By Stacey Harrison
Kristen Johnston already has a plan should her new sitcom ever run into ratings trouble.
‚ÄúThere is so much chemistry between myself and Donald Faison that I would imagine right before we‚Äôre canceled they‚Äôll have us sleep together. I think that would be our jumping the shark moment,‚ÄĚ says the statuesque funny lady, joking around about one of her latest costars.
The truth is, there isn‚Äôt much reason to worry that The Exes, which debuts tonight at 10:30, will have trouble finding an audience. It‚Äôs the fourth original sitcom launched by TV Land, whose track record for success in this area ‚ÄĒ with Hot in Cleveland, Retired at 35 and Happily Divorced ‚ÄĒ is unblemished. The Exes follows the same formula in taking established sitcom stars and giving them often-racy material to work with in a traditional, multi-camera format.
It‚Äôs been 10 years since Johnston said goodbye to her signature role as outrageous alien Sally Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Sun, and this is ‚ÄĒ by choice ‚ÄĒ her first regular TV gig since.
‚ÄúI‚Äôd been offered a couple of things, but nothing really got me too excited,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúBut something about this, the writing is really good [and] also the fact that she is a normal person. She‚Äôs not just some whack job. She walks into a room and she‚Äôs normal, she‚Äôs like, ‚ÄėHi. How are you?‚Äô ‚Ä¶ I like whack jobs, but it just gets kind of old.‚ÄĚ
Johnston plays Holly, a divorce lawyer who ‚Äútakes care of everybody else‚Äôs lives, but not her own.‚ÄĚ To wit, she acts as den mother to three sad-sack former clients, men she‚Äôs set up to live in an apartment she owns across the hall. Faison (Scrubs) plays Phil, an emotionally distant ladies man; Wayne Knight (Seinfeld) is Haskell, the slovenly loner; and David Alan Basche (The Starter Wife) is Stuart, the fastidious and clingy new guy. Their dynamic plays much like an Odd Couple plus one, with Stuart slowly making inroads in getting his new roommies to open up.
Faison is known for playing gregarious characters, but shooting The Exes initially exposed his shy side, since the actor had never performed in front of a live studio audience. But he‚Äôs since found his groove.
‚ÄúKristen now calls me a laugh whore,‚ÄĚ Faison says. ‚ÄúI wasn‚Äôt always a laugh whore. Coming into it, I was a lot shyer in front of the audience and now I try to get them to laugh as much as I possibly can, even if I don‚Äôt have a joke. So I have reached laugh-whore status. I don‚Äôt know if that‚Äôs a good thing or a bad thing, but that‚Äôs where I‚Äôm at right now.‚ÄĚ
Where Johnston is at right now is a much better place to handle success. The sudden fame that came with 3rd Rock was overwhelming for the actress, but she‚Äôs happy to have an old friend around in Knight, who played her love interest on the outrageous NBC sitcom.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs really amazing to get back to hang out with him again as a friend,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚Äú3rd Rock was such a crazy time for me. I was just trying to keep my head on the ground and stay alive, basically. Overnight fame is a wacky thing. And now I‚Äôm just a totally happier, settled, different person and so it‚Äôs really wonderful to become friends with him again as sort of a grown-up.‚ÄĚ
If there will be any sudden fame from The Exes, it probably will go to Kelly Stables, who steals all her scenes as Holly’s party-girl assistant Eden. Calling the diminutive Stables “a dazzling comedian,” Johnston predicts she’s about to become “a big, fat star. For real. Like, you‚Äôre going to die. She‚Äôs going to take the world by storm.”
Photo: Courtesy of TV Land