresses — whatever screentime they receive is usually of the “Oh grandma, you say such crazy things!” variety. Thanks to Walter’s unmistakable talent, her character is more than just a footnote — she’s a central part to a great, great show.
Best Half-Hour Show: So when you’ve got the Best Actor and Best Actress winners on your show — and really, we could have recognized any one of half-a-dozen other cast members without looking silly — taking home the Best Half-Hour Show trophy should be a slam dunk. And, despite our tendency to hand out these things without rhyme or reason, it is — Arrested Development takes home the big prize.
There’s the funny, gifted cast. There’s the tightest-written scripts in the business. What more do you need? Try a recurring guest spot by Henry Winkler as the world’s most incompetent attorney. Or a plotline involving a hand-eating seal. Or the strange career revival of Liza Minelli. Arrested Development is so funny, so good, that even the myopic Emmy voters took notice and gave it the Best Comedy trophy last year; it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the show could be a repeat winner tonight. That alone may be enough to drag the Emmy awards kicking and screaming back into relevancy.
Well, no, it won’t be… but we try to be charitable every now and again.
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