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The Nick of Time

On a recent episode of CSI: NY, one of the bit characters looked so familiar that I couldn't think about anything else until I figured out who it was. A glimmer of recognition suggested that the not-particularly-special guest star, playing a sleep doctor, was once a beloved dolt whose vacant stares kicked the laugh track knob all the way up to 11.

I began playing back sitcom simpletons in the IMDB lobe of my brain, finally hitting a match: Under a mass of gray hair and droop was Scott Valentine, a name that should be instantly recognizable to any American male in his 30s who wanted his first experience of sexual congress to be with Mallory Keaton.

Mallory, the only child of the Family Ties family who suffered from the soft bigotry of low expectations, was played by Justine Bateman. Her girl-next-door good looks and limited faculties combined to create the perfect storm of attainability. Though I was a high school student whose skills as a dungeon master and BBS programmer translated poorly to dating, I believed that I could get a girl like Mallory. Anything I lacked in looks, money, or style could be compensated for with my strong suit: clever wordplay.

Even today, I can't look at Justine's brother Jason Bateman on Arrested Development without seeing their familial resemblance and feeling unexpectedly passionate about the issue of gay marriage.

Valentine played Mallory's boyfriend, motorcycle-riding dropout Nick Moore. A rebel without a clue, Nick reached the absolute zero of 1980s cool in his feathered mullet, purple-belted acid-wash jeans, and leather jacket bunched up to the elbows -- fashions I adopted for several years beyond their expiration date.

As a child raised on a fortified diet of 'round-the-clock television, I judge the passage of time in my own life by its effect on beloved sitcom characters.

Unfortunately, time has dealt a serious pass-kicking to Valentine in the 18 years since I saw him last in The Art of Being Nick, a spinoff whose importance to our culture may have been overlooked by its cancellation after one episode.

The steel-toed boot of time has ground its heel into Valentine's face, turning the monosyllabic heartthrob into a middle-aged character actor, my generation's Dennis Boutsikaris.

Valentine's James Dean scowl has been replaced by James Whitmore eyebrows; his Flock of Seagulls hairstyle migrated to his ears and nasal passages.

One look at him, and I'm channeling J. Alfred Prufrock. I grow old ... I grow old ... I shall wear the sleeves of my Members Only jacket rolled.

Though there are still a few Heather Locklears and Nicolette Sheridans staving off the inevitable with a little clean living and more reconstructive surgery than the Six Million Dollar Man, I must now acknowledge that the TV stars of my youth have become the TV stars of my aging.

Valentine's appearance was the most disturbing thing in CSI: NY, and I'm talking about an episode in which Gary Sinise, his nostrils flaring like an Oreck XL, stabbed the trussed-up carcass of a pig.

In slow motion.

I haven't felt this badly since the day I fell out of the coveted 18- to- 34-year-old demographic and I realized that television, music, and film producers would never look at me in the same way again.


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