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Jennifer Finnigan

Jennifer Finnigan

The familiar face currently stars as "Marni Fliss"on NBC's new series "Committed". The three time Emmy Award winner has started as "Devan Maguire" on NBC's "Crossing Jordan". Finnigan received her third Daytime Emmy Award for her role as Bridget Forrester on the daytime drama “The Bold and the Beautiful.” She won the same award, for “Outstanding Younger Actress in a Drama Series,” in both 2002 and 2003. Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Finnigan did some modeling as child, but always wanted to be an actress. Though she initially thought of herself as too shy to be in the entertainment limelight, Finnigan developed confidence and determination by volunteering for every high school play and appearing in numerous local theater productions. She also obtained invaluable experience when she was invited to be the only female member of the comedy troupe “Yikes!,” a group – on the verge of stardom themselves – who currently perform in clubs around Montreal. In one of her first television roles, Finnigan became a recognizable face in Canada as a regular on the series “Student Bodies.” In the United States, Finnigan was introduced to television audiences in the cable series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” as well as “La Femme Nikita,” “The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo,” and in the title role of the television movie “The Stalking of Laurie Snow.” Finnigan speaks French fluently, and in her free time enjoys creative writing, singing, taking piano lessons, swing dancing and traveling. She currently lives in West Hollywood. Jennifer was born on August 22, 1979.

 

Jennifer Finnigan sparkles on 'Committed'

Her big eyes sparkle, her rosebud mouth blossoms into a lopsided smile. Who wouldn't be charmed by Marni Fliss, the goofy sylph on the new romantic sitcom Committed?

Not that you'd want to date her. She's a wacko. As portrayed by Jennifer Finnigan, she's an impossibly upbeat flibbertigibbet who speaks in an unfiltered stream of consciousness and gets counselling from Buddha88, an online shrink.

Her Greenwich Village sublet came furnished with a retired clown, but that's just fine with Marni: From his home in a walk-in closet, the clown, played by Tom Poston, supports Marni's theory that "everyone's got clowns in their closet."

Now, in the series' second week (Committed airs Tuesday and Thursday, check local listings), Marni is settling into her new relationship with her perfectly mismatched soul mate: Nate Solomon, a phobic math genius who shelters his fevered brain with a low-impact job as a record store clerk. This is a tightly wound chap who, wherever he goes, anticipates peril by locating every emergency exit and, before he makes the simplest decision, charts out all his options.

Marni and Nate (played by Josh Cooke) have thus taken their place as TV's latest loopy lovebirds. But there's a difference: Unlike such predecessors as Dharma and Greg, Diane and Sam, Lucy and Ricky, neither Marni nor Nate has the edge on kookiness. Equally unstable in the extreme, they have found, against all odds, validation and comfort in the other.

Their relationship is the show's ongoing joke, and a rich one: who can help laughing at these crazy kids, but also rooting for them as nature takes its kooky course
"Rather than seeing Nate's neuroses as craziness, she sees them as brilliance," marvels Finnigan, noting that when (on Tuesday's episode) Marni gets a first look at his apartment, swamped by books, curios and legal pads, this twisted sight thrills her. "It's like standing inside of his brain,"' Marni chirps.

"She's nutty and free-spirited and honest," says Finnigan. "She has a childlike innocence, the way she looks at the world.

"But there's much more going on under the surface. This is probably so contrary to what the writers think, but I like to imagine that she's got a lot of sadness in her, and that a lot of her behaviour comes out of denial."

Digging into an egg-white frittata at breakfast at her hotel, Finnigan radiates the room-illuminating qualities that make Marni adorable.

But she cops to non-Marni-esque angst. Example: Ratings anxiety, as evidenced by the cellphone parked beside her breakfast plate. Why wasn't someone from the network calling with the overnight ratings for her show's premiere? (As it turns out, both the Tuesday and Thursday airings scored healthy Nielsen numbers.)

Filming wrapped on the 13-episode order in November, says Finnigan.

"We got to work every day in our own little bubble, without the pressures from ratings, critics or network scrutiny. It felt like our own little community theatre."

On the other hand, she describes waiting to get on the air as "a nightmare."

An early phobia first steered her into acting.

"I was so shy as a kid," says the 25-year-old Montreal native, the daughter of Diane, an airlines reservation agent, and Jack, a local radio personality. "Then, when I was 12, I joined a community theatre group, and it was amazing how in that hour of class I was an extrovert. As soon as I got back to real life, I couldn't get up in front of a class of 20 without sweating.

"Initially, that's why I kept acting: It was freeing, so freeing."

As a teen, Finnigan found success on Canadian TV. Then she headed to Los Angeles, where for four years on the CBS soap The Bold and the Beautiful she played Bridget Forrester, a good girl whose many woes included her mother's pregnancy by Bridget's own husband.

Last season, she played a pathology resident, Dr. Devan Maguire, on the NBC crime drama Crossing Jordan.

Then she read for the part of Marni on Committed. But she felt nervous at the prospect of doing a comedy.

"I had no comedy experience - neither of us did," she says, also meaning Cooke, her eventual co-star, whose prior roles had largely been guest shots on episodic dramas.

"When I found out they wanted me to come back, I called my agent and said, 'I gotta meet this guy they hired to be Nate.' I did it behind everyone's back. We met for crepes. He had an accident on his motorcycle - some fender-bender thing - so he was late.

"Then, when he sat down, I decided to be in character. So I assumed the part of Marni, which I think he found very weird and strange. But he was so sweet, and we had a really nice time."

 

Jennifer Finnigan shines in 'Committed'

Nate and Marni are crazy about each other. In fact, a case could be made that each belongs in a facility with soft walls and regular medication.

Marni is so unrelentingly optimistic, she makes Pollyanna seem cranky. Nate has so many phobias, Monk is well adjusted by comparison.

Ergo, "Committed," a new NBC sitcom debuting tonight, could be taken in a couple of ways. In either case, the show is easy to take. Much of the credit belongs to Jennifer Finnigan, who makes Marni the quirkiest character to show up in prime time since Jenna Elfman in "Dharma & Greg."

Finnigan has enough charisma for two people, which is fortunate, since her co-star Josh Cooke comes up a little light in this regard.

The show suffers, also, from too many familiar sitcom trappings. The couple's first encounter results from an only-on-TV mixup: Each was set up on a blind date with someone else. Of course, it turns out to be kismet.

In light of the baggage each brings to the relationship, the other seems almost normal by comparison.

It is revealed in a future episode that in addition to all the hang-ups Nate has told Marni about, he is a pack rat; his apartment is the Smithsonian of the used and worthless.

Marni can hardly complain. She sublet an apartment with a stipulation that she permit a dying clown to continue to live in one of the closets. This works better than it should because of a characteristically brilliant contribution from Tom Poston.

Wacky but realistic 'Committed' clowns around

Do you have to be crazy to make a television sitcom?

No, but it helps to have carte blanche to tackle the genre. Executive producers Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline created ``Committed'' (premiering Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on WHDH, Ch. 7), NBC's latest foray into the half-hour comedy format. The series follows obsessive-compulsive Nate (Josh Cooke) and zany eccentric Marni (Jennifer Finnigan) who meet and fall in love in the premiere.

``Both of our characters, if I'm not mistaken, are loosely based on our individual mothers,'' Cooke joked in a recent phone interview.

The series also features a passive-aggressive guy in a wheelchair (RonReaco Lee) and a dying clown who lives in the closet (Tom Poston) - not exactly your typical boy-meets-girl story. Heisler and Heline were busy creating another series when Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, approached them.

``He said, `Give me something different, something with weird characters; make some noise.' In a weird way, Kevin Reilly sort of set us free. He wants weird, we'll give him weird - we'll give him a dying clown in the closet,'' Heline said. ``And because we sort of had permission to do that and weren't worried about `will this fit into the traditional sitcom formulas,' we were very free. We never edited ourselves; we never stopped ourselves.''

So could the tide be turning? Will viewers be spared groan-inducing, predictable comedies?

``Certainly everyone is talking about why aren't sitcoms doing as well. I think that the networks might be willing to take a little more of a chance,'' Heline said.

Once the project was green-lighted, casting the wacky series proved a challenge. They quickly found Cooke, but more than 200 women auditioned for the role of Marni.

``If you were a working actress in L.A., you auditioned for this role,'' Cooke said.

``You're waiting and waiting,'' Heisler said. ``It's like falling in love. You write this person, and there are so many people who are fine and OK, yet for whatever reason they're just not right.''

``A lot of times on sitcoms you have your main characters who are somewhat normal and then you have your secondary characters who are a little more eccentric, a little more crazy, a little more out there,'' Heline said. ``And this required the main characters to be the ones who are a little more crazy, a little more weird. Yet because they are the center of the show, they also have to be someone you can relate to.''

Finnigan, who was most recently seen as Devan Maguire on ``Crossing Jordan'' and was Bridget Forrester on ``The Bold and the Beautiful,'' instantly gave them their Marni.

``I was really afraid to tackle comedy because obviously doing a soap couldn't be more polar opposite,'' she said.

``Marni is probably more me than any other character I've played. She has the kindest of hearts, the best of intentions. Even though no one else might understand her logic, it's perfectly logical to her.

``Marni doesn't have a shell; she's just completely out there. She's completely liberated.''

``Committed'' begins where many shows end up. ``This is not about will they or won't they; they will,'' Heisler said. ``It's that hopefully it will be fun to watch.''

``Everybody knows that formula,'' Finnigan said. ``Nine years of sexual tension, then in the 10th year they get together, and then in the 11th year the show gets canceled.''

For viewers who think that a dying clown who lives in a closet is too ridiculous to believe, it's based on a true story.

``When DeAnn and I were younger, we went to NYU,'' Heisler said. ``And we had a friend who was subletting this apartment, and we'd been there several times, and one day the door to the walk-in closet opened up and this old guy in the bathrobe walked out and went to make himself a cup of tea. And we said, `Who's that?' and she said, `Oh, he's a dying clown. Just ignore him.' It was a condition of the lease that the dying clown lived in the closet.''

Jennifer Finnigan stars in the new romantic comedy ''Committed''



NBC's new sitcom exaggerates human idiosyncrasies to a fault
There's good news and bad news about "Committed," NBC's new romantic comedy about two loony-tuney young adults whose behavior vexes the heck out of most people they come in contact with but endears them to each other.

The good news is that it works. The bad news is that it works too well.

Nate (Josh Cooke) and Marni (Jennifer Finnigan), the square pegs at the center of the show, are so annoyingly eccentric that it's easy to sympathize with the dates who ditch them in the middle of dinner.

Nate is supposedly an MIT-worthy brainiac who works in a vintage record store because he's afraid to realize his potential. He's obsessive-compulsive and phobic about everything from germs to elevators. Plus, he suffers from a bad case of hoof-in-mouth disease. For instance, he mortifies a woman he's dining with when he gushes about how he loves babies. "They're so innocent," he says. "They have no idea they'll die one day."

Marni is a ditsy chatterbox who supposedly works with burn victims and the terminally ill. When Nate, on their first date, asks if her job is depressing, she says yes, absolutely: "My boss is always on my --."

Series creators DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler, veterans of "Murphy Brown" (and, perhaps more telling, the short-lived Dyan Cannon sitcom, "Three Sisters"), appear to be going for an updated version of the relationship that Woody Allen and Diane Keaton had in "Annie Hall." Either that or, given the co-stars' appearances, a TV knock-off of an Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore pairing. But Cooke and Finnigan don't have the off-hand charm to pull it off. Then again, who could when the situations are so forced and cartoonish?

"Committed" underscores a weird dichotomy in the taste and foresight of the people in NBC's programming department. With widely embraced hits such as "The Cosby Show," "Cheers," "Frasier," "Seinfeld," "NewsRadio" and "Friends" on the network's resume, they surely know what a great, smart sitcom looks and sounds like. Yet for every "Scrubs" they green-light, they pick two or three shows that don't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the Peacock's best. Think "Men Behaving Badly," "The Single Guy," "Inside Schwartz," "Good Morning Miami."

"Committed" falls into that category of NBC sitcom. It's one of those shows where the exaggeration of recognizable human idiosyncrasy goes so far, you don't laugh, you just make a funny, pinched face and go "Huh?"

Example: When Marni picks up her dry cleaning, babbling uncontrollably about her lousy love life to no one in particular, the elderly man behind the counter interjects, "I met my wife during a pogrom when Cossacks burned our willage." The only reason for this dialogue is to give Marni a chance to speak a contrived joke about how much more difficult dating is now.

Or consider "Committed's" take on the "wacky neighbor," a sitcom staple. It's one thing to have a loose-jointed oddball like Ed Norton (Art Carney) or Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) barge in for a laugh. Most everybody's had a garrulous neighbor who showed up at odd hours.

In "Committed," there's not only a nanny with a sarcastic mouth across the hall from Marni's apartment, there's also a "dying clown" living with her. Supposedly he came with her lease. He dodders out once in a while from a closet where he supposedly resides. The only funny thing about the character is that he's played by Tom Poston, a veteran second banana who's been in so many shows of the decades ("The Steve Allen Show," "Newhart" and about 10 others) that we're conditioned to smile at the mere sight of him. But Poston is hardly enough to make this desperately antic show watchable, especially if you're committed to anything else.

COMMITTED. A couple of borderline crazy kids fall in love in new sitcom.

With patience, you might get 'Committed'

Love can be crazy. Who can say what attracts strange people to each other — or people to strange TV shows?

And make no mistake: Committed, NBC's new series about two comically damaged human beings drawn together by mutual attraction and neurosis, is about as odd as network sitcoms get. Which means odds are, it will repel many of the people it most wants to attract. (Related video: Watch a preview of Committed)

Still, in a season in which sitcoms are neither getting nor deserving much affection, my advice to the comedy lovelorn is to give the somewhat twisted Committed a chance. As the two Jung lovers, Nate and Marni, Josh Cooke and Jennifer Finnigan make you root for a union that might otherwise make you fear for the future of mankind should they breed. Through skill and charm, they bring out the underlying sweetness in a show that is sometimes a little too frenzied in its efforts to be funny.

Two admitted "wack" jobs, Nate and Marni are the types who chase love away, often through inappropriate first-date sharing. ("And I'm like, wait, you can't touch me there, you're my uncle!")

He comes from a family of geniuses who do great things and go insane so he works in a record store to cheat destiny. She's upbeat and a tad more socially adept, though she keeps a dying clown (sitcom vet Tom Poston) in her closet because he came with the apartment. It sounds mean, but as she explains, "He's used to small spaces. You know the cars."

Clearly Nate and Marni are made for each other, though their friends aren't convinced. Her neighbor Tess (Tammy Lynn Michaels), an alcoholic nanny, takes one look at his apartment and tells her, "We should probably go. The police are going to want to talk to you before he kills again."

This week, the couple meet and match. Future plots are, let's say, different. In one, his friend Bowie (Darius McCrary in a big leap from Family Matters) discovers that the Chinese tattoo he thought meant "fiery strength" actually means, "Of two men who love each other, you are the one who plays the woman." In another, Nate's efforts to bond with Marni's passive-aggressive wheelchair-bound friend Todd (RonReaco Lee) over basketball collapse when Nate becomes inappropriately competitive.

At times there does seem to be an air of desperation to Committed — not uncommon in today's comedy climate, in which nothing seems to be working. Here's the bottom line: I'm willing to go with the dying clown, but move him out of the closet and into his own room.

Unlike most sitcoms this season, Committed is worth nurturing. I'm not in love yet, but I like the show enough to hope it gets something resembling intelligent network support.

Call me crazy.

 



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