Friday, April 23, 2010

CRUSHWORTHY: Jason Ritter from "Parenthood"

The name sounds familiar, but you can't quite place the face. Jason Ritter is the 30-year-old son of the late John Ritter. His dad had his big break when he was 28, starring in the 70s comedy "Three's Company." According to the Hollywood bylaws: Every celebrity spawn is expected to either live up to or surpass their famous parent. Jason had some big clown shoes to fill, even before his father died in 2003. People—studio executives and critics in particular—were expecting him to be the second coming. Living up to his father's legacy, however, doesn't seem to be on his agenda. He's carving his own path, one that's amounting to a diverse and risk-taking career.

Jason started out slow with small roles in the rom-com Mumford and on the soap "Days of Our Lives," before appearing in the supporting cast of the 2002 teen thriller Swimfan. The following year he scored a series regular role on CBS's supernatural/religious drama "Joan of Arcadia" playing the handicap older brother of the title character. During the two years the series was on the air, he filmed the horror fluff Freddy vs. Jason, the inspiring teen romantic drama Raise Your Voice, and the dramatic indies Happy Endings, Our Very Own, and Lenexa, 1 Mile.

I first noticed him when he headlined his very own sitcom, the short-lived CBS comedy "The Class." Unfortunately, it premiered during the we-must-replace-"Friends" era and critics were skewering it with comparisons. I thought it was pretty funny and that it had potential. As the resident Ross/Chandler, Jason played the straight man, who tied the cast together. It was canceled after 19 episodes.

The next time Jason popped up on my radar was this year when I spotted him in a promo for NBC's "Parenthood." (It's like ABC's "Brothers & Sisters," minus the over-the-top scandals.) He plays a young English teacher who sweeps Lauren Graham's character off her cougar feet, using prose and an irresistible smile. I noticed that somewhere between the failure of two shows and this character arc, Jason grew more confident in front of the camera. He now commands your attention.

I think the turning point had to be when he starred opposite Jesse Eisenberg in The Education of Charlie Banks. In it, he plays a temperamental, macho, sadistic thug—a beast wrapped in human flesh—a character that Ritter succeeds in making endearing. The critics agreed. The New York Times called his performance sincere, and EW's Owen Gleiberman said, "Ritter, who's like the young Ethan Hawke on a bender of violence, is an actor to watch."

After being thoroughly impressed by his performance, I decided to watch the other Netflix Instant Watch film that he stars in, the nonlinear romantic drama Peter & Vandy. It wasn't as impressive as other nonlinear indies (500 Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind), but I agree with New York Observer's Rex Reed when he says that it showcases two actors who are "real comers on their way to bigger things." Together, these two roles proved Jason could easily switch from timid and awkward to abrasive and antagonistic. He wasn't your average boy-next-door for cookie cutter sweet roles. He's like Joseph Gordon Levitt mixed with Tom Cruise—a con man with a charismatic smile.

Next, I'll rent the unorthodox romantic indie Good Dick and gear up for his new NBC political thriller "The Event." It follows a group of people who are intertwined by an extraordinary event. Ritter will play an MIT grad who designs video games. His life is turned upside down when his girlfriend, who he intended on proposing to, disappears while they're on vacation. Entangled in a government conspiracy, he's forced to stop her father from crashing a plane into a Presidential retreat. Sounds like "24" meets "Flash Forward." Either way, I'm in.

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