10 TV Actors Who Need to Make a Comeback

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Full disclosure: Matthew Perry was always our favorite Friend. So it was with unbridled enthusiasm that we tuned in to last night’s premiere of his new ABC series Mr. Sunshine, and y’know what? It’s pretty good. It has a bit of that fumbling-for-our-comic-voice thing that plagues just about every situation comedy pilot (including the aforementioned Friends — ever watch their first episode? Not promising!), but the writing is snappy, it’s an ideal vehicle for Perry’s dry wit, and it sports our new favorite TV theme song (watch the episode here). Best of all, the supporting cast includes Jorge Garcia (Hurley from Lost ) and Allison Janney (C.J. from The West Wing ) — so it’s a show full of people we’re glad to see back on TV.

And that got us thinking about other actors we miss from TV shows past. Some TV folks graduate to movies (George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Jim Carrey) while others bounce from one series to the next (Edie Falco, David Duchovny, Kelsey Grammer, Betty White, Peter Krause). But some kind of disappear from sight — either by choice (Jerry Seinfeld), by making poor choices (most of his co-stars), or by never flipping from recognizable character actor to name brand. Whatever the reasons may be, we’ve compiled a list of ten of our favorite TV actors who are overdue for a comeback vehicle.

Garry Shandling

Self-deprecating stand-up comic Shandling starred in (and co-created) two of television’s best and most innovative comedy series: the fourth wall-shattering It’s Garry Shandling’s Show for Showtime (1986-1990) and the brilliant showbiz satire The Larry Sanders Show for HBO (1992-1998). The latter ended with some of its finest episodes (though the fanfare for its finale was somewhat eclipsed by Seinfeld ’s around the same time). Word at the time was that Shandling would turn his attention to movies. He did, but without much success — he co-starred in the notorious flop Town & Country , while his starring vehicle What Planet Are You From? (which he co-wrote) didn’t do much better. And with that, Shandling pulled a bit of a vanishing act. He does occasional small film roles (as in last summer’s Iron Man 2 ) and will pop up at special events, or in the special features for his two shows’ indispensible DVD sets. Maybe now that they’re both finally out in full, he can focus on creating the next great TV comedy.

Dennis Franz

The funny thing is, NYPD Blue was never supposed to be Dennis Franz’s show. The focus, in the first season anyway, was squarely on Detective John Kelly, played by David Caruso (it’s still the best thing he’s done). But when Caruso made the ill-advised decision to leave the hardboiled cop drama after only one season, creators Steven Bochco and David Milch pivoted the show to more of an ensemble focus, with Franz’s Andy Sipowicz becoming its most valuable player. Over the show’s 12 seasons, he served as both the dark soul of the series and the partner/mentor for a series of increasingly younger partners (first Jimmy Smits, then Ricky Rick Schroder, then Mark-Paul Gosselaar). He won four Emmys for his work as Sipowicz, and appeared in a couple of films during the show’s summer hiatuses (most memorably opposite Dustin Hoffman in American Buffalo ). But Franz has been M.I.A since NYPD Blue left the air in 2005 — no movies, no new shows, no nothing. Sounds like he’s about ready to front another gritty drama. Is David Simon available? How about Shawn Ryan?

Sabrina Lloyd

Sports Night was one of the best unwatched TV shows of the 1990s. It lasted two seasons on ABC, but never found an audience — partially due to the network’s meddling (good Lord, is that first-season laugh track awkward) and poor promotional moves (no, ABC, it’s not just another workplace comedy), partially due to the traditional inability of network television audiences to latch on to smart, subtle comedy series (see Arrested Development, Undeclared, The Ben Stiller Show, Frank’s Place, Andy Richter Controls the Universe). Luckily, pretty much everybody involved went on to great success — creator/writer Aaron Sorkin, co-stars Peter Krause and Felicity Huffman, director Thomas Schlamme. But Sabrina Lloyd, so great as spunky, sexy Natalie Hurley, only did a few small movies and occasional TV gigs (including arcs on Ed and Numbers ) before reportedly dropping out of the business to attend Columbia University and living for some time in Uganda. For whatever it’s worth, we maintain she should at least be co-starring on somebody’s smart comedy/drama.

Tony Hale

As with Sports Night, most of the cast of Arrested Development have found plenty of ways to keep busy since that show was taken from us back in 2006 (that’s how we tend to think of it — it was “taken from us,” like a death in the family). Tony Hale, who stole the show as mama’s boy Buster (“I’m a monster!”), has certainly kept his dance card full, with bit parts and guest appearances (including several episodes of Chuck ), and a supporting role on the tragically short-lived Andy Barker P.I. But it’s time for someone else to tap into Hale’s particular, oddball comic genius.

Marilu Henner

As female cabbie Elaine O’Connor Nardo on the classic comedy Taxi , Henner was wickedly funny, heartily sympathetic, and effortlessly sexy. The sole female regular, she more than held her own against comic oddballs like Andy Kaufman, Christopher Lloyd, and Danny DeVito. But she’s seldom had the opportunity since to display her unique gifts. She was good on Burt Reynolds’s 1990s sitcom Evening Shade , but never really stood out in that large ensemble, and her film appearances were mostly confined to turkeys like Cannonball Run II and Perfect . She’s kept herself on the tube, mostly through appearances on reality shows like Dancing with the Stars and Celebrity Apprentice, but she’s due for a scripted comedy showcase — though that would entail finding a show that can write for funny women of her age. Ah, well. Maybe she’ll have a Betty White-style late-career resurgence?

Lisa Kudrow

One of Henner’s recent TV appearances was on The Comeback , HBO’s acidic comedy showcase for Friends co-star Lisa Kudrow. The series was unfortunately short-lived (it only lasted a season), which is too bad, since she was always our second-favorite Friend. Kudrow’s done pretty well for herself as a supporting player in films, including Wonderland, Happy Endings, and Easy A , but her most recent endeavor is Web Therapy , a comedy series on (gasp) the Internet. Sure, it’s star-studded, and everybody seems to like it, but… c’mon. Kudrow should be on TV. Make it happen, Greg Daniels.

Terry O’Quinn

Yes, we know Lost has been off the air for less than a year, so Terry O’Quinn (aka John Locke) may not be ready to jump right back in to the grind of a weekly series. But the skilled character actor has always been a grinder — he made multiple appearances on Alias, The West Wing, and JAG , so maybe he’s ready to bring his steely gaze and authoritative air back to series television. Does Dexter need a new villain?

Kristen Bell

In a lifetime of having our heart broken by unwarranted cancellations, few terminations destroyed us like the CW’s merciless execution of Veronica Mars , easily the smartest and most entertaining show on their “network” (and one of the best shows in recent memory, period). A seamless mash-up of high school ennui and moody noir detective stories, Rob Thomas’s terrific series also introduced America to Kristen Bell, the achingly beautiful sparkplug who played the titular character. At first, our only consolation was that the show had at least made an impression on Hollywood muckety-mucks, with all signs pointed to Bell becoming a movie star — and her first post-Veronica movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall , seemed to confirm that notion. But her subsequent filmography has been, well… we’ll let it speak for itself: Couples Retreat. When in Rome. You Again. Burlesque. Is it too late for that Veronica Mars in the FBI reboot?

Andre Royo

Andre Royo’s work as Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins was one of The Wire ’s most understated performances; “Bubs” was so often used as atmosphere that it was easy to underestimate the skill of the actor quietly inhabiting him. But his character’s arc was one of the show’s most inspired, and on its masterful final episode, it was Royo who moved us to tears with his goosebump-inducing AA speech (“Ain’t no shame in holding on to grief,” he proclaimed). We realize David Simon couldn’t give everyone on The Wire a role on Treme , but maybe he could find some room for Royo? Perhaps?

Sarah Michelle Gellar

When Sarah Michelle Gellar announced that she was leaving Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the end of its seventh season, effectively ending the show, most presumed that she wanted to focus on films (in spite of her insistence that “This isn’t about leaving for a career in movies, or in theater – it’s more of a personal decision. I need a rest”). Nine years later, and her filmography is even more unfortunate than Bell’s: critically drubbed horror (The Return, Possession, The Grudge), ill-advised sequels (Scooby Doo 2, The Grudge 2), befuddling ensemble pieces (The Air I Breathe, Southland Tales), and straight-to-video misfires ( Suburban Girl ). But maybe that’s not why she’s taking a shot at returning to series television; maybe she just misses us as much as we miss her. Whatever the reason, we’re looking forward to her return.

So what did you think of Perry’s comeback show? And who else would you like to see come back to the boob tube?