His new comedy focuses on a dysfunctional family chasing pop stardom
Can Jason Alexander break free from the 'Seinfeld curse' with new show 'Hit the Road'?
Whether as iconic loser and lord of the idiots George Costanza on Seinfeld, or as the voice of the animated, swear-a-blue-streak Duckman, Jason Alexander has done well for himself – having pocketed a multigenerational fortune (net worth US$50 million) that would permit him to sit back and watch his own reruns for the rest of his days, if he so desired.
Thank goodness, then, for Alexander’s obsessive work ethic and his thespian itch to keep the laughs coming – an itch he gives a good scratch with Hit the Road, his new sitcom that has its premiere Mondayon OSN Series Comedy HD.
“It’s a family band,” Alexander says. “It’s mom, dad, three kids and an adopted African-American child. We live on a really horrible tour bus trying to become the next Jacksons’ or Osmonds’ hit wonder – and it ain’t gonna happen.”
Alexander portrays Ken Swallow – the 50ish patriarch of a messed-up family, whose band, Swallow, struggles to cope with marital woes, adolescence and financial ruin as they criss-cross the country shredding their privacy, comfort and dignity in the single-minded pursuit of fame and fortune. This show is not one for children, though, thanks to its mature themes.
“It’s a family band – not a family show,” says Alexander, 58. “You will see me do and say things you have not seen before. The fact that we’re trying to be this pristine, sweet, über-moral family engaging in these things that are extremely wrong is what pushes the envelope.”
Born Jay Greenspan, Alexander adopted his stage name as a New Jersey high-school student, and soon found himself on stages in nearby New York, winning a Tony Award as best leading actor in a musical for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 1989. Early in his Seinfeld run, he also struck an infamous chord as horrible lawyer Philip Stuckey, who slaps Julia Roberts in the face in Pretty Woman.
While US reviews have been mixed, Hit the Road suggests we have seen the end of the so-called Seinfeld curse – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards and Alexander became so identified as Jerry Seinfeld’s sidekicks that solo success eluded them for years after the sitcom went dark in 1998 after nine seasons.
Dreyfus, for her part, shook off the jinx with two hit series, The New Adventures of Old Christine and Veep. Alexander, however, wallowed for a while with short-lived shows such as Bob Patterson (cancelled after five episodes in 2001) and Listen Up (axed after one season in 2005). Since then, however, he has maintained a steady guest-star presence on numerous shows and even reunited with Seinfeld co-creator Larry David on his hit series Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The only nightmares nowadays for Alexander are the insanely dysfunctional situations that the Swallow family endure while chasing pop stardom – with much of the grief going to and coming from Ken’s wife Meg, played by Amy Pietz.
“This is a family who, offstage, would stoop very low to meet their own self-interests,” says Pietz.
Canadian actress Natalie Sharp plays Ria Swallow, Ken’s grown daughter. “Ria is a crazy girl who will do anything to get what she wants,” Sharp says. “She’s selfish. And she’s kind of like the bully of her family.”
The oldest grown son, Alex, is played by Nick Marini, while the youngest Swallow is the precocious Casey, a brassy little girl portrayed by Maddie Dixon-Poirier.
“Casey has a really, really good heart,” she says. “She’s kind of the glue that’s keeping this family from breaking apart.
“I try my best to fix and resolve all of our problems.”
Rounding out the Swallow brood is its adopted African-American teen Jermaine, played by Tim Johnson Jr. “I’m like a nervous wreck. I have nosebleeds,” Johnson says of his character. “I have so much anxiety it just takes over me.”
Adding a bonus shot of comic spice to the stew is Oscar- and Golden Globe-winner Richard Dreyfuss, as Ken’s gruff, grizzled dad, who never has anything nice to say about his son or grandchildren.
“I don’t know how people are going to react to this family,” Alexander says. “I can only tell you that everything we do in the show – as insane as it is – it makes us laugh.
“The show is definitely cringeworthy,” Pietz adds, “but it is brilliantly cringeworthy.”
Hit the Road has its premiere at 11pm Monday on OSN Series Comedy HD