The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Julie Benz

30 Nov

(The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame is where we turn the spotlight on a television actor or actress, and it is named after their patron saint, Zeljko Ivanek)

Not yet 40, Benz has already compiled an impressive career on television.  Her first role was in brief two season show Hi Honey, I’m Home! in 1991, whose first season aired during ABC’s TGIF block, and which had a concept far more interesting than most failed sitcoms.  The sitcom was about a family composed of fifties TV archetypal sitcom characters rescued from cancelled shows, who are now living in the real world.  Benz played popular daughter character Babs Nielsen and was the only actor from the show to experience any significant later success.  Next, Benz guest starred in a Married with Children episode as a girl who strangely wanted to lose her virginity to Bud.  In the mid-90s she participated in a number of television movies, including Hearts Adrift, Crosstown Traffic, Empire, The Barefoot Executive (as “Sexy Woman”), Veronica’s Video, and A Walton Easter.  She appeared in episodes of Hang Time, High Tide, Step by Step, Boy Meets World, Diagnosis Murder, The Single Guy, Sliders, The Big Easy, and Fame L.A.

She had a recurring role in the short-lived Ask Harriet, about a male sports journalist who pretends to be a woman in order to write an advice column (previously mentioned in the Willie Garson column). Around this time, in 1997, she also got one of her biggest roles as Darla, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Vampire Darla was intended to be a single episode character, but her role was expanded greatly.  Darla was one of the primary antagonists of the first season, as the main henchman to The Master, and died in the seventh episode, when it was revealed that she had a long-term relationship as partner in crime and lover as well as maker of Angel.  She rose from the dead in the last episode of the first season of Angel Season 1 as a human as part of evil law firm Wolfram and Hart’s plan to turn Angel evil again.  The plan didn’t work, but they turn Darla back into a vampire, and she and Angel fight before she eventually becomes pregnant with Angel’s baby, and kills herself, leaving the baby alive.  Over the course of her role as Darla, she appeared in TV movies Good Guys/Bad Guys, Satan’s School for Girls (another sign TV movies have the best names), and The Long Shot and in episodes of The King of Queens, Conrad Bloom, Glory Days and She Spies and in TV miniseries Taken.

Benz was a recurring character in the first season of Roswell as FBI agent Kathleen Topolski and she was a main cast member in one season CBS show Payne, starring John Larroquette and based on Fawlty Towers, moved to California.  She continued her TV work in the mid-00s, with TV movies Lackawanna Blues, Locusts: The 8th Plague, Circle of Friends, Held Hostage, and Uncorked.  She was in episodes of NCIS, Oliver Beene, Supernatural, CSI:Miami, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Law & Order:  In 2006, she got her biggest role to date as Rita Bennett in Dexter.

DEXTER SPOILERS BEGIN

Rita is serial killer killer Dexter Morgan’s boyfriend at the beginning of Dexter.  He feels damaged and thinks she is a good match for his psychological baggage because she suffered serious emotional trauma from sexual and physical abuse from her ex-husband Paul.  Paul returns and attempts to reassert his place in her life but Dexter frames him and has him sent back to prison.  Eventually the relationship between Dexter and Rita becomes more serious as she is able to get over some of her issues, and they get married and have a child, Harrison.  Shockingly, in the fourth season finale, Rita is murdered by the trinity killer.

DEXTER SPOILERS END

In 2010, Benz had a recurring role in five episodes of Desperate Housewives.  She plays Robin Gallagher, a former stripper, who wants to be a teacher.  She initially stays with Susan and Mike but moves in with Dana Delany’s Katherine Mayfair.  Later, it is revealed that she is a lesbian, and she and Mayfair begin an affair, eventually leaving Wisteria Lane together.  In 2010, she starred in ABC’s No Ordinary Family, about a family who gains super powers after being involved in a plane crash.  Benz, married to Michael Chiklis, is the mother of the family and gains the power of super speed.  Though heavily promoted, the series was cancelled after one season.  She was in an episode of Royal Pains in 2011 and can now be seen as a main cast member in CBS’s A Gifted Man, starring Patrick Wilson. Wilson is a talented but selfish surgeon who now interacts with the ghost of his ex-wife.  Benz plays his sister, a single mother who has trouble taking care of her unruly teenage son.  She’ll also be appearing in TNT TV movie Ricochet this fall based on a novel by Sandra Brown.

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