EW's critics spar over the actor's worth

By Tim Stack and Josh Wolk
Updated October 20, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Is John Lithgow overrated or really funny?

It was lonely being a John Lithgow fan at EW during 3rd Rock From the Sun‘s epic six-season run. ”He’s way too over-the-top,” sniffed my co-workers. To which I replied, ”Hmm, well played. Just one thing: It’s a sitcom!” What, they were expecting Strasbergian nuance? So I’m thrilled that TV’s liveliest human cartoon has not toned down his energy one iota for NBC’s Twenty Good Years. He’s like a favorite uncle trying to get a toddler to laugh: He’ll make every silly face and gesture that his musculature will allow until he gets a smile. Lithgow chases every scene, tackles it to the ground, and devours it whole — yet his operatic arsenal of triple takes, animated bellowing, and exuberant mugging is so well-timed it’s never exhausting, and can save even the corniest of jokes. Subtle? Hardly. Funny? Extremely. — Josh Wolk

My first encounter with John Lithgow was 1985’s Santa Claus: The Movie, and even as a child, I could tell that the actor chewed scenery as voraciously as his character, an evil businessman, consumed magical candy canes. His costar (and member of the Ham Hall of Fame) Dudley Moore seemed understated by comparison. My cringing continued every time the insanely overrated 3rd Rock From the Sun aired, as I marveled that Emmy voters would actually consider his mugging for the cameras award-worthy (three times, no less!). Now Lithgow is back in Twenty Good Years, practically blasting talented Jeffrey Tambor out of frame with his sheer volume. Apparently enrolled in the Al Pacino School of Yelling, Lithgow steals scenes not through wit but shrillness. I pray these Twenty Good Years pass quickly. — Tim Stack