Sometimes, in order to escape the iconic roles with which they are branded, actors need to swing way outside their type and play roles that are definitively uncharacteristic for them. The feat, tried time and time again, is now being braved by the man we know so rigidly as Steve Urkel: Jaleel White.
White will join the premiere of the upcoming season of House. Not as a doctor—that would be too close to the nerdy Urkel. Not as a patient—again, vulernability is Urkel's middle name (actually, his middle name is Quincy). Instead, White will be playing a prison inmate to the also-incarcerated Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), who thought it a fine idea to drive his car into the living room of Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) during last season's finale. The trailer for the upcoming season depicts a pretty understandably dissatisfied House dealing with his new living situation.
So, Jaleel in jail -- that's not exactly a storyline we ever expected to see on Family Matters.
Family Matters itself is such a triumph for television history. The series began as the most obscure spin-off of all time: Harriette Winslow (Jo Marie Peyton) originated as the elevator operator in Perfect Strangers before getting her own family sitcom. At its inception, Family Matters was a sentimental, low-stakes comedy about raising children right and minor marital spats. But then, on December 15, 1989, upon the introduction of the nasal, clumsy neighbor boy everything changed (and not just in terms of the show... everything).
Jaleel White took what was originally a fluffy but grounded series and turned it into complete mayhem. The same series that displayed the dangers of firearms also had Urkell and Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) shrink down to macroscopic size via the former's haywire science project. Urkel was such a distinct character, that he single-handedly distorted this entire program, and, understandably, has been an inescapable connotation for his portrayer. But perhaps launching a new image via the popular drama House will grant White notoriety as a more diverse, adept performer.
Or perhaps he'll inadvertendly impart the wrath of his ventriloquist dummy lookalike onto the New Jersey hospital. Personally, either option is a win.
House's eighth season premieres October 3 on Fox.