Thursday, November 25, 2010

Guest Stars Part II: Sunny and 30 Rock

This is the second edition of me taking an extensive look at notable guest stars that have appeared on TV shows I watch. I define notable as someone who I recognize when looking at the critics or watching the show so it's a subjective thing. As usual, any corrections or additions to the list are greatly appreciated. More importantly don't hesitate to weigh in.

* means appeared as Self
^ means that they appeared in more than one role
Bold means Recurring Character

30 Rock:
Adam Levine*, Al Gore*, Alan Alda, Andy Richter, Ben Bailey*, Betty White*, Bill Hader, Brian Williams*, Brian Stack (Conan O'Brien), Brian McCann (Conan O'Brien), Buzz Aldrin*, Carrie Fisher, Conan O’Brien*, Cheyenne Jackson, Chris Parnell, David Schwimmer, Edie Falco, Elaine Stritch, Elizabeth Banks, Elvis Costello*, Emily Mortimer, Horatio Sanz, Isabella Rosselini, James Rebhorn, Jennifer Anniston, Jerry Seinfeld*, Jimmy Fallon*, John Bon Jovi*, John McEnroe*, John Slattery, Julia Louis-Dreyffus, Julianne Moore, Lonny Ross, Matt Damon, Megan Mullally, Meredith Viera*, Michael Sheen, The entire cast of "Night Court", Oprah Winfrey, Padma Lakshi* (Top Chef), Paul Giamatti, Paul Scheer, Paul Reubens, Rachel Dratch^, Rob Huebel, Rob Reiner*, Rip Torn, Sean Hayes, Selma Hayek, Sherri Shepherd, Steve Buscemi, Wayne Brady, Will Arnett, Will Forte^, Whoopi Goldberg

Summary: 30 Rock can affectionately be called a "Stunt Casting Whore." When the show's on, no one seems to mind but it was a different story when the show started slumping in Season three. The show's detractors must at least be jealous that 30 Rock's casting department is able to pull practically anyone out of a hat: Oprah Winfrey, Julianne Moore, Matt Damon and Paul Giamatti are likely very busy people with very little need to guest star on a TV show.

Whether you love or hate 30 Rock for the stunt casting. It's hard to argue that guest stars aren't used well on 30 Rock. Random celebrities like personalities like Buzz Aldrin, Jon Bon Jovi, Rob Reiner, Elvis Costello John McEnroe, Padma Lakshi, and Betty White (this was about a year before she became an Internet meme) seem to come out of nowhere in relatively inconsequential roles. Al Gore, Brian Williams, and Carrie Fisher have never satirized their own personalities so effectively as on this show.

Highlight: So hard to choose from this list, but here's a top 5 (in no particular order):
1. Elizabeth Banks-In Banks's Avery Jessup, Jack has found a counterpart that's equally nutty which means that Jack's vitriolic nature isn't going to be softened by the mushy romantic comedy plots that (in my opinion) sank much of the show's 3rd and 4th seasons.
2. David Schwimmer-Absolutely hilarious as an egotistical-actor-turned-rogue-environmentalist.
3. Paul Reubens-Played the last surviving heir to the Hapsburg Dynasty and a genetic monstrosity due prolonged in-breeding. His performance alone made
4. Wayne Brady-A bad date that Liz couldn't break up with due to accusations of racism. His hobbies included "Vietnam War reenactments, blogging about Star Wars (not the movie but the Reagan-era initiative) and taking pictures of doors."
5. Chris Parnell-Dr. Leo Spaceman has become a fan favorite for his unique brand of medical incompetence.

Check out this article on how 30 Rock's Characters Represent the Epic Struggle of Art vs Commerce

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
Notable Guest Stars:
Anne Archer, Autumn Reeser, Catherine Reitman, Chad Coleman, Dave Foley, David Huddleston, Dennis Haskins, Jason Sudeikis, Judy Greer, Lynn Marie Stewart, Mary Lynn Rujskab, Melanie Lynskey, Nora Dunn, Patricia Belcher, Rene Auberjonois, Rob Thomas*, Sinbad*, Stephen Collins, Suzy Nakamura.

Summary: Over the course of 67 episodes, "Sunny" doesn't have a particularly notable roster of people to come through the show. This is somewhat curious because Danny DeVito is so well-connected. In fact, the show's two biggest hit characters are people with personal connections to the show: Mary Elizabeth Ellis (The Waitress) is Charlie Day's wife and Bruce Hornsby (Rickety Cricket) is a long-time friend of the gang and a story consultant for the show. Additionally, the target of Dennis in the "DENNIS System" episode, Jill Latiano, was Glenn Howerton's real-life fiancee. There is a relatively steady stream of guest stars week in and week out but a lot of them are under the radar.

It's also interesting to note that the guest star is never at the center of the episode on "Sunny." In his recent appearance, Jason Sudeikis probably had the most screentime for a guest star so far and that's because he was temporarily part of the gang themselves. Guest stars usually have the thankless task of responding with bafflement to the gang's unique style of conversation.

Highlights: Due to the way he defined the role on "Newsradio," Dave Foley is considered the archetypal straight man but he was a little underused in his role as a school principal who made a massive error in judgement by hiring Charlie and Dee. For my personal favorite one-time guest star, however, I'll go with Saturday Night Live alum Nora Dunn. She plays Frank's sister-in-law who responds disapprovingly as Mac and Frank both try to pick her up at her husband's funeral.

The Waitress and Rickety Cricket are fan favorites but I would probably choose Brian Unger's performance as the lawyer as my favorite long-term character. It's already enough of an accomplishment alone that he's able to play a foil to the gang (particularly Charlie) without seeming vindictive or overly dislikable in the process. Half the time, the lawyer is overly stressed and wants them to go away and half the time, he relishes going toe-to-toe with the gang and besting them. I didn't particularly care for how he was used in "The Gang Gets Divorced" (he seemed a little vindicitive to want to financially destroy Dennis when Mac was the one that drunk-dialed), but on the basis of the first two episodes alone, I'm pretty impressed.

I didn't list Unger as a notable guest star because I didn't recognize his name. His background is quite interesting: He's produced segments for the Daily Show, served as a commentator on NPR and written for The Washington Post and Minneapolis star Tribune; and he's served as a host for series on The Discovery Channel and PBS.

Coming up on the next edition: Boston Public, Mad About You, Newsradio, Community, or possibly Heroes. Whatever strikes my fancy

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