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Pittsburgh native hits it 'Lucky'

Sunday, April 06, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV

HOLLYWOOD -- He appeared on the short-lived USA series "Cover Me" and has a recurring role on CBS's "Yes, Dear," but for Pittsburgh native Billy Gardell, FX's "Lucky" marks his first time as a series regular.

Lucky indeed.

'Lucky' review:

'Lucky' unlucky in many ways

Gardell plays Vinny, loyal friend to compulsive gambler Michael "Lucky" Linkletter (John Corbett) and his buddy Mutha (Craig Robinson).

"Lucky brings the heart to the show, Mutha brings the cool to the show, and I'm basically here for the girls to look at," the roly-poly Gardell joked at an FX party in January. "No, Vinny is just loyal. Vinny is your dog you put in the front yard. He doesn't ask questions. He does what he has to do, but he's continually so far behind he thinks he's first."

Vinny demonstrates that loyalty in the premiere episode's most outrageous scene. To help Lucky come up with money to repay his in-laws for his wife's funeral, Vinny runs out into traffic, allowing himself to be hit by cars and then shake down the frazzled drivers for all the money in their wallets. As he does this, the theme song from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" plays on the show's soundtrack.

"It was just an ironic kind of message we wanted to send," said series co-creator Robb Cullen about the choice of music.

Gardell, who's also a stand-up comedian, didn't actually take the pummeling.

"That is a stunt double, and I can't thank him enough for making me look wonderful," Gardell said. "I was actually sitting in my folding chair drinking coffee while that was going on, thanking him profusely."

"Lucky" creators and brothers Mark and Robb Cullen said they were fans of Gardell's stand-up act and wrote the part of Vinny with him in mind. Not that Gardell will let it go to his head. He said his Pittsburgh upbringing keeps him humble, and if it doesn't, his relatives in the 'Burgh will.

"They're like, 'Hey, look at this big star mowing the lawn,'" he said. "There's something wonderful about being in Pittsburgh. I try to hold onto it out here."

Vinny steals the show with his traffic-stopping antics in this week's episode, but in the future he's often paired with Mutha in wacky capers. One week they impersonate doctors at a convention, and in another episode Vinny trains a chicken for cockfights.

But the pair also act as a sounding board for Lucky, who's trying to kick his gambling habit.

The premiere episode shows Lucky winning $1 million and then cuts to a year later. His wife is dead, his money is gone and his in-laws hate him. How and why any of this happened is not explained.

"We're going to get a small glimpse into what happened to Lucky's wife, but not exactly tell you what happened, because we think the journey of Lucky is about a guy who lost everything and is trying to rebuild his life," Robb Cullen said. "If we kind of leave what happened in some places to your own imagination, we think that pays off better for the character."

For Corbett, having Gardell around has provided inspiration.

"He knows comedy," Corbett said. "I'm experimenting with comedy. He's a funny guy. He keeps me in stitches all day."

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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