We're knee deep in November sweeps for the TV industry, so a good time to resume The Comic's Comic's ongoing series of new sitcom reviews from the fall 2008 season. Next up: Gary Unmarried.
Sitcom: Gary Unmarried (CBS) 8:30 p.m. ET/PT Wednesdays
Premise: Show originally titled Project Gary centers on Gary Brooks (Jay Mohr), newly divorced painting contractor, and his ex-wife, Allison (Paula Marshall) as they deal with moving on after 15 years of marriage and two kids they share: an awkward 14-year-old son and a politically old beyond her years 11-year-old daughter. Allison already has gotten engaged to the couple's marriage counselor (Ed Begley Jr.)? And Gary jumps into bed with one of his customers (Jaime King).
Early impression: Meh. Is this supposed to be an oafish alpha male version of The New Adventures of Old Christine (the show which precedes Gary on CBS Wednesdays)? With younger kids.
Can you judge a show by its pilot: Not if you want to keep watching because you'll probably be in disbelief. How is Allison's engagement to the couple's marriage counselor OK even to laugh about? Also, don't get too attached with the family daughter, because she got recast after the pilot.
Comedy pedigree: Mohr proved there is life after Last Comic Standing, didn't he, moving to guest-star roles in primetime to a recurring role on CBS in Ghost Whisperer (somewhere, Jamie Kennedy was taking notes). Begley Jr. plays so smart he's dumb. There's also another comedian in the cast with Al Madrigal playing Mohr's painting buddy. And James Burrows (Cheers, Will & Grace) is on board as executive producer and director.
So, it's mid-October, and you're wondering, is it not a little late to begin reviewing the new fall crop of TV sitcoms? No. It is not. In fact, most TV critics weigh in too early, often with just a pilot episode to go on, sometimes with a second episode, but usually hardly without time to see if the producers, writers and cast have been able to expand upon a premise or build a storyline worth laughing at and following from week to week. Most people wouldn't have given Seinfeld much of a chance with its pilot, and conventional wisdom now hails that sitcom as one of the best ever. Cheers took a while to find its audience, but NBC stuck with it and it paid dividends for all involved. Of course, the mainstream thinking now holds that the sitcom is dead and/or dying, that networks cannot take chances on sitcoms, and that your best laughs are coming in hourlong "dramedies" or dramas that are really comedies in disguise (see: House, Bones, Chuck, Life, Pushing Daisies, Ugly Betty, and so on and so forth). But that's not stopping folks from trying to launch new sitcoms, so let's see how they're doing after four weeks. First up: Worst Week.
Sitcom: Worst Week (CBS) 9:30 p.m. ET/PT Mondays
Premise: Sam Briggs (Kyle Bornheimer), an entertainment magazine editor, has gotten his girlfriend Melanie Clayton (Erinn Hayes) pregnant and they're getting married, but first they have to get her parents to like him. Which is tough when they decide to break the news when her family gets together for her father's (Kurtwood Smith) 65th birthday. And everything that can go wrong does. Does this sound like Meet the Parents? Of course. But the show is based upon a British TV comedy.
Early impression: Whereas a drama such as 24 can revolve an entire season around one limited timeframe plotline (and even that has proven difficult some seasons), comedies haven't had such luck borrowing that structure (don't see: ABC's Big Day in 2006, NBC's Watching Ellie in 2002). But this show could get past the initial "worst week" in question because it's really tackling an age-old sitcom idea of having problems with your in-laws.
Can you judge a show by its pilot: Let's hope not. Who would be that stupid to shower in a drunk girl's apartment without making sure there are towels, then get kicked out of said apartment without your clothes or belongings, then decide rather than get your stuff back, hail a taxi to your potential in-laws, have them pay, then pee on the family dinner. Oh, right. It's a network sitcom pilot. No wonder this family doesn't like this guy. There's no redeeming aspects to the guy. You sigh at his antics instead of laughing with/at him. Why does Mel even love Sam?
Comedy pedigree: Hayes co-starred in Rob Corddry's 2007 short-lived FOX sitcom The Winner (and in Corddry's new WB online project Childrens' Hospital), and Smith already has comedic dad foil down pat from 200 episodes of it on FOX's That 70s Show. Fortunately, the show also has populated its first four episodes with a great cast of supporting characters and bit players. Aziz Ansari appears in the pilot as a funeral home worker. Jessica St. Clair shows up in episode two as the girlfriend's married-with-children sister. Dr. Ken Jeong owns a bird shop. In episode three, we see Nick Kroll appear as Sam's friend, Adam, while UCB original member Matt Walsh plays a kid's character called "Peace Mon." And in episode four, Chicago stand-up comedian Hayes MacArthur arrives as St. Clair's husband (aka the good son-in-law), Loni Love is a nurse, and Brian Huskey plays the main couple's ob-gyn. It's a bit of curiously coincidental casting (or is it intentional?!) to have a few regulars from VH1's Best Week Ever lighten up this Worst Week.