There’s a great scene from the movie Sixteen Candles in which Sam, played by the irrepressible Molly Ringwald, scans the high school gym, searching for a friend.
Suddenly, the pimply brace face of Farmer Ted, embraced with complete verve by actor Michael Anthony Hall, fills the camera lens. Sam recoils in horror.
Such is the current state of television.
Buoyed by once great networks A&E, Bravo, and VH1, former child stars saddled with midlife woes are terrorizing the screen. They ape for the camera their issues with sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, failed relationships, rolls of fat, blood-siphoning sycophants, and aging fans trying to relive their happy days.
The transition is a difficult one, I’m sure. You’re young, impressionable, people are clamoring for your attention. First you’re on the covers of magazines, then swarmed by adoring fans outside of the Kwiky-Mart and, at the height of feverish fame, you have to authorize a cease and desist on a stalker. Life is good.
Suddenly, before you can say, “What do you mean, ‘by the kitchen’?” you’re 45 and single and supposedly, people want to know why. Why? After all, you’re Scott Baio! Joanie loved Chachi! How can you be single, desperate, struggling to pull off a reality show "script," and suppressing your latent homosexual fears?
Obviously, it’s all Ron Howard’s fault.
Yes, Ron Howard. The pinnacle of the child star trajectory. From the adorable little lisper lilting “Oh, sthsiter, sthsiter!” to the freckle-faced Southern whistler to the shucksy-darn-swell teenager, Howard leaves all other child stars in a crumpled, smoldering career train wreck.
Who kicks the soda machine now, punks? That’s right. Richie "MF" Cunningham.
He’s well-adjusted, consistently creative, influential, and balances on the tip of his nose the brass ring from which all other former child actors dangle. Let’s review the Child Star Accomplishment Levels.
Disclaimer: the levels are set to a +/- margin of 30 years of star power as weighed by midlife. You will not find Mickey Rooney or Shirley Temple or the Olson Twins on this list.
Also referred to as, “They Grew Up Right Before Our Eyes Into Better People Than We Are.”
Although Cusack better do some spitting and polishing of his star soon, because if he makes one more detour to the loony film farm, Jael McHenry is going to whip his behind as only good Midwestern girls know how to do. Come on, John, spend a tinker of one-on-one method time with Jodie Foster to learn the value of doing a really solid project every three years or so.
Or, as some might say, “When You Look Up Drugs, Debauchery, and General Idiocy in the Dictionary, You’ll Find These People Under ‘Sucks to Be You’.”
Danny Bonaduce must seriously hate it, because Diamond gets all the stripper-sex Bonaduce craves, and Garrett snorted all Bonaduce’s drug supply about 23 minutes ago. Should have listened to Mr. Kincade, man!
SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN
Otherwise known as, “Actively Working in Something Relatively Notable and Not a Reality Show, Be it TV, Film, Radio, Music, American Stage, or Obscure Parisian Theatre.”
Sarah Jessica Parker
Michael Anthony Hall
Any of the Cosby Kids, except for when Lisa Bonet starred in Angel Heart
Neil Patrick Harris
The Cassidy Brothers
The “Somewhere in Between” bunch is admirable because, let’s face it, if you can transcend Doogie or Urkel, my friends, your star still twinkles.
As in, “You Will See One of These People End Up in Prison or, Unfortunately, Dead, Sooner Than You Think.”
Any Other Culkin
Teetering on the edge of “reality,” these poor fizzling fools with no shame or humility or pride are convinced that we can’t hear the canned laugh track playing behind their lives. And that laugh track? Sounds just like Coleman’s manically forced guffaw at the end of his current money lending commercial.
“Whatchutalkin’bout?” Ha-ha-ha, ah-ha-ha, AH-HA-HA-HA!
Eep. That little dude freaks me out.
These rusty cogs of the star machine haven’t learned that only they are responsible for the wrench in the works. One type of talent can easily extend into another but, force-fed attention from such an early age, they can’t sustain themselves in any other career. Rather than leave the child star enshrined in cement as a glistening moment in time, these individuals resurrect it, pocked with open sores of discontent and desperation, oozing with the hope of being “discovered” once more.
In a recent magazine interview, megawatt star Jodie Foster explained the importance of understanding when to turn the cameras off:
“I knew as a young person that if I weren’t paying attention, they would take my life away from me. When I was seven or eight, I remember them saying, ‘Listen, we’re going to go to Disneyland…with a film crew… and you’re going to bring a friend and they’re going to film you going on the rides.’ And I wasn’t much of a rebel, but I sobbed, ‘I don’t want to go to Disneyland with a film crew! I just want to go to Disneyland!’ I didn’t want them to ruin that experience for me. I didn’t want to have the reality show of me going through Disneyland.”
What these hacked and stacked actors fail to grasp is the mastery of that one perfect role in Your Life, a part they were all cast for a long time ago.
Adding a few cameras won't make it easier to capture.
Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
8.27.07 @ 8:15a
Why I don't have the cable, reason #284: Buoyed by once great networks A&E, Bravo, and VH1, former child stars saddled with midlife woes are terrorizing the screen.
8.27.07 @ 8:28a
But what has Donny Osmond done since appearing in Weird Al's "White 'n' Nerdy" video?
8.27.07 @ 9:15a
Don't worry, Cusack is going to get an Oscar nomination this year for his work in Grace Is Gone.
But I happily stand ready to whup his ass if he goes anywhere near a "romantic" "comedy" like Serendipity again.
Jodie Foster seems like a pretty sharp lady, and in general I like her work, but Flightplan was nothing to write home about.
8.27.07 @ 10:50a
And The Brave One doesn't look too great either.
Angel Heart is underrated.
8.27.07 @ 7:10p
Jodie Foster rocks. And ooof, Tina Yothers. Going from "Teen Beat" to being spoofed on South Park and appearing on Celebrity Fit Camp must bite.
9.1.07 @ 9:20p
Well, I don't think it's a matter of Donny being in the video as much the work he's done on Broadway 'n such. And "since" is, like, a year ago.
And see? That's the thing. Try something different, don't get so hung up on the past. Have a little confidence that you're more than a one-trick pony, and don't let anyone ride you any differently.
Angel Heart was an interesting film, but Lisa Bonet? Bah. She was better in High Fidelity.
9.4.07 @ 2:56p
9.4.07 @ 3:41p
The reality show juggernaut is really troubling, though I hope soon they'll run out of former child stars to trot out. I can see why it's alluring to them -- their old fame is the qualification for the new "fame", without any need to take creative risks or create new work -- but without creating something new, it's just narcissistic necrophilia.
Which is why the Donny Osmond example is great. He went in a new direction. And it was great for him.
Helen Hunt is also in danger of getting her badge revoked, having done little of note in the past five years or so. Playing Scarlett Johansson's mother (spoiler alert, but the movie's not worth seeing, so, evs) was good as an idea but unremarkable in practice.
My favorite Culkin is Rory.
9.11.07 @ 11:26p
From the Fug Girls:
"While waiting for the second run-through (of three) to start, an acquaintance of Hannigan's gushed about Scott Baio's reality show about love and woe. Hannigan — tinier in person than we'd expected — sheepishly admitted that she couldn't tolerate more than one or two episodes, but very politely listened to a chronicle of the season without once rolling her eyes or falling asleep on her feet. We like to imagine that, somewhere uptown, Anna Wintour and Roger Federer were having the exact same conversation, eating caviar and exclaiming, 'Forget Darfur — why is Baio such an asshat?'"