Tube Talk: Seeing (guest) stars on favorite shows

Most actors love a challenge. They enjoy playing a variety of parts, which is why so many of them relish a good guest-starring role. While some actors like working without having to commit to a lengthy contract like most series regulars, others use guest roles as a chance to show their range.

Case in point: Dawson’s Creek’s James Van Der Beek playing a serial killer—with multiple personalities, no less—on Criminal Minds. Dawson who?

Being that Criminal Minds is a series where serial and spree killers are more common than dirt, it’s no surprise that one of my favorite guest stars of the year played another one of that show’s killers. In a January episode, Keith Carradine played a prolific and sadistic serial killer who got away only to return for the season finale.

Heroes lured a couple of sci-fi stars into doing guest shots: Star Trek legend George Takei as Hiro’s mysterious father, and ex-Dr. Who Christopher Eccleston as Claude Rains, the aptly named (or nicknamed) invisible hero.

Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker had two prominent story arcs on two series this year, one as The Shield’s Lt. Kavanaugh, and the other as a disgruntled patient on ER.

Dramas weren’t the only shows giving actors a chance to have fun. Norm MacDonald recently channeled Burt Reynolds on My Name is Earl, playing the son of Reynolds’ character. And earlier this season, Amy Sedaris played the quirky cat lady who nearly broke Randy’s heart.

30 Rock had some of the best guest stars of the year—Isabella Rossellini, Elaine Stritch, Will Arnett, Emily Mortimer and Molly Shannon, among them—but I really enjoyed seeing Dean Winters (Rescue Me, Oz) in a recurring role as the last beeper salesman in Manhattan. Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens guest starred on 30 Rock as the freakishly deformed, half-wit heir to the Hapsburg throne. Less than a week later, Reubens turned up playing a noir-ish journalist on Dirt. You’d never know it was the same guy.

Reubens wasn’t the only actor tackling two very different guest roles this season. Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf played a spurned housewife/gunwoman on Desperate Housewives, and a homeless murder victim on Raines. And Kari Matchette (Invasion) guest starred on Shark and had recurring roles on 24 and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Some other notable sightings this season include John Goodman as a small-town judge on Studio 60; Dixie Carter as Orson’s murderous mother on Desperate Housewives; Sex and the City’s David Eigenberg as a child molester/possible killer on Raines’; James Cromwell as Jack’s very tall, criminal mastermind father on 24; and Cheech Marin as Hurley’s long-lost and somewhat shorter father on Lost.

But the guest performer I most enjoyed all season had to be the brilliant Stephen Fry (Jeeves & Wooster, Blackadder, Absolute Power), on several episodes of Bones as the psychiatrist Booth is forced to see after shooting a clown. Is it too much to hope that one day Fry will join his old comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, by guest starring on House?

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, SatelliteORBIT, and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to

from the May 30-June 5, 2007, issue

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