What: Michael Cuccione’s performance as Jason “Q.T.” McKnight on the 1999-2001 MTV mockumentary series 2ge+her, spotlighting a prefab boy band. In this clip, impresario Bob Buss introduces Q.T. to his new bandmates.
Why: 2ge+her was a perfectly timed show. The audiences for the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync were just starting to become self-aware, gaining a sense that they were being fed empty calories. The Gunn Brothers’ 2ge+her was entirely empty calories, provided by singers with empty heads. The band consisted of heartthrob Jerry, shy boy Chad, rebel Mickey, and (way) older brother Doug. But 2ge+her wasn’t quite together until manager Buss recruited Q.T., the cute one. Q.T. came with impish good looks, a silky voice, and a secret weapon to make the pre-ladies swoon: a terminal case of biliary thrombosis. (Q.T. on his disease: “Dude, we’re gonna get so many chicks.”) United, the band rolled out a series of catchy hits such as “U + Me = Us (Calculus)” and “The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)”. They opened for Britney Spears, with Q.T. likely getting to second base with more than a few of her plaid-skirted fans. Then they vanished. 2ge+her may not have been 2ge+her 4ever, but for a moment, they were the funniest thing on TV.
Impact: Oh yeah, one other little detail: Just like his character, Michael Cuccione was also dying. Cuccione didn’t just suffer his stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in silence; he took it to the people. At age 11, his Make-a-Wish request was to play a cancer victim on Baywatch. Hardly afraid to wear his impending death on his sleeve, at age 14 he played his ailment for laughs on 2ge+her. But it couldn’t last. As season 2 began, he suffered serious breathing problems and had to miss tapings of several episodes. After a car accident, he entered the hospital and never left it. At age 16, actor and cancer activist Michael Cuccione died, having taught a generation how to deal with death. 2ge+her folded after his passing, a permanent reminder of how vapid the music business can be when it tries hard enough.
Personal Connection: The MTV I knew just played music videos, except for a few series that played specific kinds of music videos. I had long given up on the Real Road World Rules-generation’s MTV, but 2ge+her sucked me back in. The cleverness of the concept got me there, but I stayed to watch Cuccione. Perhaps it was the rare opportunity to watch someone die with dignity, in complete control of what little he could control. When I go, that’s how I’m going out.
Other Contenders: Philip Alford and Mary Badham ham it up in To Kill a Mockingbird; Haley Joel Osment has a secret in The Sixth Sense; Kirsten Dunst is a cute little dead girl in Interview with the Vampire; Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell, and Corey Feldman walk a dead man’s curve in Stand by Me; Natalie Portman is a semi-pro in Léon; Emil Minty sure likes his boomerang in The Road Warrior; Joey Calvan rewrites the alphabet on Sesame Street.