Tuesday, May 26

Remote Life: Celebrity cameos can be challenging

THE OFFICE — “Training Day” Episode 720 — Pictured: (l-r) Angela Kinsey as Angela Martin, Brian Baumgertner as Kevin Malone, Will Ferrell as Deangelo Vickers, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly, Steve Carell as Michael Scott, John Krakinski as Jim Halpert — Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

Chris Haston

Sometimes I think I must be ridiculous to get so excited about television. Then last week I read that Paul Rudd (“I Love You, Man”) will guest star on “Parks and Recreation” as Leslie Knope’s political opponent, and I start jabbing the arm of the person sitting next to me in blind excitement.

This is more than just an amazing casting decision that I have been dreaming about with no expectations of it actually happening. It’s also one of the few times I can remember being excited for a guest star. Most guest stars feel like gimmicks.

The appropriate term for what I’m referring to is “stunt-casting” or the casting of a well-known celebrity with the assumption that it’s intended to boost the show’s ratings.

My gut reaction is to cry “sell-out” while painting a giant red “S” on my TV screen. Using a big name to entice channel surfing viewers makes sense, but the integrity of the show and the loyalty of existing viewers will be tested.

Britney Spears’ guest stint on “How I Met Your Mother” in March of 2008 received the show’s highest ratings to date. Bloggers lauded Spears’ appearance as a personal comeback. Others, like the New York Times, gave her lackluster reviews. The way these articles read, the cast, the plot and the premise were props to Britney’s performance.

When a casting decision like this is such a media blitz, there’s that worry that the show will cater to the mania. Whether it’s the shaping of the story, the quality of acting, or that jarring moment when you see a former teen pop star sitting behind a receptionist desk on your favorite show, it alters the episode.

For dedicated fans, feelings get hurt and abandonment issues surface.

I can only assume this is how longtime Comic-Con attendees felt when Twilight fans began storming the conventional hall to see Robert Pattinson’s enigmatic hair pouf. Twilight fans are missing out on what made Comic-Con so great before Pattinson graced it with his presence.

More to the point, more people are watching one of my favorite shows, but are they really watching the same show?

As angry as stunt-casting can make me, a friend of mine brought up a good point.

Whether or not a casting decision was actually stunt-casting will always be speculation on my part. Yes, I may be 100 percent convinced that the recent signing of Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Pitbull and NeNe Leakes (“Real Housewives of Atlanta”) with “Glee” are attempts to shoehorn as many celebrities as possible into a single show. But perhaps the creators think that Ricky Martin is in fact the best person to portray the McKinley high school Spanish teacher.

As much as I would like to blanket judge stunt-casting, there are also the rare moments where the decision is so perfect that it might actually be considered a gift to loyal viewers.

Take the casting of Brad Pitt as Ross’ high school friend and co-president of the I Hate Rachel Green Club in “Friends.” Sure Pitt was an A-list star, but he was also married to “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston. What could have been a quick cameo to gain viewers became a joke with an extra layer of humor for those who knew about their marriage. The stint was such a success that Pitt was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.

So what makes the casting of Paul Rudd on “Parks and Recreation” any different from other guest stars? Sometimes a casting decision just makes sense to you. Independent of celebrity or gimmicks, someone has to play Leslie’s opponent. For me, Paul Rudd sounds like a good choice.

And maybe that’s the key. This role wasn’t created for Rudd in order to get him on the show. Unlike “The Office,” which trumpeted Will Ferrell’s appearance and then left us to speculate about his role, this is a character created organically from within the show itself.

Will the fact that Rudd is best friends with Adam Scott, who plays Ben Wyatt on the show, be distracting? I highly doubt it. Is there going to be a reference to “slapping the bass” from “I Love You, Man” or some other allusion to Rudd’s work outside of this gig? I think we’re safe from such a travesty.

For now I’m optimistic about this casting decision. Ask me after Rudd makes an appearance, and maybe I’ll be singing a different tune.

If you have a favorite guest star appearance, email Suchland at [email protected] “Remote Life” runs every Tuesday.

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