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Celebrity cameos play huge role in sitcom

Molly Griffin | Tuesday, October 11, 2005

If celebrity cameos were the true mark of popularity, then “Arrested Development” would be the prom queen of television. Celebrities almost appear to be waiting in line to appear on the show. Fortunately the show uses them with such discriminating taste that the celebrity guests actually add to the program rather than overshadow it.

The first season included some celebrity cameos, but nowhere near the levels that would eventually come in the second season. Liza Minelli does some fine work as “Lucille Two,” a neighbor of Lucille Bluth and a rival for Buster’s affection. Minelli does some hilarious work as the feisty, vertigo-plagued character.

Henry Winkler also shows up as Barry, the incompetent attorney whom the Bluth family hires to get George Sr. out of prison. Winkler takes ineptitude to hilarious new heights, and there is a continual in-joke because Ron Howard, who was on “Happy Days” with Winkler, is the producer and narrator for the show.

Heather Graham also appears as George Michael’s ethics teacher, who has a crush on Saddam Hussein and whom Michael ends up dating.

Michael has a one-night stand with a blind attorney, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss of “Seinfeld” fame, who ends up not being entirely honest (or even blind, for that matter). The scene when she must pretend to be blind while Tobias is sneaking around her house looking for evidence makes one wonder why she hasn’t had her own successful television show.

The show’s second season emerged even more loaded with celebrity appearances than the first. Along with the return of Minelli, Winkler and Louis-Dreyfuss , there were a host of other cameos.

Christine Taylor (“Dodgeball”) appears as Michael’s long-lost love from childhood, and her real-life husband, Ben Stiller, appears as one of Gob’s rival magicians.

Carl Weathers (“Predator”) plays himself as a starving actor in a series of episodes. He takes Tobias under his wing – for a price – and ends up teaching him more about getting free food than about perfecting his “craft.”

Martin Short makes an appearance as a crazy, wealthy gym owner who has lost the use of his legs. The episode itself is ridiculous, as is the character Short plays, but his manic energy is riveting in an odd, frantic way.

Amy Phoehler (“SNL,” “Wet Hot American Summer”) turns up as a woman who, after an escalating series of bets, ends up daring Gob to marry her.

Other celebrities who appear in the second season include James Lipton (“Inside the Actor’s Studio”), Zach Braff (“Scrubs,” “Garden State”), Dan Castellaneta (“The Simpsons”), Dave Attell (“Insomniac with Dave Attell”) and Andy Richter (formerly of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”).

The current third season of the show looks to continue this trend of attracting hoards of celebrities. Oscar-winner Charlize Theron is set to appear on the next episode of the show, and Ricky Gervais, known best for his work on the British version of the hit-comedy “The Office,” is slated to appear on the show. The actors on “Arrested Development” wanted him to appear so much they actually paid for his ticket when Fox balked at shelling out the money.

While the core actors, not the cameos, truly make “Arrested Development” great, the added celebrity appearances add some variety and humor to the show. The producers seem to be particular enough about who appears and the roles they play that the show avoids the trite pitfalls into which most shows fall. It seems that it will only be a matter of time before appearing on “Arrested Development” is a celebrity rite of passage on par with hosting “Saturday Night Live.”