familiar faces

Scandal, Parenthood, and the Art of the Casting Double-Dip

Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by ABC and NBC

It’s no secret that Scandal is home to a lot of Grey’s Anatomy alums — and why shouldn’t it be? If you find actors you like and like writing for, why not put them on multiple shows? (Just ask Aaron Sorkin.) Shonda Rhimes has competition for TV’s biggest double-dipper, though. Jason Katims has brought more than a few Friday Night Lights cast members to Parenthood. While both shows aggressively double-dip, their cross-casting tactics are complete opposites. On Grey’s and Scandal, most actors wind up playing two totally different characters; on FNL and Parenthood, the roles are a lot more similar. Let’s examine the most notable of these return customers:

On Scandal, Jeff Perry plays the break-out character Cyrus, TV’s most charismatic super-villain. He put a hit out on his own husband, and yet he retains a kind of human empathy thanks perhaps to his excitability. He’s the man behind the curtain, and that curtain is made of dark, dangerous political secrets. But on Grey’s, he was Meredith’s nebbishy absentee father Thatcher, who didn’t have a relationship with his daughter for most of her life because he was steamrolled by his super-intense ex-wife Ellis.

Speaking of Ellis, that’s Kate Burton. On Grey’s, she was Meredith’s hot-shot surgeon mom — though by the time we met her, she was in the grips of dementia. Meredith eventually came to terms with her mother’s distant cruelty, discovering that her mother did love her and that there were kinder things about Ellis deep down. That’s the flip of Burton’s Scandal character, Vice-President Sally Burton, who presents a genteel image (thanks in part to a Southern accent) but is actually ice cold.

And then there’s Scott Foley. On Grey’s, he might as well have come stamped with an expiration date. When Henry showed up, he was ailing and bed bound, though charming and flirtatious. Charming enough at least that Teddy married him so he could have her insurance — and then she fell in love, because duh, and then he died, because duh again, this is Grey’s Anatomy. On Scandal, though, he’s Mr. Tough Guy, enduring beatings and torture and while Jake Ballard is just as charming as Henry, he uses that power to manipulate Olivia, not to comfort her. (Although eventually … )

Parenthood takes the different strategy, with FNL characters basically growing up into Parenthood ones. Early on, Michael B. Jordan played Haddie’s boyfriend Alex on Parenthood, who, like Vince on FNL, had a vague criminal history (though not a serious one). Vince was trying to get his mom into rehab; Alex himself was trying to stay sober. Vince had an unstable home environment; Alex used to live in the homeless shelter. Minka Kelly too seemingly reprised her FNL role: Lyla Garrity, star cheerleader, was always more or less defined by who she was dating, be it QB1, QB1’s BFF Tim Riggins, that Christian radio station guy, or whoever else crossed her path. And on Parenthood, her Gaby character was there as a romantic stumbling block for Crosby. It’s easy to picture Lyla growing up and becoming a therapist for children with autism, let alone someone who still has a soft spot for charming screw-ups. Crosby’s no Tim Riggins, but he’s more of a Riggins than a Street, for sure.

The longest standing double-dip for Parenthood is Matt Lauria, who plays Amber’s now-fiancé Ryan. Lauria first appeared as FNL’s Luke Cafferty, the farm boy lying about his residency so he could play for Dillon instead of East Dillon. Over the course of the show, we saw him clumsily romance Becky (a clumsy romance that includes an unplanned pregnancy), butt heads with his conservative Christian parents, and eventually join the Army. And when we meet Ryan on Parenthood? Why, he’s an Army veteran! Luke’s more gentle and perhaps less secretive than Ryan, but he’s also very naïve — the kind of naïve that might get wrung out of you during a war.

And now Parenthood’s done it again, this time with Jurnee Smollett as Christina’s campaign manager. She’s incredibly dedicated, smart, driven, and maybe a little bit bossy — not unlike Jess on Friday Night Lights, the girl who knew everything about football and was clearly destined to be a coach.

This list only includes major overlaps — lots and lots of people have had one-off appearances on both shows, like Billy Riggins popping up on one ep of Parenthood, or Dan Bucatinsky being on one episode of Grey’s before making his way to Scandal. (He was also a producer on Grey’s, too.) As far as further overlap goes, maybe it’s time for Kate Walsh to pop up on Scandal? Or for Adrianne Palicki to be Amber’s new best friend on Parenthood? There’s no wrong answer.

Scandal, Parenthood, and Double-Dipping