Before his world turned upside down nearly eight years ago, Daryl "Chill" Mitchell was on the move, a young actor winning praise with a steady streak of scene-stealing turns in movies and television.
But in November 2001, that momentum was derailed. The 44-year-old actor was injured in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Although he quickly adapted to life in a wheelchair, his status raised doubts about his acting future.
These days, Mitchell is back and he's rolling with the punch lines -- literally and figuratively. He is the key comic force behind "Brothers," a new comedy premiering on Fox tonight. His character is named "Chill," a wheelchair-bound owner of a sports bar who was seriously injured in a crash.
The show is driven by the personal tension between Chill and his brother Mike Trainor (Michael Strahan), a retired NFL player who is forced to abandon his expensive lifestyle and move back home with his parents. The two brothers have a love-hate relationship, fueled by insults and Chill's resentment over his brother's indirect involvement in the accident.
"Brothers" has already made its mark on the fall lineup as the only network prime-time live-action series centered around a minority family, and the first ethnic-based sitcom since "The Bernie Mac Show" left Fox in 2006 after five seasons.
Maneuvering around the Sony Studios soundstage in Culver City where the comedy is taped, Mitchell was the series' most energetic cheerleader, continually praising his costars and writers. For him, there's not even a question whether "Brothers" will be a hit.
"When we are successful, bells are going to ring," said Mitchell, a regular in "The John Larroquette Show" from 1993 to 1996. "We're working 100% to make this show as good as we can. I couldn't be more pleased."
"Brothers" is not Mitchell's first post-accident stint. He scored accolades when he co-starred on NBC's "Ed" as the owner of a bowling alley and has appeared on several series, including "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody."
But "Brothers" represents a long-time dream: In addition to starring in the show, he's also a producer and can often be found in the writers' room, hashing out story lines and jokes.
"This is what I've been pushing toward for 20 years -- to produce a show, to be No. 1 on the call sheet for the day," Mitchell said.
He and costar Strahan, who first met several years ago, appear particularly close. "It's so natural between us," said Strahan, a former star defensive end with the New York Giants who retired in 2008. "We really are like brothers. I know he's in that chair, but you don't even notice it after two minutes."
"Brothers" has its share of challenges ahead. Though Fox has a solid comedy base with animated series such as "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" and "American Dad," developing a live-action comedy in the last several years has been more problematic. Several comedies have failed, and "Til Death" has continually struggled since its premiere in 2006.
With its broad humor and constant bickering, "Brothers" is the kind of sitcom that has been largely abandoned by networks in favor of edgier, more sophisticated fare, such as "The Office, "30 Rock" and "Entourage."
Mitchell is also the only cast member with proven comic chops. Strahan, with his gap-toothed smile and warm demeanor, has been engaging as an analyst on "Fox NFL Sunday," but the show is his first acting gig. CCH Pounder ("The Shield") and Carl Weathers ("Rocky") are also more known for their dramatic skills.
"It's not even a problem," Mitchell said. "We click together so well, it feels like we've already been on the air a full season. There's no pressure. This is exactly where we want to be. This show is black to the future, baby!"
"Brothers" executive producer Don Reo, who cast Mitchell as a sarcastic newsstand owner when he produced "The John Larroquette Show in 1993," said he's noticed a change in the actor since the accident.
"Chill seems to be more positive now than he was then, more of a force," said Reo, who is also executive producer of "Til Death." "He's adopted this attitude that should be a lesson to all of us. He always looks at the bright side and refuses to accept limitations."