Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Belinda Acosta

JULY 5, 1999:  I never thought much of Katey Sagal, the actress who played Peggy Bundy on Fox's Married ... With Children. It's not that I disliked her. But she didn't launch me into one of those "don't get me started," eye-rolling, hands-on-the-hip diatribes in the same way the character of Ally McBeal does. I just didn't think about Sagal, period. Now I do.

I immediately liked her as Leela, Futurama's (Sun, 7:30pm, Fox) one-eyed alien. Sagal turns in a solid performance as the confident and capable voice of reason, without paling against Bender, the drunken robot, or by playing a retiring handmaiden to Fry, the show's perpetually bewildered main character. While the entertainment press made early predictions that Bender would be the break-out character of the show, I cast a lone vote for Leela. Her no-nonsense, take-charge kind of attitude is more appealing than the over-lubricated Bender. And she's a far cry from the nail-painting sofa cushion that was Peg Bundy. Leela rocks. That, plus I really dig that purple hair. Sure, Futurama is an animated series, but I think it says something that Sagal is able to bring a fair amount of depth to an animated character.

The next time Sagal caught my attention, she was starring in the Disney Channel's Smart House, which premiered June 26. Sagal plays PAT (Personal Applied Technology), the super-chip of a computerized house that slices, dices, makes smoothies, cleans up spills, and cooks dinner on request. For most of the movie, Sagal's creamy, but computer-generated, voice is all the audience gets. After a little hacking by the family teenager (Ryan Merriman), Pat transforms herself into a virtual mom, who turns out to be part June Cleaver and part Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) from Stephen King's Misery.

Unfortunately, Pat is more Mrs. Cleaver than Annie; otherwise, she'd take a hammer to the annoyingly perky family played by Kevin Kilner, Merriman, and Katie Volding. In spite of the high fructose content of Smart House, Sagal turns in a fun performance as Pat, thoroughly engaging within the precious few minutes she's on screen.

Sagal starred in Married ... for 11 seasons, earning Golden Globe and American Comedy Award nominations along the way. The crassness of the show often made it the target of criticism, blamed for everything from the breakdown of the American family to tooth decay. A letter-writing campaign calling for a boycott of the show was led by Michigan housewife Terry Rakolta in 1988. The campaign backfired, bringing more visibility to the show and even more viewers.

Still, after 11 years of playing an intellectually bereft character, the potential for Sagal to find work in a business that is reluctant to cast outside what it knows could have stalled Sagal's career. Instead, she has managed to go from playing the antithesis of June Cleaver to an independent alien grrrl, to a Fifties-style, cookie-baking mom for Disney. That's a clever constellation Sagal has charted for herself, two polar opposite moms and a girl who can handle a wrench. I, for one, am interested in what other projects are in the stars for Sagal, and predict that some surprises -- heck, I'll go out on a limb and say good work -- from Sagal can be expected in the future. Stay tuned.

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