Friday, July 24, 2009

IN PRAISE OF JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS

Last night I was watching a block of prime-time comedies on TV, and I came to a conclusion: The New Adventures of Old Christine is so last decade. I mean, other than Two And A Half Men, is there another sitcom on TV that still uses a laugh track? Vintage trappings aside, damn if Julia Louis-Dreyfus didn't have me at "Are you freakin' kidding me?!" (That was her character Christine's reaction in Season 2 Episode 2 to finding out that the guy she was dating was the father of her ex-husband's current girlfriend, also named Christine. Get it? Old and new Christine!)

I've been a huge JLD fan since Seinfeld. During that show's first run, she was the main reason I watched, if only to watch her sartorial and tonsorial transition from Annie Hall Manhattan to pre-Sex & The City Manhattan. It's only been recently, thanks to the reruns aired on the Sony Channel in South America, that I've come to appreciate the antics of Jerry, George and Kramer and actually tune in for all four equally. (Fun fact: Did you know that Everybody Loves Raymond's Patricia Heaton was among the actresses who screen tested for JLD's character, Elaine? I like Patricia, but what's with the stiff body language? She always seems to be curving her upper upper torso inward. Fun fact 2: Patricia once worked as a copy runner at People magazine, but that was a few years before I arrived.)

But back to Old Christine. It's not that the jokes are funny. Usually, they aren't. But it's all about JLD's delivery, her facial expressions, the way she is so game to poke fun of her looks (which, in my humble opinion, are pretty damn great) and her body (ditto). During her Emmy acceptance speech last year, Tina Fey said that whenever she gets stumped acting-wise, her husband always advises her to "act like JLD." Good advice. Unfortunately, despite all the 30 Rock hype (sorry, I just don't get it), Tina doesn't really pull it off. (Remember, folks, this is just my opinion.) The big difference: Tina tries to hard. JLD doesn't try at all (at least not noticeably).

It's nice to see JLD getting consistent Emmy recognition for her work. Last week, she received her fourth straight nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, having won her first time out, in 2006. This time, I'm secretly rooting for Christina Applegate for her sweet portrayal of an amnesiac on Samantha Who?. It's a tricky role, and Christina, with a little help from my beloved Jean Smart, makes the high-concept comedy work when it really shouldn't.

Not that I don't love JLD the most (I do), but I have a soft spot for Christina Applegate that has nothing to do with her recent breast cancer battle. I guess it's just nice to see a former TV child star grow up to be a productive, well-behaved and successful adult. Alyssa Milano kind of went there, but Christina's post-Married With Children hits include two moderately successful TV series, several high-profile feature films, an Emmy (for a guest appearance as the sister of Jennifer Aniston's Rachel in an episode of Friends -- note the similarities in the comedic acting styles of Jennifer and Christina, which were never apparent to me until Samantha Who?), and even a Tony nomination (for a revival of Sweet Charity). When you think of the fact that not one of the eight kids on Eight Is Enough went on to do much of anything after that show's cancellation, you realize that Christina beat some pretty massive odds.

But I digress -- again. JLD wasn't supposed to win an Emmy or have her own successful series after Seinfeld. Remember the Seinfeld curse? So what if there isn't much of a difference between Elaine and Christine? The late great Michael Landon spent decades playing the same character on different TV series, and he's an icon. JLD may never get there, but who needs iconhood when you've got two Emmys, a weekly paycheck and a sweet spot in a TV ensemble that will likely be kept alive in reruns years long after we've all kicked the bucket?

Now if only we could get Kirstie Alley back on TV all will be right with the world.
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