' ' Cinema Romantico: Imagining Post-Show Sitcom Characters in Movies

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Imagining Post-Show Sitcom Characters in Movies

Esteemed New York Times film critic A.O. Scott would, based on the above Tweet, appear to have seen “Beautiful Boy”, the new film co-starring Steve Carell and Amy Ryan, former co-stars of NBC’s “The Office.” What Mr. Scott thought of the movie is, in the context of this post, irrelevant. No, we are merely interested in the thought that crossed his so-called shallow mind. We say “so-called” because, well, that thought would have crossed Cinema Romantico’s mind too. This blog loves Amy Ryan; this blog loved Amy Ryan on “The Office”; this blog loved Amy Ryan and Steve Carell together on “The Office”; this blog sometimes wonders what happened to their “Office” characters. In fact, that’s what I told my friend Rory when he texted me Scott’s Tweet early one morning last week. And Rory, one of Cinema Romantico’s most loyal frustrated followers, knowing full well this blog’s predilection for the inane, immediately made a fabulous pitch – that is, a blog post about the lives of sitcom people post-show. Hold the phone.

In concocting this post, however, we have decided to honor the spirit of both “Beautiful Boy” and Scott’s tweet. That is to say, we will not simply be positing movie ideas based on actual sitcom characters. No, we will be positing movies featuring actors that played certain sitcom characters, eliciting the sensation that these characters we love do still exist in some sort of artistic, mystical in-between.

A few ideas:

Steve Hytner. While Bryan Cranston’s turn as Tim Whatley, “dentist to the stars”, presaged his leap to stardom, and while even Debra Messing parlayed her two episode stint as the immortal Beth Lookner into “Will & Grace”, Hytner, as hack comic, thorn-in-Jerry’s-side Kenny Bania, had no such luck post-“Seinfeld.” In the show’s ersatz reunion on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, Bania briefly appeared, lamenting that he could not find work in the post-2008 economy, to which Jerry replied “You weren’t working in the good economy”, which seemed to emblemize both Bania and Hytner. But now it’s an era where Netflix is giving every other comic a special. So what if Hytner got a special? Even if he wasn’t Bania we would all detect Bania in the special’s ether anyway, raising the deeper questions, so to speak, about “stuff you don’t have to think about” when everybody else is Woke.

James Avery. The late, indelible Avery was the MVP of NBC’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, as comical as he was commanding, as exasperated at the eponymous Fresh Prince’s antics as he was earnest in giving The Fresh Prince guidance. He loomed large in my childhood. And earlier this summer, stumbling upon a “Fresh Prince” re-run on some channel some night, there was a passing reference to Avery’s Philip Banks, appointed to the bench in Season 3, perhaps one day winding up on the Supreme Court. It stopped my heart. I could not stop envisioning a Supreme Court where Philip Banks sat next to Sonia Sotomayor. Oh, what a wonderful world it would be. And if, in that wonderful world, Avery were still with us, we would craft a movie where a brief scene visiting the (once) hallowed halls of the Supreme Court would catch a glimpse of Avery in the black robe, coolly, fairly, firmly laying down the law.

Chris Eigeman/A.J. Langer. There are infinite reasons My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife is the only one for me. Mid-chief amongst these is the two of us being among the roughly 77 people total who watched ABC’s late-90s sitcom “It’s Like, You Know” before it was shuttered after a year and a half. That it was my second favorite sitcom of all-time pertains to its creator, Peter Mehlman, being a “Seinfeld” scribe, yes, but also to Chris Eigeman, who would be George Clooney in Cinema Romantico’s Hollywood, starring, giving him a weekly vehicle to act incomparably dry as a starchy New Yorker re-located against his will to Los Angeles. What was more, his Will They/Won’t They was carried out with A.J. Langer, playing Lauren Woods, the masseuse/process server, whose askew cadence and purposeful aloofness improbably played off Eigeman’s patented pithiness in such a way as to give their Will They/Won’t They truth because she always seemed to dance around his wavelength rather than totally tune into it. That the series was axed just as their relationship seemed on the brink of a big turn seemed poetic, leaving them to float in the un-televised ether. Neither Eigeman nor Langer has acted a ton since, which saddens me because two impeccable talents deserve more. And so I dream of a dom-com (domestic comedy) where Eigeman and Langer play married characters just, like, you know, living life, but in Ohio, from whence Lauren Woods came, suggesting that she and Arthur found happy-ish ever after.

Jane Curtin/Susan Saint James. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, I don’t want this to be a “Book Club”-ish comedy, even though “Book Club” is in my Netflix queue and I really want to see it. I want this to be a movie with two parallel tracks, Curtin like Patricia Clarkson in “Cairo Time” and Saint James like Margo Martindale in “Paris, je t'aime”, going through the motions even as they spiritually sense something is amiss. Because sometimes, when you think you're all by yourself, you are.

Mark Linn-Baker. Larry Appleton of “Perfect Strangers” landed a job at the fictional Chicago Chronicle in Season 3. And though his hours, per sitcom contrivance, never really matched up to a journalist’s, and though, per sitcom contrivance, you never saw him ferreting out leads outside the office, you knew he took his job seriously. But what if Linn-Baker turned up in some current Hollywood director’s ode to the power of the news in a bit part, down there in the T*ump rally press pen, dutifully taking notes, reporting exactly what he sees and not what Bozo the Spray Tan Clown tweets? Couldn’t we think, if only for a moment, that after the Chicago Chronicle, like the Chicago Tribune, was gobbled up by Tronc and Appleton was subsequently pressured into taking an early buyout, he persevered. And if he failed to become Bob Woodward, so what? He became someone whose name you don’t know but whose work you intrinsically appreciate nonetheless. (Bronson Pinchot will appear in the next Harmony Korine film as a natty captain of a Garbage Barge.)

Robia Scott. As a mere recent “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” bandwagon jumper, having only watched the first three seasons this year, at the rightful behest of My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife who was a stone cold original Buffy fan, I was extremely late to the Jenny Calendar party. And like any favorite TV show leaves you wanting more of certain characters (Alton Benes?), I always wanted more Jenny Calendar. Scott (billed then as Robia LaMorte) gave a performance that initially exuded such lightness only to then exude such desperation, born of the desire to hold onto the joy which we realize was not necessarily innate but earned, and intrinsically evokes the idea that our teachers contain, to quote the god-awful line of Rose DeWitt Bukater, “an ocean of secrets.” Scott’s IMDb profile over the last decade is, sadly, pretty sparse, and so I imagine her appearing in some indie, in the role of, say, a social studies teacher, just for a few scenes, a la Alicia Silverstone in “Terri”, giving all us Buffy loyalists and latecomers, a reason to distrust what we already know to be true and just believe our eyes.

Rachel Bloom / Vella Lovell / Gabrielle Ruiz. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, part comedy, part musical, is still on the air, granted, with one season remaining. But one of my absolute favorite developments of the past season was the unlikely troika of Rebecca, Heather, and Valencia becoming fast gal pals, conveyed in their aces, modish, Spice Girls-ish ditty “Friendtopia.” I’d like to imagine Bloom, Lovell, and Ruiz riffing on “Spice World” after the show ends but then, Rachel Bloom is smarter than me. I have no pitch. Give her some cash, Hollywood, and let her figure out the rest.

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