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The big plus for 'Zoo'? Another opportunity for James Wolk

CBS’s drama Zoo premieres tomorrow, and there’s a lot to talk about. There’s its different premise, involving animals turning on humans like we’re a great big buffet. There’s the fact that it comes from author James Patterson, whose previous TV adaptations include two seasons of Women’s Murder Club, and who’s one of the writers around the poker table on Castle. But here’s something else that’s been overlooked: The series provides another well-deserved opportunity for James Wolk.

Wolk is one of those actors who is so good every time they appear—yet when it comes down to it, they never seem to catch a break. Viewers of the Eye will know he looks familiar from last season’s The Crazy Ones, where he finally got to show off his comedic side in a wonderful performance as the warm but not always brilliant ad copywriter Zach Cropper. He more than held his own with the legendary Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar, and participated with Kelly Clarkson in that now infamous McDonald’s jingle scene from the pilot. In an ensemble full of talent backed by one of TV’s best producers, David E. Kelley, Wolk was given a chance to shine and he did.

But every time he turns up on the small screen, he’s been doing great things. He had audiences buzzing from the first moment that he turned up as the enigmatic Bob Benson in the sixth season of Mad Men, a role that earned him a Satellite Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as everyone tried to figure out who Bob really was and what he wanted with Joan. One of the many reasons the character worked so well was because of the man playing him; Wolk’s earnestness and charm made him someone you desperately wanted to believe, even as you were increasingly aware that he was lying. And while Bob might not have belonged, Wolk fit right in amongst Mad Men‘s award-winning ensemble, as if he’d been there the whole time.

Before that, there was Political Animals, which has already been called out as being underrated. Not to take anything away from the killer performances of Sigourney Weaver and Sebastian Stan, but Wolk didn’t get enough love for how well he played off of both of them as Douglas Hammond, the one who had to hold his entire dysfunctional family together. He took the not unfamiliar role of the “good son” who winds up coming undone and made it seem fresh again, keeping Douglas’ credibility whether he was telling his mother off, trying to protect his twin brother, or engaging in a drunken fling. The result was a character equally complex and watchable, but who didn’t get talked about nearly as much as he should have.

Keep going back, past guest arcs on Happy Endings and Shameless, and you get to Lone Star. That series is still one of the great tragedies in modern TV history, principally because Wolk gave a brilliant performance in what was essentially a dual role. He portrayed con man Robert Allen, who was simultaneously scheming to gain control of a Texas oil business under one identity and trying to live a small-town life in another. What could’ve been a very unsympathetic role was instead a very sympathetic one, thanks to strong writing from Kyle Killen and Wolk so beautifully conveying how truly conflicted Robert was in every aspect of the game. Lone Star was raved about as having one of the best pilots of the season, yet was yanked off the air after two episodes, leaving four unaired and apparently never to be made available.

And if you missed Lone Star, you probably also didn’t see Front of the Class, the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that Wolk hit out of the park two years earlier. Bringing to life the already memorable real-life story of Brad Cohen—who became an award-winning educator over the doubts of those who believed he couldn’t with Tourette syndrome—Wolk pulled audiences into highs and lows with a spirited performance. He was able to make audiences feel like a part of Cohen’s life, not just at the big moments, but through the entire journey of the film. There wasn’t a scene where he wasn’t perfect.

No matter what he’s playing, Wolk has shown that he can do it with so much heart and real commitment to crafting the best character possible. But so far, the business has never quite given back to him as much as he’s given to his roles. Now he’s headed in yet another new direction as heroic zoologist Jackson Oz in Zoo, who’s about to embark on one heck of an adventure with lions and tigers and who knows what else. Let’s just hope that the audience goes with him, because it would be really nice to see Wolk finally land a starring role that lasts.

Zoo premieres at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30, on CBS.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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