When we’ve seen Kirstie Alley on TV in the past decade or so, it’s largely been as herself, or some exaggerated version thereof. Whether she’s poking fun at her weight issues in Fat Actress and Kirstie Alley’s Big Life, showing off her moves on Dancing With the Stars or getting caught up in some controversial Scientology-related news story, the focus hasn’t really been on her acting.
That’s why the star is reveling in Kirstie, the new TV Land sitcom that signals a triumphant return to form, and shows she still knows her way around a joke.
“It does feel like you’re home,” Alley says. “It feels familiar. My favorite genre is sitcoms, so I feel in my element. I love the life of a sitcom, not just the product of a sitcom, but the everyday life of it. It’s just such a fun way to live your life. I feel lucky.”
Alley plays Madison “Maddie” Banks, a Broadway diva living a posh, insular existence with her long-suffering but loyal assistant Thelma (Rhea Perlman), who also happens to be her best friend, and her eccentric driver Frank (Michael Richards). Everything is upended with the unexpected arrival of Arlo (Eric Petersen), the sweet but slovenly adult son Maddie gave up for adoption years ago.
In addition to a very welcome Cheers reunion with Perlman, Kirstie is serving up a bevy of top-flight guest stars, many of whom will bring a together-again vibe. There’s Alley’s Look Who’s Talking romance John Travolta, Richards’ Seinfeld costar Jason Alexander, another Cheers alum in George Wendt, and Alley’s fellow Dancing With the Stars hoofer Gilles Marini. Also be on the lookout for Cloris Leachman, Kristen Johnston, Kathy Griffin and Kristin Chenoweth.
Alley’s character isn’t the most sympathetic lady, and that’s just how the star wants it, saying she’s going for an Auntie Mame or All About Eve flavor.
“I don’t think characters are funny unless they’re flawed,” she says. “They were women who were big personalities, big characters and I’ve always wanted to play that. I’m enamored with Broadway. I don’t know anything really about Broadway life, but I’m enamored with Broadway life.”
Ironically, the one member of the cast who does know something about it is Petersen, who played Shrek in the stage musical. This makes him a good source for learning the intricacies of that world and, of course, learning some inside dirt on divas.
As wacky as it is, Kirstie does sneak in some genuinely emotional themes and moments, although Alley says they are meant to be quite secondary to the laughs.
“I’m not very touchy-feely about comedy, so I think you have to choose those moments wisely,” she says. “But when it’s working, I can go, ‘I can see how that’s sort of cool’ in the midst of the comedy, as long as it doesn’t linger. It has to be brief. If there’s a touching moment, then right after it there has to be something stupid.”
Kirstie premieres tonight at 10pm on TV Land.