Sydney Kells (Sydney)

Created by Michael J. Wilson and Douglas Wyman

What the holy fuck?

Valerie Bertinelli, P.I.?

No, really…

Nobody’s ever going to accuse Ms. Bertinelli, with her squeaky clean One Day At a Time TV persona and girl-next-door physique, of being one hot mama. But for a generation of us guys coming of age in the seventies, there was definitely something there.

Sure, Kate and Jacklyn and (particularly) Farrah’s nipples were out there, and Wonder Woman was running around, filling out her breastplate nicely, for truth, justice and higher ratings, but how many of us were ever likely to run into one of Charlie’s Angels, or a Greek goddess?

But Valerie Bertinelli?

Man, with her pre-Van Halen neighbourhood looks, flannel shirts and jeans and her undeniably cute face, she was definitely within the realm of possibility. I mean, she was our age, and we all knew someone just like her. Maybe on the school bus, or in Mr. Waring’s history class. And watching weekly installments of good girl Barbara Cooper blossoming from tomboy kid sister to attractive young woman was almost required, if slightly guilty, viewing for guys. After all, everyone knew One Day at a Time was a “girl’s” show.

So my view of her short-lived 1990 private eye show, Sydney, was hopelessly biased, tugged down by the not-quite-forgotten hormonal memories of adolescence, and the sad fact that the return of Bertinelli to prime time could never match our sweet imaginations.

In this short-lived sitcom (13 episodes and out!), Bertinelli played SYDNEY KELLS, a highly strung Los Angeles P.I., recently returned home from the Big Apple, 25 years old, fast-talking, tough (well, as tough as Bertinelli could get) and single. This being the nineties, they tried to make her a smart and capable adult as opposed to a ditz, but it wasn’t enough. Standard sitcom characters checked in, but you’d probably seen them all before — her classy friend Jill (whose job, it seemed, was to constantly calm Sydney down), her goofy boss/clients, her goofy over-protective kid brother Billy (in this case a cop, played by a pre-Friends Matthew Perry), the worrying mom, and the gruff but lovable father figure/confidante Ray (a bartender/ex-cop). The plots were also right out of the sitcom barrel, and heavy on the cute: cute cases, cute bad dates, lots of cute lonely single woman jokes–often played out in scenes at the local bar, which bore a sneaky similarity to a certain Boston-based watering hole where everybody knows your name. I kept wanting it to work, somehow, but it didn’t.

We’d all seen it all before, of course. On Mary Tyler Moore, That Girl, Rhoda, and a dozen other shows. We’d even seen it attempted as a P.I. show before, on the more fondly-recalled Leg Work a few years previously, on the same network, in fact, featuring Margaret Colin as private eye Claire McCarron. But that show, despite not being a sitcom, had more genuine humour and humanity working for it, more originality and a more dynamic lead–let’s face it, Margaret Colin had more than just cute going for her. And that, ultimately, was the big difference.

Whether we liked it or not, Valerie Bertinelli had grown up, and so had we. And a few one-liners and the cutes didn’t cut it anymore.


  • “The new CBS comedy Sydney needs a Valium… Bertinelli is so convincing as that tremor of raw nerves Sydney that you can hardly tolerate her and she gives you a headache.”
    — Howard Rosenberg (March 1990, The Los Angeles Times)


    (1990, CBS)
    13 30-minute episodes
    Created by Michael Wilson and Douglas Wyman
    Creative consultants: Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore
    Writers: Maria A. Brown, Michael J. Wilson
    Directors: Lee Shallat Chemel, Iris Dugow, John Ratzenberger, Art Wolff, Ellen Gittelsohn, Robert Berlinger
    Theme song: “Finish What Ya Started” by Van Halen (from their album OU812)
    Starring Valerie Bertinelli as SYDNEY KELLS
    with Craig Bierko as Matt Keating
    Matthew Perry as Billy Kells
    Rebeccah Bush as Jill
    Daniel Baldwin as Cheezy
    Perry Anzilotti as Perry
    Barney Martin as Ray
    Guest appearances: Pat Harrington Jr., Michael E. Knight, Yeardley Smith, Billy Van Zandt, John Ratzenberger, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Dunn, Annabelle Gurwitch, Tony Longo, Andy Dick

    • “You? You’re a Private Eye?” (March 12, 1990)
    • “Promises, Promises” (March 28, 1990)
    • “Cliffhanger” (April 4, 1990)
    • “Love Ya, Babe” (April 11, 1990)
    • “She Loves Me” (April 18, 1990)
    • “I Gotta Be Me” (April 23, 1990)
    • “Georgie” (April 25, 1990)
    • “The Me Nobody Knows” (May 2, 1990)
    • “Sydney’s Mom” (May 23, 1990)
    • “36-24-36” (June 4, 1990)
    • “On a Claire Day” (June 11, 1990)
    • “Jake” (June 18, 1990)
    • “Chicken a la Matt” (June 25, 1990)


Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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