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PASADENA, Calif. — When Tyler Labine was a kid actor he never played the Beaver Cleaver role, but was always Eddie Haskell.


“In school I was always the jerky guy. Early in my career that’s all I played. I was this sweet, round-faced kid, but I always played the bully.”


The trouble was that Labine, who’s best known as the goof-off pal from “Reaper,” had an older and a younger brother, who were also actors and working more than he did. When the family moved from their suburban home outside of Toronto to Vancouver, B.C., their mom (and part-time manager) found them an agent.


“And he wanted my two brothers but he didn’t want me,” says Labine, on a cloudy afternoon in a hotel lounge here.


“‘I don’t want the chubby one, I want the other two.’ And my mom said, ‘No, it’s a package deal, you take all of them or you don’t get any of them.’ Because my little brother, Kyle, had become a bit of a child star and my brother, Cam, had done quite a bit more work than me, too, my mom made him take me. Right away I did an ‘X Files’ and ‘Millennium’ and ‘First Wave’ and ‘Twilight Zone.’” He was 13.


“When I hit 16, I grew five inches and started working a lot, but it was still guest-star roles. It wasn’t like I had a lead on a TV show or did a big part in a movie. I did bit parts — the ones they tend to give to Canadians in Vancouver.”


Labine’s in Los Angeles now and is starring in Fox’s new comedy, “Sons of Tucson.” He plays a ne’er-do-well again who is hired by three brothers to pose as their dad, their worst possible choice.


But Labine isn’t anything like the slumdogs and wastrels he plays. In real life, he’s an inveterate romantic. He remembers when he first came to L.A. and had to leave behind his girlfriend of a year. “I just packed up everything and moved down here and lived with Ryan Gosling for a while. She was still up there. We decided to do a long-distance relationship and it worked.


“I remember leaving the airport. My whole family was there and we were crying. I felt it was the end of that part of my life, and this was the new part. When I landed in L.A. I’d never seen such a sprawling city in my life, from the window in the airplane. As soon as the wheels touched down I started to cry on the plane. I tried to look like I’m not crying. ‘What am I doing? I don’t want to do this. I want to go home.’


“I got to my friend’s house and looking up at the sky — L.A.‘s sky at night is green and I was like, ‘Those are all the broken dreams hanging over the city.’ They manifested themselves in this green veil over the city. I was traumatized to say the least, but then I went right to work.”


But one of those jobs almost ruined Labine’s life. “For the first time I was playing opposite of a female, who was my girlfriend on the show. And I got very confused. I’d been with my girlfriend for 4 1/2 years at that point. I thought I was falling in love with my costar, sort of the magpie syndrome, that shiny thing I was like, ‘Whewww.’ And I got very confused and I broke up with my girlfriend, with Carrie, because I wanted to be with this girl.”


Carrie Ruscheinsky was living with Labine in L.A. at the time. “She moved back to Vancouver and we spent a year apart and after a month I realized I’d made a mistake and wanted her back. But she didn’t want me back; I’d broken some trust there. I had to work very, very hard and moved back to Vancouver after eight months and tried to woo her back. Those eight months were really hard out here in L.A. by myself. I was living with a roommate just ordering pizza and playing Tiger Woods Golf, eating myself into a deep depression, crying myself to sleep. I knew I’d made a mistake, not that I was just missing what I’d become accustomed to. That was the one. That was THE girl.”


He did eventually win Carrie back and married her. “People say the ring is a trinket, or it’s just a piece of paper. I feel like if you’re getting married, it should change you, it should change you for the better. I love deeper than I ever thought I could with my wife, and the prospect of having a family and just doing the things you do when you’re married, it’s different, even though we were together for a long time. It’s a joint endeavor. You’re on a path together irrevocably. You’re married, you’re not dating, you can’t break up. You’re going to stick it out, and I like that responsibility. It brought out something good in me.”


———


Forget the Super Bowl, the Oscars and House’s latest mystery syndrome — if you really want to see something on the telly that’s breathtaking, tune in to “Life,” premiering Sunday on Discovery Channel. Conjured by the same folk who did “Planet Earth,” the series is about some of the 30 million animals who inhabit our globe, the narrative expressed in photography so amazing that it becomes graphic poetry.


Tracing toads one-inch long, time-lapsing a fly’s captured by a Venus flytrap, eavesdropping on the weird mating rituals of the Western grieve, you constantly wonder how they captured the shot.


“It very much depends on the type of story you’re after,” says executive producer Mike Gunton.


“For example, if you’re filming Komodo dragons, you have one approach, working with a very unpredictable, very dangerous animal. If you’re working with butterflies, you can get much closer. You know they’re not going to do you any harm. If you’re working with humpback whales ... it’s another approach. A lot of it comes down to spending a lot of time with scientists, people who know these animals incredibly well because not only can they give you insight into how to deal with them, but they’ve often seen them day in and day out, and the animals are often habituated and used to human presence. So that gives you the chance to get a bit closer.”


Another “nature” series, you yawn? No, “Life” makes every other nature series look like an Erpi Classroom Film. And it’s good for the whole family.


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Barbie and Ken are soooo 2008. Make way for the Barbie “Mad Men” collection. Yep, little dolls dressed in their vintage ‘60s Italian suits and crinoline skirts. There will be a Don Draper, Betty Draper, boss Roger Sterling and zaftig office manager Joan Holloway dollies. Season 3 of “Mad Men” hits stores on March 23 and each DVD will contain a fashion sketch of one of the dolls. You’ll have to wait till July to buy the little clones, which will run (at 2010 prices) $75 each.


———


Who says Westerns are passe? Only the people who make bad ones. FX Channel will unhitch “Justified” on Tuesday starring Timothy Olyphant (“Deadwood”). The series’ credentials are nonpareil. Based on a character created by Elmore Leonard, the pilot was written by Graham Yost (“Boomtown”) and directed by Michael Dinner (a favorite ever since his first endeavor, “Miss Lonelyhearts”).


Olyphant says he was a big Elmore fan even before he received the e-mail from John Landgraf, chief of FX.


“(He) was telling me that they were going to adapt one of his pieces for a possible series and asked if I would be interested. I remember thinking, first, finally someone in Hollywood is going to give Elmore Leonard a shot. It feels like he’s just been ignored by the community. And I was just so excited right from the jump. I thought, ‘Wow, this could be great.’ I was a huge fan of his work, a huge fan of the books and the movies, and it’s been a joy to be able to say those words.”


In spite of their death-wish attitude with the press, FX offers the most innovative fare on television, and “Justified” fits right in with “The Shield” and “Rescue Me.”

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