Who says all the real TV drama these days happens on reality shows? You can have your Omarosa breakdowns or “Survivor” sexual harassment claims. Scripted dramas still have the power to move, frighten and enrich in a way their reality counterparts only hope to acheive. Newark Star-Ledger TV critic and columnist Alan Sepinwall selects his 10 best scripted dramatic moments from the past season:
“Raincoats and Recipes” – Gilmore Girls, 5/18/04
For four years, Alexis Bledel’s Rory Gilmore had been one of the most virginal (in every sense of the word) teen characters in primetime. But in the “Gilmore” season finale, she not only had her first sexual experience, but had it with her married ex-boyfriend. As a horrified Lorelai (Lauren Graham) tried to explain to her daughter, she didn’t raise her to be the other woman.
“The Escape” – The OC, 9/16/03
Melodrama is still drama, a fact “OC” creator Josh Schwartz captured best in this gleefully over-the-top fall episode where Mischa Barton’s spoiled Marissa overdosed on sleeping pills in a Tijuana dive and had to be carried to safety in the arms of Benjamin McKenzie’s brooding Ryan.
“6 a.m.-7 a.m.” – 24, 4/18/04
Sutherland’s Jack Bauer has had to do some awful things to get the job done over the years, but maybe nothing was worse than having to murder his boss, Ryan Chappelle (Paul Schulze), to keep a blackmailing terrorist from releasing a vial of a lethal, highly contagious bio weapon. What made the execution especially chilling was that Chappelle knew it was coming, and didn’t even object to the circumstances.
“Millennium Approaches” – Angels in America, 12/7/03
The special effects were cool but the real wonder of “Angels” came in the down-to-earth moments, especially an early scene where HIV-positive Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) began vomiting blood, much to the dismay of cowardly boyfriend Lewis (Ben Shenkman), who used Prior’s deteriorating condition as an excuse to bolt the apartment, and the relationship.
“Thy Kingdom Come” – Kingdom Hospital, 3/3/04
Most of this Stephen King adaptation of the Danish horror series was so burdened with incidental detail that it was hard to even notice the scary bits. But there was no denying the terror in the first episode’s gruesome van accident, based beat for beat on King’s own near-death experience.
“Storm Warnings” – The Wire, 8/10/03
One of the many geniuses of David Simon’s crime drama is the way it can take the most obscure, unsympathetic characters and make them the compelling center of their own universe. Ziggy Sobotka (James Ransone) was a pathetic comic-relief character for most of the season, only to explode into a murderous rage after suffering one humiliation too many. His shooting spree was like the tragic climax of a Bruce Springsteen song, as Ziggy threw his life away for the sake of his pride.
“Mum” – The Shield, 4/6/04
Just when you thought “The Shield” couldn’t get any rawer, along came Capt. Aceveda’s — and every male viewer’s — worst nightmare. While following the trail of some stolen money, Aceveda (Benito Martinez) made the mistake of hanging out alone in a criminal’s home and was subdued, humiliated and raped by a couple of gang-bangers.
“Here Was a Man” – Deadwood, 4/11/04
Even viewers who knew their Old West history didn’t want to believe that David Milch would kill off Wild Bill Hickok in the fourth episode, if only because Keith Carradine was so understated and grand in the role. But kill him Milch did, in a shattering 10-minute sequence demonstrating that Hickok not only knew his end was near, but welcomed it. Especially powerful was Wild Bill’s last significant act: warning a new widow to “listen to the thunder” and get the hell out of Deadwood while she still could.
“Jump” – Joan of Arcadia, 1/9/04
Amber Tamblyn’s Joan, fearful that best friend Adam (Christopher Marquette) is going to hurt himself, tries to get him to read the suicide note his mother left him years before. He’s never had the nerve, afraid that it might blame him for her death. So Joan asks her mother, Helen (Mary Steenburgen), to read it aloud to Adam — and reveal that he was the only thing that brought any joy to his late mother’s tortured life.
“Long Term Parking” – The Sopranos, 5/23/04
Drea de Matteo’s tacky, deluded Adriana, en route to the nail parlor in the sky, confesses her FBI involvement to fiance Christopher (Michael Imperioli), who blinks in horror at what she’s done to them both, then tries to choke her to death, then loses his nerve and starts sobbing like a baby. And, most amazing of all, Adriana comforts him.