Pop Culture

Playing “Spot the Future Child Star”

I love watching re-runs of shows from the late ’80s and early ’90s and trying to spot as many future (at the time of original airing) child stars as possible. A vast majority haven’t been heard from since the last episode of Full House, but it’s still a fun game to play. 

When shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Family Matters first came on, sure, there were some actors you had already seen before. But a lot of the time, these youngsters didn’t blossom into stars for awhile, so there was no way to know who you were looking at when the show aired. That’s why I always get excited when I see someone from before they were famous: for example, I squealed with delight during a recent Wonder Years when a tween Mark-Paul Gosselaar showed up for about 20 seconds. This was pre-Saved by the Bell, but you could totally tell that it was a young Zack Morris.

Usually, I can instantly recognize the actors – for instance, also on the Wonder Years, it was easy to spot young Giovanni Ribisi, Lindsay Sloane, and Breckin Meyer. Sometimes, though, the child actors didn’t quite turn into the big stars of tomorrow, so I have to run to my laptop and hit up Google, because I know I’ve seen that face before, but I just can’t place it. This can be easy when the character’s name is given, difficult if it’s not.

The other day, I had to look up the actor who played Kirk McCray, Winnie Cooper’s eighth grade boyfriend who looked so familiar (and, fun fact, during the episode I watched there was also an appearance by Donnie Jeffcoat, who hosted the show I always wanted to be on, Wild and Crazy Kids). Thanks to the wonders of Google and IMDB, I discovered Kirk McCray was played by an actor named Michael Landes. While he was no JTT, I did recognize him once I read that he played Riley Roberts, the neighbor that Dorothy Jane had a crush on on The Torkelsons (I loved that show!). See how fun it is when you connect the dots?

So, what familiar faces have you been surprised to see on re-runs lately? Do you have to immediately run to your computer for info, too?

By Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

10 replies on “Playing “Spot the Future Child Star””

AAAAAHHHH! Riley Roberts! ::sigh::

I love Michael Landes.  I even watched that short-lived scifi show Special Unit 2 he was on (but I had no idea until 5 years later when it re-aired on SyFy).  I’ve also noticed him in Burlesque and Just Wright. He seems to be typecast as the nondescript friend/manager, these days, but I’l always remember him as the teenage heartthrob on The Torkelsons.  (Did he have a brief cameo on Almost Home, as well?)

I love seeing actors doing guest spots on shows/movies.


Alyson Hannigan (Willow/Lily) was on Roseanne as a friend of Darlene’s.

Off the beaten path, and one I just learned the other day…Jenny Lewis was on the show The Wizard. I’m glad she opted for a career in music instead!

Seth Green was in Can’t Buy Me Love and a spot on The Wonder Years

David Boreanaz was on Married with Children

I could go at this for hours!




I also love playing Spot the Star on Murder She Wrote. Another great show for playing Spot the Future Star is Perry Mason. I’m pretty sure everyone in Hollywood above a certain age was on Perry Mason at some point, including Gavin Macleod with hair and George Takei pre-Star Trek.

I’ve been watching Murder, She Wrote (which is fun to play “spot the no longer famous Famous 80’s stars) and low and behold – young Summer and Joaquin Phoenix had small parts as someone’s children.  OMG, they were so adorable.  And because I had to IMDB it to confirm – found out Summer is married to Casey Affleck!  Mind blown.


I love finding out things like that…I was looking up John Slattery last week after watching the arc he was in on Sex and the City, and found out that he is married to George Clooney’s ex-wife! I had no idea, and never would have known that if my curiosity hadn’t gotten the better of me! :)

Leave a Reply