TV series have gone into overdrive with star cameos in recent years, particularly during ratings sweeps periods. Here are some of our favorite guest appearances of 2011:
Matt Dillon on "Modern Family": Bringing back classic TV actors to play parents on contemporary sitcoms has become something of an art, and "Modern Family" nailed it when the series cast former "Cheers" star Shelley Long as DeDe, Claire's and Mitchell's mom. Even better, DeDe arrived with Matt Dillon as Claire's creepy ex-boyfriend, whose visit caused havoc during little Lily's princess-themed birthday party. He's not exactly competition for Phil, though. “The truth is, I am rich," Dillon boasts. "But not with money. I’ve got my abs, I’ve got my hair, and I’ve got a super sweet job ridin’ that limo outside.”
Steve Buscemi on "Portlandia": The sketches on IFC's cult comedy may be built around the talent and charm of its two cult stars, musician Carrie Brownstein and "SNL" star Fred Armisen, but the series quickly proved that it can throw in a low-key guest star when it cast Kyle McLachlan (who did his time as a northwestern character in "Twin Peaks") in the role of the whimsical faux-mayor of Portland. Even funnier is the use of Steve Buscemi, dropping his "Boardwalk Empire" period garb to play a regular guy who foolishly attempts to use the bathroom in the local feminist bookstore, Women & Women First. Word is that Season 2 will feature even more cameos, from the likes of Eddie Vedder, Kristen Wiig, the Smiths' Johnny Marr and several "Battlestar Galactica" cast members.
Parker Posey on "Parks and Recreation": If you've ever wondered why Parker Posey doesn't have a quirky yet sweet NBC comedy of her own, the actress' hilariously snooty appearance as Amy Poehler's best-friend-turned-archnemesis Lindsay Carlisle Shay probably soothed the pain slightly.
Honorable mention: Posey gets extra points for her sharp turn on "The Good Wife" as Alan Cumming's ex, a presidential campaign worker who offers to do him a favor — in exchange for something she needs, of course.
Condoleeza Rice on "30 Rock": Jack Donaghy has had plenty of famous lady friends (played by Edie Falco, Isabella Rossellini, Salma Hayek, Julianne Moore), but the former secretary of state is the most unlikely. Rice was game to play silly, defending her love of "Mars Attacks!" and agreeing to help rescue Jack's wife from the clutches of Kim Jong Il.
Which brings us to honorable mention Margaret Cho, who impersonated that now-deceased North Korean dictator on that very same "30 Rock" episode.
Michael J. Fox on "Curb Your Enthusiasm": Larry David knows how to put a guest star to work. Past seasons have featured stars such as Ben Stiller and Jerry Seinfeld, and this season Ricky Gervais, Rosie O'Donnell, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and ballplayer Bill Buckner showed up to great effect. But Fox closed the season with a self-deprecating wink, leaving Larry convinced that the actor's shaky behavior isn't related to his Parkinson's disease — it's just rude.
Sarah Silverman on "Bored to Death": Silverman plays it straight as a rather unorthodox "friendship therapist" trying to help Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) and his mentor George (Ted Danson) mend their relationship. By massaging her feet.
Josh Holloway on "Community": No list of clever and wacky cameos would be complete without "Community," which brings referential comedy to a new level.This fall featured an amusing appearance by Luis Guzman as a graduate of the community college returned to make a promotional video for the school, but the Season 2 finale wins the prize by bringing in Josh Holloway — a.k.a. Sawyer, lost to us since "Lost" — who swaggers in like a gunslinger in a spaghetti western. Sure, the guns are loaded with paintballs, but still, he darkens Greendale's halls with hints of a giant conspiracy all around them. “Sweetie, this thing is so much bigger than you can imagine," he mutters, before dashing out to catch a Coldplay concert.
What great guest appearances did I miss? Let me know below in the comments.
— Joy Press
Photo: Julie Bowen, left, Shelley Long and Matt Dillon in "Modern Family." Credit: ABC.