TV does the darndest things

The 10 moments that defined American television in 2002. Not necessarily in a good way.

By Sheerly Avni
Published December 26, 2002 9:00PM (EST)

TV, maybe more than anything else, is a medium of moments. The good, the bad, the ugly and the godawful. Herewith the 10 moments that, for me, defined television in 2002. And a bonus moment I couldn't resist.

1. Live from the sands (of the Jersey shore)

For all the kudos given to Carmela's full-frontal rages in the season-ending episode of "The Sopranos," they were straight out of the Actors Workshop -- and anger is the easiest emotion to play on-screen. No, the great performance of that episode came from Tony's boat right before the closing credits. Alone in the night, but still singing along to Rat Pack dreams, winning the battle if never the war. As false and perfect as the Frank Sinatra on your jukebox, it's Tony's reminder to the world that he too has been a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, usually all at the same time.

2. Why you keep handcuffs in your nightstand drawer.

"24." Episode 6 of this season. Jack has full custody of the reviled Nina, who offed his dippy perma-victim wife. And he is in control. No, wait! She's cool, calm and collected, eyeing him as if he's the one in the handcuffs. His lower lip is quivering. She's in control. No, wait. She's still the one in handcuffs, and Jack's got the keys. But hold on -- CTU has sent out a watchdog to make sure no revenge-inspired Nina handling occurs. Nina's in control. No, wait. Jack drugged the bodyguard's drinking water. There's no one to protect Nina from Jack! He's got her where he wants her! He's in control!

And all in just 30 seconds. Screw Bogie and Bacall -- this is war.

3. I'd like to yank the Academy

The Oscars. Halle Berry's overwrought, hysterical reprise of her overwrought, hysterical performance in "Monster's Ball," except unfortunately not naked or wearing a rain-soaked tank top. Memorable because she displays even more Teflon radiance at the podium than Julia Roberts did last year, and also because it was a victory for talentless, gorgeous and physically flawless black women everywhere.

4. "Mommie Dearest" redux

"The Osbournes" offered too many moments to choose from, but how about Sharon chasing Kelly around with a freshly moistened finger from ... yeah, there. Not only a highlight from everyone's favorite domestic train wreck, but also a refreshing reminder when you look at your own mom that, well, it could have been worse. Or better, depending on how you turned out.

5. Best use of the N-word on TV

"Curb Your Enthusiasm." When Krazee-Eyez Killa calls out, "Are you my nigga?" and Larry David nervously responds, "Yes, yes, I'm your nigger." (After pulling the most un-nigga move one can: outing the guy's philandering to his wife.) The layers and layers of what goes on in the exchange could easily furnish at least three Oberlin students with topics for their senior theses in cultural studies. The 2002 answer to Eddie Murphy's "White Like Me" sketch on "Saturday Night Live."

6. Think of it as a short-short with honest product placement

The Ikea commercial with the abandoned lamp. Call me a sucker but I a) felt sorry for the lamp, b) laughed at myself for feeling sorry for the lamp, and c) went to Ikea and bought a lamp. And yes, I accept that there's no distinction between commercials and shows anymore. You should, too.

7. Trent eats (Jim) crow

Trent Lott's interview on BET, in which he alternated between trying to defend the indefensible and stopping just short of claiming that his father was the son of a black sharecropper. What's next, Fox hires Bibi Netanyahu as its new Ramallah correspondent? Pat Robertson guests on "Will and Grace"? Ed Gordon didn't sneer once, and for that he deserves a reward. Maybe Lott's old job.

8. Can anyone say "schadenfreude"? Not on this show.

"The Bachelor." Christie the Psycho-chicken's prime-time meltdown. There is nothing so soothing as to know that even if you've lost your job, broken up with your true love, and haven't had health insurance since before the millennium, at least you haven't pulled a "Fatal Attraction" on national television. Yet.

9. President No. 1: The opiate of the people

"The West Wing." It's the scene we've all been waiting for: While juggling his marital problems with a ripped-from-the-headlines international crisis, and his own personal responsibility for ordering the death of someone-or-other in response to said crisis, President Jed Bartlet finally steps off his moral high horse, dispenses with the history lecture, washes his hands of the great circle-jerk that has become the mildly dissenting left, and engages in some hardcore realpolitik, the way a real leader should.

Oh, wait, never mind. He doesn't.

10. President No. 2: The idiot of the people

President George W. Bush (the actual president, remember?) elevates the level of political discourse once more, with the straight-out-of-"Bonanza" line "After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad." How the West was lost.

10 1/2. Aww -- a father-and-son moment

Really and truly. If you didn't cry along with little Darren Baker (son of then San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker) at the end of Game 7 of the World Series, you have no soul.

Sheerly Avni

Sheerly Avni is a freelance writer living in Oakland.

MORE FROM Sheerly Avni

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

24 Curb Your Enthusiasm Television