Thank Goodness ‘Surviving Jack’ Revived Christopher Meloni's 'Wet Hot American Summer' Glory
It's been a long road away from New York City, where Christopher Meloni once spent his days catching sexual predators on the cold streets with Olivia Benson. On Fox’s Thursday-night single-camera comedy, Surviving Jack , Meloni portrays Jack Dunlevy, an Oncologist turned full-time parent, trying to raise his two children, high school freshman Frankie (Connor Buckley) and 17-year-old Rachel (Claudia Lee), while his wife pursues her law degree. Hilarity ensues as Frankie finds himself in numerous awkward situations and Rachel begins to unfurl. But no matter how out of his depth it may appear Jack is at times, this show has shown in its first season that this is exactly where Meloni belongs.
He Was Once a Wet Hot American Weirdo
Meloni's Det. Stabler on Law & Order: SVU didn’t really do funny. He might’ve sneered and said some witty one-liner to a perp, or perhaps taken a little too much delight in beating someone into a pulp, but it very rarely resulted in stomach-busting laughter.
But let's remember Wet Hot American Summer for a moment. In David Wain's cult classic, Meloni played Gene, a Vietnam vet/cook at a summer camp who talked to canned veggies and humped refrigerators. (It’s as awkward as it sounds.) On Surviving Jack, Meloni's Jack gives a speech about acceptance and confesses various personal secrets, making it clear that no matter what weird growing pains Frankie will experience (and he does find himself going through quite a few), Jack will always know what to do. After all, Meloni was once in Frankie’s shoes, albeit in a tighter shirt and in the midst of an unconventional relationship with his refrigerator.
He Knows Cooties Are Worse Than Death
All parents need to have a proper fear of cooties. Meloni not only learned of this threat early on but, he took things a step further and released a PSA warning others of the dangers they presented for MTV2’s Wonder Showzen . Similarly, on Surviving Jack, whether he is doling out little pieces of wisdom or harsh nuggets of reality, there is always an underlining of affection. He isn’t doing it with malicious intent. He is genuinely concerned about his kids growing up with enough gumption to survive in the world.
Both of his children are teenagers on the series, so they’re less inclined to believe that cooties are still a very real threat. But thankfully, cootie prevention can be applied to several real-life issues. For example: if there is a prevention technique or chant available, use it. The circle, circle, dot, dot mantra’s modern day equivalent is the condom.
He’s Had The "Burden of Knowledge" For a While Now
The first time Meloni and Surviving Jack’s executive producer Bill Lawrence linked together was on Lawrence’s Scrubs. On that series, Chris played Dr. Dave Norris, the best pediatrician at Sacred Heart, who was stalked by Dr. Cox and Jordan until he agreed to see their child, Jack. He warned Dr. Cox that he was the worst kind of parent because he was a doctor, who was all too well aware of all the different things that could go wrong and he would therefore find it difficult to not jump to the worst conclusions. But we have to believe that in the 10-plus years since that episode, the switch from pediatrics to oncology, and identity change, Meloni has learned how to allow his character to use his professional life to help further improve his children instead of assuming the worst. Meloni may be a novice at playing a full-time parent, but he’s been schooling people for a while, and that is a vital talent to have when (pretending to be) raising teenagers.
Meloni’s comedic chops are easy to overlook because Stabler was never happy and despite being a gay icon Oz’s Chris Keller was disturbed (to say the least). But those dark characters help make his funnier characters standout all the more. He’s home on Surviving Jack — just like he was in Scrubs, Wet Hot American Summer and the first two Harold & Kumar films.