TV's fall season fresh faces
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Fresh Prince has an even fresher cousin. As Hilary Banks, Will Smith’s self-centered, neo-socialite housemate, Karyn Parsons demands huge shopping allowances from Daddy, sasses in perfect val-speak, and acts as a trendy thorn in her whole family’s side. The actress’ experience is fairly limited, but her withering comebacks are winning a lot of laughs. And, says Parsons, there’s a bonus. ”I get to walk around acting like a bitch and I get paid for it.”
Law & Order
In one episode of Law & Order, a prostitute accuses a potential customer, played by Geroge Dzundza, of being a policeman. Good call — it’s written all over everything from his brogans to his Joe Friday face. Dzundza (who has numerous TV and movie credits, including The Deer Hunter) wears the role of joy-weary New York City detective Max Greevey like a favorite trench coat — he’s a cop right down to the bad jokes, unflappable demeanor, and coffee and doughnuts.
”I’m just a regular working-class guy who plays someone not very far off the mark from my life,” Lenny Clarke says of his funnier-than-reality performance as a sarcastic Boston construction worker and father of three. The stand-up comic grew up in a close-knit Catholic family of 10 and worked as a janitor while trying to get comedy gigs. ”People compare me to Roseanne [Barr], but, hey, Roseanne is the No. 1 show, and I’m coming after it with my own brand. The thing about my show is that there’s love, warmth, and it’s nice. I still believe in the American dream — I’m living the American dream.”
Models have played detectives before — Cheryl Ladd, Tanya Roberts, Shelley Hack — but Darlanne Fluegel brings more to the part. For one thing, this one-time Ford model already has a long list of credits. She has appeared in Eyes of Laura Mars and To Live and Die in L.A. and on TV’s Crime Story and Wiseguy. Now, she’s joining NBC’s Hunter, playing LAPD officer Joanne Malinski. And not once does she shout, ”Freeze, turkey!”
Forget the rock-jawed heroes on Morris’ résumé; now he has a breakthrough role as Eddie Bach, a sleazeball reporter with a wolf’s killer instinct and an alligator’s grin. Last year, Morris toiled with the goody-goodies. On Mission: Impossible, he obeyed the same self-destructing messages that his father, Greg, did 20 years earlier. Of Eddie, who sees every burning building and grieving mother as his ticket to network news fame, Morris says, ”I hope he doesn’t turn into a nice guy too quickly. I kind of like him this way.”
John Wesley Shipp
As dusk darkens Central City, a red streak whips through the town’s alleys, leaving battered criminals in its wake. Who is that fast man? The body behind the blur belongs to John Wesley Shipp, whose 6’1” frame fills the Flash’s skintight suit. After Emmys for As the World Turns and Santa Barbara, Shipp was ready for prime-time, even if playing the fastest man alive demanded extra legwork. ”At first, they had me doing this half-speed Groucho Marx scoot,” he says. ”Then they said, ‘Just run fast.”’
Wendie Jo Sperber
In films (I Wanna Hold Your Hand and 1941) and TV roles (ABC’s Bosom Buddies and CBS’ Private Benjamin), this charming comic actress has always show that being big is definitely not bad. Now the outsize sensation is doing it better, on Fox’s sisterly sitcom Babes. ”The message here is that you do not have to e perfect to be loved and appreciated,” Sperber says. ”You can be who you are.”
Her hushed voice may be no match for James Earl Jones’ orotund basso profundo, but as the driven attorney Victoria Heller, Robins barks ordered, and Jones follows them. ”I get to be smart, and I get to be funny,” says Robins, whose roles in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and An Innocent Man didn’t allow her to be either. ”Remember me?” she asks wryly. ”I was The Wife. I just sort of?sat there.” Robins, a Yale-trained actress who works frequently in New York theater, headed to L.A. for the chance to act with Jones. ”I thought, what the heck? To be working with him everyday?there are worse things.”
Over My Dead Body
As the Nancy Drew of the ’90s, Jessica Lundy combines the sexy rasp of Debra Winger with the morbid curiosity of Angela Lansbury’s character in Murder, She Wrote. In Over My Dead Body, Lundy, who has guest-starred on B.L. Stryker and Northern Exposure, plays Nikki Page, a nosy obituary writer for a San Francisco newspaper who only takes ”know” for an answer.
To play Frank Buckman, the curmudgeonly patriarch on this multigenerational sitcom, Windom didn’t look at the movie it’s based on. ”Jason [Robards, who played the role in the film] and I are friends from way back,” he says. ”I couldn’t copy him if I tried. I have my own style.” The TV veteran (My World and Welcome to It; Murder, She Wrote) will sport a heavily lured fishing cap and a belt-hiding belly, and spout a constant stream of complaints in the role. He says he isn’t worried about the character’s transition to TV. ”Whether you are selling movies or TV shows, the public is going to buy that kind of product — as long as you don?t fill it up with quotations from Voltaire.”
Carol & Company
As part of the company that Carol Burnett keeps, Meagen Fey wears many hats — not to mention robes, wigs, dresses, and whatever else her role of the week demands. In last spring’s short, successful run of NBC’s skitcom Carol & Company, the versatile actress put her experience with Chicago’s Second City improvisational group to good use, taking on parts that ranged from a homicidal housewife to a no-nonsense judge. But tryout time is over, and Fay says that Burnett’s budding ensemble still has a lot to prove. ”Cute was fine for last season, when we didn’t quite know what we were doing. This year, we have to be good.” The show’s new writing staff has a mandate to weave a darker thread of wit through this fall’s scripts; look for Fay in a segment about gun control called ”Guns and Rosie.”
Get A Life
Two years ago Elliott — a.k.a. the Fugitive Guy, a.k.a. the guy Under the Seats — left his job writing and performing on Late Night With David Letterman and very nearly became the Guy With No Income: One of his next projects, NBC’s sitcom version of Tattingers, lasted only one episode. Now Elliott stars as a 30-year-old paperboy in this irreverent Fox comedy. Earlier this year, his first book was published: Daddy’s Boy, a parody of biographies by disgruntled celebrity kids; his father, Bob Elliott, of the Bob and Ray comedy team, was co-author. Will success spoil the man who brought us ”turtleneck pants” and ”casket whoopee cushions”? Not likely — Get A Life finds Elliott at the top of his sardonic form.
Our high school was never like this. With Nancy Valen at the head of the class, even Beowulf would have been painless. The actress plays Donna Breedlove, a sultry teacher on this new NBC musical drama. Valen has been a regular on Ryan’s Hope and has appeared on Charles in Charge and Murder, She Wrote. But she never made quite the impression she does here, dancing in a body suit and singing ”Soft and Round” to a class of heavy-breathing teens. Welcome to Va-Va-Voom 101.