In the new comedy “Call Me Kat,” life has taken a detour.
Kat didn’t expect to be the owner of a cat cafe. No one does.
But Mayim Bialik, who stars, understands the neat randomness of life. She is, after all, a neuroscientist who returned to acting, almost by accident.
“I was running out of health insurance,” Bialik (shown here with co-star Cheyenne Jackson) told the Television Critics Association. “I went back to acting so I could literally just get enough for insurance to cover my toddler and my infant.” Then she overachieved: She did nine seasons on “The Big Bang Theory,” which became TV’s most-watched comedy. Now she stars in “Kat,” produced by her “Big Bang” husband, Jim Parsons.
And large chunks of this were unplanned. “Acting chose me, I guess,” Bialik said.
She grew up in California, in a family that was active in political and social causes, and started acting at 11. A year later, she was the young version of Bette Midler in “Beaches”; two years after that, she had her own comedy series, “Blossom.”
When that ended, she did the unthinkable – abandoning a successful career. “I was 19 when I left the industry and I was away for 12 years,” she said. “I got my degree (a doctorate from UCLA) and I had my two sons and I taught neuroscience for about five years.”
That’s when that pesky health-insurance question came up. Just before that, life had another twist:
“What Not to Wear” was a cable show that appeared to ambush people who had been singled out by friends for a fashion rescue. In 2009, Bialik became its first celebrity rescue.
“It’s not a complete surprise, (where) they literally ambush you,” Bialik said. “I didn’t know when it was happening, but I knew that I had been flown to New York and it was going to happen.”
And yes, she was ripe for rescue. “I had a toddler and a newborn,” she recalled. “I think my son was nine months old when I filmed ‘What Not to Wear’ and I had long, hippie-chic hair all the way down my back …. I had just been a grad student, You put on whatever is laying around. I was completely out of any pop-culture awareness of anything – which (colleagues) would probably say I still am.”
Her look was described as “Bohemian bag lady.” Soon, the show was chopping nine inches of hair, tweezing her eyebrows “for the first time in my life” and getting her new clothes.
Ironically, an early “Kat” episode includes a brief bit mocking such shows. That’s from the producers, Bialik said, but her own episode “got me technically back into the industry.”
Shortly after it aired, Bialik (who later divorced) was looking for acting jobs and Screen Actors Guild health insurance. She played a doctor in three episodes of “Til Death” and a guidance counselor in six episodes of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Then came the big one.
“I had never seen ‘The Big Bang Theory,’” Bialik said. Now she was up for “a guest spot, possibly recurring. I had no idea my life was about to change.”
She became Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist who dated and then married Sheldon Cooper.
That was Parsons, who began doing some producing and came across “Miranda,” a British series about a socially clumsy woman with a pushy mom. “We were like, ‘Well, obviously Mayim is the choice, but she’s a little busy,’” he recalled. “We had, like a year-and-a-half left on ‘Big Bang.’”
After “Big Bang” ended, “Call Me Kat” got a go-ahead … was delayed by COVID … then began with all the new rules. “Like ‘Big Bang,’ it’s done in the multi-camera approach, designed for a studio audience. “We are a multi-cam show with no audience,” said Leslie Jordan, who co-stars
But the actors – properly tested – are free to interact. “We had a group hug in … the pilot,” said Swoosie Kurtz, who plays the mom. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m touching another human being!’”
– “Call Me Kat,” Fox
– Debuts 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 3, to take advantage of a football lead-in; then moves to 9 p.m. Thursdays, beginning Jan. 7