On the 6th Day of Festivus, TV gave to me...
... Six welcome returns.
Every fall season I get stoked about all the new shows, with cool new premises ("A guy travels through time trying to make right what once went wrong!"-- Journeyman not Quantum Leap), and all the big changes in store for existing shows. But it's equally exciting to see which beloved actors will be returning to television. Brad Garrett coming back to television in 'Til Death last year? Cool! Patricia Heaton and Kelsey Grammer both coming back to television ... together? That's gotta be awesome, right? Jerry O'Connell on Carpoolers ... well ... ? I like the guy, but I'm not scheduling a 'Welcome Back' shindig for him.
Half the fun of a new television season is the return of great actors and actresses to the small screen. And while I could have easily done 10 or even 20 of these, I've narrowed it down to the six talents who were most welcome back in my house on a weekly basis this past year. I've even been so bold as to rank them. Feel free to agree, disagree and present your own lists in the comments.
6. Anthony Anderson (K-Ville)
I first discovered Anthony Anderson through his work on The Shield as gang boss Antwon Mitchell. Even from behind bars, Anderson's cold as ice delivery lit up the screen when he was on it. When I first heard about FOX's K-Ville, I was impressed. Not only because it featured Anderson, which I thought was a great pedigree of talent, but because it was set in modern day post-Katrina New Orleans. Here is a show that can look at the real issues and problems facing this troubled community. And I would be guaranteed a weekly dose of "Anthony Anderson Awesomeness."
Well Anderson delivered, bringing a compassion and depth to beleaguered cop Martin Boulet, whose partner abandoned him during the immediate aftermath of the storm, that is a thing of beauty to watch unfold. Unfortunately, the rest of the show has quickly turned into a routine police drama and I found myself losing interest before long. This is why, despite my love for AAA, I could only put him at Number Six (not to be confused with the incredibly hot Number Six on Battlestar Galactica). So I'll continue to enjoy Anderson on my television, but I'll just hope that his next project gives him a little more meat to work with.
5. Kristen Bell (Heroes)
Who didn't love Veronica Mars? Okay, well obviously a lot of people because it struggled in the ratings the whole time it was on the air, but it still developed a pretty loyal following, and in no small part to the work of Kristen Bell. And while that series is gone now, the lovely Bell managed to get a pretty significant role on the biggest buzz show of last season, Heroes.
As Elle, daughter of "The Company" top man Bob, Bell took what started as a bland, stereotypical bad girl and has grown her into a misunderstood, damaged, though still dangerous young lady, longing for acceptance and love from her father, all the while fearing disappointing him. Her performance is nothing short of devastating, and I can only hope that her 13-episode commitment can be extended. There are plenty of characters on that show I'd rather see gone more than Elle at this point, and that can be directly attributed to Bell's performance.
4. Craig T. Nelson (My Name is Earl)
This one caught me off guard, because I'll admit, I was never a huge fan of Coach. To me the show was the According to Jim of its day. Nothing too bad, but nothing too great and one of those shows where every year when you saw it had been renewed you were more than a little surprised, not only at the pickup for a new season but that it was still on the air at all. That said, Nelson's run on My Name is Earl (pictured above) as The Warden is nothing short of comedic genius.
His performance as an immature imbecile is hilarious, and while I'm glad the prison subplot is finally over, as there was only so much they could do with it, I can only hope that they can find a way to have Nelson's warden character return. Probably, without Earl there to help him he'll wind up fired and Earl can put him on his list. If not that, then put Nelson on a new show for next year and he can make this list again!
3. Glenn Close (Damages)
Yet another character I fell in love with on The Shield. Don't get me wrong, Glenn Close is a legend and it's not like I didn't know who she was, but she was amazing on her one season stint as captain of "the barn" and I thought the chemistry between her and Michael Chiklis was great. And as challenging as that character was, she was nothing compared to Close's latest role on the under-rated but critically acclaimed Damages. As Patty Hewes, Close is a much more mysterious and darker character.
The way the show unpeeled like an onion its first season (thank you FX for the healthy two season renewal), Close's character remained shrouded in mystery throughout. And her performance alternated from seemingly sincere to venomous to sinister to every myriad color between. While The Shield was her first foray into a weekly television show, and she did a stellar job there, her work on Damages is a tour de force!
Honorable Mention (Ted Danson)
I'd like to give an 'Honorable Mention' to Ted Danson (Cheers) for his impressive dramatic turn as billionaire Arthur Frobisher on Damages, a man who becomes tempted by the "dark side" as it were of fabulous wealth. Is he truly a decent "family man?" It's hard to tell, and that's a credit to Danson's talent. No word on if he will return for subsequent seasons, but I would think we haven't seen the last of Danson somewhere on our televisions.
2. Donald Sutherland (Dirty Sexy Money)
There's a lot of great talent on Dirty Sexy Money and a pretty fun premise to work with, but it could have quickly turned into campy over-the-top soapy stuff if it weren't for the work of Donald Sutherland. I'm as excited as anyone to see Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) back in a lead role on television, but it is Sutherland's performance as "Tripp" Darling that makes for riveting television every moment that he's on screen. With nary a word spoken, a turn of his head or a tear in his eye dominates the room.
A truly great actor shows you the complexities of the character they're portraying without telling you anything. Patriarch Tripp Darling surely has his secrets, and to this point in the show's run I have no idea if he's the typical billionaire "bad boy" or if he's genuinely a decent guy underneath it all. Sutherland's presence is the centerpiece of this ensemble, just as his embattled character is the lynch-pin of the whole DSM universe.
Honorable Mention (Blair Underwood)
What was a good show, a bit of a guilty pleasure, became an amazing show with the introduction of Simon Elder, a rival billionaire who may or may not be out to get the Darling family. Underwood reveals some of his darker machinations, but just like Sutherland, does an amazing job with the role he's been given. The sparring between these two is a delight to watch and makes Dirty Sexy Money must see television.
1. Christine Applegate (Samantha Who?)
It may just be that I'm of a certain age, but I grew up with Christina Applegate. Kelly Bundy on Married... with Children was the object of lust for all young men my age and little did we know that that hot little dim-bulb would grow up to be even more beautiful and talented in her 30s. While she's enjoyed a steady career in film and television (who remembers Jesse), somewhere along the way someone saw a goofy charm and sweetness in her and Samantha Who? was born.
As an amnesiac woman, who finds out she was a terrible person prior to her accident, we get to see both "good Sam" as she tries to make amends for her prior behavior, as well as "bad Sam" in various flashbacks. Applegate is a revelation in this role, captivating you with every smile, rambling monologue, pratfall and even those flashes to the wicked "bad Sam" are played so differently from "good Sam" it's a wonder they're the same actress. I had high hopes for Samantha Who? and Applegate, and yet she still managed to surpass all my expectations. And considering the premiere debuted as the #1 comedy of the week, beating out Two and a Half Men even, apparently I'm not the only one impressed.
Honorable Mention (Jean Smart)
A casting coup, Jean Smart has been all over our televisions for years, most notably as Charlene on Designing Women in the latter '80s and her Emmy-nominated turn as First Lady Martha Logan on 24. She even won two Emmys for guest work she did on Frasier between those two shows. But it was after her brilliant turn as Martha on 24, I've been wanting to see her back on the small screen. Considering the dramatic chops she showed there, it is a bit surprising to see her as Applegate's boozing, self-absorbed mother, but she's no less amazing in this role.
I realize there are many returning faces that I did not mention here. I've enjoyed the sparring between Alec Baldwin and Edie Falco on 30 Rock and enjoy seeing John Larroquette back on TV as a lawyer in Boston Legal, but I went with the performances and performers that really knocked my socks off this past year. And please, disagree with me. Agree. Make your own lists. And begin the speculation as to who we can look forward to seeing next year ... back on our TV sets.