When Richard Lewis Was Jamie Lee Curtis’ Sitcom Leading Man

A match made in neurotic heaven
When Richard Lewis Was Jamie Lee Curtis’ Sitcom Leading Man

Jamie Lee Curtis has been a damn delight this entire awards season, shouting out crazed acceptance speeches with the assurance of someone no longer worried about landing the next career-making role. She’s sitting on a stack of Activa money, what does she care? Hey everybody, we all just won an Oscar!

Last night, she gave a shoutout to “all of the people who have supported the genre movies I made for all those years,” and hell yes, that kind of art deserves love as well. The horror movies like Halloween, family-friendly comedies like Freaky Friday, the Schwarzenegger action films like True Lies, the trashy TV-movies like Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story — we loved her in all of them. But there’s another genre that Curtis dabbled in that might have gotten lost to the decades: the network sitcom. Turns out she starred in a pretty good one, alongside Curb Your Enthusiasm mensch Richard Lewis

Watch three seconds of the opening to Anything But Love and you’ll know instantly that we’re back in the 1980s, complete with graphics straight out of a video-dating commercial, mountainous mullets and shoulder pads that would put Nick Bosa to shame.

You never see this one on Nick at Nite or MeTV, which is somewhat surprising given its stars and the fact that it was a modest hit, lasting for four seasons. The premise was a classic will-they-or-won’t-they (of course, they will), set in the offices of trendy Chicago Monthly magazine. Curtis played Hannah, a young optimistic writer; Lewis basically translated his stand-up act directly into the show as Marty, a neurotic columnist. As journalistic professionals, it would be a mistake to give in to their mutual attraction, right? RIGHT? Oh, shut up and just kiss already.

The New York Times applauded the “perfect Curtis-Lewis chemistry,” found in Curb-esque exchanges like this:

Hannah: You shouldn’t lean back on the chair like that. You’ll fall over.
Marty: Very good. Now do my father.

So why wasn’t Anything But Love a bigger hit? For one, the forced separation of characters who are clearly meant to be together is a harder act to pull off than it looks. Cheers, famously, managed it twice. But a lot of other sitcoms crashed upon the jagged rocks of forbidden romance — either we don’t believe the stars have chemistry in the first place, or the obstacles to love are hopelessly contrived. Curtis and Lewis had plenty of spark — but also the dumb storylines that come with keeping them apart.

Anything But Love also had to deal with a more difficult problem: Network meddling. Each season, producers introduced a new cast of colorful coworkers to bounce jokes off of. Viewers needed a scorecard to remember who was who. Network bozos also jerked Anything But Love all over the schedule. After initial stellar ratings, you couldn’t blame fans if they couldn’t find the show. 

A surprising number of episodes are up on YouTube, so get a load of Jamie Lee Curtis, sitcom star. She delivered a performance good enough to win the 1992 Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Comedy or Musical. Sure, she doesn’t have hot-dog fingers, but you might find the whole thing funny anyway.

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