Wigging Out: Great pop culture hairpiece moments from ‘Americans,’ ‘Melrose’ & more

alan-sepinwall
Senior Television Writer
04.16.15 4 Comments

Paramount

Last night's “The Americans” included a moment where one of the spies removed their wig to dramatic effect. Between that and a similar “How to Get Away with Murder” scene from earlier this season, it's been quite the year for powerful wig removals. That has me thinking about other moments from TV and movies that drew big emotion – or comedy – from wigs or toupees coming off at a particular moment, including (loads of old show spoilers coming, involving both lack of hair and, at times, lack of life), with links or embeds where available…

“Melrose Place”: Kimberly lets her hair down

In the show that defined watercooler television for much of the '90s, no moment was crazier, or more talked about, than Marcia Cross's Kimberly revealing the literal scars she wears that will lead her to wreak vengeance on Michael and so many other residents of that apartment complex.

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“Cheers”: Sam shows Carla that it's lonely on the top

Sam Malone's thick head of hair hair was one of his defining traits as a ladies' man. Ted Danson wasn't quite as tonsorially blessed as his alter ego, and he began wearing a toupee as the series went along. In one of the final “Cheers” episodes ever, he tries to cheer up a depressed Carla by giving her a very explicit demonstration of the ways in which he's not perfect. The audience's response is as explosive as for any “Cheers” joke ever, and Rhea Perlman's reaction almost tops theirs, even though she knew it was coming.

“The Sopranos”: Tony takes a little off Ralphie's top

Joe Pantoliano has become one of our more convincing wig-wearing actors – or, at least, one of the more convincing among those who will admit to real-life baldness – and his death episode on “The Sopranos” had an added nasty joke inspired by it. As Christopher is going to decapitate the late Ralphie's head with a meat cleaver, he's first horrified to realize the man's flaming red hair comes off easier than the rest of his head will.

“The Dick Van Dyke Show”: Alan Brady says goodbye to his old friends

“Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth,” Perhaps the funniest “Dick Van Dyke” episode of them all involves Laura going on a game show and inadvertently outing her husband's boss as a wig-wearer. The audience knew Alan Brady wore a rug, since they knew what Carl Reiner looked like on “Your Show of Shows,” but the site of Alan lining them all up to say a sad farewell is a classic sitcom moment.

“American Hustle”: Irving gets his head on

This technically is the opposite of those other scenes, in that involves a wig being put on, but the net effect is the same, as we see just what a character looks like without the hair enhancement, and the elaborate process he goes through to try to conceal his true appearance. That the end result is still a hideous combover doesn't trouble him: in the '70s, this was just what balding men were expected to try. 

“Superman”: Luthor revealed

Gene Hackman refused to shave his head for  1978's “Superman: The Movie,” and because he was a much bigger star than Christopher Reeve, the production let him get away with it, turning their Lex Luthor into a vainer man than his comic book counterpart, who sports a variety of wigs throughout the film before finally revealing his bare skull when the Man of Steel delivers him to prison. The bald cap isn't that great, but it was at least nice to see Hackman (both in this scene and the start of “Superman II”) looking a bit more like the iconic Luthor image, even if his vanity prevented a more extended look at that.

“Victor/Victoria”: “Le Jazz Hot”

The plot of “Victor/Victoria” (adapted from a '30s German musical) is so convoluted that even Julie Andrews' character – an out-of-work nightclub singer whom Robert Preston aims to disguise as Europe's greatest female impersonator – objects to it at one point as preposterous, and Preston agrees. But when she concludes her first nightclub performance in double drag to a rapturous ovation, then stuns the audience by pulling off her wig to reveal the boyish haircut underneath, you can understand the power of the illusion, even if Andrews is as convincing as a man as Dennis Rodman in a dress is as a woman. And the responses of James Garner and Lesley Ann Warren – where the two alternate between delight and disgust depending on whether they believe Andrews to be a woman or a man – are among the best reactions to any big cinematic wig removal.

“Goodfellas”: Morrie's wigs don't come off!

Okay, so Morrie's wig doesn't become mobile until later in the film, but how could we discuss movie and TV toupees without including this commercial?

What are some of your favorite wig-removal moments from TV and film?

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Alan Sepinwall has been writing about television since the mid-'90s. He's the author of "The Revolution Was Televised," about the rise of TV's new golden age, and co-author of "TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time."

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