I've always been a fan of obscure television. It's like, the harder a show is to see, the more interested I am in it. The less people have heard about it, the more I want to know about it. (Remember Struck By Lightning?
The sitcom starring Jack Elam as the Frankenstein monster? No?). Whe I was a kid, with my first Beta VCR, the Syracuse papers used to always say on the tv page when a show was airing for the last time - and I would always tape it. That's why I have a Beta tape somewhere with the last episode of AfterMASH
on it, and one episode of Dreams
, the 80's trippy music video inspired dramedy starring John Stamos and Jami Gertz as members of a struggling rock & roll band. That's also probably why I bought the DVD set of the first season of Joey
, the Friends
spin-off starring Matt LeBlanc in the continuing adventures of actor Joey Tribbiani, moved to Los Angeles.
Of course, I also got it because of my interest in filming locations. The apartment house shown as Joey's on the show was less than a block from the apartment I lived in up until a year ago. There's a kind of a kick in seeing a real life location you know on TV in fictionalized form. (Notice how much bluer the sky is on tv....hmmmm)
As an aside, I want to relay a story Penn Jillette told on his radio about the time he guest starred on a fourth or fifth season episode of Friends.
He said it was really interesting to observe the cast. They were all running around stressing about holding onto the level of fame they had obtained on the show. Only one of them was just enjoying every minute of it: Matt LeBlanc. So, in a way, it's kind of nice that he was the one that ended up with his own program for two more years than the rest of them.
Just recently I revisited Joey through the DVD set for the first time since they aired. I was kind of surprised to find that Joey's nephew Michael, played by Paulo Costanzo, really reminded me of the guys on The Big Bang Theory. Michael is a grad student at Cal Tech, and the humor comes out of his contrast with the less bright Joey:
Michael: Actually, right now we're designing a mock up for an escape module from the International Space Station.
Joey: (laughing) What are you, a rocket scientist?
Michael: (deadpan) Yes.
Sound familiar? But the similarity doesn't end there:
Notice that Michael tends to dress in a wide range of cool but nerdy t-shirts. Look familiar?
Well, I figured this unexpected little similarity between a fairly forgotten show and TV's new number one comedy might be fun about. I was more surprised, though, when I got to the third episode: Joey and the Party. In it, Joey and Michael throw a party to get to know their neighbors, and Michael's longtime rival Seth Tobin shows up with a girlfriend - meaning Michael is the last guy from his school to have a serious relationship. (Plot). So check out Seth when he shows up at the party:
That's right - Simon Helberg, better known as Howard Wolowitz on Big Bang.
He's dressed more like Leonard, but his character is very similar to the Howard we all know.
Seth: I'm bench pressing 90 pounds. Can you bench press your body weight?
Even more like Howard, from the end, when he and Michael reveal that they've been jealous of each other for years, and his girlfriend is a fake:
Michael: Seth, why did you lie?
Seth: So I could beat you for once, ok? You got into CalTech's doctoral department, I got rejected. You've got this killer apartment, I live at home and share a bathroom with my grandmother!
I'm not, by any means, suggesting that anything on The Big Bang Theory was taken from, or even inspired by Joey... but it's likely that Simon had some great scenes on his reel when he was being considered for the part of Howard Wolowitz.
...I wonder of Matt LeBlanc gave him any acting tips?