Sunday, November 21, 2010

Double Takes

Zosia Mamet on "Mad Men" (left) 

In the old days, actors who lucked into a recurring role on a TV series faced the double-edged sword that people might not be able to ever think of them as another character. (Hello, Shelley Long!) 

But lately a small cadre of talented actors are showing up on multiple, quality shows and playing a wide range of characters, simultaneously.

One of the first reappearing actors I noticed was Kim Dickens [left], who within a few years was breathtakingly convincing as: a prostitute on Deadwood, as Sawyer's fellow co-artist girlfriend on Lost, as Matt Saracen's wayward mom on Friday Night Lights, and as the hardworking chef on Treme [below, right].

So, why the new multi-casting? Several factors are involved. I'm sure part of it is the current Hollywood caution of "round up the usual suspects." And of course sometimes it's a new series trying to draw on the fan base of a previous hit, as when Flash Forward poached Lost's Dominic Monaghan and Sonya Walger.

But sometimes there are shows like The Wire and Mad Men that are just so stellar that everyone in town watches and wants to re-use the actors (Hey, there's The Wire's Idris Elba on The Office! There's Mad Men's Maggie Siff on Sons of Anarchy!)

Sometimes it's that the showrunner of one series (Friday Night Lights' Jason Katims) also runs another show (Parenthood) and values an actor beyond what we've seen. (He brought FNL's Minka Kelly onboard Parenthood.) 

But also, the new cable series model of 13 episodes has freed up actors from prohibitive contracts and work schedules in ways that weren't possible before. And creators and audiences would rather see great acting than a constant churn of new starlets. 

Whatever the cause, I find myself doing double takes -- wait, Gabriel Byrne's daughter on In Treatment (Mae Whitman) is now Lauren Graham's daughter on Parenthood. And his son is played by the suddenly grown-up Alex Woolf of the teen idol Naked Brothers Band. 

Here are three young performers who have shown remarkable double dexterity in the past TV season or so: Zosia Mamet as Joyce the lesbian who befriends Peggy on Mad Men and the wayward teen friend of Mae Whitman's on Parenthood; Allison Brie as Pete Campbell's uptown wife Trudy on Mad Men and the repressed Jewish Annie on Community; and Michael B. Jordan, who sported dreadlocks on The Wire as the young drug dealer Wallace, then transformed as Friday Night Lights' Vince Howard from the son of a crack addict and inmate to a star quarterback; and as of late October showed up on Parenthood in a mustache and wholly different guise, as a homeless volunteer coordinator that Haddie gets a crush on. They convey the confidence that we'll be seeing more of them.

Allison Brie on Community

Allison Brie on "Mad Men"

Zosia Mamet on Parenthood (left)

Michael B. Jordan on The Wire 
and Friday Night Lights

Michael B. Jordan on "Parenthood" 

Fighting City Hall

In New York, if you want something done, you invariably have to do it twice. I was reminded of that adage when I got a piece of returned mail this weekend with 27 cents postage due.

One of the great things about living in New York is not needing a car.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Couldn't Believe My Eyes

I was sitting in a theater last Thursday, marvelling at the visual inventiveness of the British production of Brief Encounter, when I rubbed my right eye -- and the whole stage dimmed about 75%. I did it again and realized that my left eye had a huge floating fuzzy spot in the center of my line of vision.

Holy crap.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Diet Soda Diet

I was a caffeine freak in college. But not in the usual way. My freakishness was my lack of addiction. Nobody believed me when I said I didn't drink coffee. (I also never took No-Doz or speed.) I liked the smell of the beans, but to me the drink smelled like mud.  I associated its aroma with cigarettes, my parents' dual intakes when I was a kid (though Dad quit smoking at age 40), and I never wanted any part of it.

If I wanted caffeine,

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Strike Buddy Struck

Last Saturday I heard a brief news item on the radio: some unidentified person had leaned over a subway track to see if the train was coming, and got struck by one as it entered the station. I shuddered, shook my head and promptly forgot about it. 

Two days later, a writer friend in L.A. emailed me: "Isn't Will Rokos a buddy of yours?" Yes, I wrote back, why? He wrote back: "You didn't hear what happened to him on the subway?"

I still didn't put it together. Part of it was my brain didn't want to go there. But also, it didn't make sense:

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