Brace yourself: Hot in Cleveland still sizzles. The second season of TV Land's runaway hit sitcom unravels deliciously at 10 pm (9 Central time) on Wednesday. Series' stars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendy Malick appear to be building upon their already stellar chemistry this season, and comedic comrade Betty White is, well, White's still bright.
In fact, the season premiere picks up after last season's cliffhanger, which found White's sarcastic Elka being sent to the slammer. The opening moments of Wednesday's episode find her bonding with a cell mate and, coincidentally, and old chum: Mary Tyler Moore.
Two comedy legends together again -- not to be missed.
One the most refreshing things about Hot in Cleveland, as we've so happily discovered after it debuted last summer, is how well its creators and writers are able to make the best use of its stars. It's now one of the best sitcoms on television. In many ways, TV Land has proven that situation comedies filmed before a live audience don't have to be a dying breed. We just need better stewards to foster new ideas; we need brave souls capable of wading through network bureaucracy lest be left with the likes of something like $#*! My Dad Says.
For White, who turned 89 this week, the show is heaven sent, even with all that "Betty White Fever," something that stunned even her.
"It's really ridiculous, is what it is," she told me in an interview last fall. "I call it 'Betty White Overload.'
"I think I am lucky to be at this point and time, at my age, to still be working as much as I am, which is constantly," she adds. "It's such a privilege and I never take it for granted. I love the work I do. I am the luckiest person in the world. My life is divided in half--half show business and half for my animals. It's the two things that I love the most. How can you complain about anything? If you hear me with one complaint, throw me out."
Not going to happen.
White may be one of the most humble souls in Hollywood. The ego didn't land. It never took off. That was evident in her first comedic Emmy-winning turn in the '50s series "Life With Elizabeth" and her ongoing appearance in iconic game shows (Password, Match Game). And, clearly, it was the case in her groundbreaking television roles -- MTM's Sue Ann Nivens; Golden Girls adorable Rose Nylund and even the Boston Legal wild card that was Catherine Piper.
Still, few would have guessed that White, at 88, would take on another costarring role, this time as an outspoken Russian caretaker (Elka Ostrovsky) on TV Land's first original series. Yes, "Hot" has dynamite scripts -- although in Season Two, it wouldn't be a bad thing to give birth to more of those heartfelt scenes we've grown to love -- and Bertinelli, Leeves and Malick are like a new set of "Golden Girls," only 25 years younger, but White, well, her presence just stoked the already raging fires of her mind-bending, late-late career boom. She one of the hottest comedic commodity around.
Curiously, White only wanted to make one guest appearance -- in the pilot -- before TV Land asked her for more.
"I said no," she admits. "Well, of course, I have the spine of a jellyfish. Guess who did all 10 episodes they picked us up for?"
And guess who agreed to do the 20 more episodes that TV Land ordered for Season Two?
"How can you walk away from something that much fun?" she beams with sincerity. "The chemistry between those girls is just delicious. And how can I not be grateful? Do you know the number of people on this planet who would give their souls to do what we [actors] do? That's why when I hear actors complaining -- and also take credit, like 'Oh, I did a wonderful performance' -- well, they can't do it without the writers. The unsung heroes are the writers. They are the ones who give you the words to say."
It's nice to hear White bring up the industry she's thrived in for more than 50 years. Even more so when she reflects on how much it has changed.
"We've gone through this huge youth worship, where once you were over 16, you were over the hill," she notes. "Now, I think the problem with Hollywood youngsters is that they do one good role and they get a modicum of stardom -- immediately -- and they think that's going to last forever. They tend to abuse it a little bit. You musn't do that. You have to stay appreciative and professional."
Asked what makes her laugh most, she says, "I love to laugh and I laugh rather easily but... Tim Conway. He's the one. And Craig Ferguson. He's a comedian that I can't resist."
As for doing something she already hasn't done? She's blunt: "My standard answer to that is Robert Redford. That's about the size of it."
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