4 Performances: Ed O'Neill

If ever there was an underrated actor that gets such good reviews, it's Ed O'Neill. Recently, he returned to TV in MODERN FAMILY, a show that's really, really funny and I hope sticks around for quite a while. In honor of his return to television, here are my favorite Ed O'Neill performances.

DRAGNET (2003)
In 2003, creator/producer Dick Wolf, the mind behind the ever addictive LAW & ORDER, retooled Jack Webb's classic detective show DRAGNET for the new millenium, and quite successfully. Ed O'Neill played Webb's signature role of Joe Friday with heft and gravitas, showing plenty of dramatic chops and easily asserting his interpretation of the character as a worthy endeavor. O'Neill had great chemistry with Ethan Embry, who was cast as his partner, Frank Smith, but for some reason, most likely in an effort to grab more ratings, the show changed a lot after the first season, and instead of gaining its own momentum, became another bland copy-cat procedural featuring a large cast, and pushing Joe Friday to the back of the pack while eliminating Smith altogether. Renamed LA DRAGNET, the new show just didn't have what it would take to survive, and was cancelled only halfway through its second season. The first season is wonderful, though, and definitely worth checking out.

WAYNE'S WORLD 1 & 2 (1992, 1993)
While only making small cameos in both films as Glen, the manager at Stan Mikita's Donuts. With memorable asides, O'Neill steals the spotlight from Wayne and Garth for just brief moments, but with such inspired line delivery and sociopathic and depressive tendencies that he gets huge laughs, and ends up with two of the most quotable bits of both movies. From Wayne's World 2: "So Wayne, I hear you're putting on some kind of concert. That's good. People need to be entertained, they need the distraction. I wish to God that someone would be able to block out the voices in my head for five minutes, the voices that scream, over and over again: 'Why do they come to me to die? Why do they come to me to die?'"

DUTCH (1991)
In one of his best film roles (I also love LITTLE GIANTS), O'Neill partners for the first time with Ethan Embry, who is Doyle Standish, a stuck-up rich kid who really sticks it to unwanted boyfriend of his mom, Dutch Dooley. DUTCH is a road trip movie about growing up and getting over the bad things, and the script by John Hughes features all of his hallmarks, ranging from wordplay to slapstick, all wrapped up in a comedy that really grows on you. The character of Dutch may seem like a typical foil for Ed O'Neill, who at the time was in the middle of his long run as Al Bundy on the hit TV show MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN, but he really makes the character sweet and charming while bringing all of the uncouth qualities of his Bundy character.

On one of the longest running sitcoms on television, Ed O'Neill is so good that he is forever associated with the role of Al Bundy, a miserable shoe salesman who loathes his family and his very existence. O'Neill, who had heretofore played a lot of cop and robber roles, pulls out all the stops in creating a character so despicable, angry and pathetic all at once, that he ends up being...well, sort of endearing. Al Bundy is who everyone wishes they could be at one point or another, verbally abusing anything and everything that gets on his nerves or gets in his way. Al is the modern man; frustrated by his loss of dominion over his home, and pissed off at the way a man isn't respected anymore, with the wife taking all his money, and the kids running rampant in every way possible. But, after everything, he really does love his family, and sticks up for them when he must, and doesn't let anyone else treat them like scum. The Bundy's are fine for ridicule within their own clan, but outside derision is not accepted. Ed O'Neill's character is America, in all its twisted, proud, ugly, multi-faceted modern glory. Maybe that's why the show remains popular and absolutely hilarious to this day.