Most TV heads love Bradley Whitford because of his heroic Josh Lyman character from The West Wing, but to me, Whitford gets a lifetime pass for a much lesser-known bit of post-West Wing TV work: Burn Notice creator Matt Nix's The Good Guys, where Whitford killed it each week in his comedic role of a gung-ho Dallas police detective who still thinks he's living in the '80s. The Good Guys came and went so quickly that when I revised the following blog post about fake bad acting in May 2012, I totally forgot about The Good Guys, which had gone off the air only a couple of years before. Whitford's return to TV this fall in ABC's surprisingly funny single-camera comedy Trophy Wife has brought back memories of The Good Guys, a show I miss a lot (The Good Guys can be revisited on Amazon streaming, but it will never hit DVD or Blu-ray because it would be impossible to clear all the '70s and '80s rock songs that were featured on the show).
The funniest episode during The Good Guys' single-season run involved the Whitford cop character transforming himself into a fake Mafioso. I'm adding it to a list of my favorite instances in which a decent or excellent actor portrays a less talented version of himself or herself (the other day, I Hulu'd a Good Wife episode where Alicia and Cary hire a hilariously overwrought Chicago actress to play a mock trial witness, and if the actress who played the crappy thespian weren't so unknown, I'd add her to the post too). The Good Guys episode precedes 11 other moments of great fake bad acting I previously discussed in January 2008 and May 2012.
Bradley Whitford, The Good Guys ("Silvio's Way")
I can't believe I nearly forgot this episode, where Whitford's Dan Stark brings out of mothballs an old undercover persona of his when he attempts to bust a group of mobsters he failed to catch seven years ago because he fell asleep during his own sting operation. The best part of Detective Stark's fake Italian character Silvio is his inconsistent accent, which Whitford kept changing during "Silvio's Way" to show how terrible Stark is at acting (one moment, he's channeling Walken, and then the next, his mobster voice turns into a completely different-sounding Brando type of thing). Whitford once told an interviewer that "Silvio's Way" was his favorite Good Guys episode to shoot, even though it called for him to strip down to a green Speedo when Stark gets strip-searched and stays undressed for a ridiculously prolonged amount of time that was longer than Whitford (or any male viewer like myself who never man-crushed on Josh Lyman and paid more attention to Mary-Louise Parker) was comfortable with. But like those creepy MADtv "Parents Walking Around in Their Underwear" sketches with Michael McDonald in just a pair of Walter White tightie-whities and dress shoes ("Boy, it's hot!") and Mo Collins in a pair of granny panties, the Speedo scenes make for great comedy. "I was instructed to gain weight and this is a tip for any actor--when you're doing a television show, when the head of the network says, 'It would be great if you gained some weight, because this is kind of a dilapidated character,' the next thing coming is a script where you're in a Speedo," said Whitford to Assignment X in 2010. "So don’t do it."
Sigourney Weaver, Galaxy Quest
Weaver's Gwen DeMarco character is a biting spoof of the uselessness of the secondary actors on certain shows that carry titles that rhyme with "car wreck." DeMarco had two functions on her old show: to serve as eye candy and to repeat whatever the spaceship's computer said. In Galaxy Quest, DeMarco amusingly undoes everything that Weaver worked to accomplish in the Alien films as the iconic Ellen Ripley, one of the fiercest female characters to ever spearhead a sci-fi franchise. Well, almost everything. The little-seen Galaxy Quest 20th Anniversary Special mockumentary--an uproarious Sci-Fi Channel tie-in that was stupidly left off the Galaxy Quest DVD and Blu-ray but can be seen here, here and here--suggests that DeMarco's limited Lieutenant Tawny Madison role had some merits. The mockumentary discloses that Tawny's trademark karate kick (a nod to the fighting moves of both Emma Peel from The Avengers and Erin Gray's Colonel Wilma Deering from the disco-era Buck Rogers) inspired a whole generation of blond-wigged female "Questarians" to imitate Tawny's fighting moves, and that maybe Tawny was a better role for DeMarco than the one she turned down, "a small part in a Woody Allen movie" (a sly reference to Weaver's appearance in Annie Hall). Speaking of secondary actors on fake sci-fi shows...
Derek Jacobi, Frasier ("The Show Must Go Off")
The esteemed British thespian deservedly won an Emmy in 2001 for his hilarious guest shot as Jackson Hedley, a mash-up of William Shatner and future Frasier guest star Patrick Stewart. The episode involves the Crane brothers' reunion with Hedley, a stage acting mentor who introduced them to Shakespeare when they were kids. Because Frasier and Niles are elitist snobs, they're more familiar with Hedley's Shakespeare work than with his signature role, as the android sidekick on Space Patrol. The brothers are appalled to discover their acting idol has been reduced to a Galaxy Quest-like, post-show career of "hawking T-shirts and sci-fi gewgaws," so in another one of their misguided business ventures, they attempt to rescue Hedley from the sci-fi con circuit by bankrolling his stage comeback. But Frasier and Niles become even more horrified when they watch Hedley rehearse and realize maybe he isn't as great a thesp as they thought he was. To give you a good idea of Hedley's atrocious delivery, think Dr. Orpheus from The Venture Bros. suffering from diarrhea--and if he had taken elocution lessons from Jon Lovitz's Master Thespian from SNL.
Alec Baldwin, SNL "Soap Opera Digest" sketch
In a 1993 sketch that's funnier than his most popular SNL bit, the balls-deep-in-double-entendres "Schwetty Balls," Baldwin delves into his soap opera acting past (The Doctors, Knots Landing) to play Trent Derricks, the star of Doctors, Nurses and Patients. Actually, Derricks isn't that bad of an actor. That is if you overlook his tendency to give interesting pronunciations to medical terms ("We believe it might be a pole-yip. It might be the Big C: canker! It might be benig. It might be malig-nant.") and names of Ivy League universities ("There's no class at Yeah-leh Medical School that can prepare you for this!"). (The sketch can be found on the SNL: The Best of Alec Baldwin DVD but is nowhere to be found in Yahoo's "complete" SNL archive.)
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock ("Jack-Tor")
I know it's Baldwin again, but the guy just excels at pretending to be a subpar performer, whether it's inebriated '60s variety show host Joey Montero, the Dean Martin analog in the recent live episode "Live from Studio 6H," 30 Rock's delightful homage to live TV, or Jack Donaghy, a network exec with no clue about how to say a simple line or two in front of a camera. Lorne Michaels, whose company produces 30 Rock, must really be good-humored about himself because the "Jack's outtakes" montage in this episode is clearly star/showrunner Tina Fey's jab at Michaels' stilted cameos on SNL.
Any of the actors who played Jack Horner's porn stars in Boogie Nights
Almost everyone has a favorite moment from Boogie Nights. Heather Graham stripping to nothing but her roller skates. The shout-out to I Am Cuba. Mark Wahlberg mangling that cheesy theme song from The Transformers: The Movie. The drug deal-gone-bad sequence. The end credits--for those of you with a weak bladder. For me, it's Graham stripping to nothing but her roller skates. Coming in a close second is any of the footage from Jack Horner's movies-within-the-movie, in which we glimpse the genesis of John C. Reilly's dimwitted comedic personas ("Let's get some of that Saturday night beaver..."). Amber Waves' stilted delivery right before her first sex scene with Dirk Diggler always amuses me. Julianne Moore is a whiz at portraying vacant-eyed starlets like Amber. The character has never quite left Moore: a little bit of Amber seeped into a surprisingly funny SNL Ladies Man sketch where Moore stole the show because of her performance as a ditzy spokesmodel, as well as into her Cookie's Fortune character, an amateur actress who participates in a cheesy production of Salome at the local church.
|(Photo source: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Wiki)|
Charlie Day, Danny DeVito, Glenn Howerton and Rob McElhenney, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia ("Dee Reynolds: Reshaping America's Youth")
Failed actress-turned-high school drama teacher Dee Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson) is having trouble connecting with her bored students, so she hopes to win them over by taking them on a field trip to New York. Because this is It's Always Sunny, the trip to take in all the sights and sounds of Broadway gets massively downsized to a trip to a movie screening of Othello at Paddy's Pub, the always underpopulated Philly bar run by Dee, her brother Dennis (Howerton), their ex-dad Frank (DeVito), Charlie (Day) and Mac (McElhenney).
And because this is long-suffering Dee, Dennis and Mac trick her and sabotage her video projector so that they can debut their racially offensive, ultra-low-budget fourth sequel to Lethal Weapon, a movie that first-time directors Dennis and Mac finally manage to get finished after what I assume are hours and hours of arguing over whether blackface is offensive and totally missing the point of why so many African Americans find it offensive (the best moment is Mac's use of Lord of the Rings to defend blackface: "Ian McKellen plays a wizard. Do you think he goes home at night and shoots lasers into his boyfriend’s asshole?").