In the real-life, regular-guy world of Tom Smallwood, this was a long shot.
He was a laid-off autoworker, the son of an autoworker, in a factory town. His people got steady paychecks, but he was going to take a chance. At 31, married with one child, he took a detour.
He “decided, against all odds, to follow his dream of becoming a professional bowler,” said Brian d’Arcy James, an actor-turned-producer. That’s at the core of “How We Roll” (shown here), the comedy that debuts at 9:30 p.m. Thursday (March 31) on CBS.
The true story, said writer-producer Mark Gross, sounds like some wildly exaggerated sports movie. Few people would believe “that he would go on to win a PBA Championship after working on an assembly line for 16 bucks an hour, installing seat-bolt brackets in Chevy Silverados …. Miracles happen.”
It’s a rare story in the regular-guy world … but a common one for show-business folks. They toss aside paychecks to try to be actors or comedians or musicians or such, despite warnings of worried parents.
That includes “Roll” star Pete Holmes … sort of. “My parents didn’t seem overly concerned about it,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s because they believed in me or they just weren’t paying attention.”
He’s mostly joking, he said … but there was a refreshing, do-your-thing approach. “I was one of the first people to go to college in my family …. Once I was out, they were like, ‘You do whatever you want.’”
At first, he wanted to be a youth pastor … then he was a Christiann comedian … then he was a regular comedian – when he could find work. He went from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles, where gigs were scarce. “I was going into the West Village and handing out fliers to do a show that started at 2 a.m.”
He depicted those years in HBO’s “Crashing,” about a comedian barely getting by. Most of his career has been near the fringe – “Fantasy Hospital,” cartoon voices, etc. But now he’s in CBS’ Thursday comedy line-up, alongside “Young Sheldon” and “Ghosts.”
Katie Lowes – fresh from “Inventing Anna” and years of “Scandal” – plays his wife. His friend, an obliging bowling-alley owner, is played by Chi McBride (shown here with Holmes) … who’s familiar with taking a chance.
McBride was making $300 a week at the phone company in Atlanta, when he left the job – “against the advice of my broker,” he jokes – and moved to Los Angeles. “I told myself, ‘I’m not coming out here to wait tales, I’m not coming out here to pick up anybody’s dry-cleaning …. I took a gamble.”
A similar gamble attracted James. He’s big in New York (15 Broadway shows, three Tony nominations), but grew up in Saginaw, Mich., Smallwood’s home town. When he heard the story, he got “Roll” started.
The result is only loosely based on reality. (At 6-foot-6, for instance, Holmes is a foot taller than Smallwood.) But it’s based on the familiar reality of chasing a near-impossible dream.