It is a truth universally acknowledged that some parts of Friends have aged like milk. This category includes the arc with Phoebe’s brother, Frank (Giovanni Ribisi), and his wife/former home ec teacher, Alice. The episode introducing Alice aired the same month as the arrest of Mary Kay Letourneau. The situations aren’t completely similar, inasmuch as, Rupp’s jokes aside, Frank was intended to be a legal adult at the time. Young—considerably younger than Alice—but an adult. And also her former student. Rupp herself finds the whole thing uncomfortable in retrospect, though at the time, her biggest problem was that she and Frank were supposed to be constantly making out in their first appearance together.
The fact is, though, even if the arc doesn’t fully work, the character of Alice does. It’s impossible not to like her. Debra Jo Rupp has played a wide variety of roles over the decades, but what most of them have in common is that they’re characters you can’t help liking, even if it’s against your will. I’m not as big a fan of Red Forman as a lot of other people, but goodness Kitty’s fun. It’s always a delight to see her crop up in things, and it was one of the things that made me sure I would like WandaVision.
Rupp is, like so many actresses we’ve covered before, hampered in the industry—or was, when she started out—by not being conventionally attractive. She’s pretty and charming and funny and talented, but she’s not exactly a centerfold. Despite, and this is an amazing detail, having had her first TV role as a topless dancer on an episode of All My Children. The only thing that would make it better would be if it had been Days of Our Lives, the show Joey would go on to be a star of for a while.
Honestly, Rupp comes across in many of her roles like the kind of person you’d want as your mom. She doesn’t have to be tall, willowy, and buxom to be good at that. She’s 5’3” and cute, and that’s just fine, too. The important thing is that you find yourself wanting to like her. That’s part of what sold her so much in WandaVision, come to that. The idea of all those things happening to one of her characters is somehow worse than if it happened to characters played by a lot of other people. She deserves better.
It’s true that she isn’t one of the people in From the Earth to the Moon who makes you remember how phenomenal the cast of that series is, not when she’s sharing an episode with Tom Hanks, Sally Field, and Rita Wilson. She’s the third-most prominent member of the cast of Big to be in her episode. However, she’s definitely someone who would make a full list. You’d also perk up when she put in her appearance. She might even be enough to distract you from Tom Hanks for a minute, should you see them sharing the screen.