Anthony Heald has the role of a lifetime in "Boston Public." 

Principal Role

Anthony Heald has an actor's dream role in "Boston Public."

And Heald is making the most of it, as he usually does. When he's not chewing on the scenery, he's always in motion — whether it's a nervous blink or a sweeping gesture, whatever makes the camera pay attention. It's an Actor Thing, and some would say it's only worthy of the hammiest. But Heald is no ham. He's just got a part to die for.

As Scott Guber, assistant principal at Winslow High, Heald gets to do what he does best: play mean and snotty. Heald has memorably played mean and snotty on "The Practice" and "Law & Order," and in movies including "A Time to Kill," "Silence of the Lambs," "The Client," "Kiss of Death" and "The Pelican Brief."

But an actor on series TV can't build a character out of nothing but mean and snotty, no matter how adept he is. For series TV, there also has to be a hint or a whiff of a suggestion that there's some redeeming characteristic, something to save the character from being universally loathed.

With assistant principal Guber, the redeeming characteristic is that he's also a bit pitiable. How he does this is much too complicated to go into here, but it's amazing to watch. Just when Guber has behaved at his worst and gotten called on it, Heald makes him almost ... almost ... seem to see himself as others must.

Like I said, it's a delicious role.

Heald is but one actor in a talented ensemble playing the administrators, teachers and students at Winslow High who grapple with teaching and learning in a school facing all the problems that schools face in real life — from drugs to gangs, and from low funding to teacher burnout. One recent episode focused on an aging teacher, ruinous gossip, a teacher wrongly accused by a student of fondling her, and a gang-related murder. As a running subtext, Guber was the victim of an elaborate practical joke that set him up to believe he was being asked to be musical director and conductor of a small-town symphony orchestra. He fell for it — hard.

I keep telling you, it's a scrumptious role.

"Boston Public" is produced by David E. Kelley Productions. Kelley, who's also at the helm of "The Practice" and "Ally McBeal," is also creator/executive producer. And "Boston Public" bears his mark: the stories are gripping, the pacing is just shy of frenetic, and the ensemble is greater than the sum of its parts. (The ensemble includes Chi McBride, Jessalyn Gilsig, Fyvush Finkel, Nicky Katt, Loretta Devine, Sharon Leal and Rashida Jones.) Fox is happy with the ratings, too: the network just signed on for a second season of 22 episodes.

But there's no doubt about which actor is having the most fun. It's Anthony Heald. Or maybe it's just that he's so ...


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