People can’t stop talking about the season finale of The Practice. Sure, the sight of acquitted client George Vogelman (Michael Monks) wearing a nun’s habit — thus apparently revealing himself as a serial killer — was memorable, but for me the apex of the ABC drama’s season was the guest gig by Tony Danza.
That’s right, Tony Danza. Don’t believe me? Check out his arc when it re-airs starting June 13. Danza showed who’s the boss with his quietly commanding turn as Tommy Silva (for once a character not named Tony!), a sweet-talking legal shark who files suit against the firm for slandering the brother of one of George’s alleged victims. Paired with his muscular performance as Rocky the bartender in Broadway’s The Iceman Cometh — where he holds the stage opposite Kevin Spacey — the Practice part could represent the start of a long-overdue Tony Danza renaissance. Now all he needs is his own TV-drama showcase. Hey, David E. Kelley, instead of regurgitating Ally McBeal in half-hour chunks, how about a Tommy Silva spin-off?
Danza wasn’t the only guest star to swipe a show last season. Ex-ER paramedic Ron Eldard captivated audiences as a dead-end dad holding his kids hostage in a haunting installment of NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street. The episode reunited Eldard with Giancarlo Esposito (as FBI negotiator Mike Giardello), his partner on the long-gone-but-not-forgotten Fox police dramedy Bakersfield P.D.
Another top-notch cop show, ABC’s NYPD Blue, cast real-life father and daughter Bob and Lola Glaudini as James and Dolores Mayo. I don’t know which was more chilling to witness — PAA Dolores’ drug-induced demise or her tortured pop’s attempt to wreak vengeance with a courthouse shoot-out that killed ADA Sylvia Costas (Sharon Lawrence).
Not every award-worthy guest spot was so serious: Harry Groener (Dear John, Patch Adams) was a delight as Sunnydale’s happily demonic mayor on The WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Groener’s chipper nut role was eerily reminiscent of John Ritter’s tour de force two seasons ago as Ted, Buffy’s Stepford stepdad wannabe. Which, sadly, brings us to one of last season’s worst one-shots, Ritter’s embarrassingly broad rendering of a drunken photographer on NBC’s revolting Veronica’s Closet. The contrast in quality between Ritter’s cameos just goes to show that even good guests can’t transcend bad material.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Janeane Garofalo’s ill-conceived appearance as Mabel Buchman on the send-off of NBC’s Mad About You. You’ll find no bigger a Garofalo fan than I, but what could’ve possibly possessed her to play the grown spawn of Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt? You could almost hear this stand-up cynic gagging on her final line, a saccharine voice-over reporting that her TV parents ”lived happily ever after.”
Then there are those guests who can make bad material even worse. Supermodels (but not superactresses) Heidi Klum and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos marred the season finales of ABC’s Spin City and NBC’s Just Shoot Me, respectively. The shows’ writers thought pairing off these amazons with diminutive males Michael J. Fox and David Spade was inherently hilarious — it wasn’t. Romijn-Stamos and Klum will return in the fall to resolve their cliff-hangers. Which means some of next season’s worst guest shots are already lined up.