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I’ve reached a point in my self-education on film and television that is making for some interesting (if disconcerting) out-of-context moments. I find that I have begun to recognize more and more of the guest stars on the tv shows I watch. While there are actors that through bad luck or personal preference seem to specialize in the guest appearance, the ones that interest me are the ones who have had lead roles on other shows. Inevitably, they end up as guest stars portraying a character 180 degrees away from the character they played as a lead. Take Matt Keeslar, for instance. In 2008, he played the squeaky-clean force for moral justice known as the Middleman in the sadly short-lived series by the same name. A few weeks ago I found myself watching an episode of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” in which he played an aging teen tv star who gets mixed up in bootleg dvd sales and the Armenian mob (stop rolling your eyes), and thus in a murder of one of his former co-stars. In other words, far from his later turn as the Navy-SEAL-turned-sorta-superhero, he played a weak, egomaniacal jerk. And he did a good job with it, which perhaps was the most disconcerting of all.
When we watch a show long-term, we come to associate the personality quirks of the characters with the actors who portray them. No matter how much we tell ourselves that they are actors, that they are paid to convincingly be what they are not, we still think that they can’t pull it off convincingly if they aren’t at least a little like their characters. I recently started watching “House, M.D.” and found myself staring hard at Lisa Edelstein, wondering where I’d seen her before. A quick trip to imdb.com (that site makes life happy) left me with my mouth hanging open. Lisa Edelstein, who portrays Dr. Lisa Cuddy, Dean of Medicine at Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital, was also Laurie, the high-priced call girl befriended by Rob Lowe’s Sam Seaborne on “The West Wing.” And now, watching season 1 of that show again, I find Laurie fundamentally different. I can’t help but hear Cuddy in her voice and it becomes jarring every time she mentions something that Cuddy wouldn’t, like loving pot or being a call girl.
Disorienting as Matt Keeslar and Lisa Edelstein may be, I have to say the most disturbing is Neil Patrick Harris on “Law and Order.” If you’re interested, that episode is “Want.” It’s dark and twisted and I don’t want to describe what it’s about because I’d prefer not to remember it.
Other favorites: Cynthia Nixon (Miranda Hobbes on “Sex and the City”) as Munchhausen Syndrome patient on “House”; Seamus Dever (Detective Kevin Ryan on “Castle”) as supposed murder victim on “Cold Case”; Morena Baccarin (Inara on “Firefly”) as crazy coffeehouse girl on HIMYM; Sarah Drew (Dr. April Kepner on “Grey’s Anatomy”) as jealous murderer on “Castle”; Michael O’Neill as both the shooter in the “Grey’s Anatomy” rampage at the end of season 6 and the head of the Secret Service on “West Wing”; and, well, any time Melissa McCarthy, Janel Moloney, Anne Dudek, or Paul Rudd show up.
In other news, I made butternut squash soup last night to inaugurate my new immersion blender. Cook cubed squash, two potatoes, a carrot, an onion, and a stalk of celery in about 32 oz of your broth of choice (chicken is recommended) for about 45 minutes, then use a blender to make it all smooth. My trick is to add 2 tsp of curry powder and the juice of a lime to zing it up. Most tasty, and very satisfying after a day outside in cold weather and steady rain – coming home to a hot shower and a bowl of soup was just a lovely way to start my evening.