When Matt Nix cast Bradley Whitford as an aging, alcoholic cop in his new FOX action-comedy The Good Guys, he probably knew that he was getting an experienced, versatile actor who would embrace the role. What he might not have expected was Whitford's contingent of extremely enthusiastic fans. They follow his every move with Google Alerts. They tweet about him constantly. They run blogs with names like Bradley Whitford Obsessed. And they want him to be Josh Lyman—the role he played on NBC's chronicle of a two-term presidential administration, The West Wing—forever.
The West Wing was on the air for seven years, and it's easy for an actor to be pigeonholed by playing one character for so long. Whitford cemented his association with the Josh character by using the political capital he acquired by playing a savvy, high-strung deputy chief of staff on TV to support his preferred causes—which generally were the same ones Josh Lyman espoused. Whitford is on the board of the Alliance for Justice, has lobbied for the Employee Free Choice Act, and routinely campaigns for and donates to Democratic candidates. His activism, self-deprecating humor, and boyish good looks made him into a thinking woman's sex symbol.
Whitford's role on The Good Guys is the antithesis of Josh Lyman, however. The new show centers on a mismatched pair of Dallas cops who are given laughably minor cases because of their tendency to antagonize their superior officers. Jack Bailey, played by Colin (son of Tom) Hanks, is a young, ambitious, snarky detective who is assigned to babysit Whitford's Dan Stark, who became a hero by saving the governor's son in the early '80s and has been coasting on that success ever since. Dan is an old-school throwback, mentally stuck in his glory days: he drinks on the job, hits on the victims of crimes he's investigating, and doesn't trust the "computer machines" or DNA evidence. And he has a really impressive mustache.
When Whitford began to make appearances sporting the mustache, people noticed. Between the mustache and his "signature pouffed-to-mask-balding hairdo," the Washington Post said Whitford looked "like Hitler after a professional blow dry." So many news stories mentioned the mustache that NPR called it "incredibly significant breaking news." FOX embraced the attention the mustache brought: the first set of promos for the show billed it as "Whitford. Hanks. Mustache." and promotional packages for The Good Guys included stick-on mustaches so TV critics could achieve the Dan Stark look themselves. The critics were delighted, and early reviews have been predominantly positive.
But Whitford's fans were harder to win over. The mustache was immediately dubbed "the pornstache," and West Wing fan forums came alive with declarations that the mustache meant Whitford was no longer the least bit attractive. Did it cover his famous dimples? (No, as it turns out.) Was someone forcing him into this? (No, it was apparently his idea.) And the biggest question of all—could Whitford's fans bring themselves to watch this new show in which he was so definitively not Josh Lyman? I polled a group of self-described Bradley Whitford fans, and almost all of them told me that they would give the show a try. There are holdouts—a fan on Twitter baldly stated "My love for Bradley Whitford is gone until that mustache is." Some plan to watch, but only grudgingly; one tweeted "Not too stoked about The Good Guys, Bradley Whitford's upcoming cop dramedy w/ Colin Hanks. I love this man's talent so I'll give it a try." Even those who are looking forward to the show have some misgivings. I mentioned to one fan that Whitford kisses someone in promo videos for The Good Guys, and she said, "It is clearly not Janel [Moloney, who played Whitford's West Wing romantic interest], so . . . wow, I am going to have to get over that. It may be harder than I think."
And then there are the fans who are excited about the show but want a say in what The Good Guys does with their favorite actor. Twitter has provided a forum for these fans to make their wishes known. Whitford himself doesn't tweet, but plenty of other people who work on The Good Guys do, including creator Matt Nix. Everyone from the show's writers to costars to extras have been flooded with questions and requests from Whitford fans. When writer Aaron Ginsburg tweeted about an explosion on the show, alarmed fans ordered him to keep Whitford safe. Others begged him not to give Whitford's character a Texas accent. And, of course, some brought up the mustache. Nix himself has remained above the fray so far, but if he wasn't familiar with Whitford's following before, he will be soon. The moment the pilot of The Good Guys airs, Whitford's devoted fans will undoubtedly make their opinions known to Nix and anyone else who crosses their virtual paths.