Following in the long line of American Splendor and Funny People, the “cancer comedy” 50/50 is released in theaters today. It’s written by Will Reiser, who was diagnosed with cancer in his 20s, and stars Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or JGL for short. JGL’s been in the public eye since the late 1980s, when he appeared in a number of made-for-TV movies and in two episodes of Family Ties. But his biggest break-out moment came when he was cast on 3rd Rock from the Sun, about a family of aliens living on Earth. The show ran for six seasons and was nominated for a plethora of Emmy Awards. Since 3rd Rock went off the air in 2001 after 139 episodes, JGL’s gone on to have a very successful movie career, including lauded roles in Brick, (500) Days of Summer, and Inception. He also owns hitRECord, an online collaborative production company, and seems to be an all-around swell guy. But what of the rest of the 3rd Rock cast? Well…
John Lithgow, as Dick Solomon
Three simple syllables: Tri-Ni-Ty. Sure, John Lithgow has made seemingly dozens of TV and movie appearances since 3rd Rock went off the air – he voiced Farquaad in Shrek, and played Liam Neeson’s father in Kinsey and Barney Stinson’s dad in two episodes of How I Met Your Mother last year – but my favorite post-2001 role of his is as Arthur “Trinity Killer” Mitchell on Dexter. Pre-2001, it’s obviously Harry and the Hendersons. Lithgow was recently James Franco’s pops in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (he’s sure found his niche), and will soon star in This Is Forty and New Year’s Eve, probably as someone’s dad. He has also been busy performing in Broadway musicals (Tony nomination for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in 2005) and one-man plays (Stories by Heart), and writing his memoir, Drama.
Kristen Johnson, as Sally Solomon
Name me an actress that went from playing a character named Ivana Humpalot to Wilma Slaghoople not named Kristen Johnson. YOU CAN’T. In recent years, Johnson has appeared on Sex and the City (as the titular splatter in “Splat!”), ER (Dr. Eve Peyton), and Ugly Betty (Helen). She was also on Bored to Death last season, played a dun*eon mistress. She worked in the theatre (including a Mint Theater Company production of So Help Me God!), and got into a fight with Octomom in July. Johnson can next be seen in Amy Heckerling’s Vamps.
French Stewart, as Harry Solomon
Did you know his full name is Milton French Stewart? I didn’t, but it’s perfect. Post-3rd Rock, Stewart has had a surprisingly successful (he was the worst part of the show) character and voice actor career, including voicing Bob in God, the Devil, and Bob (I miss that show) and appearing in a long list of long-running TV series, like Becker, CSI, and Bones. He will soon voice Gay Dad Richard in Fox’s Allen Gregory and NOT cameo in the upcoming Muppets movie as a watch salesman. Needless to say, he is not dead and recently starred in the play Voice Lessons, with Laurie Metcalf.
Jane Curtin, as Dr. Mary Albright
Jane Curtin was one of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live, and she has continued to make America laugh, laugh again, and laugh some more ever since. (Just don’t tell John Belushi!) She played Paul Rudd’s mom in I Love You, Man, and appeared on two episode of Gary, Unmarried. She also starred in the ABC sitcom Crumbs, which aired for about three seconds. Curtin, who intentionally works very rarely, can also been seen as Sarah Jessica Parker’s stepmom in I Don’t Know How She Does It, now out in the theaters.
Simbi Khali, as Nina Campbell
Simbi Khali is actually the second actress from Plump Fiction to appear in a Checking In column, which is noteworthy to no one but me (hey, the guy who voices Homer and Pamela Adlon are in it!). She appeared in We Were Soldiers and on The Bernie Mac Show, and more recently provided the voice of Varesh Ossa in video game Guild Wars Nightfall. She also worked in the theatre in For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, and appeared in three episodes of Martin between 1993 and 1995.
Elmarie Wendel, as Mrs. Mamie Dubeck
In an inspiring story straight out of a shitty movie, Elmarie Wendel was “born on a farm in Iowa, [and] spent her childhood traveling with her musical parents and dancing with her sisters in and around the Midwest in club and concert hall venues, including the Grand Ole Opry.” Dubeck played Gina in 13 episodes of George Lopez and Susan Hornby in four episodes of NYPD Blue. She also did an episode of voice work for American Dad (“Stanny Boy and Frantastic”) last year. Her daughter, JC, played Mia on Dave’s World, about columnist Dave Barry. It was unspeakably awful.
Wayne Knight, as Officer Don Orville
Newman! The guy who gets blinded and killed by a Dilophosaurus in Jurassic Park! Stan in Space Jam! That evil toy man from Toy Story 2! They’re all played by Wayne Knight, who has come a long way from his humble Sex O’Clock News beginnings in the early 1980s. Not that he ever needs to work again, but since 2009, Knight has appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm (as Newman), Hot in Cleveland, and Torchwood. Next year, he’ll star in She Wants Me, about a neurotic screenplay writer, with Charlie Sheen and Josh Gad. Side note: Newman only appeared in fewer than 50 episodes of Seinfeld.