I remember when I was a young man many years ago, watching a short-lived sitcom called Working Stiffs. I was enthralled with a very young and talented comic turned actor named Michael Keaton but even more so with the man who played his brother, Jim Belushi.
Since I was really just a kid, I was unable to be a real fan of John Belushi. Sure, I had heard about some of the stuff he did on Saturday Night Live and my parents talked about him a lot, but I was just too young to grasp his genius at the time. Jim, however, was a different story.
Here was this funny, chubby guy, basically a kid-friendly version of his brother doing what I wanted to grow up to do, be funny on television. I was an instant fan.
As I grew up, Jim’s career also matured. Right about the time I was old enough to become an expert on Saturday Night Live he became a regular cast member. Alongside, Martin Short, Chris Guest and Billy Crystal he helped to mold my comic sensibilities, as well as my opinions on television in general.
Eventually, he made the inevitable move to features and I followed him directly to my local movie house. His role as Bernie in About Last Night was one of the few saving graces of that movie and when a friend and I saw The Principal together, we decided it was the best high school movie ever made.
Then something strange happened. Shortly after I graduated from college, Jim made a movie called Curly Sue. It was clear that something was terribly wrong. More crap followed, such as Once Upon a Crime, Traces of Red and, of course, the “all-time comedy classic” Jingle All the Way. The stench from these films was almost palatable.
The final straw came when Jim decided to join Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman in their bastardization of The Blues Brothers Band. I hold no ill will towards Aykrod, since I can’t blame him for wanting to try and recapture what is probably the shining moment in his entire career, but what was Jim thinking? I’ll never get over the night I was watching Letterman and Jim was a guest. After asking about the Blues Brother tour, Letterman asked Jim to sing a song and with a straight face he stood in front of Paul Shaffer (his brother’s former keyboardist and bandleader) and stumbled through an off-key version of Sweet Home Chicago.
I was dumbstruck. Who told Jim that he was anywhere near as talented as his brother? Who told him he could replace John? Who told him that he could sing? It was clear to me that that cool guy who babysat Scott Baio on Who’s Watching the Kids was gone.
In 2001, Jim welcomed in the new millennium by introducing America to one of the most heinous sitcoms ever developed, According to Jim. Aside from letting Jim live out his fantasy of having kids with a hottie like Courtney Thorne-Smith, the only purpose this show serves is to remind us all that the multi-camera sitcom is, indeed, as dead as Jim’s brother.
As a post-script, a friend of mine was introduced to Jim at a part once, and Jim felt it necessary to ignore my friend and push him aside on his way to the bar. Why Jim Belushi feels that he has the right to “big-time” anyone is a mystery that will never be solved. At least not until Gov. Schwarzenegger decides to re-team with Jim for Red Heat 2: Ridzik Goes to Russia..