Nearly 35 years ago, Chevy Chase became the first of many breakout stars on a breakout ensemble show – "Saturday Night Live" – leaving after a year of pratfalls and delivering the fake news to make movies.
It wasn't a bad run – "Foul Play," "Fletch" and the "Vacation" flicks offset less memorable fare like “Cops and Robbersons.” But by the early 1990s, Chase had pretty much run his big-screen course, his stab at a late night talk show ended in quick disaster, and his name – unfairly, really – became a synonym for washed up.
Instead of the fall of Chevy Chase, we're now witnessing the rebirth: He's once again the breakout star of a breakout ensemble show, the quirky NBC comedy "Community."
Chase plays Pierce Hawthorne, the 60-something, oft-married, once-successful, now-clueless aging baby boomer trying to find a place among the rest of the misfits at a dysfunctional community college.
We get to see Pierce shouting at his cell phone, falling out of his seat, tripping over drums, and lumbering around stoned in a Beastmaster costume, as he offers misplaced advice.
Chase's character, which makes use of his long-dormant gifts for glibness and physical humor, isn't all that unlike Clark Griswold as a grandfather – an affable, if cranky, would-be sage only pretending to know where he's going and what he’s doing.
Chase, as Us Magazine reported last week, is set to revive the Griswold character alongside his "Vacation" wife, Beverly D'Angelo, albeit in a HomeAway commercial set to air during the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, there’s talk both could at least make a cameo in a movie sequel that’s in development.
Suddenly it's cool to be Chevy Chase again – he played (or voiced) himself on a recent episode of "Family Guy" with Dan Aykroyd, spoofing their "Spies Like Us" days, and did a guest stint on “Chuck” last season.
In the most recent “Community,” Chase’s Pierce sits in the seat favored by Jeff (Joel McHale), the star of the show, and proceeds to imitate the self-centered character.
The bit got laughs, and signaled that whatever he’s been through, even if he’s not at the top of the credits, he’s still Chevy Chase – and you’re not.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.