October 30, 2008

stunt casting

Stunt casting is a time-honored tradition to boost ratings, which you most often see on new shows, old shows that have gone a little stale, or around sweeps. There happened to be three great examples of the "categories" of stunt casting last week.

1. The Life of the Party
This type of casting for fun promotion usually seen on comedies. Will & Grace drove this category into the ground during their last couple of seasons, but it made for some really funny episodes. Chuck employed this technique last week with Nicole Richie, and they knocked it out of the park. Nicole is a great pick for this kind of stunt because she's not a respected actor, so she won't be picked apart for an Emmy-winning performance. She's a notorious paparazzi celeb, but not necessarily disliked. Luckily for Chuck, she rocked this role. Unlike Paris' few guest appearances, which are always awkward and weird, Nicole was perfection. The character was a great fit. She played the bitchy popular girl from Sarah's (CIA agent) high school, who reappears and has connections to Russian weapon smugglers. Chuck and Sarah pose as a couple and attend the girls' high school reunion where Sarah and Nicole get in a great Kill Bill style fight. Two notes: Nicole's character was called "Heather Chandler" (special prize of you get that reference), and her nerdy husband (Quote: "I married a nerd because he was supposed to get rich.") was played by Ben Savage! Welcome back to the small screen, Corey Matthews! Overall, Nicole looked gorgeous, her acting was actually pretty strong, and the character fit very well into the overall plot.

2. The Ringer
The Ringer is a technique more commonly associated with dramas. The Law & Order series does this pretty often because it's a good way to breath life into a sometimes repetitive plotline. Problem with Law & Order, you always know the guest star did it! They're not going to bring in Robin Williams to play the "first guess" suspect. I digress. Eli Stone employed this device last week with Katie Holmes. I know what you're thinking. "Katie Holmes is weirdo Scientology paparazzi foddering Mrs. Cruise, doesn't that qualify as category one?" Common misconception, we forget that Katie Holmes is actually a legit actress. And damnit, she's pretty talented. Sure, there's huge celebrity recognition, which will go a long way to help a struggling new show, but this is a serious show that would not sacrifice reputation for a silly stunt cast. The show runner, Greg Berlanti, is pure genius. And he also happened to have the helm at a little show called Dawson's Creek. He discovered Katie Holmes, and he called in a ringer for this guest spot. It worked. Don't get me wrong, Katie creeps me out. But she fell right into this character for me. She plays Grace, a human rights lawyer who captures Eli's attention. If you watch the show, you know that each episode involves one of Eli's ridiculous brain-aneurysm-induced "visions", which turn out to be a life lesson of some sort. This episode began with Eli's vision of Katie singing a sexy show girl version of "Hit Me With A Hot Note." Later at a baseball game, Eli meets the real-life version: Grace, a clumsy human rights lawyer who drops hot dogs and beverages on the fans around her. Turns out, Grace has a heart condition which could end her life abruptly at any time - very similar to Eli's aneurysm. She's headed to Kenya just as quickly as she came into Eli's life, but I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of her.

3. Girl Needs a Job
The third category might be my least favorite. In this case, a washed up or struggling actor has a good agent, who manages to get him or her on a semi-successful show. It's played like the actor is doing the show a favor by appearing as a special guest star, but the reverse is actually true. We saw this last year with Britney Spears' guest stint on How I Met Your Mother. It was the first time we saw Britney post-family clean up job, and it actually worked pretty well for her. Ugly Betty tried to do the same for Lindsay Lohan. Lindsay was actually signed on for 6 episodes this season, which is a pretty significant story arc. I just read that this has been cut down to 3 or 4 episodes because of some "personality conflicts." This is for the best. Lindsay's character - former high school nemesis of Betty - seems out of place and unnecessary in the plotline. Also, her acting leaves something to be desired. Lindsay, get a real job.


Evan said...
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Anonymous said...

Superb post, and thought provoking as well. It seems that Larry David is a master of the stunt cast, no? I'm thinking of two separate categories that he is responsible for: the cross-genre stunt cast, which we saw when 1986 Mets Legend Keith Hernandez was featured on Seinfeld; and the random cameo, or randeo, like when we saw David Schwimmer play a standing role in Curb. These tend to fall on the faultlines between your established categories, but there's the added dimension that they are actually playing themselves.

As I continue to think about this, I'm hoping that Larry David remains the sole proprietor of these two stunt casting typologies. Otherwise, we might be forced to suffer more of Manchild Phelps, stuttering through cue-cards on Two and a Half Men.

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