Monday, January 19, 2009

And The Award Goes To ...

Happy Belated New Year! I have a litany of reasons as to why I haven't written in so long and I was all ready to share them with my readers (both of you) — until I realized that no one really gives a good goddamn. So ...

With the nutty Golden Globes over and done with (nutty, yes, but I am all over the Mickey Rourke reclamation project) and the Emmys just around the predictable corner, it seems an ideal time to recognize two spectacular television performances that have no shot at winning any awards ... especially since one of them can be found on a show that has just been canceled.

Robert Knepper as Theodore Bagwell (T-Bag) — Prison Break

How do you play a villain and keep the audience interested in you?

Furthermore, how do you portray a villain and get the audience — against all their better judgment — to care?

Whatever you think the answer is, Robert Knepper is doing it — and doing it as well as anyone has in recent memory.

Serialized primetime dramas like Prison Break provide actors with a huge challenge: create a fully realized character and find ways to reveal that character in new ways week after week. If the actor and the writers are up to the challenge, the results can be thrilling.

Robert Knepper's performance has been nothing short of thrilling.

Prison Break gets head-slappingly silly at times — and the acting is wildly uneven — but most of it is rooted in an emotional reality and the most entertaining and consistently surprising presence is Knepper's Theodore Bagwell.

For the first three seasons, Bagwell was an unrepentant scuzzball — a white supremacist sexual deviant who delighted in his deprivation and the lawlessness of the prison environment. But even then, we caught glimpses of his desire to be something other than what he was — as we learned why he was the way he was.

This past season, Knepper was given a chance to be that other person — when T-Bag assumed the identity of a successful salesman. Knepper made the battle between T-Bag's survival instincts and his desire to change utterly riveting.

In one of the great scenes in recent television drama — T-Bag chooses to spare the family of Gretchen Morgan (played by our old friend Jodi Lyn O'Keefe). Knepper breaks your heart. He's brilliant.

And none of the kooky awards voters noticed.

If you want to have the T-Bag experience broadcast into your home (not THAT T-bag experience, the actor one!) you better do it quick. Fox just announced that they are pulling the plug on Prison Break — understandably so.

Prison Break is not a thing of greatness. Knepper's performance is.

I dig House. Dexter is interesting. Gabriel Byrne is Irish, so he's cool. But Robert Knepper gave the performance of the year. And somebody needed to say it.

James Wolk as Brad Cohen — Front of The Class

Really? Hallmark Hall of Fame!?


You bet your ass.

"Front of The Class" aired on December 7th and I was none too pleased that we were going to watch it. In fact, I had the Sunday NY Times spread out in front of me, ready to harrumph and guffaw my way through another weepfest.

Lisa had been intrigued by the commercial — the true story of Brad Cohen, a guy with Tourette Syndrome who beats the odds to achieve his dream to be a teacher.


Hallmark just ain't cool.

I could actually feel the tooth decay begin before the thing started. But then a crazy thing happened — in the graveyard known as TV-movies, good acting and sensitive writing appeared. First there were scenes depicting the struggles of Brad as a youngster. Twelve-year-old Dominic Scott Kay was impeccable as the young Cohen.

A nearly unrecognizable Patricia Heaton and the perennially-underrated Treat Williams are Cohen's parents who try to cope with his behavior.

But it is James Wolk who puts the real emotional charge in Front of The Class.

Seriously, what's better than watching someone you've never seen or heard of give a thrilling performance? As the adult Cohen, Wolk seamlessly blends a startlingly truthful physical portrait of Tourette Syndrome, a gung-ho can-do outlook and a deep well of raging frustration. Plus he falls in love in a way that doesn't make you want to throw a brick through the screen.

As these things go, its fairly miraculous.

Okay, I cried.

There I said it. So shoot me.

The thing is:

No one — not the cavalcade of film stars in HBO's mega-movies and mini-series, Showtime's prestige pieces or the rest of the year's television movie "events" — gave a better performance than this kid. And the nominations will go to the usual suspects and life will go on but sometimes ...

... that ain't cool.