Later tonight, the brand new comedy Ben and Kate premieres on Fox. Starring Dakota Johnson and Nate Faxon, the network clearly has a lot of confidence in its principal actors, but more than likely, its ultimate fate will wind up rising and falling with We Bought A Zoo’s Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
The history of television is filled with family shows that have either been greatly improved or miserably sunk by child stars. With wonderful comedic timing and a big smile, a little girl or boy can win the hearts of viewers, or with obnoxious muggings and loud bellows, he or she can turn most people off. Seven-year-old Jones is pretty new to the television scene, having only appeared on television via two TV movies, Game Time: Tackling the Past and Most Likely To Succeed. However, if she exhibits the charm and the wit we’ve seen from the youngster in her past roles, Ben and Kate is bound to have a leg up on the competition.
We’ll have a better idea of which side of the line Ben & Kate falls on later tonight. If TV Blend editor Kelly West’s review is any indication, most of us will be on board with Jones’ adorable and precocious Maddie, but regardless, her mere presence on the airwaves is a convenient enough excuse to look back on some of the children who have made us smile over the years. Through instant messages, emails and arguments, the writers in the TV section spent the past few days narrowing down our favorites until we wound up with 5. Here they are…
1. Full House’s Michelle Tanner
Full House is one of the most well-remembered family sitcoms of the nineties, in large part due to Michelle Tanner, the precocious and mischievous youngest member of the Tanner clan. Played equally by a pair of famous twins, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Michelle was always up for a little fun, and was ready and willing to play tricks on her much older siblings, and even adult family members.
What made Michelle so special, and what makes me smile when I think of her character, even now, was her rapport with her older costars, and especially her Uncle Jesse, played by John Stamos. They were wonderful partners in crime because, even if their scheme wound up failing, the joy in Michelle’s face when she uttered, “You got it dude” and stuck out a precious thumbs up more than made up for any consequences.
2. The Andy Griffith Show’s Opie Taylor
Ron Howard may have made plenty of prominent and well-received films, like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, but things may not have played out in the same way if he hadn’t landed the role as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960s. I’d say his ginger hair and blatant freckles probably made him easy to be loved by the audiences at the time, except the show was shot in black and white until it’s last three seasons, and by then Opie was a teenager, dealing with bigger problems than only donating three cents to charity and finishing last in a 50- yard dash.
Regardless, Opie Taylor became a pop culture icon from the 1960s, likely due to his good-natured attitude and his feel-good, moralistic simplicity. Howard’s onscreen father/son relationship with Andy Griffith has lasted in our hearts over many decades, and it would never have been possible if Opie hadn’t stepped up to the plate, and caused a few problems for Sheriff Andy Taylor for the very first time.
3. The Cosby Show’s Olivia Kendall
Raven-Symoné was later known for starring on ridiculous comedies on The Disney Channel, including That’s So Raven. On The Cosby Show, however, she had a few more hard knocks to deal with. As Olivia Kendall, the four-year-old Raven-Symoné was cool being raised mostly by her step-grandparents. She also had some influence from her Navy father and his wife, Denise Huxtable, but very little mention of her birth mother, who only shows up in two episodes.
Not one to dwell on the prominent absences of her mother and her father’s frequent work trips, Olivia was more concerned with heading to preschool (“Point me in the direction and I’m outta here”) and chatting about the facts of life (“Everybody knows that the stork brings the baby”). Regardless, she left a mark on the Huxtable family, always snooping in their business and wanting to be a part of the team. Because of this, she gave audiences something to smile about, too.
4. Modern Family’s Luke Dunphy
Most of the kids on this list get by with a few wise-one liners and a ridiculously adorable face. Modern Family’s Luke Dunphy (Nolan Gould) is not particularly cute and he’s certainly the opposite of wise. He’s the type of kid who gets tricked repeatedly by his elder sisters, and never learns anything from the experience. He’s the kid that will take his pants off when the family has company over and will run into a glass door, thinking it has been left open.
Some of Luke's most famous plotlines revolve around the kid injuring himself, normally due to his own incompetence. But however silly and strange Luke Dunphy may be, he brings a smile to fans because he is blatantly, uncompromisingly himself—a weirdo kid who is slow to catch on, but who occasionally does really sweet things for his family.
5. Growing Pains’ Chrissy Seaver
Growing Pains’ Ashley Johnson grew up to be a fine actress. She played Mel Gibson’s daughter in What Women Want in the early 2000s, and more recently has appeared in AMC’s show The Killing. However, it’s the redhead actress’ portrayal of Chrissy Seaver that may still be her most notable role.
On Growing Pains, Chrissy Seaver started out as an infant, played by a set of twins. During the 1990 season of the show, Chrissy pulled a Lily on Modern Family and advanced to age 6, with Johnson taking over. Johnson’s Chrissy was a whole lot more fun to watch than her infant counterpart, and even though she only appeared on the last two seasons of the hit show, her memorable curly red hair, her cutesy fashion choices, and her imaginary friend named Ike all made a big impression.