There are many classic TV shows that never got their due. And for its part, The Torkelsons is certainly one of them. But since the show’s unceremonious end, the TV family have had some interesting experiences. Here are just a few things they’ve done since moving away from the fictional suburb of Vinita, Oklahoma.
In 1991 NBC debuted a unique sitcom to their lineup. Created by showrunner Lynn Montgomery and developed by future Boy Meets World producer Michael Jacobs, The Torkelsons was introduced to TV viewers in September of that year. The show follows matriarch Millicent Torkelson and her family, as she struggles to raise her children as a single parent.
Indeed, like similar shows of the time such as Roseanne, The Torkelsons followed people fighting to get by financially. This wasn’t a family cut from the same upper-class cloth of the Huxtables of The Cosby Show fame. Rather, they were a family who spoke to millions of impoverished people across the nation.
Leading the fray is mother Millicent Torkelson, played by actress Connie Ray. Left to care for her family alone by absent husband Randy, Millicent spends the show juggling both motherhood and debt. However, carrying her hardships with quiet dignity, she always remains a loving and even-headed parent to her children.
With five children to care for, Millicent certainly has her work cut out. Moreover, each child brings with them their own unique personalities. On one hand, there is the brash and athletic Steven Floyd, played by Aaron Metchik. And on the opposite end of the spectrum is the quieter and artistic Ruth Ann, starring Anna Slotky.
On the younger end of the family is wannabe lothario Chuckie Lee, played by Lee Norris. Despite his thick glasses and penchant for entomology, he is fond of sweet-talking the girls in his neighborhood. Meanwhile, the ever optimistic Mary Sue, aka Rachel Duncan, is always the clan’s dependable voice of hope.
Far and away the show’s most important character, though, is Olivia Burnette, who plays the eldest daughter Dorothy Jane. With each episode, Dorothy Jane documents her and her family’s highs and lows via her “Man in the Moon” monologues. And in doing so, she becomes a window for the audience into the Torkelsons’ lives.
Filling the family’s homestead out is William Schallert, who plays lodger Wesley Hodges. Other recurring faces include Dorothy Jane’s neighbor and unrequited crush Riley Roberts, starring Michael Landes. Meanwhile, the nerdy enamored Kirby Scroggins, aka Paige Gosney, is infatuated with Dorothy Jane, but sadly the feeling isn’t mutual.
But what really sets the show apart from its contemporaries is the way it balances pathos and humor. Indeed, the show’s first episode ends with debtors coming to coming to collect the Torkelsons’ washing machine. And rather than play down the consequences of poverty, The Torkelsons portrays the realities of a struggling family.
For this reason, The Torkelsons received its fair share of acclaim. Writing for Entertainment Weekly at the time, critic Ken Tucker deemed the show deserving of respect due to its unconventionality. He wrote, “At a time when most sitcoms strive for a bloodless hit formula that can be endlessly repeated into syndication, The Torkelsons seems to be going on its own nerve…”
Moreover, the show received some awards consideration as well. In 1992 The Torkelsons was nominated for Best New Family Television Series at the Young Artist Awards. And stars Burnette, Norris and Duncan both received nods. Indeed, both Burnette and Duncan would gain similar nominations the following year too.
However, not everybody was kind to the program. Calling the show “NBC’s other yokel yuk-fest,” People’s David Hiltbrand dismissed The Torkelsons as a copy of another TV sitcom. The writer scathed, “The producers of this show should be paying All My Children royalties…”
Meanwhile, despite many critics singing the show’s praise, NBC could tell that something was wrong. And with underwhelming viewing figures, the producers decided to implement some drastic changes to pull a bigger draw. So by the show’s second season, The Torkelsons would be almost unrecognizable.
Now called Almost Home, the series began its second season in 1993. From the outset, it was clear things were different. To wit, the Torkelsons have left Oklahoma behind as plucky mom Millicent moves her family to Seattle to start a nannying job. Moreover, the show’s focus on lower-class lives is forgotten as the clan move in with the wealthy Morgan family.
Most noticeable of all was the change to the show’s cast. Surprisingly, the family’s middle children Steven Floyd and Ruth Ann have disappeared. But while it made sense that characters like Wesley and Riley would stay in Vinita, however, it seemed strange that part of the actual family would be left behind.
Nevertheless, another family had replaced Ruth Ann and Steven Floyd. In their place, the show introduced publishing mogul Brian Morgan, starring Perry King and his privileged children Molly and Gregory, played by Brittany Murphy and Jason Marsden respectively. As a result, the show became less about working class problems and more about culture clash.
Sadly, these alterations did little to save the show. And midway through season two in June 1993, NBC decided to cancel the series. After 33 episodes, the program formerly known as The Torkelsons came to an end. And just as Millicent and Dorothy Jane said goodbye to Steven Floyd and Ruth Ann, so too did the cast go their separate ways.
Following her high-profile role as Millicent in The Torkelsons, Connie Ray would lean back into character roles. Amongst a long list of film credits, the actress has had recurring roles in The Big C, Blue Bloods and Grey’s Anatomy. Meanwhile, she last appeared on-screen in the Disney film Kim Possible in 2019.
Similarly, Burnette – aka Dorothy Jane – walked a quieter career path after her leading role. Following appearances in films like The Quick and the Dead, the actress enrolled at NYU, Tisch School of the Arts. And there, she graduated with a double major in film and English. These days, fans may know Burnette best for her recurring role on Sons of Anarchy.
Although his on-screen siblings may have gone out of their comfort zones with later projects, Lee Norris stuck with The Torkelsons producer Michael James. After giving up Chuckie Lee for good, the actor played a nerd again in the latter’s subsequent project Boy Meets World. Two decades later, Norris would take the role again in another project by James, Girl Meets World.
Other members of the Torkelson clan too have had interesting post-show careers. Case in point is Aaron Michael Metchik, who similarly found work on Boy Meets World as well as bit-parts in shows like Party of Five. Then in 1999 the actor jumped behind the camera to helm the award-winning short film Jenny.
Nevertheless, not every member of the family continued to pursue the acting bug. Rachel Duncan, for one, continued to perform in film and TV, but has since given the profession up. The child star made her last film appearance with What Women Want in 2000.
In a similar vein, Anna Slotky decided to put her acting days behind her following the show’s run. Rather than take the profession into adulthood, the actress instead studied law at the University of California, Los Angeles, before going on to become a public defender for L.A. County.
Meanwhile, several other faces who appeared regularly on the show would go on to take a similarly low-key path with their careers. In season two, Jason Marsden played the dashing Gregory Morgan. And since then, the actor has become a prolific voice actor in TV and video games with credits including The Legend of Korra and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
After making Dorothy Jane swoon in season one, Michael Landes – who played Riley Roberts – seemed destined to be a Hollywood heartthrob. Shortly after The Torkelsons, the actor gained an important role in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Subsequently, he’d follow this up with leading parts in such programs as Union Square, Special Unit 2 and Love Soup.
While his character Kirby Scroggins may have been enamored with Dorothy Jane, actor Paige Gosney seems to have followed her sister Ruth Ann’s lead. Like actress Rachel Duncan, Gosney dropped out of acting to study law. Indeed, he’s now an attorney for the firm Gresham Savage.
Prior to starting work on Almost Home, Perry King – aka Brian Morgan – had 20 years of film and TV experience behind him. Now in his seventies, the actor has appeared in film and TV shows like Will and Grace and The Day After Tomorrow. Meanwhile, his last credited work was 2018’s The Divide.
Elsewhere, William Schallert – who played King’s character in season one – also had an illustrious acting career prior to The Torkelsons. Performing since the 1940s, the actor would continue to display a strong work ethic in later life. To wit, Schallert played roles in How I Met Your Mother and Desperate Housewives, before passing in 2016.
Meanwhile, following their early parts in The Torkelsons, several of the show’s key players went on to have quieter roles in the entertainment industry. Nevertheless, many used the show as a springboard to bigger things. And some of the series’ bit players would go on to experience stardom in later years.
Notably, the second season introduced Brittany Murphy as Molly Morgan. Indeed, with only a handful of TV appearances on her resume, the actress was still only making her first steps in Hollywood. And two years on from Almost Home, Murphy found fame calling after starring in 1995’s Clueless.
And in the years that followed, Murphy would become even more well-known through roles in movies including 8 Mile and Sin City. However, her story would have a tragically short ending, because in 2009 Murphy passed away from pneumonia at the young age of 32.
Another notable alumna of Almost Home was Alyson Hannigan. During the early stages of her career, the actress appeared as the character Samantha in two episodes of the show. Soon afterwards, the star became recognizable to millions thanks to her role as Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Thanks to her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hannigan broke into the film world via 1999’s American Pie. Years after appearing on Almost Home, the star would return to TV sitcoms via How I Met Your Mother which debuted in 2005. Most recently, Hannigan appeared in 2019’s Kim Possible – a role that saw the actress reunite with her Almost Home co-star Connie Ray.
For some soon-to-be stars, The Torkelsons was their first part in a major TV sitcom. After years of stand-up, Drew Carey appeared in the show’s first season before going on to helm his own self-titled sitcom three years later. Today, he’s a beloved TV icon who remains popular through his hosting role on The Price is Right.
Besides nurturing film and TV stalwarts, The Torkelsons would also help shine a light on some future Oscar winners. When he was cast as a potential love interest of Dorothy Jane in 1993, Ben Affleck was still and up and coming actor. That same year, he’d also land a part in the seminal Dazed and Confused.
Four years later Affleck would see the release of Good Will Hunting, a movie he penned with Matt Damon. Going on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, the film catapulted Affleck to international fame. And in 2013 the actor would achieve a similar feat when his directorial effort Argo won Best Picture.
Like his future Suicide Squad co-star, Jared Leto was also an up-and-coming actor when he appeared on Almost Home. Cast on the show in 1993, the star had a brief role as yet another potential suitor of Dorothy Ann. The following year, the actor became a much bigger deal thanks to his role in My So-Called Life.
However, the blue-eyed star wouldn’t stay in television much longer. Thanks to appearances in films like 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, Leto has earned a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most committed method actors. And his talents led him to win an Academy Award for Dallas Buyer’s Club in 2013.
But what about The Torkelsons’ major player, creator Lynn Montgomery? Well, she’s been very busy since her show’s cancellation. Indeed, the producer can call herself an LA Weekly-published writer, a children’s author and the director of Emmy-winning documentary Child Abuse. Nevertheless – to her children Austin and Hannah, at least – the multi-talented Montgomery now mainly goes by “mom.”
Meanwhile, for those who watched The Torkelsons as kids, the show will forever hold a place in their childhood memories. While it may never have reached the same popularity of shows like Saved by the Bell, this classic is still fondly remembered. And maybe time will eventually give the series the credit it’s due.