This week is the series premiere of Bob ♥ Abishola, the latest sitcom in producer Chuck Lorre’s panel-walled comedy empire. The show is the return to series TV for Billy Gardell. Gardell is most notable for being one of Mike and Molly’s two leads, the other lead, of course, being Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy went onto true movie stardom, while Gardell is, shall say, filling a comfortable but relatively under-the-radar niche of your Peter Scolaris.
Peter Scolari, for the fan of deep-cut pop culture lore, was Tom Hanks’s costar on Bosom Buddies, a short-lived sitcom notorious for its incredibly silly premise, (Two men don drag in order find cheap rent) and being the unlikely launching pad for Hanks, a man routinely called a “National Treasure”. Scolari wouldn’t do too bad for himself. He soon ended up as a regular on Newhart, and was both nominated for a few Emmys and part of one of the most iconic season finales in television history. He has a net worth of over two million dollars, the respect of his peers, and can probably totally eat for free in his hometown of New Rochelle, New York. But it’s hard not to look at him, knowing his one-time co-star is Tom Hanks, as big as actors get, and think about the fickle nature of fate and fame. Some of us are destined for success, and some for much more.
The examples I’m using don’t include musical or comedy acts that break up, especially acrimoniously. (A good Scolari is actually quite happy for their co-star’s success, and in turn, a good Hanks gives them a role in their blockbuster every once in a while, or at least tickets to the premiere.) This doesn’t include cases like Saturday Night Live or E.R., which are ensembles where one person tends to break out–it almost exclusively refers to intentional two-handers where one just popped. Also, one person has to clearly go on to superstardom when the other doesn’t, so no Damon/Affleck scenarios. Finally, no examples where the actors had intercourse with each other, slash fiction notwithstanding. So here’s a tribute to The Other Guys From That Thing.
Scolari: Billy Gardell
Hanks: Melissa McCarthy
Together On: Mike and Molly
When CBS premiered Mike and Molly as a sort of working class sitcom (Like Roseanne without the social commentary) in September of 2010, very few likely predicted by the time the first season was even over, one of the stars would find herself in a runaway blockbuster like Bridesmaids, and even get an Oscar nomination for defecating in a sink. McCarthy immediately became a household name, headlining hits like The Heat and Identity Thief, getting awards attention for more serious fare like Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and like Tom Hanks himself, attaining membership in the Saturday Night Live five-timers club. The Mike, however, largely stuck to his sitcom work, grateful that McCarthy was more a Steve Carrell than a David Caruso. Gardell is probably more stuck in “Midwestern” mode than McCarthy, but the world of screen will always need security guards and high school coaches, and Chuck Lorre rarely forgets his friends.
Scolari: Victoria Justice
Hanks: Ariana Grande
Together On: Victorious
Since the early 2000’s, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon have been churning out a factory of young adult sitcoms with a star and their sidekick, and it seems to be almost a curse to be first banana instead of the second. (Or perhaps not so much a “curse” as the debilitating toll of being a child actor surrounded by the greedy and the predatory) You have Josh Peck doing better than Drake Bell (Peck’s career is a perfectly respectable one for a Scolari, but he’s the Hanks in equation), or Zendaya becoming a much bigger name than Shake It Up co-star Bella Thorne. But perhaps the best/least actively sad example is Victorious stars Victoria Justice and Ariana Grande. The sitcom took place at a zany school for performing artists, (Like Emerson, but more down to Earth) with Justice as the more grounded central character and Grande as her flighty bff. Justice landed a movie first, the Nick production Fun Size, which dared to be the Halloween Movie That Wasn’t Scary. Grande was cut loose, but managed to land pop music stardom, as well as becoming a tabloid fixture, including a high profile engagement with Pete Davidson, which was as brief as it was confounding. It’s hard to deny how much she dwarfed her fellow Hollywood Arts High alum, but she does lose Scolari points for breaking out in a completely different field, (Her imdb doesn’t even show up very high on searches) even if her cameo in Zoolander 2 does easily outgross Fun Size in box office totals.
Scolari: Alfonso Ribero
Hanks: Will Smith
Together On: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Okay, I’m kind of breaking my own rules already, but hear me out. Ribero is best known as Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which was conceived as a vehicle for Will Smith first and foremost. Smith is about as Hanksian as you can get–reinventing himself from rapper to sitcom comedian to action hero to serious actor to CGI abomination. In a way, Big Willy has many “partners” he’s left behind expanding like a supernova, like D.J. Jazzy Jeff and Martin Lawrence. Ribero also started his screen career as Ricky Schroeder’s best buddy on Silver Spoons. Ribero was never meant to be the second hand in a two hander per se, although Fresh Prince would work best as the antics of Will and Carlton. However, Ribero not only shares many qualities with Peter Scolari (short in stature, and a surprising array of physicality), but similar to Newhart, Ribero was brought in to revamp the L.L. Cool J sitcom In The House, and the show saw much more success as a buddy comedy. So you could say Ribero is a professional Scolari, and is the most Scolariest Scolari to a megastar who has had a string of his own Scolaris. No mean feat.
Scolari: Melanie Lynskey
Hanks: Kate Winslet
Together On: Heavenly Creatures
Melanie Lynskey is an interesting case–unlike the other examples, she didn’t share the screen with her soon-to-eclipse-her co-star Kate Winslet on a sitcom, or even film franchise, but on the rather heavy indie drama Heavenly Creatures. (Which was also the American debut for director Peter Jackson.) As something of a meta case, both young ladies the two played would, in real life, become TV stars for the murder that they did, only Winslet’s character would go on to greater success as a best-selling author. Winslet would appear in Titanic, which is about iconic as movies get, as well as be perennial honoree at Oscar ceremonies. By contrast, Lynskey would be a recurring character in the works of the aforementioned Chuck Lorre, and while occasionally landing roles in more prestige fare like Up in the Air or The Informant, she would, shall we say, specialize in out-of-the-loop sad sacks. This is definitely a good case study in how the Scolari phenomenon happens, and why some actors become bigger names than others. Lynskey is a very excellent actress, maybe even more technically proficient than Kate Winslet. But like Peter Scolari, she has a very broad, theatrical manner that makes for very funny comedy (and reliable performances for the grind that both theater and multi-camera sitcoms require), but maybe not ideal for the more internal and relatable personas that directors like in their cinematic protagonists.
Scolari: Alex Winter
Hanks: Keanu Reeves
Together On:Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
In many respects, Tom Hanks and Keanu Reeves are two very different people. Hanks has won two Oscars and is a paternal, everyman figure. Reeves, by contrast is mysterious, zen-like, and apparently so unaging that you wonder if he is the result of Zeus’s dalliance with a lesser deity (Though not any kind of God of Theater). But they do share similarities as well; Both actors are major stars from the 90’s who have, as they approach their golden years, escaped scandal and are practically living saints. Certainly living legends. And Reeves, of course, has his own Scolari in Alex Winter. Winter first appeared with Reeves in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, as well as its sequel and subsequent cartoon spin-off. He almost seems like a deliberate attempt to create a Scolari; Short and fair to Reeves’s tall and dark, and with his own iconic side gig. (1987’s The Lost Boys) The main difference is that Winter, for his part, pursued directing and voice acting, generally avoiding the big screen spotlight. But the spotlight he shall see again, when Bill and Ted Face the Music comes out next year. With the upped profile he’ll get doing the press rounds with his now more-famous-than-famous co-star, some onscreen parts will certainly become more available for Winter. Here’s to hoping he does something to get him an Emmy, so he can realize his destiny as the best Peter Scolari this side of Peter Scolari.
This article was written by New England based comedian RA Bartlett. To find more of his writing follow him at @rabartlett on Twitter, Instagram and the dark recesses of Snapchat