Aug 21, 2014

Suddenly Susan: Biceps, Brooke Shields, and Pete the Gay Mail Boy

In the fall of 1997, when I moved to New York to work on my doctorate in sociology, you had four main tv choices on Monday nights: America's Funniest Home Videos, the hundredth series starring Bill Cosby, the uber-religious Seventh Heaven, and Suddenly Susan (1996-2000).  Guess which won?

It was one of many workplace sitcoms about Young Female Journalists with Big Ideas who butt heads with stick-in-the-mud magazine or newspaper editors, in this case Susan (Brooke Shields, best known for Blue Lagoon nearly twenty years before) and Jack (Judd Nelson, the homophobic bigot best known from the execrable Breakfast Club nearly twenty years before).

Suddenly single after a long engagement, Susan is assigned to write a column about what it's like to be...um...single in contemporary San Francisco.  But she, naturally, wants to do more.  And, of course, she and Jack have a "You're so arrogant!" Sam-and-Diane romance going on.

Her main coworkers included:
1. Photographer Luis (Nestor Carbonell, top photo), a Latino hunk ("Today is the day I work on my biceps.")
2. Sardonic restaurant critic Vickie (gay-positive comedian Kathy Griffin, right)
3. Susan's arch-nemesis, tough-as-nails reporter Maddy (Andrea Bendewald).
4. Pete (Billy Stevenson), the mail boy.





5. Hip music reporter Todd (David Strickland, left).

Two things made Suddenly Susan memorable (excluding Nestor Carbonell's biceps).

1. On March 22, 1999, David Strickland committed suicide.  Instead of replacing him without comment, the producers decided to incorporate his death into the series.

When Todd fails to report for work and doesn't respond to his pager, his coworkers spend the day searching for him and worrying.  Finally they congregate in his apartment.  The episode ends with the telephone ringing.  Everyone looks around, afraid to answer, knowing what news is coming.  It gave me goosebumps. Very effective.



2. Pete the Mail Boy.  Although he appeared in only 15 of the 93 episodes, he was still memorable as just about the only gay character on television who wasn't portrayed as a swishy stereotype.  In fact, he was dimwitted and rather a nerd.

When he married his boyfriend, the equally nerdish Hank (Fred Stoller, left), he talked the homophobic Jack into participating -- quite a memorable accomplishment for the 1990s.

See also: Just Shoot Me