Articles about Grown Ups
Jaleel White goes from Steve Urkel on `Family Matters' to new UPN comedy
When Family Matters ended its nine-season run in 1998, Jaleel White didn't find his plate overflowing with offers.
For many viewers of the series, which spent eight seasons on ABC and a last on CBS, White's performance as Steve Urkel was the marquee attraction. But White said recently that he never felt as if ABC saw him as all that valuable, that he was just another kid who'd grown up on television.
``Someday, somebody will do a great film about what it really is to be a child in this business,'' White said during an interview in Pasadena this summer. ``When you're a child you do not get the respect for the work that you do. People basically discount the things that you do as `luck,' `cute,' `hammy.'
``A lot of the things that I did, I know how much thought I put into it. . . . and you don't get credit for things like that,'' White said.
But don't take this as the plaint of an embittered, unemployed actor. White had options. He spent a year pursuing his film studies at UCLA (where he'll graduate in 2001). And at 8:30 p.m. Monday, he's back in prime time as star of Grown Ups, a new comedy on UPN.
``I get a chance to move on,'' White said. ``It would be worse if I didn't get a chance to move on.''
He's moved down an odd road. Grown Ups was originally conceived as a one-hour comedy-drama about a young Jewish man named Ethan. Now it's a half-hour, and the main character is J. Calvin Frazier, a 24-year-old aspiring businessman who's finally putting his youth behind him.
A pilot previewed for the news media wasn't very good, but the producers -- who include White -- have talked about changes, including opening up J.'s professional options in ensuing episodes.
White, meanwhile, wants to keep the basic tone similar to what he saw -- and liked in the show's original script.
His first six months away from the daily series grind were tough, he said, but then he got used to being away.
``I really wasn't looking for anything,'' he said. ``This was really recruitment by (UPN Entertainment President) Tom Nunan. And when somebody in Hollywood reaches out to you and says, `I've seen your work, I believe in you, I think you can do a lot more' -- you have to acknowledge that.''
Besides, win or lose, the show moves him one step away from the inevitable Urkel questions -- like a reporter at a news conference who wondered if White would be doing much physical comedy in the new show.
White's basic answer was, ``If something is slippery in front of me, I might fall.'' But he also pointed out that his comedy isn't based in any one style. ``I've never taken an acting lesson in my life,'' he said. ``I basically watch people.''
And in the pilot for Grown Ups, he said, ``The last scenes weren't particularly sit-commy. My vision for this is just to play moments, whether they're comedic or dramatic, I just want to play them as naturally as possible.''
Still, he knows the pitfalls facing any series, new or old. While he speaks fondly of Family Matters as a show that ``gave me confidence and knowledge,'' he speaks less fondly of its final season.
``The last year was all about money,'' he said. ``And that's not coming from me. My contract was signed and delivered. The last year was about money for a studio, and CBS was willing to pay it. I'm not casting any aspersions on the year. I knew what was best for the show but you have to be professional and hang in there. . . . But after a while, everything you say starts to sound like `What you talkin' bout, Willis?' And you know it.''
That experience, and what he's seen happening to other young stars, has made him leery of the big networks.
``The bigger networks right now are not letting some shows grow, and are not even really nurturing some of their talent,'' he said. ``Not to knock these people at all, but people like the Olsen twins and Fred Savage, who I pretty much came up with during the same era, they've already come and gone.'' (The Olsens' latest series, Two of a Kind, was canceled last spring after a single season; Savage's Working barely lasted two seasons.)
Reminded that those actors at least got series on the air, White said, ``They did get that shot. And there is a side of me that wonders what I would have done with that shot. But there's also a side of me that says, I'm where somebody believes in me.''
At any moment, one
almost expects Jaleel White to stand up and scream "I
am not Urkel!" considering how hard Grown Ups tries
to exorcise any and all of the syrupy good nature of
Family Matters. How else can you explain all the sex
jokes, including one man praying to God that his wife
have a lesbian affair? Actually, this has its moments,
and White deserves credit for possessing comedic skill
beyond that which we've seen before. This show gets high
marks on UPN, but they'll have to work harder than this
if they want to be players in the network game.
New 'Grown Up' comedy with Jaleel White on UPN (1999)
As if to prove that all
child stars make a difficult transition to adulthood,
Jaleel White stars in "Grown Ups" (8:30 p.m.,
UPN, TV-PG) as Calvin Frazier, a bumbling optimist who
manages to keep a smile on his face even as he's robbed
by his roommate and ignored by the love of his life.
'Grown Ups' about the sitcom and Jaleel
ANGELES -- "J.? What's J. like? Fairly optimistic.
Cute and cuddly. Just fun. Fun. Really fun. Really
optimistic about his future."
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