It’s rare for a single feature film to record a kid’s aging
process over a number years as Richard Linklater does in “Boyhood.” But that’s a
standard practice on the small screen, where the lucky TV shows get to run for
multiple seasons, with the cast visibly growing older (or, in some disturbing
cases, not — looking at you, Rob Lowe) with each passing year. Child actors and their onscreen alter
egos in particular can undergo some startling metamorphoses in front of the
camera, beginning the process as cherubic kids and ending up as surly,
unpleasant young adults. Looking
over the past three decades of primetime shows — all of which lasted seven seasons
or longer — here are some of the most dramatic examples of what it looks like to
grow up on television.
Played by: Tina
Show: “Family Ties”
Number of Seasons: 7;
Age Range: 9-16
Growth Arc: After
a childhood spent as a rough-and-tumble tomboy, Jennifer joins the big-hair
brigade (and starts crooning bouncy pop songs) as she enters her teen years just when
the ’80s are in full swing. One
thing that doesn’t change, though, is her deep desire not to be as Republican
as her older brother or as vacuous as her older sister.
First Season Episode: “I Know Jennifer’s Boyfriend,” when Jen
commits the cardinal elementary school sin of buddying up to a dork and pays
the ultimate price: teasing — harsh, merciless teasing.
Final Season Episode: “Rain Forests Keep Falling on My Head,” in
which her ex-hippie parents’ tutelage results in Jennifer becoming a bit too much of an environmental
Where She’d Be Now: Reuniting
with her band, The Permanent Waves, to perform their hit cover of “Baby,
I’m Back in Love Again” in front of rapturous audiences in Vegas—4 nights
a week at the Bellagio. (Clip for embed: )
Played by: Keshia
Show: “The Cosby Show”
Number of Seasons: 8;
Age Range: 5-13
Growth Arc: Starting
off as the awwww-worthy baby of the
Huxtable clan, Rudy matures into a self-possessed, headstrong teenager who
actually—gasp!—goes out on
dates. With boys! She grew up so much, the show
eventually had to contrive a way to add a new cute toddler to the ensemble
later on, which is how we wound up with Raven-Symoné’s Cousin Oliver-esque intruder,
First Season Episode: “Goodbye Mr. Fish,” where the family has to
figure out a way to address the touchy subject of the death of Rudy’s scaly
Final Season Episode: “Rudy’s Retreat.” Feeling the weight of her
12 years, Rudy gets a bad case of the grumps, awakening to the bitter reality
that the world just ain’t fair.
Where She’d Be Now: Of
all the Huxtable kids, Rudy seemed the most likely to follow in her parents’
footsteps. Which means she’s
probably a doctor by day and a night court attorney come sundown.
Played by: David
Show: “Married… with Children”
Number of Seasons: 11;
Age Range: 13-24
Growth Arc: Bud’s
coming of age is probably best charted by his evolving hairstyle. In his first appearances in the late
’80s, he’s sporting a boy’s bouffant that he allows to grow downwards into a
mullet as the party hearty ’90s approach.
By the decade’s midpoint, he’s sporting that feathery “Friends” hair every wanna-be Matt LeBlanc
walked around with, finishing up with a closer crop as that era — and the show
itself — draws to a close. No matter
the state of his locks, though, Bud remained the same good-natured creep.
First Season Episode: “Married… Without Children,” in which Bud
stops bickering with older sister Kelly long enough for them to team up and
throw a killer party at their neighbors’ house.
Final Season Episode: “Bud on the Side,” where Bud’s constant
failures with the opposite sex leads him to try dating a member of the same
Where He’d Be Now: Jail.
Played by: Mary-Kate
and Ashley Olsen
Show: “Full House”
Number of Seasons: 8;
Age Range: 9
Growth Arc: Michelle
went from being the adorable infant, to the adorable toddler, to the adorable
grade schooler and still managed to
be one of the most nuanced, layered characters on the series. (That’s only a slight exaggeration.)
First Season Episode: “Daddy’s Home,” where Michelle shatters her
father’s self-esteem by calling Jesse and Joey “Da-Da” first.
Final Season Episode: “I’ve Got a Secret,” where Michelle becomes
the first person in recorded history to get herself drummed out of her own
Where She’d Be Now: Adorable
Alcatraz tour guide.
Played by: Michael
Number of Seasons: 9;
Age Range: 7-16
Growth Arc: Like
most budding sensitive artistic types, D.J. is ridiculed and ignored as a tyke,
but starts to inspire more respect later on in life when people actually get to
see his talent, which happens to be directing
First Season Episode: “Language Lessons,” in which D.J.
demonstrates his emerging artistry by ruining his sister Darlene’s school
Final Season Episode: “Hit the Road, Jack,” where D.J. meets his
one true love amongst the racks of a video store and she turns out to be none
other than Wiener Dog herself, Heather Matarazzo. You just know he’s watched “Welcome to the Dollhouse” about a hundred times.
Where He’d Be Now: Making
a Kickstarter video to raise funds for his semi-autobiographical feature film
debut, starring Aidy Bryant as Roseanne.
Played by: Angus
Show: “Two and a Half Men”
Number of Seasons: 10;
Age Range: 9-18
Growth Arc: Along
with his baby fat, Jake apparently loses brain cells as he ages, transforming
over nine years from a pudgy, flatulent and somewhat savvy kid to a lean, mean
and decidedly not-that-bright military recruit. He may be a fictional character, but the Army is still
clearly in need of a better screening process.
First Season Episode: “Hey, I Can Pee Outside in the Dark,” where
Jake’s sudden surliness turns out to be the result of constipation.
Final Season Episode: “Cows, Prepare to be Tipped,” which finds
Jake capping a night out at the Grand Canyon with his old man before shipping
off to Japan by unleashing a fart that desecrates that national landmark.
Where He’d Be Now: Denouncing
his family, growing a big, bristly beard and becoming an extremely conservative
Christian. Wait…. that’s actually
what happened in real life.
(*The show will have lasted 12 seasons when it wraps up its
run this May, but Jones was downgraded from a regular to recurring cast member
at the start of Season 11 and then officially departed the series this past
March — calling himself a “paid hypocrite” in the bargain — without ever
appearing on camera.)
Played by: Kiernan
Show: “Mad Men”
Number of Seasons: 7;
Age Range: 5-16
Growth Arc: Originally
the apple of her father’s eye, Sally is starting to look and act an awful lot
like her hated mother as she nears adulthood.
First Season Episode: “Marriage of Figaro,” where Don totally
botches little Sally’s sixth birthday party, but makes it up to her by buying a
puppy. Also, she has her first
encounter with a certain creepy kid next door who will go onto become a
recurring presence in her life, not to mention an Internet meme.
Final Season Episode: We’ve still got 7 episodes to go before the final
season wraps up, but “Waterloo,” in which Sally uses her charm to
flirt with the older jock son of a family friend before locking lips with the
younger geeky son shows off just how much she’s grown.
Where She’d Be Now: On
a psychiatrist’s couch, working through her multiple mommy and daddy issues.