Previously I linked to the brilliant Monty Python Fresh Fruit sketch starring John Cleese (which I could watch over and over). I wanted to mention an easily overlooked fact about John Cleese. In addition to writing the outstanding Fawlty Towers and contributing to Python, Cleese does lots of cameos, including several for American sitcoms. These appearances were just amazing and stand as the best moments in American sitcoms.
- Cheers. Cleese played an arrogant British family therapist in Simon Says. Diane and Sam enlist his help for their relationship. (He won an Emmy there). Besides being one of the funniest episodes I’ve ever seen, it made clear how brilliant Shelley Long and Ted Danson were as actors. Shelley Long’s character was annoying and overbearing and yet pure at heart and self-righteous and so earnest about what she was feeling that you ended up feeling sympathy for her nonetheless. The show works so well because of Shelley Long’s earnestness. (For more of this, don’t miss the 2 part “breakup episodes, “I’ll be seeing you” in Season 2). If Cleese appeared with two other farce actors, the show just wouldn’t have worked.
- Third Rock from the Sun. Cleese played a superintelligent alien who is probably the only actor/character who could ever upstage John Lithgow. Actually, Lithgow is pretty much as close as the US will come to Cleese. Cleese made two appearances in Season 4 and the final episodes in Season 6 (Mary Loves Scoochie). The Scoochie episodes had everything –surprise, fun, excitement and total outrageousness.
- Will and Grace. Cleese was a snobby foil to Karen who eventually married him. Will and Grace really didn’t use him that well, but they had a lot of great fun anyway.
I wonder: do sitcom writers write characters with an actor in mind?