Ryan Reynolds has arguably been ill-served by a remarkable number of bad material choices. He's a skilled comedian with limited but well-exploited range, an honorable tradition undermined by vehicles like "Green Lantern," "The Change-Up" and — this past Friday — two flops, the animated "Turbo" (in which he voices a talking snail with NASCAR dreams) and "R.I.P.D.," from which greatness was not expected and for which reviews were savage. To get to even this point in his career, Reynolds had to work hard, making his way up the TV ladder and up to the feature film world. Was it worth it? Maybe not, but here's an overview of how he got there.
Reynolds' first TV series was named "Hillside" in Canada but "Fifteen" everywhere else (including its run as the only teen soap opera on Nickelodeon). One of four actors to last the entire show and by far its most prominent alum, Ryan Reynolds was Billy Simpson, the drummer in his friends' garage rock band before getting summarily fired. The object of his affections being addressed in the clip below is Ashley Frasier (Laura Harris, later of "The Faculty"), who's nervous about a forthcoming singing appearance. When she says she doesn't have an innate gift, Billy's response is startlingly pragmatic: "Basically you just have to look good, and you can do that." The dialogue could come out of the mouth of one of his later-period horndogs, but the delivery is pure forlorn awkward teen:
"The Odyssey" (1993-94)
You can get some idea of the feel of this arcanely trippy Canadian kids' fantasy adventure show by looking at the opening credits. Reynolds had a recurring role from January 1993 to October 1994, and judging by the clip below his "Macro" is on the more vain/egocentric end of the alternate-universe dictator scale. The aesthetic is somewhere between a severely degraded "Brazil" and the mercifully forgotten miniseries "event" "Wild Palms":
"My Name Is Kate" (1994)
This 1994 TV movie stars "Knots Landing"'s Donna Mills as an alcoholic in denial; according to the "Los Angeles Times" review, this "earnest but deeply flawed attempt at making a positive social statement" includes a supportive roommate at the rehab clinic (played by Nia Peeples) who's "a feisty and caring Hispanic woman who is trying to kick a crack addiction." Reynolds is Mills' son, and judging the excerpt below he appears to spend most of his time failing at preventing her from driving home and cringing at her repeated insults:
"Serving In Silence: The Margarethe Cammermayer Story" (1995)
This was the first of a series of TV productions executive produced by Barbra Streisand that were meant to be socially important, including a 6-hours mini-series ("Rescuers: Stories of Courage") about Christians helping save Jews during World War II. "Every day we hear stories about man's inhumanity to man," Streisand said in a special taped introduction. "However, today I am very proud to present to you a group of films about man's humanity to man." The series was in part enabled by the success of her first such TV movie, 1995's "Serving In Silence." As "Entertainment Weekly"'s Ken Tucker noted in disgust when reviewing the production, "How pathetic it is that the primary bit of publicity 'Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story' has received is the news that this made-for-television movie contains the spectacle of a kiss between two women, played by Glenn Close and Judy Davis." The story focuses on the real-life Cammermeyer, a Vietnam vet discharged for admitting she was lesbian, with Reynolds in a brief role as one of her troubled kids:
"When Friendship Kills" (1996)
This is a teen-oriented issue TV movie about anorexia, although Reynolds doesn't enter into it much: he's dreamy and present, but he really doesn't do much to contribute to the proceedings either way. As seen in this clip, one of his big roles is to enable temptation for anorexic Lexi (Katie Wright) by inviting her to a party. "C'mon Lexi, it's Friday night" he says with an eye-waggle, but he's not a full-blown jackass of misused charisma yet. Later, he'll try to do the right thing and break up a fight on the beach, but he's absent throughout the bulk of the issued-centered drama.
"Sabrina The Teenage Witch" (1996)
Best known for his 1987 cult horror film "The Gate," Hungarian-born/Canadian-based director Tibor Takács transitioned into TV in the '90s, directing Reynolds in a 1995 episode of "The Outer Limits," "If These Walls Could Talk," in which Reynolds's disappearance is investigated by Dwight Schulz. The following year, Reynolds and Takács worked together on the TV movie version of "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch" — initially rebooted as a straight teen movie deal, with Reynolds as a hunky high school bully who, ditched by his girlfriend, gets involved with transplanted Sabrina (Melissa Joan Hart). She's initially skeptical ("Seth? He's OK, I guess."), then uses her witchy powers to win him over. Finally disenchanted when he aggressively tries to put the moves on her at a secluded make-out spot ("Everyone that counts is here in this car right now"), Sabrina uses her magic to comically destroy his car. Reynolds' scenes from the pilot are collected below; only two actors survived in the transition from TV pilot to traditional three-camera ABC sitcom.
"Two Guys and a Girl" (1998-2001)
During the four seasons of this sitcom, the Ryan Reynolds persona fully came into its own, and the results are perhaps most digestible in the character-greatest-hits montage below. As eventual-medical-student Berg, Reynolds was given free rein to deploy a full range of jackass-y line readings, smirking dismissals and other staples of the narrow but well-defined range he's carved out for himself. The year after the show ended, he starred in "National Lampoon's Van Wilder," solidifying a frat-boy fanbase and beginning his many years in critical purgatory as glibly distasteful.