T5F: Best Second Acts

5. Winona Ryder

winona ryderThere was a while there where if I liked a movie, chances are Winona Ryder was in it. I mean,
Heathers is legendary. But after the 90s she sort of dropped off the radar. Or maybe I just missed awesome stuff she was doing. So, I was happy to see her turn up last year in Stranger Things, which was one of the funnest shows I’d seen in a while. It combined so much great stuff: horror, sci-fi, heavy-duty 80s pop culture influence, a rag-tag group of kids up against a big Evil, and did it really well. And there was Ryder in the thick of it, playing the missing Will Byers’s mom. I’m not sure she was the best part of the show. She was mostly in freak-out mode the whole time. But, you know, her kid was missing, so she did really well with the role as it was. It’s just great she’s back and in something good! And (spoiler alert) now that Will is back (or IS he?) I think we’ll get to see more sides of her character’s personality in season 2, which would be nice.

4. Jason Bateman

jason batemanJason Bateman was one of an orphaned pair of siblings when I first saw him on TV. This being Little House on the Prairie, the kids’ parents died when their horse-drawn wagon rocketed off a cliff. Or that’s how I remember it. A little later, I watched him on a sitcom called Valerie (later named The Hogan Family after star Valerie Harper left.) He played kind of the wise-ass oldest son, a tone he had down pat. He seemed to have dropped from the network TV spotlight after the 80s, so when he reappeared on the classic Arrested Development, it was a welcome surprise. He’s more deadpan and level-headed here, but the 80s wise guy is still in there, which suits him really well. Now if his sister Justine can just find a good comeback part…

3. Rob Lowe

rob loweI vaguely remember Rob Lowe’s days as an 80s heartthrob and his subsequent sex tape scandal. I shook my head at the time and said, “Man, now he’ll never get a part on a quality drama about a presidential administration or on a heartwarming comedy about Indiana municipal government.” Needless to say I wrong. He was really good as Sam Seaborn, one of Aaron Sorkin’s fast-talkers in what I’ll call his comeback role in The West Wing. That was where I first saw how he could be both earnest and funny. He was even better as the endearingly intense Chris Traeger in Parks and Recreation, where he really got to show off his comedy skills. And it’s too bad The Grinder never took off in the ratings, because he was downright hilarious in that.

2. Angela Lansbury

angela lansburyYes, I’m talking about Jessica Fletcher here: Cabot Cove, Maine’s resident mega sleuth. Who cares that her only qualifications for solving murders is that she’s, uh, a mystery novelist? The results speak for themselves. I consider this the second act of Lansbury’s career, but I was too young at the time to know she was a respected actress way before she started bailing out the apparently Trump White House-level incompetent Cabot Cove police department. Later, I saw her in the 1962 movie, The Manchrian Candidate, for which she was nominated for an Oscar, and thought, cool, she could be kinda evil and creepy, too. Side note: I maybe could also include Andy Griffith here, because he returned in the 80’s with a similar role as an old-guy lawyer solving murders every week in Grandpa Simpson’s favorite show.

1. Alec Baldwin

I can’t say I was ever a big Alec Baldwin fan when I was younger. I guess he was OK. I remember him having some funny moments as a guest host on SNL. But then some time seemed to pass, he honed those comedy skills, and got a breakout role on 30 Rock, one of the funniest TV shows in history. As Jack Donaghy, Baldwin seemed like he just couldn’t help but be funny. Even thinking now of him psyching himself up by saying into the mirror, “It’s winning time, you magnificent son of a bitch!” is making me laugh. His entire run on the series was like a miraculous combination of Tina Fey’s overall genius and Baldwin’s hilarious intensity.

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