By Marissa Flaxbart
Did it ever bother you that on Friends Ross's son Ben seemed to change ages and faces from season to season? First he was a baby, then he was played by little twin toddlers, and for the last few seasons, he was played by the too-old Cole Sprouse, back when he was known as half of the cute kid from Big Daddy (instead of one of the creepy twins from Suite Life and freaky GoGurt commercials).
Well, this kid-switching happens all the time in the world of sitcoms. And sometimes, all rules of time and space are ignored. One season, a baby is born, and the next season, a cute little toddler has miraculously taken his or her place. For the producers, it's a win-win: they get all the drama of a birth episode, get to skip the inconvenience and expense of having a baby in the cast, and then revel in all the refreshing cuteness of a precocious youngster. And all it costs them is a WTF moment from their adoring fans, along with a certain amount of our trust and goodwill - after all, we thought these people were supposed to be, like, real!Unsurprisingly, shows that pull this drastic maneuver are sometimes trying to rejuvenate a cast of kids past their prime, or refresh the plot possibilities of a long-running program reaching a lull. Family Ties' baby, Andrew, was born in Season 3 and somehow started preschool in the premiere episode of Season 5, less than two years later. Baby Einstein indeed! Some genius producers recognized that the show was going to outlive Tina Yothers' girlish cuteness. On Growing Pains, fourth child Chrissy (born at the start of Season 3) was aged into a 6-year-old just as the old cutie-pie Ben became the tallest member of the cast (Ashley Johnson debuted as the older Chrissy in the premiere of Season 6, about the time the character should have been turning three).
So, is it even possible to have a baby on a show and let him age as normal? Case and point: I Love Lucy. Little Ricky's "birth" in 1953 was watched by an estimated 44 million people, and the attention-grabbing baby managed to mature at a relatively normal speed. That said, there were a few cast changes involved, and the actor we associate with the character (Keith Thibodeaux) was actually born in 1950. But come on, guys. It still counts.
I published this on GB a few days ago as part of my countdown. Then I accidentally unpublished it. Oops.