There's Much More to Christina Applegate's Comedy Than Kelly Bundy
The very funny Christina Applegate has announced that her on-camera career is likely over due to the progression of multiple sclerosis. The two-time Emmy nominee for Dead to Me has essentially retired from acting — the only thing on Applegate’s comedy horizon is voicework for a proposed Married… With Children animated series. While most acting has become too difficult, “I can do voiceover stuff because I have to support my family and keep my brain working,” she told Vanity Fair.
It’s hard to imagine the misogynistic raunch of an animated Married… With Children playing in 2023. If Applegate didn’t need the work, it’s even harder to imagine she’d agree to revisit airheaded bimbo Kelly Bundy. “Looking back on it in hindsight, it’s pretty gross,” she says. (Even today, the show’s official YouTube channel has a 15-minute compilation video of Applegate dressed in revealing outfits.) “That part of it kind of sucked. Men had posters of this little 17-year-old, with me holding pearls. Like, who let me do that?”
At least Married introduced the world to Applegate, which gave her the chance to demonstrate her comedic talents in more appropriate vehicles. Those TV performances earned her seven Emmy comedy nominations, including a win for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (for playing Rachel’s sister Amy on Friends). Here are a few of our favorites from both TV and film that show off Applegate’s comic ability to play a bad-ass professional, a malevolent mom, an amnesiac eager to repent, and a wine-swigging, profanity-spewing gal bent on justice.
It’s literally four against one in the Channel 4 newsroom, as Brick, Champ, Brian, and Ron Burgundy try to simultaneously seduce and professionally humiliate Veronica Corningstone, their new colleague. The aspiring journalist, like Kelly Bundy, is noticed for her beauty, but Veronica allows Applegate to wield the sharpest implements in her comedy toolbelt. Not only is she the smartest, most professional newscaster of the bunch, but Applegate also gets to show off her physical comedy skills when she pounds the crap out of anchor-baby Burgundy. Knights of Columbus, that hurts!
Applegate seemed like a natural for one of the good moms gone bad, but she played against type as uptight PTA dictator Gwendolyn. Playing “the bitch” always has the danger of becoming a cliched, one-note performance, but “Applegate fleshes it out with wicked wizardry,” says Rolling Stone. When she finally breaks down thanks to an embezzling husband, a brother who joins ISIS, and a DVR that randomly stops recording Castle? “Comic gold.”
It’s the very definition of high concept — Applegate plays Samantha, an amnesia victim who learns she used to be a selfish person but vows to do better. (Didn’t Jim Carrey make a bunch of these?) Applegate was nominated for two Emmys for this comedic whirlwind performance. “The show works because Ms. Applegate is the kind of comic actress who could never be completely believable as a goody-two-shoes,” wrote the New York Times. “She puts a healthy ironic distance between herself and that dreaded entity, the better person her character must become. You look in her eyes, and, happily, you see a recidivist.”
Dead to Me
We’ll go along with the idea that the recently concluded Dead to Me was a comedy, despite the fact that its themes — primarily, grief and loss — are no laughing matter. Applegate has never had a better vehicle to balance comic dexterity with raw emotion. “Applegate is so, so good here as Jen,” said NPR, “angry and vulnerable and intelligent, clever and sometimes foolish.” If Dead to Me was Applegate's on-camera swan song, it was a hell of a way to go out.