In his almost 30 year career, actor and comedian David Spade has been nominated for only 1 Emmy and 2 Golden Globes, both for his work on the sitcom “Just Shoot Me!” (his Kid’s Choice nom for his voice work in “Emperor’s New Groove,” which is in itself a MASTERPIECE, is a whole different conversation). While this is a distinction anyone should be proud of, to me, it is simply not enough. I’ll tell you why — for 39 episodes, Spade played C.J. Barnes on the ABC sitcom “8 Simple Rules.” Joining the sitcom in 2004 after the unexpected death of star John Ritter, I’ve long held the view that Spade’s work on the show (and the work of the entire cast, really) has long been criminally underrated.
Both Spade and the late James Garner were given the very difficult task of becoming series regulars on a show that was still reeling from the sudden loss of a beloved American actor. How do you incorporate the death of Ritter’s character on a family-friendly show and still keep the audience laughing? How do you find humor when both the characters on the show and the actors who play them are truly devastated? One need only look at the introduction actress Katey Sagal gave on the first few episodes that aired after Ritter’s death to see the raw emotions that the cast were dealing with when they went back to work. Yet humor was certainly to be found in the second era of the show — enter David Spade and his signature style of comedy, dry and sarcastic as ever but always lovable.
Having great comedic timing during a tragic event is one of the more difficult aspects of being a successful comedian. Spade’s comedic mannerisms proved to be perfect for filling the void. Spade’s range as C.J. Barnes is impressive — at times he’s just the loser nephew who moves into the family’s basement, but at other moments he’s the glue that’s holding the hurting family together, the family member who’s always there to listen when you need it. C.J.’s antics were hilarious because they were representative of the family member you both love and can’t stand at the same time. The family member who is childish in their constant nagging but mature in their fierce loyalty. C.J. could zing the deadpan insults in true Spade style, his unmistakable voice perfect for any punchline. Spade is the king of the wisecracker, but “8 Simple Rules” allowed him to prove that there can be heart behind the punch, too.
There's no doubt that Spade had some tough shoes to fill and effortlessly nailed it, becoming a sitcom favorite alongside co-stars Katey Sagal and Kaley Cuoco. While “8 Simple Rules” continually suffered from low ratings and likely isn’t considered by most to be a timeless sitcom, I will always argue the case that it’s one of the better early 2000s sitcoms and definitely one of the better family-oriented shows. To me, the chemistry of the ensemble cast made me truly feel that I was entering a real family’s living room whenever I watched the show — and I remember David Spade being there to prove that, amidst all the jokes, home really is where the heart is.