Welcome to TV Guide’s 12 Days of Chris-Mas, a festive celebration of famous dudes named Chris. Every day leading up to Dec. 25, we will honor a single Chris, counting down to the best Chris of the year. Today, that honor goes to Chris Klein, the tenth best Chris.
Beyond the name itself, there are a few things that define a Chris: He must be affable and conventionally handsome with sandy hair, a jawline you could cut diamonds on and a body that looks good squeezed into a revealing superhero suit. But before we even knew what a Chris was, we had a Chris that fit most of these markers and we tossed him aside as though he were a nothing more than a Sam or a Brandon. I’m talking, of course, about Chris Klein.
If you’re anything like most people, you probably haven’t thought about Chris Klein in a long, long time, and I’m here to tell you that that’s a big mistake. Huge. This is partially because I’m a sucker for an underdog story but also because I genuinely believe Chris Klein is a better star than he’s given credit for. Note the use of the word “star” and not actor, because I’m not out here trying to claim I think Klein deserves an Oscar or anything like that (but he was pretty great in Election); it’s just that I believe he deserves a better post-American Pie career than he’s been given.
Think of it: Of all the male stars of American Pie, Klein remains the only one whose Hollywood persona is still singularly tied to the 1999 raunchy teen film. Jason Biggs has Orange Is the New Black and his TMI marriage with Jenny Mollen. Seann William Scott has several memorable early 2000s films, Goon and now his drama-filled casting in Fox’s Lethal Weapon. Thomas Ian Nicholas was a child actor before American Pie, so he doesn’t really count, but even Eddie Kaye Thomas gained cred for How to Make It in America! And yet Klein is still solely known as “the American Pie guy,” despite proving he can do so much more in the years since.
I low-key started to stan Klein — well, as much as anyone can stan Klein in the 21st Century — in 2011 when I saw him as Drew, Jenna’s (Fiona Gubelman) controlling and competitive husband in Wilfred, aka that FX show where Elijah Wood hung out with an Australian man in a cheap dog costume (Jason Gann). It was a perfect role for Klein in that it played off what the audience expects a man who looks like that to act like while also giving Klein room to show his range. It revealed he can take more layered material than just trying to join a high school jazz choir to find women to sleep with. But while Wilfred found a cult fandom, Klein’s scene-stealing performance in it was often overshadowed by the more acclaimed work of Wood and Gann.
After the FX series wrapped in 2014, I had hoped to see Klein popping up in more unexpected places and building out a stable second-phase of his career. Instead, he was relegated back to roles in little-known films like Lifetime’s Damaged, in which he played an English teacher who gets stalked by an obsessed student, and guest appearances on Motive and Comedy Central’s Idiotsitter.
But in 2016, I was thrilled to see Klein resurface in an episode of the gone-before-its-time sitcom The Grinder, because Klein really did shine in the role of Dean Sanderson’s (Rob Lowe) pre-fame actor pal Benji. Klein’s part was minor, sure, but he so perfectly channeled a melodramatic Owen Wilson actor-type that it left me hoping we’d get more Benji in future seasons. Sadly, those seasons never materialized and the Kleinaissance was cut off once again.
But now we seem to be on the cusp of something. Klein has landed his first real meaty, mainstream part in years as the big bad on the current season of The Flash. Klein recurs in The CW superhero show’s fifth season as Cicada, a serial killer with a tragic backstory. Landing a role as a villain on a CW show is a huge step in the right direction for Klein, although his performance isn’t nearly as intriguing as what we got in Wilfred or The Grinder. This is no fault of his, really; in most scenes, Klein’s face is covered by a mask and his voice is manipulated, so it’s difficult for notable emotionality or nuance to shine through. But the part is definitely bringing more attention to Klein, which will hopefully lead to more roles that will help shake the dust off his career and shed some of the lingering American Pie stigma.
Now, is he the world’s greatest actor? Of course not. But does he at least deserve to be the patriarch on a successful-but-not-groundbreaking CBS family sitcom? You’re goddamn right he does! I’d obviously prefer to see him doing more work in the vein of what we saw in Wilfred and The Grinder, but I’m a realist, you know? Chris Klein is not a national treasure. He’s not an unparalleled talent or a charismatic superstar. He’s just an actor who’s not being used to his full potential. And in the grand scheme of hopes and dreams, wanting Chris Klein to get the C+/B- list career he deserves seems like a pretty reasonable request, if you ask me.