Ex-''Roseanne'' star Sara Gilbert returns to TV. Forever a brainy, mopey teen in syndication, she becomes a brainy, mopey lingerie mogul in ''Twins''

Everyone has grade school hairstyles and fashions they’d rather forget, but most people can just hide their yearbooks to keep them out of sight. Unfortunately for Sara Gilbert, her puberty lives in syndication forever. ”Being a teenager is a naturally difficult time,” she says. But oversize Frankie Say T-shirts and bad dye jobs aside, she has no regrets about the nine years she spent on Roseanne, from ages 13 to 22. ”I’m so grateful that I wasn’t reporting to a regular high school, that I got to have this creative experience growing up. It would have been miserable to have a normal adolescence.” Plus, she wouldn’t have earned two Emmy nominations for her role as wisecracking daughter Darlene Conner.

After Roseanne ended in 1997 and Gilbert received her degree from Yale, the actress’ career could have gone in one of two directions: Childhood star grows up and makes Lifetime movies-of-the-week; or childhood star grows up and becomes tabloid fodder. Gilbert followed neither path. Instead, she dropped out of the Hollywood scene and took a series of low-profile acting roles. There was a supporting part in Riding in Cars With Boys, some blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em turns on TV series like 24 and ER, and one blink-and-you-missed-it sitcom, 2000’s Welcome to New York. In fact, Gilbert’s most high-profile project since Roseanne has been…the recent release of Roseanne‘s first season on DVD.

Until now. Gilbert, 30, is back in The WB’s Twins, another family sitcom. But this one was conceived with her in mind. After she taped a Will & Grace guest spot in 2003 as Cheryl the Fanilow, the ultimate Barry Manilow fan, the show’s creators, David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, had lunch with WB Entertainment president David Janollari. According to Kohan, Gilbert’s name popped up along with that of another actress, ”a blond bombshell.” Kohan joked that the two were twins. ”We kind of laughed and returned to our salads,” he says. ”But Janollari was looking at us and saying, ‘Go on.”’ A few meetings later, the pair had a deal for a new sitcom.

In Twins, Gilbert plays Mitchee, the ”brainy, shut-down dork” (that’s Gilbert’s description) who runs the family undergarment business with her twin sister, Farrah, a ”ditzy” lingerie model, played by Passions‘ Molly Stanton (a bombshell, but not the one originally mentioned). Mark Linn-Baker and Melanie Griffith were cast as the pair’s equally mismatched parents.

Gilbert’s own family background is just as colorful — her grandfather, Harry Crane, co-created The Honeymooners. ”He was friends with all the old comics,” says Gilbert, ”Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Phyllis Diller. When he had a party there would be all these comics telling jokes and roasting each other.” Sara’s older sibling, Melissa Gilbert, her sister from her mother’s previous marriage, starred as Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. ”I grew up with Melissa from the time I was born, so the fact that we shared one parent versus two made no difference,” she says. But getting Gilbert to open up about her current personal life is tougher than getting prepublication plot details on a Harry Potter book. Only after several conversations, she mentions, ”I have a son, but that’s all I’ll say on that.”

Gilbert has no illusions that Twins will be the next Roseanne, but she thinks it has staying power. ”I’ve continued to work, but it’s been on things where you don’t feel like you’re on a train that’s moving,” she says. ”It is possible for [Twins] to keep going — and that is a different feeling.” And the series’ creators have at least one sordid plan for keeping it in motion. ”There’s an outside chance Mitchee’s going to sleep with Antonio Banderas [husband of her TV mom Griffith] before the year is over,” jokes Mutchnick. Another proud moment to live in syndication forever.

ON SIBLING REVELRY When she decided to become an actress like her already-famous sister, she took the name Gilbert (her last name was Abeles, from her father, Harold Abeles). ”I wanted people to know we were siblings, and I didn’t want to answer questions about it for the rest of my life.”

ON SIBLING RIVALRY At the audition for Roseanne, producers asked Gilbert to ad-lib some lines. ”I had to trash my [TV] sister and that came easily to me for some reason.”

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