TV Critic’s Corner

The award of a lifetime for Alan Alda

Alan Alda
Monica Schipper/Getty Images For Hamptons International Film Festival
Alan Alda

I’m truly happy that Alan Alda is going to receive the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. I think he’s one of the best, and most underrated, TV actors out there.

You probably know many of his credits, most obviously his starring role as Hawkeye Pierce on “M*A*S*H.” He was the perfect actor for the role, as a guy pulled between cynicism and heart, numbness and soulfulness, always winding up on the right side of things. His wartime despair and anti-authoritarianism took the happier form of snark, pranks, and martini-sipping, but he remained the dramatic center of the show.

I’ve also been impressed by the complexity, pathos, and commitment he has brought to his less likable, more dramatic characters. As Uncle Pete on “Horace and Pete,” he drove home the bottomless anxiety of a deeply damaged Archie Bunker type of man who hates women, blacks, gays, hipsters, and cellphone users. As Senator Arnold Vinick on “The West Wing,” he was a social moderate and fiscal conservative running for president — but he had dignity, and he had respect for his competitor, two disappearing virtues. Alda, along with Jimmy Smits as the man he ran against and lost to, made the last seasons of the show dynamic.


On five episodes of “ER,” Alda was particularly moving as an attending physician who, it becomes clear, is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s but unwilling to accept it.

I could go on, with his memorable moments in “30 Rock” and “The Big C,” not to mention his impressive movie work. The SAG awards will be held on Jan. 27 and broadcast on TBS and TNT. Alda, currently hosting the “Clear + Vivid With Alan Alda” podcast about society, culture, medicine, and comedy, recently announced that he has Parkinson’s disease.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.