Archive for the ‘Sitcom’ Category

Summer Recap
July 21, 2008

So, I gave myself the summer off.  Yeah, it makes no sense, but I did it.  With the fall TV season ramping up, I thought I’d check in and give you quick hit reviews of new and old shows from this summer.  New show watches to come in a month of so.  Enjoy.

The Middleman

ABC Family, Mondays at 10:00PM

Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy

Conceit: Meet the New Avengers, Funnier Than The Old Avengers

So, this was my first ABC Family Original show (though, honestly, I couldn’t tell you how many original shows they’ve had before), and I’ll tell you, the network is off to a great start in winning me over.  The Middleman follows the exploits of Wendy Watson, a early 20’s Art School graduate who’s wandering through life aimlessly until a temp job puts her in science fictiony danger.  Next thing she know, “Dub-Dub” finds herself being apprentice to The Middleman, a super-secret espionage type who saves the world from natural, supernatural, and just plain odd danger.

Sounds campy?  Sure is.  And that’s one of two reasons this show really works.  Its self-awareness is the basis for 60% of the humor on the show.  Middleman and Dub-Dub find themselves in the most ridiculous situations and acknowledge it with snarky comments galore.

The second reason this show soars is newcomer Natalie Morales, who makes you want to watch her with a quirky sensibility and a Sahara-dry wit.  Her interplay with all the supporting cast, and especially The Middleman, is a pleasure to watch in a Summer of mediocrity.

The two negatives of this show are minor but real.  The first is the fact that this is an ABC Family show.  Even with a TV-14 rating and a fair share of double-entendres that raise eyebrows for a “family” station, The Middleman is on a family network and is limited by it.  This isn’t fatal as the limitations rarely ever come into focus.  But its there.  The second problem is a tendency to suffer from Diablocoditis.  This usually results in 3 too many clever lines strung together, without giving the viewer a chance to breathe; this illness was last seen in the movie “Juno”.

These minor gripes aside, The Middleman is a winner of a summer show.

Final Grade: A-

Watch the forth episode of this season: http://abcfamily.go.com/abcfamily/path/section_Shows+Middleman/page_Video-Middleman_Full_1002

The Secret Life of the American Teenager

ABC Family, Tuesdays at 10:00PM

Genre: Drama

Conceit: Life if Juno Happened In the Town That 7th Heaven Took Place In.

Yeah, I know, two ABC Family shows in a row.  This show is an odd duck.  I am well aware that I am not in the target demographic for this show, which I assume is split between 8-18 year olds and 35-55 year olds, representing contemporaries of the characters as well as their parents.

What drew me in was the notion of a show that has an honest discussion of sex from the prospective of a high school teenager.  You do get that.  Sort of.

The story starts with Amy Juergens finding out that she’s pregnant after having sex for the first time with a random guy at band camp.  The first episode really does this starting point justice as being very believable both in the set up and the reactions.  If this was the main focus of this series, as commercials lead you to believe, this show would be excellent.  Unfortunately, TSLotAT (by the way, a thought provoking, but way-too-long- title) wants to represent all views on sex.

So we meet all the supporting characters, who each represent a different view on sex.  How convenient.  Now I applaud ABC Family’s attempt to show all sides of the discussion.  Unfortunately, everyone is a caricature.  We have the promiscuous girl (who is having sex to fill an empty emotional void); we have the promiscuous boy (who is having sex to mask his hurt from childhood sex abuse); we have the virgin girl (who is not having sex out of respect to her faith and her parents); we have her football boyfriend (who was a virgin for the same reason until he cheated on her with the aforementioned promiscuous girl); we have the virgin boy (who has a mega crush on Amy and has just started dating her, unaware of her maternal ways).  And they’re all connected.  Mix in some awful acting by half of the adults on the show and what could’ve been a very source of dialogue melt into just awful PG-13 rated soap opera.

Final Grade: C

Watch the second episode: http://abcfamily.go.com/abcfamily/path/section_Shows+Secret-Life-Of-The-American-Teenager/page_Video-SecretLifeOfTheAmericanTeenager_Full_1002

My Boys

TBS, Thursdays at 9:30PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Sex and the City.  Just With More Guys And Less Sex.

The TBS summer-time hit is back for another run.  I always enjoyed the premise of this show: tom-boy’s life.  Very simple.  But here’s the problem: from the very first episode of the series, Jordana Spiro’s PJ has never seemed like an authentic tom boy.  The show gave her a “male” job (sports writer), a bunch of friends who are guys, save one, and a love of poker.  But none of this stuff makes a girl a tom-boy (which, by the way, seems like an antiquated phrase even as I type it).  PJ just always seemed like a bland character who didn’t seem any different from any other female character on TV.  The show used Kellee Stewart’s Stephanie Layne as a foil, showing how un-“girly girl” PJ is. No one buys it.

None of that has changed this season at all.  In fact, we barely see PJ do any sports work or play poker, so the two fake guy things are gone, making PJ even less compelling than before. 

The one thing TBS did right this season was bring more focus onto PJ’s supporting cast.  While Stephanie’s new status as an author is completely random and should be ignored, the male cast really shines in their goofiness.  Its almost as if the best bits of the show are when PJ is merely the hinge by which the guys rotate on.

Final Grade: C+

Watch this season’s episodes: http://www.tbs.com/video/index/#/all-video/shows/my-boys/full-episodes/

In Plain Sight

USA, Sundays at 10:00PM

Genre: Action-Comedy

Conceit: Mary’s Got A Gun

USA Network has really pioneered the Summer Television season movement.  In Plain Sight is their latest entry into the movement.  Honestly, I only turned on this show because it stars Mary McCormack.  I consider The West Wing to be the best television show of my time (thus far) and McCormack became a regular character in the shows lesser, I mean later, years.  So that alone earns at least an hour of my time.

McCormack stars as Mary Shannon, a US Marshal attached to the Witness Protection Program and stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  That’s pretty much all you need to know.  From their, you’re introduced to the classic cast of characters for this type of show: the quirky male sidekick; the uncoordinated boss; the hot but flighty sister; the good-for-nothing but caring mother; and the tense on-again-off-again love interest.  Sprinkle in some random action and McCormack talking about how her life can’t seem to get together and you have any given episode.

Its not that the show is bad.  In fact, its got the feel of what a summer show should be: light and easily accessed.  Unfortunately, it veers to far into that region.  There is really nothing to be gained by watching an episode and nothing to be lost by missing one.  But what it does, it does well.  So basically, if you’ve got nothing else to do, and you have space on your TiVo, its worth an hour of your time.  

Final Grade: B-

Watch this season’s episodes: http://www.usanetwork.com/series/inplainsight/video/fullep/

Psych

USA, Fridays at 10:00PM

Genre: Comedy

Conceit: Lethally Funny Weapon

This summer gem managed to get me excited for its new season with (at least what I thought) a hilarious ad campaign:

For those unaware, Psych stars James Roday as Shawn Spencer, a son of a cop who uses his psychic abilities to solve mysteries.  Wait, before you reach for the remote to change channels, Spencer isn’t really a psychic.  Instead, he uses his hyper-observation skills to make it seem like he has the abilities his clients wish he did.  Spencer is teamed with Dule Hill’s Burton “Gus” Guster, a childhood friend and the straight man in this comedy.  This show had really mastered the light summer feel that USA really wants.  Spencer and Hill’s chemistry sealed the deal and the supporting cast is excellent.

If you think there’s a huge “but” coming, there is.  We’re only one episode into the new season and things are not looking good.  The premiere featured a very disappointing payoff for the mystery of the week.  That would be forgivable, except for the B-story, involving Shawn’s long absent mother.  While the story itself suffers from serve predictability, in general, Shawn is portrayed as extremely…well…serious, throughout it.  And while that makes sense for the story, it doesn’t work for the show.  I’ll reserve judgment until a couple more episode air, but I have to continue with cautious optimism.  Psych, please work your magic.  Soon.

Final Grade: Pending

Watch this season’s episodes: http://www.usanetwork.com/series/psych/video/fullep/

 

 

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The Office: Goodbye, Tobey
May 15, 2008

NBC, Thursdays at 9:00PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Its Funny Because Its Oh So True.

Meet the old boss, not at all like the new boss.  With Tobey moving to Costa Rica, Dunder Mifflin Infinity sends a new HR rep to DMIS.  Holly seems like she’s going to be an interesting addition to the crew.  And all it took for Michael to fall head over heels in love with her was her patronizing ribbing of Tobey.  He wanted to make her a mix.  Did anyone else laugh out loud when he told her he wanted to make a mix?  But, I can’t deny that seeing Michael try to impress her was fun.  And her reciprocating was even nicer.  Yoga.  Yoda.  Turns out she’s the best thing to happen to the company since World War II.  Excellent.  But Michael Scott just can’t have everything he wants, can he?  Is there any insult greater than finding out your ex went to a sperm bank WHILE you were together because she wanted to get pregnant but just not by you?  Wow.  And didn’t Michael’s hurt just seem so real?  Michael does “the right thing”, which is bizarre because it isn’t his kid, but is expected, because its Michael Scott.

I have to admit, the bit with Dwight telling Holly that Kevin was slow was pretty hilarious.  How it kept playing out was even more funny.  Kevin is seriously one of the best of the B-cast.  What did made me sad was when Holly decided to sit in on Tobey’s exit interview.  I’m pretty sure everyone wanted to see the “bruisin'” that Tobey was surely “cruisin’ for”.  

Jim Halpert.  Man, when you get a head of steam going, you just keep going with it.  He even left Ryan a voicemail saying that he won’t back down.  Unfortunately, Ryan had bigger problems as his failed website inevitably lead to fraud.  And arrest.  From temp, to executive, to jail.  The classic story.  Speaking of classic stories: Jam.  Pam’s going to school for the summer and Jim decides its time to propose.  And Pam even sees it coming.  The smiles on their faces right before he was going to ask.  Then Andy grabbed the mic.  He asked Angela to marry her, and she said “ok”.  Dwight’s admission that it was his own fault…killer.  This stopped Jim dead in his tracks.  And made Pam think that he was never going to ask.  Dang it!

And then there was the ending.  Could’ve never called that.

This show had a home run fourth season.  And I’m thoroughly excited to see the fifth season.  Exactly what a season finale should be.

Final Grade: A

How I Met Your Mother: Everything Must Go
May 12, 2008

CBS, Mondays at 8:00PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: 20-something.

Britney Spears returned as Abby the receptionist tonight.  Initially infuriated by Barney sleeping with her and never calling again, Abby and Barney bonded over the fact that both have been jilted by Ted.  (The one thing I couldn’t figure out was whether Spears was playing a part or just playing herself.  I expected the latter, but, was it just me or did her voice sound different?)  Barney decided to show Ted what he looks like by proposing to Abby, who doesn’t realize its part of the game.  Barney resolved this by tell her that Ted truly loved her, further increasing her stalker behavior.  Thought Spears didn’t bring much to the ep, I wouldn’t mind seeing her again.

Meanwhile, Marshall and Lily are desperate for money so they can have their apartment floors fixed.  Marshall decides that Lily needs to sell her expensive clothes to make it happen.  As a guy, I have to admit that I would have gone the same route.  Lily, appalled by the idea, suggests that she instead sells her paintings.  At that point, Marshall’s mouth outmoves his mind as he blurts out that her paintings aren’t “real paintings” and thus won’t make any real money.  And the bet was on.  After several misses, Lily sells her painting to GCWOKs (Gay Couple Without Kids).  This didn’t really work out, but in classic HIMYM style, one thing led to another before Lily finally found her target audience.  Whenever you have some free time: http://www.lilyandmarshallselltheirstuff.com

Final Grade: B

30 Rock: Cooter
May 12, 2008

NBC, Thursdays at 9:30PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Less About SNL and More About Tina Fey Not Having Time To Write SNL.

What does it mean when a show’s regular cast is regularly outdone by their reoccurring characters?  The abbreviated second season of 30 Rock came to an end in an episode which was a metaphor for the season as a whole: hit or miss.  

The hits were obvious.  Dean Winters was barely in this episode, but absolutely owned every scene he was in.  When Dennis found out that Liz may be pregnant with his child, he returned into her life and was hilarious with the few lines he was given.  I really like Floyd because he just has great chemistry with Lemon, but Dennis is the funniest person on this show.  Make him regular cast.

Picking up from a joke earlier in the season (as 30 Rock does so well), Paul Scheer returned as Donny, Head of the Pages and Kenneth’s sworn enemy.  Both were vying to be the NBC page sent to China for the olympics.  Again, Scheer wasn’t given many lines to work with, but went miles with the ones he did.  The Kenneth/Donny rivalry is one of the better inside jokes this series has found.  Scheer should team up with Winters to get a nod as regular cast.

Sadly, when you start with the B and C story characters, it says something about the A stories.  As mentioned, Liz had a pregnancy scare.  Turns out the chips she insists on eating from the Spanish deli use bull semen, which tripped the tests.  Meanwhile, Jack was adjusting to a life in politics.  Or more accurately, trying to find his way out.  Matthew Broderick played Cooter, an aide that would have been his rival, if not for the fact that he was just as desperate to get out.  Unforunately, Cooter just wasn’t a funny character, nor was the storyline as a whole.  The only plus: we got to see C.C. again.  Ok, Dean Winters, Paul Scheer, and Edie Falco: make them all regular cast.

Final Grade: B-

The Office: Job Fair
May 8, 2008

NBC, Thursdays at 9:00PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Its Funny Because its Oh So True.

Ah, Michael Scott.  Man, I don’t know about you sometimes.  Tonight’s episode found Michael, Pam, Oscar, and Daryl heading to Pam’s old high school for a job fair.  Apparently Dunder Mifflin Infinity Scranton (hereby known as DMIS) needs a summer intern.  And Michael was looking for the best.  Not someone who’s meant to be a cashier or whatever other things Michael listed.  Besides Oscar’s great “Why wouldn’t you say that to her face” line while Michael was telling a kid what he really thought of Pam, this aspect of the episode was slightly a letdown.  Anytime Michael is out of the office, he really steps his embarrassment game up a notch.  “The Convention” was a perfect example of this.  However, this episode was just kind of gag after gag, none of which really landed.  Even Michael’s microphone moment, though it made me squirm, not in the funny way that I’m sure it was intended.

What saved this episode was the golf course.  In the wake of Ryan’s warning last week, Jim took the greens to stir up  new business.  And he brought Kevin and Andy with him.  This was just good stuff.  The Office rarely does physical gags.  But when they do use them, they use them well.  Andy’s golf cart crash actually made me laugh out loud.

But this was truly and Jam episode.  The only reason Jim was on this golf course was because he needs to succeed before he can actually give Pam that ring he has.  After his first overture with their golf partner was shot down, Jim had pretty much accepted it for what it was.  But then Pam called.  And Jim redoubled his efforts.  And weren’t you proud of him when he pulled through.  Last week I said that you can’t deny that Jim’s a slacker.  But you also can’t deny that you want to see him win.

We also saw Pam back in her old art room, looking disappointed when her old work was gone.  But more important was what happened right before the credits.  Pam was going to apply for a graphic design job before she found out she was very underqualified.  The only places she could get qualified are Philadelphia and New York.  And there, ladies and gentlemen, we have the conflict for the season finale and to fight over for the summer.  Pam wants to move forward with her life.  But if that means moving, can Jim afford to do it.  Or are we going to reverse season 3, where Pam is away while Jim is in the office alone?

Final Grade: A-

Scrubs: My Princess
May 8, 2008

NBC, Thursday at 8:30PM (Never Again)

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Imagine If Grey’s Anatomy Was Funny…And Just Better

To start off, Natalia Imbruglia had two good songs: “Torn” and “Wrong Impression”.  I’m just saying.

Ok, I missed the teaser on this episode, but can someone explain to me how we moved back in time?  All of a sudden, we’re only a month from this season’s premiere, Kelso is still chief, and Keith returns from his post-strike banishment.  My guess is that this episode was ready before, but realizing it was going to be an abbreviated season, the show decided to use this as the series finale.  I just wanted to know if they explain the time shift in the beginning.

So Scrubs takes its bow on NBC.  And it does so with a concept show.  In the last two seasons, Scrubs delivered two excellent concept shows.  “My Way Home” was a truly clever ode to “The Wizard of Oz” which was funny and very subtle in a lot of its funnier jokes.  “My Musical” was a highlight of the series.  Its easy to make a musical episode.  Its hard to do it well.  Scrubs did it well.

“My Princess”, which was by far the biggest in scope concept episode thus far, was a clunker.  Dr. Cox is telling Jack a fairy tale using the cast as characters.  This is where Scrubs misses first.  “My Way Home” and “My Musical” both used clever conceits for the episode.  This was the exact opposite.  Most of the episode referenced JD and Eliot’s unresolved feelings stemming from their near miss in the season premiere.  Again, the fact that this episode can be time misplaced by several episodes and that still be true is further proof that this “Will They Won’t They” thing is tired and needs to be abandoned.  I’m pretty sure EVERYONE preferred JD & Kim and Eliot & Keith to JD & Eliot.  The only bright spot was that Zach Braff finally seemed to find his voice as JD again, as that had been missing since the end of last season.  Per usual, Janitor and Turla (that’s the Turk and Carla connection for those who don’t know) really stole the show throughout.

And with that, Scrubs is done on NBC.  The cast as we know it is probably done as well.  Budget cuts are probably going to demand that some of the casts background players (Laverene’s sister, Ted, and…dare I say it…The Todd) may have to go.  Its sad that they couldn’t leave NBC on a note that really showed how great this show was for showing that single-camera comedies could work.

By the way, Bill Lawrence, more Dr. Cox and Jordan next season, please.

Final Grade: C

How I Met Your Mother: Rebound Bro
May 5, 2008


CBS, Mondays at 8:00PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: 20-something.

Barney is on the hunt for a new wingman in the wake of the end of his bromance with Ted.  After a series of failed requests including Robin, Barney takes Randy (SNL’s Will Forte), who applied before the job was even available.  He had to learn.  Apparently you can’t use the word “bro” in the name of a failed Democratic vice presidential candidate (Broseph Lieberman).  But Barney was ready to take him under his nurturing wing.  Forte really steals the show in a series of horrible misfires, the best one being when he tells a girl his favorite part of a Koala bear.  Robin comes along for exposition sake and tells Barney what we all know: he’s coping with losing Ted by jumping back into the bro market.  The show does pair up Barney and Robin again.  It may have been really as friends, but I think they’re leading us to somewhere we already know.

Sarah Chalke returned as Ted’s ladylove, Stella.  Things are going great between the two, with one qualification: they haven’t been intimate.  When pressed, Stella admits she’s nervous because she hasn’t done it in a long time.  Ted thinks she’s been dormant as long as he is: 5 months.  Its actually that times twelve, which places a lot of pressure on Ted.  That pressure was relieved when Stella finds out that Ted told his friends about her drought, much to her embarrassment.  In Ted’s defense, its really not something a friend should blurt out knowing to a friend’s girlfriend (that MUST be in the Bro Code).  Ted calls out Stella’s reaction as merely looking for an out.  Turns out she’s right and eventually they go further than they had before (though not how you’d think…well not initially).  I’m curious to see how Chalke fits into this show.  Part of me believes she agreed to the guest spots when it seemed like Scrubs was going off the air.  Now that its renewed, I wonder if the writers have to change things up.  It would suck, because Stella and Ted work well together.

The problem with tonight’s episode was that it was terribly formulaic.  This is the problem with HIMYM.  It uses different plot devices to keep things fresh.  But at times you feel the devices are done too often.  That is until they go straightforward old school multi-camera sitcom.  And then you really want the devices.  A double edged sword it is.

Final Grade: B-

30 Rock: Sandwich Day
May 4, 2008

NBC, Thursdays at 9:30PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Less About SNL And More About Tina Fey Not Having Time To Write SNL.

Y’know, Tina Fey is a geek’s dream come true on many levels, but man, hand her a flat iron and a red dress and she’s a lady for any man.  Liz classed it up because Floyd was back in town for a day and needed to crash at her place.  Of course, when any ex comes into town, you want to “win” (we learned this lesson from How I Met Your Mother a couple weeks back), so Liz went lady.  And it worked.  Floyd was mesmerized.  That is, until a cancelled flight found him popping back to Liz’s and seeing her in all her normal glory.  An awkward silence led to the funniest moment of the episode: Liz questions Floyd, in less than lady-like form, about a woman who answered his phone during the season premiere.  Things go back and forth throughout the episode until both pretty much arrive at the same place they were at the beginning.  I complained last week that the story heavy episode just wasn’t that funny.  I think the difference this week was the chemistry between Fey and Jason Sudeikis.  You want to see them together.  Hopefully we’ll see more of them trying to be together in the future.  

Jack’s story was pretty awful.  Not worth mentioning.

Final Grade: B

The Office: Did I Stutter
May 4, 2008

NBC, Thursdays at 9:00PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Its Funny Because Its Oh So True.

This episode could’ve been called “The One With All The Awkward Moments”.  The main awkward moment happened while Michael was trying to whip up excitement in the office about whipping up excitement in the office.  When Jim suggested an urban appeal, of course Michael turned to Stanley.  What was pretty standard fare became particularly awkward when Stanley clearly made his feelings of wanting to be left alone known.  Michael fled and tried to come up with a way to keep the peace.  In a brief season highlight, he consulted Daryl about what his “street life” taught him.  “Fluffy Fingers”.  Hilarious.  After a failed “fake firing”, Stanley tore into Michael with an uncharacteristic viciousness, and Michael responded by demanding everyone leave.  I was with Kevin when I thought Michael was really about to let go on Stanley.  But this is The Office, and he broke down in a whimper.  Eventually though, Michael did show a flash of the business man he is, telling Stanley he doesn’t need to respect him, but he has to treat him with respect in the office.

The other awkward moment stemmed from last week.  Ryan subtly mentioned that he knew Jim had spoken to Ryan’s boss about what doesn’t work with Dunder Mifflin Infinity’s website.  This week, Ryan and Tobey told Jim that his work has been substandard and he was warned.  Jim initially believed that this was Ryan’s payback (it probably is), but Ryan said he knows how much time Jim wastes around the office.  Tobey, seizing on this opportunity to take Pam’s love interest down a peg, agreed.  Here’s the thing: Does anyone think Ryan’s really wrong?  His motivation aside, did he say anything that isn’t true?  Jim’s a lovable underachiever, but that still makes him an underachiever.  Do we really expect him to want to work at that office forever (or for Pam to always be the secretary at the office?)?  This piece of story is surely going to play into that ring Jim’s had in his pocket.

Final Grade: A-

Scrubs: My Waste of Time
May 2, 2008

NBC, Thursdays at 8:30PM (for now)

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Imagine if Grey’s Anatomy Was Funny…And Just Better.

Well, a genuinely funny episode of Scrubs.  I’ve missed it.  The oddest part of it had to be that JD and Eliot were barely around the entire time.

With Kelso gone, Dr. Cox got to play interim chief, or more accurately, Chief Dr. Cox.  What does this mean?  he pawns stuff onto Ted.  Maybe its just an occupational perk.  Janitor steps in to warns Ted to avoid walking down the same path again.  And it happened: Ted grew a spine.  He said no.  To everything.  It was Ted’s time to shine.  More appropriately, it was The Brain Trust’s time to shine.  A great concept which had been floundering for the last couple seasons really found its footing again.  And The Todd got some great lines in to boot.

Meanwhile, last week’s story involving Turk’s lonely boy carried over to this week.  After some pretty funny site gags and fantasies, Turk and Carla found themselves discussing the possibility of having another child.  Again, I find myself viewing everything in terms of this being written when the show was nearing its series finale.  With that being not true anymore, what would be an endearing series finale story turns into something the viewers don’t want again.  But all that aside, these two showed why they’re the real couple this show is based around.

Speaking of the “other” couple, JD and Eliot found themselves waiting in a parking lot so Eliot could see an old patient who made need her help suing the hospital.  This turned out to be a ruse, as Eliot just wanted to spend more time together.  She realized that their relationship had changed so much over the years.  Snooze.  This is the same story that these two always seem to come back to.  Fortunately it didn’t take up a substantial part of the episode.

But even that could be saved by the following phrase: Legal Custodians.  Funniest gag in a long time.

Final Grade: B+