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For many of the past 23 years, actress Patricia Heaton has been front and center for two modern sitcom classics, by way of CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond and ABC's The Middle. Heaton is returning to the small screen for more feel-good laughs with Carol's Second Act, a hospital comedy that aims to prove that age is just a number that everyone really cares about if they're younger than you.
In Carol's Second Act, Patricia Heaton plays Carol Chambers, a woman in her 50s who left behind her career as a teacher in order to find a new life as a doctor. Of course, that means she's on the same level as the other wet-behind-the-ears interns, while answering to a boss that's half her age. It was indeed the concept of that later-stage life journey that Heaton was attracted to, as she was experiencing some of the same thoughts in the span after The Middle's run was over.
Speaking to journalists during CBS' Carol's Second Act panel at the Television Critics Association summer tour, Patricia Heaton remarked on why this new gig was so perfect:
This came after The Middle was all done, and I think what was perfect about it was that my kids are pretty much out of the house, and my second long-running show was done, and I was feeling a bit at sea, not knowing what I was doing. I'm no longer a full-time mom, and I don't have a job as an actress. I very much felt the things that a person like Carol would feel, of 'Who am I without these things?' So this idea was so perfect when [creators Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins] came along. It was a while after The Middle had finished – maybe a year, even – so I had time to feel those feelings that Carol was feeling. It's been interesting to go on this journey with everyone, and with Carol, and explore that.
Granted, Patricia Heaton didn't uproot everything and change careers, thank goodness, but she was able to put herself inside the character's headspace without having to jump through too many mental hoops. Had she gotten a bunch of scripts to play complicated military leaders in sci-fi action thrillers, Heaton probably wouldn't have had the exact same emotional draw that she got when Carol's Second Act came around.
Considering Patricia Heaton has been such a mainstay in TV since the '90s, it might seem ludicrous to think that she could go very long without landing another premiere role. But then, Hollywood isn't exactly the most reputable place when it comes to older females securing leading roles. Even Heaton herself still feels the struggles that come with maintaining a lengthy career.
As well, Carol's Second Act is giving the actress a chance to spread the word to others, and also provides her some challenges that other roles might not have. In her words:
It's interesting, because I think it's important at any time in your life to keep challenging yourself. And just in the last two days, I started having those actor nightmares – even at this stage in the game – where I'm driving on Vine, and I stop my car in the intersection, and I can't get my hands out of my pocket, and I have to abandon the car because I'm supposed to be at a table read that I actually missed. That was last night. [Laughter.] So I think it's a good sign that I'm exciting about this. It's a challenge, and it's very exciting to go back to multi-camera, too, and do it live in front of an audience.
Speaking of multi-cam comedies, Patricia Heaton is definitely Queen Resident Pro among the Carol's Second Act cast. Her co-stars include Ashley Tisdale, Sabrina Jalees, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Ito Aghayere and Kyle MacLachlan. The most prolific of the bunch is Kyle MacLachlan, and his most recent TV work was on Twin Peaks: The Return, which strangely might have actually felt right at home filming in front of a live audience.
Patricia Heaton was asked if she was ready to possibly take on another potential nine-year run – executive producers Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins joked that Carol will actually last 15 seasons – and the actress went into a darkly comedic bit about moving on to that big CBS stage in the sky.
I think my perfect scenario is...I see death getting nearer and nearer. I could die on the soundstage, that's how I'd want to go. Just as long as I'm in full hair and makeup when it happens, so that the photos are good. And then so long as I'm number one on the call sheet when it happens.
Clearly, Patricia Heaton's The Middle follow-up could have just been a show with her telling stories about her life and career. Maybe that'll still happen one day, though, if we're lucky. And then she'll have some good stories about Kyle MacLachlan and Ashley Tisdale, too.