Too close to call

Top shows make critics' picks tough

With most prognosticators picking “The Sopranos” to take last year’s best drama category and then watching Tony and his family lose to “The Practice,” all bets are off in this year’s races.

For drama series, Howard Rosenberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic for the Los Angeles Times, chooses HBO’s “Sopranos,” which also won the Golden Globe for best drama, saying that it remains the “best thing I’ve ever seen on television.”

“‘The West Wing’ certainly has a lot of good things going for it,” Rosenberg continues, “but ‘The Sopranos’ is in another hemisphere, it’s off Earth somewhere.”

Joanne Weintraub, television critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, joins Rosenberg in picking “The Sopranos” as the year’s best drama, but admits she’d have a difficult time voting against NBC’s “The West Wing,” created by Aaron Sorkin.

“The two shows are so different,” she says, “and I don’t think ‘The Sopranos’ this year was quite as good as last year. But that’s like saying it was only an A+, it wasn’t an A++. It’s still week to week the best hour on television.”

Aaron Barnhart, however, who analyzes television for the Kansas City Star, predicts that “The Practice” will again take home this year’s drama Emmy.

“Given the mindset of the Emmy voters, and the clear understanding of what rivets a television audience that David Kelley has, makes ‘The Practice’ a more appealing and winning show than ‘The Sopranos,'” Barnhart says. ” ‘The Sopranos’ may take more awards in the individual categories such as writing and editing, but I just don’t see how ‘The Practice’ loses for best drama. If ‘The Practice’ gets any (competition), it will be from ‘The West Wing.’ ”

As for comedy, Rosenberg picks another HBO offering, “Sex and the City,” which last year lost to Fox’s “Ally McBeal,” also a Kelley creation. “I think ‘Sex and the City’ is smartly written,” he says. “You can watch it a second or third time and hear things you didn’t hear the first.”

Weintraub also picks “Sex and the City,” which won this year’s Golden Globe for best comedy series, while tossing NBC’s “Will & Grace” into the mix.

“Week to week, along with ‘Frasier,’ ‘Will & Grace’ is the most consistently funny show. I guess I’d be surprised if at least Sean Hayes or Megan Mullally didn’t get nominated. It would be nice to see them recognized, although I think the leads (Eric McCormack and Debra Messing) in that show are a bit undervalued.”

Barnhart pinpoints “The Drew Carey Show” as one comedy that never gets its due.

“It’s no more or less predictable or intelligently written than other shows that have won Emmys like ‘Third Rock,’ or even ‘Frasier,’ ” he says.

From “Drew Carey” Barnhart picks Kathy Kinney as a performer he’d like to see receive Emmy recognition.

“If Kristen Johnston and Helen Hunt can get Emmys, I don’t see why Kathy Kinney can’t. Her character isn’t as attractive in certain respects. In fact, she’s strangely unlikable in a way that doesn’t take away from her appeal. But because she’s not warm and fuzzy, she’s been overlooked.”

For best comedy actress, Rosenberg picks Jane Kaczmarek, the mom from “Malcolm in the Middle.” For best comedy actor, Weintraub predicts Michael J. Fox, this year’s Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild winner for his work on “Spin City,” as a distinct possibility.

Overall, Rosenberg and Weintraub dub Khandi Alexander’s turn in HBO’s gritty miniseries “The Corner” as worthy of recognition.

“The opening hour (of ‘The Corner’) was so bleak I could barely stand it,” says Rosenberg. “Then the characters took off and really blossomed.”

Weintraub says that “if people will spend more time watching” there might be some new names to contend with come Emmy night. “I think there’s a lot of good work out there that hasn’t ever been recognized.”

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