3rd Rock from the Sun – TV Classics

3rd Rock from the Sun Theme

In the first of a possibly recurring, possibly soon to be neglected, series I take a look back at the mid-nineties sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun and see what its stars are doing now.

3rd Rock from the Sun still stands out in my mind as one of the classic sitcoms. Not only does it stand out for having a high-concept premise, that of four aliens taking human form and trying to assimilate themselves in American life, but also for the unique mixture of broad slapstick comedy and clever humour it showcased. 3rd Rock was frequently over-the-top but never to excess and was never a show that could be considered stupid. While we were often laughing at the characters rather than with them it was because of some finely crafted jokes. For once you could believe that the laughter track was genuine rather than added in after the fact.

For a show with as much physical comedy and witty dialogue as 3rd Rock you need a cast of skilled comedy performers. Luckily for you I have detailed them all below, looking at the characters they played and what they’ve done since the show finished back in 2001.

John Lithgow
Where did you come from? Dr. Richard Solomon was the high commander of the band of aliens sent to investigate the planet Earth. As part of his cover Dick took on the role of a professor at a “third rate university” and gave a group of poor students a terrible education in Physics. Most of Dick’s time was spent in a rocky relationship with Mary Albright, though he occasionally dabbled with other women Albright would always be the woman for him. Dick was great for over-reacting to the world in general and referencing Lithgow’s role in best-film-ever Footloose.
Where did you go? Lithgow’s career post-3rd Rock has been prolific on both stage and screen, this includes the time I saw him playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night when, like a true nerd, I got a photo and autograph afterwards (lovely man). Good supporting performances were given in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and Kinsey but his best performance was given as The Trinity Killer in season 4 of Dexter. More recently he has guest starred in How I Met Your Mother, given heart to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and wisely went uncredited in New Year’s Eve.

“You want the truth? You want the truth? Well, I can’t handle the truth!”

Kristen Johnston
Where did you come from? Sally Solomon took on the role of security officer amongst the alien invaders which involved her human alter-ego getting a long-term job. Instead Sally spent most of her time understanding what it means to be a woman on Earth and getting to grips with the sexual hold she has over men, particularly Officer Don.
Where did you go? Johnston has not had the greatest success of the group since 3rd Rock but had some TV appearances in shows including ER, Bored to Death and Ugly Betty. On the film front only Bride Wars stands out, and not in a good way. Johnston tried her hand at channelling Joanna Lumley in an unsuccessful US remake of Ab Fab and now stars in new TV series The Exes alongside 3rd Rock love interest Wayne Knight which I can confirm is terrible.

“Your sexual organs are in total diometric opposition to mine!”

French Stewart
Where did you come from? Harry Solomon was only allowed on the mission to Earth because they had an extra seat. Once he is found to have a transmitter in his head Harry gets the token promotion to Communications Officer, bless. Harry is known for never seeming to open his eyes, being endlessly stupid and wearing an eye-catching faux-fur jacket. Never managing to develop a career, Harry did have a love life thanks to Vicki Dubcek who eventually left him for The Big Giant Head.
Where did you go? Stewart has had a similar career to Johnston, with an IMDb page filled with TV guest appearances, Ally McBeal, Bones and Castle, and frankly embarrassing film roles including the straight to DVD sequel Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2. Thankfully Stewart has found success recently in Jonah Hill’s animated series Allen Gregory which is better than I expected and showing on E4 on Tuesday nights.

“I could do it with my eyes closed!”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Where did you come from? Despite being the oldest of the alien crew Tommy Solomon is forced to take on the role of a human child. Tommy was by far the most integrated of the aliens, blending in at school and dating a handful of girls, it often fell to Tommy to explain Earth customs to the rest of the family.
Where did you go? It’s hard to summarise the success that Gordon-Levitt has had but his star has not stopped rising since 3rd Rock ended. In his role as indie darling he has tackled parts in acclaimed films including Mysterious Skin, Havoc, Brick and (500) Days of Summer while he has also broken into the mainstream with 10 Things I Hate About You, Inception and 50/50 with lead roles in The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, and Looper this year. Gordon-Levitt is going to be huge. I won’t be satisfied until everyone has watched Brick, even if it has to be against their will.

“Remember, Dick, you’re not allowed to disintegrate Earthlings.”

Jane Curtin
Where did you come from?Dr. Mary Albright was unlucky enough to have to share her office with Dick. Often appalled by his behaviour she soon fell in love with the tall alien and enjoyed a tempestuous relationship with him right up until the final episode. In the end Mary finds out the truth about the aliens and either has her memory wiped or is abducted by Dick, depending on which ending you choose to believe.
Where did you go? I may just have to point you towards Curtin’s IMDb page for this one as the only time I’ve seen her in from the past ten years was I Love You, Man. Still, with Saturday Night Live and two other sitcoms in her past Curtin has hardly had a failure of a career.

“This is a small office and you are behaving like a big hose-monkey.”

Simbi Khali
Where did you come from? Nina Campbell served as assistant to both Dick and Mary at the University. For the most part Nina fought with Dick and his bizarre requests but ultimately he grew on Nina and it was she who first encouraged Mary to go out with Dick. As for the rest of the family Nina is an occasional girlfriend and one-time flatmate of Sally’s.
Where did you go? Khali has all but disappeared in recent years having been limited to a handful of voice roles and just two TV guest appearances. She may have had some success in the theatre but someone really needs to update her Wikipedia so I can tell for sure. Crack journalism at work here.

“Oh my god, you’ve got a jiggly pig!”

Elmarie Wendel
Where did you come from? Mrs. Dubcek serves at the Solomon’s landlady, renting them their large loft apartment. Often found wanted into their home Dubcek serves as an unofficial adviser to the family particularly on romantic issues. Like her daughter Vicki, Dubcek comes across as a free-spirit and quite possibly a nymphomaniac.
Where did you go? Another quiet career for Wendel. After hopping from 3rd Rock via NYPD Blue to George Lopez Wendel has hit a dry patch with just a couple of guest appearance from the last three years. At the age of 72 and an active career behind her, Wendel can hardly be expected to be at the top of her game. Not everyone can be Judi Dench.

“I used to be a cheerleader but they threw me off the team because I forgot to wear underwear… occasionally.”

Wayne Knight
Where did you come from? Officer Donald ‘Don’ Leslie Orville is a terrible policeman in love with Sally Solomon. Somehow he consistently fails to notice that the family he is so often around are aliens and bungles any police work he fails to successfully avoid. In his relationship with Sally, Don is prone to over-dramatic dialogue and thanking his lucky stars that he could get such an attractive woman. For the Solomon’s Don was invaluable, getting them out of legal scrapes and generally teaching them about life on Earth.
Where did you go? Since 3rd Rock ended Knight has had a huge number of projects, most of which I’ve never seen. Most notable were his roles in Rat Race, a film that I was in love with at the age of thirteen, and Kung Fu Panda, which falls into that broad category of films which have passed me by. Recently Knight appeared in the BBC/Starz Americanised 2011 series of Torchwood. The series wasn’t great but having 3rd Rock and Doctor Who come together even slightly gave me a special thrill.

“I even lost a whole dead guy once”

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